By Chuck and Diane Thornton, Land O’ Lakes Classic Boat Club

During the winter of 1956-57, Gene Bartachek saw a Taft Marine Woodcraft kit boat ad in one of his favorite mechanics magazine. He requested their brochure and shortly afterwards ordered the Model 950, 18 ft. Offshore Cruiser. The price was $399 including shipping, minus the accessories. This model was on the cover of Taft’s 1957 catalog. He built this boat 1957-58 on the family farm located near Brooklyn, Iowa. Throughout the 60’s the family enjoyed boating on the Mississippi River by Guttenburg and at Holiday Lake, which was only a few miles from their home. For the rest of the years, the boat was covered and stored in a machine shed. The original Mercury Mark 55 was replaced in 1960 with a Merc300.

Also during the 60s, Gene started a tradition of taking his family to Cass Lake, MN, one which continues today with his wife, 2 sons, 4 daughters and their families. Surprisingly, the Taft was never taken to Cass Lake. How did Diane and I end up with this boat? My wife Diane is Gene’s oldest daughter. In 2015, Gene asked if I would fix the boat up so we could take it to Cass Lake the next year. Diane and I had been pulling our 15’ Chris Craft Cavalier to Cass Lake since 2005. However not being able to carry more than 4 adults in the Chris Craft, we thought it would be nice to have a larger boat with room for more of the family. So of course I said yes. Not being able to see the real condition of the boat, I thought sanding the whole thing down to bare wood, new paint and several coats of varnish would be all that was needed.

Gene Bartacheck

Was I ever wrong. Gene, his 2 sons, a son in-law and I, all pitched in and started work on the boat after the family vacation. We sanded the whole boat down to bare wood. The majority of the side and bottom screws were replaced with silicone bronze screws. The wood was sealed and painted or varnished. The deck screws were replaced with new stainless-steel screws. The original wiring was replaced with marine grade and a fuse block was added. During restoration, I wanted to keep the boat as close as possible to how Gene originally built it without any modifications. At Gene’s request, I added a seat to match the helmsman, and at my request, installed a bilge pump. All the deck hardware cleaned up well enough re-chroming was not required. The Holzclaw trailer Gene purchased and also assembled, received new tires, wiring, bearings, and seals. A member of the local Antique Outboard Motor Club helped to get the Merc300 running again. I was driving 120 miles round trip from Cedar Rapids to Brooklyn, IA on the weekends to work on the boat and it took longer than expected to finish. Unfortunately, we were unable to have the boat ready in time for the next year’s vacation. In 2017, the last trip Gene was able to make to Cass Lake, he once again rode in the boat he had built 60 years earlier. We continue to take the Taft to Cass Lake every year for the family to enjoy, especially Diane’s mother, who still enjoys riding in the boat at 87 years old.

Gene painting the bilge


  1. Thanks for the article. My dad had a Taft small cruiser in the ‘60’s and I never knew anything about it. Now I can do some research

  2. These old kit boats bring back memories. I was always sending away for their brochures to ‘dream’ over. Still have all of them with my old boat brochures, including a ’57 and ’62 Taft catalogs.

    It is great that this one was kept inside and ‘preserved’ all those years. Most of these old plywood boats were just moved outside and covered with a tarp. Then the tarp eventually biodegraded, followed by the boat.

    • We were lucky he kept the boat in as good condition as he did. My wife and I found a ’57 Taft brochure online several years ago and gave to him for father’s day and he couldn’t believe it when he saw it.

    • Hello .My name is Mike . I believe I have a taft boat ,but I have not been able to find much info. My boat is 13 1/2 feet long and looks like it was once a cruiser but has been turned into a fishing boat. Thats how I use it . I would be interested in seeing some of the taft boats in that size. Could we work something out.

      • Hi Mike, I looked in the Taft catalog and found 3, 13′ 6″ kit boats. They were listed as 14 ft, but the spec said 13 and a half ft. They were noted as a utility runabout, a runabout and a deluxe runabout. I cannot add photos of the pages to this reply, however if you google Taft Boat Kits, I see a 58 catalog on ebay with the same boats you can see. Good luck

    • I just purchased a small wooden boat and the only information I have is the last Michigan Secretary of State registration. It says it would expire on December 31st, 1962 and further reading states that Michigan boat registrations were renewed every 3 years. So, that means this registration was issued on December 31st, 1959. Can anyone help me identify the actual year of my ‘new’ boat? Thank you!

    • Found this webpage and love it.
      I’m looking for history and maybe a catalog picture of my Taft, a 15’ mahogany runabout with 1951 Evinrude. Made by Dad before me and current memories.

      Do you have photos of catalogs on any website?

  3. I grew up in Columbia Heights, a NE suburb of Minneapolis, MN. The Taft Marine Woodcraft Company was located about 4 blocks from my house. I wrote an essay regarding the kit boat industry and interviewed Bob Taft in his office for on of my high school composition projects. The was in the late 50s and I ended up working at that plant for a couple of summers in the early 60s.

    The Taft Marine heydays were prior to this when he owned three buildings in his manufacturing operation. Taft gradually shifted into manufacturing sailboat kits by the time I had worked there. The raw wood stock was ripped and machined into the individual pieces that made up the skeleton of the boats. Large 4′ x 16′ mahogany marine plywood was routed by hand using templates. These panels became bottoms, sides, and tops. The sailboat rigging was also fabricated by hand from stainless lines and fasteners. All the pieces were packaged into cartons ready for shipping. I personally delivered a couple of kits to buyers in the Twin Cities.

    Taft’s brother (I think it was Warren Taft) started a company manufacturing fiberglass canoes in Alexandria, MN further north. Eventually, the kit sailboat orders wained and he closed up shop. There was competition from another kit boat supplier, Luger Industries on South Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, who did offer fiberglass boat kits.

    • Hello-
      I just came across your post on Taft Marine. They were neighbors of mine when I was a child and I am trying to track down Bill as we were good childhood friends until they moved. So much fun to hear about what they actually did. Loved the post.

  4. I have a Taft 1961 16’. Runabout restored it about 15 years ago. Have never see another but yours. Do you know if they are rare?

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