The Thousand Islands Renaissance
By Peter B Mellon
“POUFF” was shipped in the summer of 1936 to Alexandria Bay, New York to Alfred Lee. Mr. Lee was a local builder of national reputation with the Fitzgerald and Lee Boat Company, which was also a Gar Wood dealer. His operation was located at what is now Vann’s Marine on the north side of the Alexandria Bay town docks. The boat was only one of two of the “623” models built in 1936. It was originally powered with a higher power option, a Scripps 152-6, 169 HP that produced a top speed of 42 mph. The boat was named “LU”.
In 1948 “LU” was acquired by Nathaniel Amot of Summerland Island, Alexandria Bay, New York. The Amots renamed the boat “CLUE” by adding the “C” and “E” to the transom. They also re-powered the boat at Rogers Marine in Alexandria Bay. The new power was a large Nordberg “flathead” and at the same time, the Gar Wood single instrument cluster was replaced to one of similar design but compatible with the Nordberg. Mr. Amot is deceased, but his son, Randy, tells me that the boat had been at Little Ironsides Island prior to their acquisition.
Mr. A. Ray Smith of Tulsa, Oklahoma (who owned Estrallita Island) purchased “CLUE” in 1955. Smith renamed the boat “POUFF”. Smith owned George Fuller Construction Company, which was a prime contractor for the St. Lawrence Seaway during 1955-1956. In 1960 Trammell Crow (a Texas real estate tycoon) and his partner Cloyce Box, a former all-pro Detroit Lion, and then current Texas “mega” oilman acquired the Fuller Company. Estrallita Island and “POUFF” were assets of the company and went with the sale of Fuller Company.
Trammel Crow and Cloyce Box sold the Fuller Company in 1966 (including Estrallita Island) but kept “POUFF” relocating her to their hometown of Dallas, Texas. “POUFF” was overhauled in-route in Metarie, Louisiana at Jahncke Shipyards (builder of Liberty vessels in WWI). Cloyce Box selected Jahncke because it was a subsidiary of Zapata Petroleum; Zapata was owned by a friend of Cloyce’s from the oil business, George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States.
Over the next 10 to 12 years
the boat languished in the Texas sun at Lake Dallas and fell into a state
of disrepair. Wooden boat specialists were not in abundance and Trammell
Crow became increasingly
frustrated by the condition of the boat. With company assets of $30 billion and a family net worth of over $1 billion, he could afford to do whatever he wanted and decided to give me the boat under the condition that I return her to the 1000 Islands and “do her right”. I was a young business partner of his and he was aware of our home in the 1000 Islands on Grindstone Island.
I took the boat “sight unseen” in the fall of 1977. What a disappointment. If offered $500 for the boat and trailer I would have taken it, save and except for my promise. My father and I went to Cloyce Box’s ranch to pick up the trailer. My father was astounded and thought we had arrived on the set of the TV show “Dallas”. In fact - we had; when the pilot series was done for the show, Trammell allowed the filming of the show to be at their 40-story office building and in one of their tenant’s boardroom. Cloyce allowed his ranch to be used as the Ewing family ranch and the “Ewing” name came from Ewing Buick which owned the Mercedes dealership in Dallas and thus provided courtesy cars “Ewing 1”, “Ewing 2” etc., as personal license plates. Box’s ranch was later reproduced for the show when the pilot series hit pay dirt.
The boat was forlornly docked at Lake Dallas with a pump running constantly to keep her afloat. We loaded her on the trailer and set off for South Carolina, where she was stored for several years. I took title in the interim. The project was discussed with Ron Waterson (a wooden boat restorer from Fisher’s Landing, New York) who, at that time had never done a major job. However, I had known him since he was a little boy hanging out at Gerald Reeds. We bought our first boat from his grandfather, Gerald Reed. In addition, my aunt was from Clayton (her family built Skinner trolling spoons) and she had gone to high school with Gerald. There was never a second choice to Ron since he agreed to do the project over time and I had very little capital that my wife would not notice missing from my meager resources.
With input from Tony Mollica who helped launch creative interests in wooden boats and in particular, Gar Woods, and with additional input from Riggs Smith, a neighbor of Ron’s in Fisher’s Landing the project was begun in the mid 1980’s. We completed the project in the 1990’s. Duane Chalk also of Fisher’s Landing, New York rebuilt the Nordberg in the late 1980’s but we decided not to use it because of a cracked cylinder that had to be “sleeved” and the fact that it was not original to the boat. The boat was re-powered with a V-8 Chevy MercCruiser (350cyl) and the boat was converted to a 12-volt system. We had to go to a dual exhaust in the process.
We designed a new instrument
panel, which has been used as the standard by the Turcotte Brothers for
new Gar Woods. They actually borrowed parts from “POUFF” and Ron before
producing their first boat “TEAL”, a 28-foot triple now owned by the Museum.
Cloyce Box has since died. Trammell Crow has problems associated with old
age (he was born in 1910). He did visit Charles Snelling at Estrallita
as recently as 2002 in his vessel “Michaela Rose”
a 170-foot Dutch ship. His family has been kind enough to open their Adirondack Camp “Top Ridge”, built by Marjorie Merewether Post, to the Friends of the Museum, which is a group of supporters of the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York, partially at my request.
Tony Mollica discovered the “Ron Waterson - Alfred Lee coincidence” which completed the loop for “POUFF’S” legacy. I know Trammell is proud to have her return to the St. Lawrence River and to be in such excellent condition.
Author’s Note: “POUFF” has
“Best Gar Wood” awards starting in 1991 and “Antique Boat of the Year” and can be seen in
Tony Mollica’s book on Gar Wood.
The Renaissance Award” is most meaningful. “POUFF” is kept on the north shore of Grindstone Island just outside Clayton, New York and will hopefully be on the St. Lawrence for many, many years to come.
Special thanks to David Taylor,
Owner of “POUFF” and Daniel Gregory, Sponsor of the