Gone But Not Forgotten- The Boat Brands We Loved That Are No More (Part 4)
By: Richard Crowder
Connecting the heydeys of Silverline, Striper, Owens, Penn Yan, Rinker, and Winner
In my over forty years in the pleasure boat industry, there have been literally thousands of boat companies and brand names of boats in North America.
Some of these were and are strictly regional brands not known or recognized in the rest of the continent but many were national and even 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. These brand names may still be corporately held in reserve but are not known to currently be in production.
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I began Part 1 of this series with the loss of an unsuspecting name as a boatbuilder -- the gigantic Outboard Marine Corporation, OMC, which stopped building boats to concentrate on its prime business of building engines. In Part 2 we had a deep dive into Chrysler Boats and the 'performance craze' of the 70's and 80's. In Part 3, we went into a fascinating retrospective that covered the peaks of great brands like Doral, Thundercraft, Magnum, Cadorette, Sunray, & Peterborough.
In this Part 4, I want to remember some of the manufacturers that may have started by building runabouts and even canoes and rowboats, but as they matured specialized in cuddy cabins, cruisers, and even yachts. It was these larger boats that many of us remember them by.
Charles Owens Sr. started building boats in Annapolis, Maryland in 1925. On his death in 1933, his three teenage sons took over and in 1936 moved production to Baltimore. After implementing automotive-style production line techniques, they introduced their brand new 32-foot Owens cruiser at the New York Boat Show in 1937.
The Second World War brought contracts to build landing craft, and later, 75-foot minesweepers during the Korean War. They designed and built their own race-winning 40-foot Cutter sailboat, the design rights for which they sold to Henry Hinckley in 1950. Sales boomed and Owens was even listed on the New York Stock Exchange. By 1957, Owens had switched mostly to fiberglass production.
Owens started its own line of inboard Flagship Marine Engines, and were building 500 per month along with a lineup of boats from 18-foot runabouts to 35-foot cruisers. The Owens brothers set up Cutter Boats in Indiana to produce the Owens runabout line up to 20-feet. It was producing 15-20 boats per day at its peak. The brothers retired in 1960 and sold Owens Yachts and Cutter Boats to the Brunswick Corporation which then retired both brands within a year.
If my memory serves me correctly, and I can find no resources to back me up, there was a Canadian manufacturer of Cutter boats at least into the 1970’s, and maybe much longer. I remember these runabout models being well respected, seemingly well built and good handling boats. But sadly I can find no resources to link this Canadian Cutter to the Owens Cutter.
What I do know is that much later, Grew Boats of Penetanguishene, Ontario acquired Cutter molds and built Cutter runabout models into the early 2000’s. Grew went out of business in 2011, unfortunately taking the Grew and Cutter lines with them.
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One national brand that has always intrigued me is the Penn Yan Boat Company out of the small town of Penn Yan, New York. It was founded in 1921 and built a wide range of canoes, rowboats, small powerboats, and sailing skiffs. It became a dealer for the Disappearing Propeller Boat Company, known as “Dis-Pros.”, and then subsequently purchased their assets in 1924. By 1927, all Penn Yan boats, regardless of size or type, were canvas covered over the wood in a process it interestingly called “Composite Construction.”
Penn Yan is in the heart of Amish and Mennonite country in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, and I was always led to believe, perhaps erroneously, that these groups were the woodworking specialists that gave Penn Yan boats its sterling reputation. Penn Yan switched to fiberglass production in the mid-1960’s and, like so many other builders at the time, gradually increased its model lineup to include cuddy cabins and small cruisers.
The 23-31 foot Penn Yan Sportfisherman flybridge models always appealed to me, and seemed to be easily identifiable as Penn Yan boats. Perhaps what made this identification easier was the retention of the “lapstrake” effect in the hullside fiberglass molding.
Of course, out of the water all larger Penn Yan models were easily identifiable due to their patented tunnel drive system in which the horizontal prop shaft with the propeller were protected from damage within a partial tunnel molded into the deep-V hull bottom. Later, other boatbuilders creating their own partial tunnel designs in the hull would include Sea Ray and Cruisers Inc. (now Cruisers Yachts). Penn Yan was sold to American Marine in 1979 and continued to build boats until 2001.
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Winner Boats of Trenton, NJ, a wooden boatbuilder since the 1930’s and although not necessarily a huge manufacturer, deserves recognition as perhaps the first American production boatbuilder to introduce a fiberglass boat to the public – at the January, 1947 New York National Motorboat Show.
The boat had a fiberglass hull, while the deck and seating were of traditional wood. It was marketed under the Plasti-Craft name and didn’t really catch on with the public at all. Three years later, Winner offered a complete fiberglass boat to the public. Strangely, it would take just shy of 20 years for the concept of a fiberglass boat to take hold and revolutionize the pleasure boating market.
In 1954, the US Navy Bureau of Ships chose Winner to produce the first fiberglass motor whaleboats – open double-enders usually around 30-feet and used for utility, rescue, or as lifeboats. In 1960, Winner introduced its “Gull-Hull” tri-hull design offering what it claimed to be greater stability and a softer ride. A year later, it was offering six runabout models, a “ski-race” boat, two hardtops, and four cruisers, some “deep-V” and some tri-hull designs. MerCruiser sterndrive power in 60, 110, and 120 horsepower was also being offered.
Around this same time, Winner developed and built a 16-foot remote-controlled drone named Firefish for use in the open ocean as target practice for the US Navy. Still in the mid-60's, Winner researched methods to reduce flex while strengthening its hulls. It developed what it called its “grillage” unit which developed into what is now called a stringer system.
Winner also developed its “Safety-Collar Flotation System” utilizing the new styrofoam material. This allowed Winner to announce its boats as unsinkable. At some point in the early 1960’s, Wizard Boats purchased Winner and moved production to the Wizard facilities in Dickson, Tennessee.
In 1977, Thompson Boat, Inc purchased Winner and continued to produce them. At that point Winner was offering a full line from 15 to 31 feet. This included runabouts, cuddy cabins, cruisers, center consoles and dual consoles. In late 1989 it was again sold to the Global Motorboat Corporation and alas, despite some of its industry “firsts,” it seems that the Winner name disappeared in the early 1990’s.
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Moorhead Plastics, Inc. was created in 1959 in Moorhead, Minnesota to produce Silver Line Boats using capital from local investors who also became shareholders. It struggled in its first few years, but by 1964 sales had reached over $1 million and by 1966, Silver Line offered 22 models through 227 dealers in 42 States and Canada and built 2,200 boats with sales over $3 million.