By: Richard Crowder
The Stories of OMC (Outboard Motor Corporation), Shepherd Boats, Trojan, and Pacemaker
In my over forty years in the pleasure boat industry, there have been literally thousands of boat companies and brand names in North America. Some were and are strictly regional brands not known or recognized in the rest of the continent, but many were national and international brands known to most of us diehard boaters. It is those well known and recognized brands that are no longer with us that I look forward to examining in this series.
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Let’s start this nostalgic look into the past with a corporate name almost all boaters know: OMC, short for the Outboard Marine Corporation. Until its bankruptcy and subsequent break-up in 2000, OMC was well known to generations of boaters for its outboard motor brands, Johnson and Evinrude, and later its sterndrives, the most powerful of which was the King Cobra.
But as I said in the introduction I would be talking about boat brands, not motor brands, and I am not straying from that. Starting with OMC was no mistake. What many don’t remember, or are not aware of, is that throughout almost the entire 1960's OMC made boats under its own name. As primarily a motor manufacturer, it wanted to guarantee that its motors would find places on boat transoms, and manufacturing its own line of boats was one way to do that.
Taking advantage of the relatively new method of building boats in the early 1960’s that was rapidly replacing the use of wood, OMC latched onto a new product -- fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP). The glass fibre portion of FRP was patented by Owens-Corning as "Fiberglas,” and then later du Pont developed the resin to mix with the glass fibres to create FRP, later to be called simply fiberglass. This happened during the 1930's and 1940's and was dabbled with during the Second World War. The first widespread use of FRP was remarkably in the pleasure boat industry during the 1950's, which then carried on with major acceptance throughout the 1960's.
OMC had one of the largest dealer networks in North America for its Johnson and Evinrude outboard motor brands. A dealer handled one or the other engine brand, but almost never both, so OMC had to provide boats separately under each brand. Both brands were similar in looks and even in design, but not identical. Since Evinrude was the more upscale motor, so too was the Evinrude line of OMC boats.
They were mostly family style runabouts ranging from 14-19 feet with closed bows and full windshields, but a very few were side console or bowrider designs. Their rounded foredecks and instrument panels, steering wheels, and seats were fashioned to mimic those of the automobile industry at the time. Both were tri-hull designs, but the Evinrude boat was more a “gull-wing” design while the Johnson boat more a “cathedral” hull design. As the inboard-outboard or sterndrive mode of propulsion caught on with the public toward the end of the 1960's, both brands were fitted with OMC sterndrives as needed.
As the the 70's rolled around, and thanks in part to the ease of using FRP to build a boat of any size or design, many new boat manufacturers began entering the marketplace. These all required motors, so OMC stopped manufacturing its boats and concentrated on supplying motors for these emerging brands.
I examine the rise and fall of OMC in Part 7 of my series, Innovators in Boating- Ole & Ralph Evinrude.
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I’m now going to alter course considerably. If you weren’t a runabout fan, maybe you remember the motor yacht market. Shepherd boats were and are primarily known and remembered for their extremely well designed and built mahogany runabouts from 22 to around 30 feet. I highlighted Shepherd’s boatbuilding history in my Before Fiberglass article series.
What is not much remembered are the motor yachts that Shepherd produced. By the 1950’s, with post-war disposable family income on the rise, boatbuilders such as Chris Craft, Owens, and Pacemaker were building larger liveaboard cruisers and yachts to meet the demands of the boating market.
At the time, these were built of wood and Shepherd, a Canadian brand made in Niagara, Ontario, naturally increased the size of its boats for both the Canadian and the US market where it had a strong following. Shepherd yachts in the 30-40 foot range were very popular, and its 50-foot motor yacht rivalled that of any other on the market.
Trojan was building small wooden runabouts and even small cruisers up to 31-feet in Pennsylvania. In 1966, they purchased the Shepherd company as a way to increase the size and range of their offering. Trojan was hesitant to switch to fiberglass and after the Shepherd purchase didn’t have the capital to build the molds to make the switch.
In 1969, the Whittaker Corporation of Los Angeles bought Trojan to add to its growing portfolio. Trojan, as well as its Shepherd line, was then able to switch partially to fiberglass for the hulls while the decks and interior were made from wood. The Shepherd name was eventually dropped, the Canadian facility closed, and the last Shepherd boat shipped in 1978 from the Lancaster, PA Trojan facility.
Subsequently, Trojan became well known for its 25/26, 30/31, 32, and 36-footers as well as its 40/42, 44, and 50-foot motor yachts, eventually constructed using all fiberglass. Trojan’s F32-foot flybridge sedan and its 36 Tri-Cabin were both huge sellers and classics on North America’s waterways. But by the mid-80's, Trojan was way behind in satisfying the public’s demand for the sleek new cruiser models coming into the marketplace. It tried to solve that with a complete turnaround and the introduction of its International series of cruisers. But they did not catch on, and by the early 1990’s the Trojan name disappeared. Trojan later became part of Genmar Holdings boat empire which eventually was broken up and no boats under the Trojan name have been produced since.
As a further postscript, in just the past few years, the Bergerson Boat Company of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin has acquired the legal rights to the Shepherd name and today builds mahogany replicas just like the originals including the popular 22, 24, 27, and 30-foot runabout models.
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In 1948, two short years after its formation, one of the founding partners of Egg Harbor Yachts left the company and founded Pacemaker Yachts, also in Egg Harbor, NJ. Pacemaker acquired a reputation for quality construction, finishing detail, and seaworthiness with its express cruisers and motor yachts aimed at a more upscale market from the Trojan buyer. The Pacemaker 47 became renowned in both motor yacht and in sportfisherman configurations.
In the mid-1960’s, Egg Harbor was in financial trouble and merged with Pacemaker while each brand kept its separate identity. Both companies could see the days of fiberglass coming, but Pacemaker decided to test the waters before fully committing by launching a separate fiberglass brand it called Alglas. The writing was on the wall and by the mid-1970’s, Egg Harbor and Pacemaker made the switch to fiberglass construction. Pacemaker’s convertible models were popular inland while its sportfishermen were favoured on the Atlantic coast. It was producing a huge range of models from 25 to 62 feet.
Around this time, just like in the Trojan case, big conglomerates, in this case Fuqua Industries, which had accumulated other boatbuilders, purchased Egg Harbor/Pacemaker. It was then shortly sold again to Mission Marine which collapsed under debt load in the late 70's and the Pacemaker brand was no more. The Egg Harbor brand was subsequently resurrected and has since passed through other hands and is still building its renowned yachts today. An interesting aside is that another partner in Egg Harbor Yachts left the company in the mid-1970’s and created Post Yachts, which built sleek sportfisherman yachts from 42 to 66 feet up until around 2012.