by Bill Olmsted member of the Wine Country chapter
I first got interested in wood boats when I was a teenager in the late 50’s in North Tonawanda, NY. As it happened, we lived next door to a guy who was building a marina on the Niagara River, and I spent as much time there as possible. We moved away in ’59, and my interest in wood boats got put on the back burner for over 25 years.
In 1986, I helped one of my best friends close his summer cottage at Lake George, and that reignited my interest. After two more visits to Lake George, the following year, I was hooked, and I began to look around for a boat to buy. I came across an ad from a guy on Chautauqua Lake, and I went to see what he had. At the time, I didn’t know that he was Charlie Cross, one of the “Grand Old Men” of wooden boating and a very prominent Chris-Craft dealer. He had a number of wood runabouts and utilities but nothing that really caught my eye. Then he told me that he had a boat coming in from Cincinnati that he thought might be what I would want. When I went back later, he already had the boat stripped and ready for some major work, so I had my doubts about what I was seeing. However, he assured me that I would like the finished product, and he had some modifications in mind.
So, I took the plunge, and the rest is history. I had the boat in the water by the Spring of ’89. In ’94, I put a new bottom on it, and, over the years, I have had it “fluffed and buffed” – most recently in 2008. There have been some other projects, as well. The work since ’94 has been done by John Frey, Jim Commisso, Doug Nichols, and John Ford. Our most recent project was an engine modification during the winter of ’10 – ’11, led by John Ford. Charlie, being no purist, had repowered the boat with a modern 454, but we decided to revamp it. John Frey and I worked with John Ford, and the boat now has a “Fordcraft 489”. Because of the various modifications, the boat would do poorly in a judged show, but it looks and performs great. It is a terrific “user” boat. Since ’94, the boat has become something of a fixture at the ABM show.