A bit of history …from the fella who built the boat

There is a scowguy in Minnesota who is now building the most startlingly beautiful I20s.

Willie Crear's I20 is a thing of beauty
http://williecrear.com/ His name is Willie Crear and when he was in his 20s he worked for Johnson Boat Works.  In fact…he rigged the 1974 M-16 we share at the Washington Sailing Marina.  Read more if you want his recollection of this period in the boat building dynasty on White Bear Lake:
Lordy, this was a step back in time for me.  I was at Johnson Boat Works from 1973-1975, and there is no doubt in my mind that I built the boat that you show in the pictures of the ‘scowsailing.com’ blog.
Let’s define what ‘built’ in the above sentence means:
In 1974, Johnson Boat Works first started building their own fiberglass hulls in-house.  Before that, they had been using Forester Boats, in Wyoming, Minnesota, as a sub-contractor.  The glass boats coming out of Wyoming were junk.
In 1974 (actually late 1973), Bob Parks and his sidekick Ed came out of Forester to Johnson Boat Works, and started laying up the glass hulls on-site in White Bear Lake.  Chatting with him in 2010 (as we were laying up the new I-20 hull), he said he couldn’t believe how much money he was making…$6.50 per hour. He said that he didn’t know what to do with all of the extra money.  On my last day at Johnson, New Year’s Eve 1975, I was making $4.50 per hour.
When the hull layup was finished, the hulls would be rolled out from the glass shop to the main shop, where I would rig them.  The glass shop was finished in 1973/74.  I was one of the 2 crew who ferried the concrete for the floor from the concrete truck, in wheelbarrows, to the guy who was finishing the floor of the new building.
As for the ‘finishing’, I put every screw into every boat, but there was more to it than that.
Buster (Walter) Johnson built the rudders.
Clarence built and finished the Philippine mahogany tillers. After finishing, Buster put on the side plates.
Dick Hillman finished the sideboards.
Tom Berrisford rigged the spars.  A year earlier, I had helped him start the last run of Sitka Spruce spars for M-16s.We ‘ran’ all the lumber in one day, and he spent the rest of the winter gluing up those spars (about 75 of them) on the ‘spar bench’.  That was the final run of sitka spruce spars, in 1974.The spar on your boat may have been one of the first aluminum ones off, in early 1975, fitted as a replacement.  Don’t take the jumpers off; those first spars had thinner walls, and the ones that people took off the ‘jumpers’, the spars broke.
The glass hulls, as I indicated earlier, were built by Bob Parks, and his sidekick Ed.  Jim ___ built the interior components upstairs.
Other stuff:  the chain on the forestay at that time was an anachronism.  As we rigged them, the last link of the chain was supposed to be rigged into the front hole of the ‘chain plate’, visible in your pictures.  The adjuster was there just to take the slack out of the rig while at anchor.  No one anchors those boats anymore…they are up on the hard.  My suggestion would be to take the chain out entirely, and rig the adjuster (only used while not sailing) directly to the shroud.  It’s your choice, and is as easily governed by history as sensibility.
I do like the your ‘Faspins’ on all of the sail corners. Those were not original.  Cut off the ‘puckerstring’.  I used to call those things the ‘fuckerstring’, because some crew, having read something from Yachting magazine from the 1950s, would tighten it on the downwind…and then forget to release it before the upwind.  Cut it off.
The traveler…you need new ‘balls’.   There is nothing wrong with the underdeck rigging.  Call me.
I have more stuff for you on the splashboard…you don’t want to know, but call me.  I remove them for refinishing.  I will tell you how to do that.
That M-16 will be still be sailing, when you and I are pushing up daisies.
Give me a call-
Cheers, Willie
Willie Crear
A bit later, Willie had a few more recollections…
You remember the boatbuilding operation at Johnson from about 1974 correctly, we were still building white cedar hulls in the C and the E; they had stopped building wood X boats some years before, and only offered the X, Y, and M-16 in glass.  By the way, we always called it the ‘M’ as Melges had trademarked ‘M-16’.  Silly on both sides of that discussion, as Harry Sr. had never patented the boat shape.  While Johnson had built many wood X and Y boats in the decades before I was there, they never did build wood M-16s.  Those were always glass.
In the fall of 1974, we completed the first fiberglass E mould, and built the first fiberglass E for local White Bear hotshot Stu Wells.  He took it to the E Nationals, took second to Bill Allen, and we were off and running with the new product.  A new E sold for $4,400., completely rigged, in those days.  For 1975, we continued to take orders for wood C boats, as the class members were still gun shy about the glass; the boats built under contract at Forester were cored with first balsa, then urethane foam, and both core materials were just different types of junk.  In 1974, we began glass layup in house, and Tom Johansen from Airex consulted on the layup of the new boats, which included 3/8″ Airex foam core, which was an extruded PVC foam, not urethane.  Airex was so expensive, we were spending more money on material for a glass boat than a wood one, but the choice was a wise one…those boats are indestructible.  They also were all ‘down to weight’, whether it be a C boat (650 pounds), an E boat (965 pounds), M-16 (440 pounds), or an X (500 pounds).  My last class E scow came out of the glass shop during Christmas week 1975, and it was 85 pounds light!
Going into the 1975 year, we took orders for quite a few glass E boats, and took 4 new ones down to the Easter Regatta in Columbia, South Carolina.  Billy Allen, still on a tear from his 1972 Olympic Gold campaign with Buddy Melges, won again, but he won 13 E regattas in a row during those years.  Everyone looked to see who was second.  Stu Wells came in second again, Cliff Campbell, with his new glass Johnson E, was third (it was monochrome gray, and I think he named it ‘Ol Blue’), I was fourth with mine, and Skip Johnson came in 11th…in a field of 33 boats.  I approached Skip as we were packing up, and he volunteered, “I am very, very pleased”, and he looked like the cat who had just eaten the canary.
We got into the vehicles and drove straight through all the way back to White Bear Lake…had to, Monday was a work day, dontcha know!  We arrived in the evening at White Bear on Monday to the news that the phone had been ringing all day…they had taken orders for 8 new glass E boats…in one day.  Later that fall, I was assigned a simple task: cut the wood E boat male mould off the shop floor, and store it under the building.  Talk about ‘passages’…I was dumbstruck by the enormous significance of that event.  We built 33 new glass E boats in 1975, and when I retired from the boat business on New Year’s Eve 1975, we had orders for another 34 E scows…and it was still the dead of winter.  The wood E fleet was basically completely replaced in 18 months.
They continued to build a few more wood C boats into 1976, but the success of the Airex-cored hand laid up hulls was undeniable, when one looked at the race results.  During that time, we were building M-16s like popcorn: about 65 of them in 1975 and 1976.
Remember, glass hulls with the Johnson name dated 1973 or earlier are junk.  Melges did not come to the ‘Airex party’ for a number of years after JBW…I saw a Melges E scow rendered in glass, a 1976 or 1977 hull.  Looked at it last spring…it was completely delaminated except for down the middle of the deck, and where the hull met the deck, at the joint.  Abe Lincoln was right: you can fool some of the people all of the time.  To contrast with that, I have happened upon a couple of 1974 or 75 Johnson M-16s at launch ramps, introduced myself to the people about to take them out sailing, jumped around on the decks…those things are still like little bricks, they are so solid.  Credit for that really goes to Tom Johansen, Bob Parks and his sidekick Ed, with Skip, Buster, and Iver committing to the level of quality that they did in 1974.  I just rigged the boats.
Other stuff-
The pour-in foam flotation in your M-16 was definitely added by someone later.  There were foam blocks put in by us, but someone wanted more, and that certainly is what caused the deformation of that boardbox.  Having said that, if you have lots of rookies sailing that boat, there is no such thing as too much flotation.  Check the water tightness of the spar, as well.
At the time that 1974 was built, Jason was about 8 years old, so if he was a little foggy about the details, that’s why.  He DID drill the rubrail on that boat…he started doing that job when he was 5 years old.  If you talk to Jason again, ask him to tell you the ‘Willie Crear’ story.  He recounts it to anyone standing around every time we see each other.
Jason Brown is Marge Brown’s (nee’ Chandler) ‘youngest and toughest’ (Skip’s words), the youngest of 4 boys that were the issue of her first marriage.  She married Skip and moved in with a future A scow crew.  So, Jason is 4th generation, but not a Johnson by blood.
So endeth the latest history reading…
Cheers, Willie
Willie Crear

3 thoughts on “A bit of history …from the fella who built the boat”

  1. Why did JBW stop making A Scows in 1963, and why didn’t they ever get into making glass A Scow. I recall reading that Willie along with several others made a mold of one of the last Melges A Scows made in 1966, and gave it to Melges, but I’ve never been able to find any information on why JBW didn’t make glass A’s. It seems like if JBW was so successful making glass E’s that they would have done the same with the A.
    Also, what is the width of the A at the Bow, and the Stern? I read that there was a concern about oil caning occurring on such a big boat, but that doesn’t seem to be a valid reason to stop making the A Scow.

  2. I raced with Hermann Nunnemacher on his A Scow called Dixie (X-1). Although we lived on Pine Lake in Chenequa, Wisconsin, we did our racing over at nearby Pewaukee Lake, the closest A boat fleet.

    In 1975, we trailered Dixie to Green Lake for the ILYA Championships. It was in that regatta, on a doldrum day during a race postponement, that the small fleet of A Scow skippers and crew, rafted up side-by-side in the middle of the lake. An impromptu meeting was called to discuss the looming problem…the A Scow fleet was facing extinction. The aging wooden boats were deteriorating and becoming too costly to maintain. This posed a huge “barrier to entry” for any potential purchaser desiring to expand the fleet. The discussion focused on how to save this beloved class. The solution became obvious, but clearly challenging…to make a fiberglass mold of one the existing wooden hulls. Hermann stepped forward to offer his boat, Dixie, to Melges for the mold. Dixie was one of the last A Scows built. Based on the previous post, it sounds like it was made in 1966, which sounds reasonable.

    As an aside: I am very proud to say that for many years I raced on Pine Lake with Dick Casper (God rest his soul) on his wood E Scow called Dad’s Dream II. (Dick established the ILYA Bilge Pullers Hall of Fame in 2002 and was inducted in 2010.) Dick was a consummate gentleman, a passionate Scow racer/steward and had the biggest heart I ever knew.

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