By Gil Maringer member of the North Coast Ohio and Chautauqua Lake Twin Tier chapters
When Chris-Craft was completing their WWII contracts and the war was winding down, the company looked forward to national prosperity and the resurgence of demand for pleasure boats. To capture the enthusiasm and optimism for the future they designed a totally new and glamorous runabout. Many collectors believe that the 20’ Custom Runabout was one of Chris-Craft’s finest design accomplishments.
The first one I ever saw was in the water at the Skaneateles New York boat show. As it slid through the water at speed and then powerfully approached the dock to back in the slip I scrambled to help with the lines. During the show I talked many times with the owner, Neil Satterly, who was writing a comprehensive article about the Customs. By the end of the weekend I knew someday I would have to own one.
Hull number R-20-257 was built in Cadillac Michigan and shipped to Oakmont Storage Yard near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 11, 1948. Who originally owned the boat or where it was used is unclear, but by November of 1966 it was repossessed and auctioned in a sheriff’s sale for unpaid storage by Great Lakes Marine in Erie Pa. There were no bidders, so the boat was shoved aside until a man from Lake Chautauqua, New York found it in 1971 and bought it for the paltry sum of $318. He and his son got the boat freshened up and running then used it for a few years. After inheriting the boat, the son was attempting to restore it when sometime in the late 70’s he removed all the chrome and put the boat in a storage shed at Holiday Harbor Plans drastically changed for the son when he was divorced, and also was involved in a disabling auto accident. He eventually moved to a warmer climate in Texas leaving the boat in the shed and the valuable chrome and stainless parts at his ex mother-in-law’s garage loft. His dream of returning to restore the boat never came about.
I lived nearly 4 hours away from Lake Chautauqua in northeast Ohio. A friend who had a vacation home there became good friends with the owner of Holiday Harbor, Sandy Galati, and they asked me to help in developing an antique boat show and chapter of ACBS there. For a couple years I helped organize the show and in July of 1997 I had some time to walk through the storage buildings. There in the dimly lit back corner under a stained and rotted old tarp, was a bare hull of a Chris-Craft sitting on a rusted junk trailer with its’ wheels half sunk in mud. I could see the rounded transom, the cracked red leather, the holes for the windshield clamps in the dirt covered front deck, and the dusty oil soaked MBL engine.
Many people had asked about purchasing the boat, but the owner couldn’t decide to give it up. In February of 1998 I recieved a call that said the owner would sell the boat, but he had no idea if the parts still existed. We located the lady where the parts had sat for over 20 years and went there to take photos. The pictures confirmed the windshield, rub rails, cutwater, and a few boxes with parts wrapped in newspaper were still there. The purchase was finalized and as soon as the snow cleared I loaded up everything and brought it all back to my home. To my amazement out of a total of 75 chrome and stainless parts only one small knurled knob for one windshield clamp was missing. The major restoration work was done at Zimmerman Boat Works in Columbus Ohio. The much abused decks were replaced, a new 5200 bottom was installed, the original engine was rebuilt, the sides were stripped and stained, followed by multiple coats of varnish, gold leaf lettering, and a new custom fit trailer. I assembled the new leather upholstery parts sourced from Nevada and rewired the boat with color correct cloth covered wire. By late 1999 my dream of owning a beautiful Custom had come true.
Since restoration Legend has given our family beautiful vacations on spectacular waterways throughout the eastern part of the U.S., and Canada. It has won best classic runabout 3 times at Clayton, first in class at the ACBS International show in Skaneateles, best Chris Craft at Smith Mountain Virginia, Lake Wawasee Indiana, Traverse City and Port Huron Michigan, and at its’ triumphant return to Lake Chautauqua New York.
Legend now resides at the Portage Lakes south of Akron Ohio in its dedicated storage bay, its covered lift, and safe from any sheriff’s sale. The boat was recently refreshed at the Wooden Boat Garage in Cincinnati and is ready to be admired by future generations.