Ever since Henry Ford got the wheels turning for us on land, Chris Smith was onboard with the concept of gas propulsion. By the mid 1920’s, Smith was turning out beautiful wooden works of art built to grace the water - with the Miss America being one of his most famous designs. This power boat concept was soon embraced by other artists like Hackers, Hutchinsons, Lymans, and Gar Woods. Yes, fiberglass and aluminum have their place on the water too, but they just aren’t nearly as sexy as the rich grain and color of expertly shaped mahogany gliding through silky water. To this day, antique woodies are some of the most coveted among the pleasure boater crew.
Originally Gar Woods was bent on speed, focusing on improved hull design and huge engines. In fact, Gar Woods bought the Chris Smith’s factory (in 1916) when he was merely there to buy a boat! He then used the Chris Craft factory to build his dreamin’ children of water speedsters. Although I’m certain it was quite death-defying, old videos of him racing those early speed boats are downright hilarious. Since hull length is a big factor determining speed, those boats were quite long * (like the 33’ ‘Baby Gar’). To keep the nose down on the water surface and balance out the weight, the engine (in this case a WWII aircraft one!) was mounted up in the front of the hull – with the exhaust pipes immediately following. The clouds of black smoke engulfing the ‘pilot/captain’ during these speed tests can’t have made it a very healthy process… The visual absurdity combined with the old school barker announcer had my Dad and I keeling over (pardon the pun).
One of Gar’s boats – the Snail (pictured above) – owned by Life Saver candy king, Edward Nobel, was held up as a challenge. If they could beat Gar Woods in a race, Mr. Nobel was offering $1,000 prize (a small fortune in those days). The boat was then worth about $10,000 – also a lot of moolah in those days. So, since that was prohibitive to average Joe, you can see that Woodies have always had their place among the rich and (possibly) famous. A Gar Wood these days is still worth a fortune with a Baby Gar last year selling for $165K! Good grief!
Mr. Nobel also commissioned Gar to make a smaller ‘sporty’ model, the 16 foot speedster which is purportedly now the most valuable classic speed boats ever! Mr. Nobel’s favorite was called ‘Miss Behave’ and can be seen in the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton NY (http://www.abm.org) – well worth a visit if you’re over that way, and a must-do pilgrimage if you’re a boat nut.
But you don’t need to travel across the country to ooh and aah a fabulous wooden boat collection, because we have one right here in Lake Tahoe! This weekend in Tahoe Keys Marina, Tahoe Wooden Boats (http://www.tahoewoodenboats.com/) is hosting a Wooden Boat Classic themed toward the 50’s guaranteed to be a good time to pull out the bobby socks and BrylCreem. It will also be a good time for anyone who appreciates fine craftsmanship to connect with other boaters during the BBQ and Elvis-inspired live music. These are your people; they speak your language! This is the stuff you live for…
If you can’t get enough wood there, the Tahoe Yacht Club brings their Concours d’Elegance (http://www.laketahoeconcours.com/Show_Info.html) to Homewood on August 7th & 8th and promises to be a stunning visual display along the order of Hot August Nights for boats. Boat owners will be showing off their babies and entering them in contests with emphasis on condition and authenticity. This event will be centered at the historic Obexer’s Boat Company and a great opportunity to insure a full measure of mahogany in all its splendor. Wood You? You bet!
*To take it a step further, there was also a 48 foot monster craft (the Pardon Me) boasting 1800 hp that went 70mph. On the water, that is flying folks!