Farm fresh watercraft

Ely author’s book opens doors to vintage boat stories

Two men look over two of the many restored vintage boats displayed Saturday at the Bayport Marina’s annual Antique and Vintage Boat show. (Gazette staff photos by Erik Sandin)

BAYPORT — Sometimes both history — and inspiration — are found in the unlikeliest places.

Ely, Minn., author and businessman Bob Matson said the idea for his book on old boats was his friend, Tom Cotter, who found a rare classic car in a farm building.
“The inspiration for the book did not come from a book about boats but a book about cars,” Matson said Saturday during the Bayport Marina’s annual Antique and Classic Boat Show.

Matson was at Saturday’s boat show to sell and sign copies of his book, “What’s in Your Boathouse: Amazing Stories of Nautical Archeology.” Matson wrote his book after talking to Cotter, author of “The Cobra In The Barn,” a book about people finding and restoring a classic automobiles.

When Matson said when he told Cotter about his idea of writing a book about classic boats, Cotter enthusiastically endorsed the effort.

“He (Cotter) told me, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if you found a Chris Craft Cobra (boat) on a farm’,” Matson said.

Which is exactly what happened, according to Matson. He contacted an Alexandria, Minn.-based boat restorer, who in turn put Matson in touch with a Fargo, N.D., man who found a Chris Craft Cobra boat on a farm in rural southeastern North Dakota town of Oakes.

What made the discovery of the rare boat more remarkable to Matson is that he once lived and worked in the same small town that was home to the watercraft.

“I’m from Oakes. I owned a radio station there. I could have walked past the barn where that boat was pheasant hunting. To find this incredible story not yet told was fantastic.”

Matson flipped through his book to the chapter with the story about the Chris Craft Cobra. Several photos show the boat with its distinctive stern fin in disrepair and restored to its original glory.

Matson said another interesting story he unearthed was about a group out of Tennessee that performed water shows in the 1950s using Feathercraft boats.

“I really enjoyed the chapter called ‘The Flying Boatmen of Knoxville.’ The story of their shows had never been told before. That was back in the day of water ski shows.”
As Matson and his black Labrador, Walleye, visited with boat show visitors in the food and merchandise tent, other visitors strolled the marina’s driveway and docks looking at restored large and small antique boats. Among the watercraft were two restored wooden speedboats named “Bobby’s Girl and “Lil’ Cappy” tied together and a restored 1940 U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse tender tugboat.

Matson owns Matson Motor, Marine and Small Engine” repair in Ely and specializes in vintage boat and motor restorations. He gave several reasons why interest remains high among people to find and restore old vehicles and boats.

“Nostalgia is so big. In hard economic times, people want to go back and relive simpler times. With some people today, spendable income is no longer an issue and they want the nostalgia from their childhood.”

The dwindling supply of antique boats is another reason Matson gave for the interest in finding and restoring watercraft.

“Vintage wooden boats in the 1920s and 30s cost about 20 times what an automobile cost back then. Only the wealthy could afford them (boats). That translates into rarity,” he said.

Contact Erik Sandin at [email protected]