All photos and Company History courtesy of Denise Goodwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angler Boat Company

Penn Yan, New York

The name Penn Yan is well known in both the antique and contemporary boating communities. However, fewer people are acquainted with the Angler Boat Company, which produced thousands of boats in Penn Yan, NY from the early 1950’s to the early 1960’s. Angler was founded by the owner of the Penn Yan Boat Company primarily to supply Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, America’s two largest mail order companies of that era, with outboard motor-powered boats. Angler operations were housed in the old two-story Penn Yan boat plant on Keuka Street, which Charles Hermann built in 1924 after his Champlin Avenue factory burned to the ground. The name Angler appeared on only a small portion of the company’s boats. Most of the output of this factory carried the names “Elgin” (for Sears) or “Sea King” (for Montgomery Ward). The following history was compiled by Howard Frum, who served as General Manager of Angler during most of its operating life. While documenting the Angler story, Howard contacted several of his former colleagues at Angler and the Penn Yan Boat Company, including Jim Alexander, Rodney Stone, and Tony Pizzenti, who also contributed significantly to this history.

The two-story building at the corner of Liberty and Keuka Streets in Penn Yan, which housed the Angler Boat Company, had a long history before it was razed. The plant was built in 1924 to replace the Penn Yan Boat Company’s factory that burned in 1923. During the 1930s, after Penn Yan’s boatbuilding operations were transferred to the large, new Waddell Avenue plant, the facility was used by Penn Yan Bus Bodies. During WWII the plant constructed racks, etc. for army trucks. The Penn Yan Boats Co. secured the plant and a franchise to build Sterling Diners. The diner business never materialized and Penn Yan Boats started to build inboard boats in this location. Both the Penn Yan Boats Co. and the Angler Boat Co. were owned by Mr. Cooper Schiefflin of Long Island, New York. Penn Yan Boats was managed by Ralph Brown and Bob Stuart. Mr. Brown designed boats for both Penn Yan Boats and Angler. During 1951-1952 the Angler Boat Company was established at this facility to build boats for Sears and Montgomery Ward at this location. The General Manager of Angler Boats at the time was Joseph Collier. Shortly after starting up the Angler operation, Mr. Collier died. After his death, Howard Frum, a Senior Industrial Engineer from Sylvania Electric Co., took over as General Manager.

The boats built for Sears were labeled Elgin Boats. Those for Montgomery Ward were labeled Sea King. A number of the boats were sold to Firestone and independent marine dealers under the Angler name.

Angler built only two sizes of boats – a 12-foot hull and a 14-foot hull. One was a completely open boat with very little hardware. The second design had a forward deck, which would take a steering wheel. The third design, or deluxe model, had a forward and rear deck as well as seat backs and chrome hardward. The only difference between Elgin and Sea King boats was the color scheme and in some instances, hardware.

Each year after a prototype design was agreed upon, the buyers from Sears and Montgomery Ward would give an estimate as to what the year’s requirements would be. Production would start on these units, most of which would be warehoused. Late in the winter and before boating season began, some of the larger Sears and Ward stores would order a number of boats for display and early promotion sales. These boats were usually delivered to the stores by Angler trailer, which was driven by employee Harry Bell. As spring approached and the orders started to increase, production at the Angler plant would accelerate greatly. Some of the large Sears distribution centers such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh would place orders large enough that the boats would be shipped in railroad freight cars.

The boats built by Angler were ribbed boats with two layers of cedar planking with a sheet of vinyl sandwiched between. The boat forms were called male forms and were covered with stainless steel strips, which served as “buck” strips for clinching the brass nails.

The first operation was done by an employee known as the ribber. This person fastened a pre-machined keelson and inside bow stem along with the pre-assembled transom. The oak ribs, which were machined on four sides, were placed in a steam box where the hot steam softened them to the point where they were very pliable. The ribber then nailed them to the keelson and to the bottom of the form. Each rib was located over a stainless steel buck strip.

The next step was the nailing of the cedar planking on the ribs. The first layer of cedar was tacked with a galvanized tack, which was done only to hold the planking in place. The entire boat was then covered with one piece of vinyl. The second, or outside layer of cedar planking was nailed in place. The employee known as a tack spitter would place a number of brass tacks in his mouth and feed them out one at a time as he drove them. The tacks were sterilized because of this procedure. The tack spitter used a shoemaker’s type of hammer with a convex head. This was to sink the nails without breaking the wood fibers.

The outside of the hulls were covered with paste type filler and sanded when dry. This created a smooth paintable surface.

At this point an employee called a railer took over and removed the hull from the form. The keel and outside bow stem were installed and the transom trimmed. The boat was turned right side up and the railer would then trim the rib tops to the proper length and install the rails along with the transom knees, bow block or deck, seat risers and other items as dictated by the model.


FLBM Collection

The boat was then sent down to the finishing department where the unit was painted and varnished as needed. Any hardware or final operations as needed were handled at this point.

The packing of the units was done by spreading a large section of burlap on the floor and covered with straw. The burlap and straw were brought up around the boat and fastened together in an envelope fashion. At this point the unit was ready for storage or shipping.

Molded Mahogany

During the late 1950’s, Sears bought boats from a company called Yellow Jacket based in Texas. These boats were made from molded mahogany veneers. Their distribution of the finished boats from Texas to the Northeast posed quite a problem and Sears asked Angler to assist in the program. Yellow Jacket shipped train carloads of molded mahogany “skins” to Angler. These skins had no transoms and were nested like spoons with up to a hundred or more per car. During that period there was a four-story warehouse on the corner of Liberty and Lake Street, which is the present location of Pudgie’s Pizza. The first and second floors of this warehouse were rented by Angler and the mahogany skins were completed into finished boats. This operation was under the direction of Earl Newcomb, foreman. The parts for these boats were made in the Angler mill. The finished boats were shipped out to Sears by rail freight and by Angler trailer. This production was for one year only. During the season that Sears was taking both Angler cedar boats and the molded mahogany boats it became necessary to put on a second shift. When operating, the second shift was run by Larry Orr.


Fiberglass Boats

The first fiber glass boat built in Yates County was built by Angler under the direction of Rodney Stone. Ralph Brown designed the first fiber glass boat built by Angler. It was a version of the Penn Yan canvas covered dinghy. In making a boat hull in one piece it is necessary to have all portions flared out to permit it to be released from the form.

Sears ordered fiberglass boats somewhat the same size as the cedar boats. The form for making a fiber glass boat is called a female form. To facilitate the removal of the finished hull, the inside of the form was sprayed with a release agent. The inside of the form was then sprayed with a gel coat which gave the outside of the boat a smooth finish in the color desired.

The next operation required the application of the fiberglass. This material came in different forms and was used, as the situation required. At the time it came in three types. One looked like a coarse open weave, which looked a little like coarse burlap. This was used more in finishing applications. Another form was called fiberglass mat. This was not woven but in a form of uncombed fibers which were held to a specific thickness by a form of sizing. This type was used where heavy applications were needed for strength. The third type looked like unbraided rope and was run through a mechanical chopper, which cut it into lengths desired – such as ¼ and ¾ inch. This was mixed in mid air and blown onto the boat interior where needed. The unit that applied this looked like a 3-headed spray gun. The middle head chopped the fiberglass and blew it out where it mixed with the phenolic resins from the two outside heads. All applications of fiberglass required a saturation of resin to make it turn into a hardened form.

The phenolic resin was a semi-clear liquid in the consistency of heavy syrup. Before application it was mixed with a monomer catalyst which started the curing process. Because of a time limit on the workability of the mix it was necessary to prepare only what was needed at the time.

Materials

The material that was used in Angler boats came from a number of sources:

1. All oak that was used – ribs, keels, rails, knees, etc. was purchased from a sawmill

located at Ingleside, NY, and was owned and operated by Fred Horan.

2. The mahogany used for seats, transoms, etc. was purchased from lumber importers.

3. Wood for planking was replaned red cedar and was purchased in carload lots from the West Coast.

4. Paint and varnish was purchased from Cloverleaf Paint and Varnish Company.

5. Gel Coat for fiberglass boats came from the Ferro Corporation.

6. Phenolic resins for fiberglass boats came from the Uniroyle Corporation.

Personnel

The following is a partial list of the people who worked at Angler Boats. The operation was broken down in two floors with the office staff. Time has dimmed the facts as to those involved, but the following partial list has been verified by those still living at this writing.

The office staff was made up of the following:

Howard Frum, General Manager who took over in 1951 after the death of Mr.

Joseph Collier.

Carrie Kirkpatrick, Office Manager, started with Penn Yan Boats and moved into

Angler when it became a separate operation.

Edith Snyder joined the office staff in 1954.

The first floor, street level of the Angler operation was the area responsible for the construction of the boats. The foreman of this floor was Rodney Stone. The following is a partial list of some of the people who worked for Stone and their part in construction.

Morris Peterson - Deck builder

Ernest Tears - Deck builder

Howard Enos - Railer

Larry Orr - Railer

Charles Bodine - Ribber

Ernie Jacobsen - Tack spitter

Web Randall - Tack spitter

Bud Tyler - Tack spitter

Ken Howell - Tack spitter

Sandy Thompson - Tack spitter

Otto Weichenthal - Tack spitter

Ray Brady - Filler

Kurt Weichenthal - Filler

The lower level of the Angler operation was the mill that produced all of the parts for the boats, painted them and packed them for shipping. The foreman of this floor was George Tears. The following is a partial list of the people who worked for Tears, and their jobs:

Lou Matteson - Mill

Charles Warren - Mill

Edward Nesbitt - Mill

William Bordwell - Painter

Ralph Snyder - Painter

Ed Boske - Packer

M. Horne - Yard man

Jim Alexander - Shipping

Harry Bell - Trucking

During the early 1960’s wooden boat production at the Penn Yan Boat Company slackened in response to movement of the market away from wood to aluminum and fiberglass hull construction. Angler operations were moved out of the Keuka Street facility and consolidated with those of Penn Yan’s at Waddell Avenue. Shortly thereafter, Sears and Montgomery Wards stopped placing orders for wooden boats, and Angler ceased production. The old Angler plant site was traded for land adjacent to the Waddell Avenue facility to create additional parking space at the Penn Yan Boat Co. factory. The Angler building was eventually razed, and today the site is now a grassy lot along the outlet, marked by a sign proudly proclaiming that it once was the home of the Angler Boat Company.

Bill Oben