by Larry Glover member of the Dixieland chapter
It was the early eighties and we were living in Florence, Alabama on the backwaters of the Tennessee River. One day I noticed an old wooden boat, “Lady C”, moored in Emerald Beach Marina. Having dreamed about owning a fifties wooden cruiser, this one just took my breath! My love for the old wooden boats started when my father-in-law would take me red snapper fishing onboard the old wooden party boats out of Pensacola, Florida in the sixties. These were the first boats for me that had a galley, head, sleeping area and air conditioning. Thus, a cruiser.
The cruiser’s owner, Bill Cornelius, had no interest in selling her as it was his sanctuary to just get away and relax. Imagine that! Being disappointed, I took a picture of her, put it in my billfold, and started hunting for one like it all over the south. The only one found was in Memphis on the Mississippi River and the owner had chain sawed a huge hole in the cockpit deck to access the fuel tanks! Then out of the blue two years later I got a call one Sunday morning from Bill. He worked for the local newspaper and was being transferred south to Tuscaloosa and there were no facilities adequate for a wooden cruiser. She was mine by lunch!
She is a 1955 Chris Craft Commander 33′. Number 32 of 74 built. Hull of Philippine mahogany on white oak frame. Powered by twin Hercules MLS flathead 6cyl. Each with 339 cu in and 145hp. Complete with galley, dinette, head, clothes locker and sleeping berth.
To my amazement the cruiser was very original with only 150 hours on the engines. The only original items missing were the head sink, Willis alcohol stovetop, chrome sink faucets and the Attwood toilet. Bill told me he bought “Lady C” from Hal Millberger and he may still have the missing items. In fact, he had all, but the toilet. They were a welcome site and I found an identical toilet. I have tried to keep her as original as practical. The only significant upgrades made were converting from 6 to 12 volts and adding air conditioning.
Hal had named the cruiser “Tag Along 2”. He told me he bought her from the original owner, Bob Caldwell, in Jackson, Tennessee. A call was placed to Mr. Caldwell and to my surprise he answered, 29 years after ordering her. He was so excited when told about the cruiser. He invited me and my wife, Kay, to visit Jackson and the boat house at Perryville where he kept her. He had ordered the cruiser from Flagship Marina in Corinth, Mississippi and gave it the maiden name “Susan” after his daughter. At the boathouse he found the original canvas cockpit curtains and a spare propeller. These were given to me. Once we got home, Flagship Marina was contacted, and Mr. McClure was excited as well to hear about “Susan”. He had captained her from the Chris Craft factory in Holland, Michigan across Lake Michigan to Chicago, then trailered her to Mississippi.
The maiden name “Susan” was returned to the stern and after owning for 35 years we refer to her respectively as “Ol Susan”. She has now taken 255 cruises and has always gotten us back to port safe.
My greatest joy has been carrying friends and family on cruises. Especially our grandchildren and teaching them to captain her or help with painting and varnishing. And taking her on the river, locking thru, dropping anchor, cooking onboard or spending the night on the water. Priceless!
“Ol Susan” has followed us to Texas, Florida and now back to Alabama. Ironically, she now home ports in Hide-A-Way Harbor Marina in Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River where in 1984 there were no facilities to moor a cruiser and enabled her sale to me.