Meet the Minnesota Neighbors Who Share a Love of Vintage Boat Work – Robb Report
Not all vintage boat owners inherited their boats. Two Minnesota neighbors are among those looking for old beauties instead and have amassed staggering collections of classics.
When Lee Anderson bought his first antique boat, a 1938 Chris Craft Resorter, in 1985, he named it after his wife, Katharine. “When I was little, my dad had a wooden boat on the lake in northern Minnesota where we spent the summers,” says Anderson, 82. “I’ve always wanted one. After Katherine, I kind of caught the bug.
Forty-five boats later, Anderson still owns the 19ft – which he describes as “not very valuable” but will never sell – as well as the definitive collection of vintage North American boats, many of which are appraised to millions. Anderson is now focusing on unique pre-WWII racing boats, such as the 1924 Baby smuggler, who won the American Motorboat Association Gold Cup in 1924 and 1925, and legendary models from rock-star builders of the day, including Gar Wood and Hacker, and even rarer Canadian mahogany brands. To make the cut, a boat must have a story so intriguing that it makes other collectors jealous. “Scarcity is what’s important to me,” he says.
Anderson houses 10 ships in a special wing of his home in Gull Lake, Minnesota, which doubles as a showroom, with tracks that lead to shore so he can launch them during the summer. He keeps 12 more in the water under canopies. “I don’t like the boats not being used,” he says. “I try to keep them all alive every summer.” Anderson is regularly seen piloting two or three different woodies a day around the lake.
On the same chain of lakes lives John N. Allen (the men’s houses of Naples, Florida are also close together), who also has one of the largest and rarest collections of classic wooden boats. from the country. “I was seeing Lee running these boats before anyone was interested, and that sparked my interest,” says Allen, 67. His first acquisition: a 1929 Gar Wood triple cockpit in 2001. “That was 29 boats ago.”
Allen’s collection includes the two oldest Chris Crafts – both dating from 1922 – and a 33ft Gar Wood from 1926 called Baby Gar Bolo Babe, powered by a V-12 Liberty engine. He is now restoring teasing, a fast, nearly 40-foot-long commuter that in 1925 beat the 20th Century Limited train in a race down the Hudson from New York to Albany. Allen refuses to pick his favorite, even though it might be easy to guess. “Princess Paige is a 1926 Earl C. Barnes named after my only daughter,” he says. “It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a jewelry box on the water.”
Allen considers himself a steward of rare treasures. “So many precious boats have been destroyed over the years,” he says. “I take great pleasure in restoring them and moving them to the future.