By Tom McGowan, Lake Hopatcong Chapter

I first met the Old Timer in 1956 when I was 6 years old on a visit to my grandparents’ house on Lake Hopatcong. She was then 32 years old, retired from her career as a Lake Hopatcong tour boat and spending her days floating alongside my grandparents’ dock (or up on the rails built to pull her out for the winter) with a few intermittent evening rides around the lake to show her, and the lake, off to family and friends.

She was the sole survivor of what had been the Beck Brothers Boat Ride and Transport fleet of ride boats operating out of docks located in Sperry Springs and a strip of land in Landing which is now part of the Lake’s End Marina.

The Back Story

According to an Article in the August 23, 1947, issue of the Lake Hopatcong Breeze, the Old Timer was built for the 1924 Philadelphia Susquhana Centenial. After being used to promote a misguided stock scheme to create a ferry service between Yonkers and the Battery in New York City, she found her way to lake Hopatcong in 1929 as a private boat owned by Captain Theo De Mars.

Ten years later, in 1939, she joined the Beck Brothers fleet making “two hour runs around the lake in her slow majestic way stopping at docks within hailing distance to pick up passengers”.

On the rails for winter.

The rest of the Beck Brothers fleet at that time consisted of speed boats used to pick up folks coming off the train in Landing to take them to homes, hotels and entertainment spots like the Mad House in the River Styx. There were at least three 28’ Chris-Craft triples named Whoopee, Hello Baby and Pin Up Girl, a boat referred to in family lore as the Elco and another boat of unknown origin.

Beck Brothers operated the Old Timer and the rest of the fleet until World War II gasoline shortages interrupted the service in 1942.

Whoopee on the go!

The Family Connection

Our family connection with the Old Timer and the Beck Brothers started about the time she joined the Beck Brothers fleet in 1939. My uncle, Henry Leer, who was then in high school, and his friends, worked as drivers for the Beck Brothers’ boats, with, I suspect, a clear preference for the speedy Chris-Crafts over the “slow majestic” Old Timer.

When my uncle returned to the lake after World War II, he took over, and restarted, the war interrupted boat ride business and, by 1947, the Old Timer could, as reported in the Breeze, “be seen once again on the Lake”. Uncle Henry continued to use the strip of land in Landing but moved the boats from the Beck Brothers docks to my Grandparents house in Silver Springs. The neighbors must have been really understanding.

 

Fleet at the dock.

The large eye bolts cemented into our sea wall to provide boat hitches for mooring the fleet are still there for me to regularly trip over.

The August 1949 issue of the Breeze recognized the Old Timer’s status and Uncle Henry by reporting that:

“Miss Ann Scullion [My uncle’s girl friend/financee at the time] and Henry Leer chaperoned a trip on the Old Timer for his crew and their girl friends. Emy Canfield entertained with hillbilly songs on his guitar and the crew accompanied him on harmonicas.”

Becoming a Family Boat and Memory

By the early 1950’s, as cars replaced trains and folks started buying their own boats, the ride boat business became obsolete. Uncle Henry closed down the business and gave away or junked the then well worn fleet except for the Old Timer which remained at my Grandparents dock for several more years as a member of the family.

Ultimately, she also went away and, in 1973, the strip of land in Landing was sold for $3,000 to help fund my law school tuition which closed the book on the business.

What remains today, is those pesky boat hitches on the sea wall, a few tools that Henry always said belonged to “Lou Beck”, the front bumper boat hitch on my 53 Chevy pickup used to get the boats in and out of the water and, of course, the family stories and memories. 

First driving, and then owning and caring for, the Old Timer and the other Beck Brothers boats clearly gave my uncle a source of pride and storytelling opportunities (with no small level of repetition) for the rest of his life. The stories included how he replaced the Old Timer’s stem without damaging her keel, his love/hate relationship with her finicky aging motor (I learned a whole new vocabulary watching him working on that motor), the fact that he could stand on our dock and know at what speed the boats were coming down the lake just by the sound and multiple passenger escapades, his favorite being (in sanitized form) one about a late night pick up at the Mad House, the creative uses to which a guy and a girl could put the back seat of a triple and how other passengers could share in the experience via the boat’s dashboard mirror.

The Old Timer was my first woody boating experience, a primary source of family lore and, ultimately, some 50+ years after I met her, an inspiration for me to acquire Lady Mary, my own 1931 Chris Craft-triple and Mr. Frank, my 1955 Larson Cabin Outboard which now sit alongside the same dock as the Old Timer and her stable mates once sat.

Last known photo of the Old Timer.

10 Comments

  1. No reason such boats cannot be made even now . A simple – lined thing of passive beauty without any clever appendages, flying bridges , etc. or black canvas. Those shore cottages are so “Right” for a true relaxed setting and should never be lost either. The old way of design calms the nerves and says “Let me be content”.

  2. Tom,

    Your story of Old Timer was FANTASTIC! I can so very much identify with your parallel memory-lane experiences. In Holland, Michigan on Lake Mac(atawa) we had the passenger Steam Ships North American, South American and Alabama, along with the Keewatin in nearby Saugatuck.

    We also had the passenger boat Wolverine which took individual city fishermen the six miles from Kollen Park to the breakwater on The Big Lake (Michigan), past the Coastie/Life Saving Station and the “Big Red” Lighthouse with her fog horn.

    Loved your pics, young boy/man connections with history, woodies, relatives and (distant) geographic sites. Lake Mac was in effect our backyard starting in 1956.

    I identified with every photo and sentence in your article! Even took the first time (ever ) to post a comment on the web.

    THANKS for carving out time, putting your story together, and for making woodie-boatie history so very bright and wonderful!

  3. I remember the Old Timer passing the Beck Lane dock in the early 1950’s when I was very young. Beck Lane was named for William Beck who owned the lane and some surrounding property. My bungalow is in Sperry Springs just off Beck Lane. As I recall, there was another tour boat at that time of similar style called the Liza Jane that also traveled around the lake.

    • Thanks Paul, I will check with some lake old timers to see if they can identify the Liza Jane as that is a new name for me. Best? Tom

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