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Hundreds turn out for Lake Vermilion Antique and Classic Boat Show

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/5/19

LAKE VERMILION— Family tradition and the luster of fine woods were on display in abundance this past Sunday as part of the annual Antique and Classic Boat Show, held at The Landing.

Crowds …

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Stories in wood

Hundreds turn out for Lake Vermilion Antique and Classic Boat Show

The newly-restored “Sunray,” once owned by the actor Robert Redford, was a big hit at this past Sunday’s boat show.
The newly-restored “Sunray,” once owned by the actor Robert Redford, was a big hit at this past Sunday’s boat show.
photos by M. Helmberger
Posted

LAKE VERMILION— Family tradition and the luster of fine woods were on display in abundance this past Sunday as part of the annual Antique and Classic Boat Show, held at The Landing.

Crowds worked their way carefully across the narrow docks, to ooh and aah over the dozens of classic, mostly wooden, boats moored here for the occasion.

Every one of the classic boats comes with a story. Some of the boats have been in families for generations, others were acquired more recently, perhaps the start of a new family tradition.

While some of the entrants had brought their boats from far away for the show, for others, their wooden boat is deeply connected to their Lake Vermilion experience.

Tom Kern, of Chicago, was a young man back in the early 1970s when his family first bought property on Vermilion as a summer get-away. His father bought their wooden boat about 20 years ago, to keep at their cabin. He had it restored, and now it’s the job of Tom and his two siblings, one in Connecticut, the other in Montana, to maintain both the lake cabin and the classic boat that’s now an important part of their time at the lake.

For other boat owners, it’s the rich look of lacquered wood and the classic lines of many older wooden boats, that prompted them to invest in such a costly project. Chris Bullen, of Lake Muskoka, Ont., was relaxing in the back of his re-creation of a 1924 speedboat, known as the Baby Bootlegger, which the Clarion Boat Company built for him in the 1990s. The company, which operated from the 1970s to the 2000s had specialized in restorations but did build a handful of new replicas of classic old boats, including Bullen’s, dubbed The Riot.

It’s a boat that might have served a bootlegger well. With a 540 cc motor, generating 530 horsepower, tucked under the boat’s extended front hood, this boat will cut through the water at a brisk 55 miles per hour.

“It doesn’t sit in the boathouse very often,” said Bullen. “It gets used all the time.”

It’s expensive fun to be sure. Restorations of old pleasure boats can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars, and projects that exceed $100,000 are not necessarily rare.

I told Bullen I wouldn’t ask him how much The Riot had set him back, but a friend in the boat docked next door chimed in. “Don’t ask him, ask his wife how much it cost,” he quipped.

Bullen’s wife Julie was on the dock, listening to it all, and I didn’t have to ask to get her answer.

“Too much!” she said, before acknowledging that she also enjoys the boat.

Moored just down the dock was the “Pretty Penny,” another gorgeous craft, owned by Jeff and Marnie Bigler, of Lake Vermilion, which is no doubt appropriately named.

While most of the boats date back to the mid-20th century, at least a couple of the craft were from an earlier vintage. The Grace, originally built in 1889 as a small steam launch, had a Naptha steam engine that became known for explosions and fires that ultimately destroyed most of the early versions of this boat. This remaining version, now owned by boat show coordinator Jeff Stebbins, was later repowered with a Red Wing twin cylinder, eight-horsepower engine, which is probably the only reason it remains to this day.

Among the highlights at the show was the small electric launch, built in the 1890s, that had served as a tender to a private yacht, known as the Dungeness, that Andrew Carnegie kept in port in Duluth, on Lake Superior. The Electric Launch Co., or ELCO, built the boat and similar versions once ferried passengers on Lake Vermilion in the early part of the 20th century.

The boat later became part of a collection owned by Don Logan, of Ely, and the current owner, one of Warren Buffett’s original investors, acquired the boat from Logan’s widow after his death. Tom Juul, who restores wooden boats from his shop near Alexandria, brought the old launch to the boat show. He had undertaken some restorations on the boat but said it had been kept in remarkably good condition over the years and still has all original wood— white cedar planking and steam-bent oak ribs— on its hull.

Logan had replaced the boat’s original electric motor, which propelled the craft at about 5-6 miles per hour, with a four-horsepower gas engine, but Juul had restored the boat to its original electric propulsion system as part of his restoration effort. “It’s the oldest boat I’ve ever worked on,” said Juul.

The boat is a throwback of sorts, to a time when travel on the water was slower and quieter. The boat’s electric motor was barely audible as the craft cut through a small chop on Lake Vermilion as it took a half dozen passengers for a ride around Head-o-Lakes Bay.

Overall attendance at the show was excellent, according to Stebbins. “It was a great crowd, the biggest we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

It was one of the older boats in the show that took the coveted Captain’s Choice Award this year. The Uliatta, now plying the waters of Lake Minnetonka, is a 22-foot, 1905 launch powered by a 1930 Universal Flexifour engine. It’s captained by Ron Potas, with mates George Norling and Rich Harrison.

The People’s Choice Award went to Layton Humphrey for his 1984 Grand Craft Tahoe, once owned by the actor Robert Redford. Now called Sunray, and ported on Burntside Lake, the 23-footer was recently renovated by Sunrise River Boatworks in Tower. It’s powered by a 350 horsepower, Crusader 454 engine, giving it plenty of juice for waterskiing, as the photo of Redford kicking up a rooster tail behind the boat attests.

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