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Demolition of the Johnson Boat Works building
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The Publisher
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Feb 14, 2013, 9:18 AM

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END OF AN ERA
Standing for 100-plus years near the shore of White Bear Lake in Minnesota has been the iconic Johnson Boat Works building, which this week saw the end of an era as demolition began February 11.

"I've spent 40 years of my life here," Jason Brown said. "Change can be good but it's always difficult and bittersweet."

Stepson to Skip and the son of Marge Johnson, Brown grew up at Johnson Boat Works, the business Skip inherited from his father Iver, who took it over from his father, founder Johan O. Johnson.

A recap of the building's history and family lineage starts in the year 1875 in Norway when J.O. was born. Orphaned at a young age, he was sent to live with relatives but soon developed a taste for sailing. At 14, he worked as a galley boy on a mail and freight schooner traveling up and down the coast. Johnson met his future employer in Norway, Gus Amundson, who had immigrated to the United States in 1882. He offered Johnson a job if he ever came to White Bear Lake. In 1893, the 18-year-old Johnson took him up on the offer.

Johnson worked for Amundson for two years, building rowboats and traditional sailboats for inland lakes. But the young Norwegian was more fascinated with boat design than construction and began work on a radically different concept; a flat-bottomed sailboat that would ride on top of the water instead of through it.

One day Johnson told a customer about his idea and the man agreed to invest in the new design, "just for the fun of putting one over on his friends at the White Bear Yacht Club," or so the story goes.

Overnight Johnson became self-employed and rented a building on the site where the White Bear Boat Works is now, a block away from Amundson Boat Works in Cottage Park. He began building the first scow, which promptly won its first race in 1896 at the Yacht Club, "not only lapping the fleet but was home with the sails down by the time the second place boat crossed the finish line."

C. Milton Griggs, a wealthy businessman living on Manitou Island, was impressed by the victory and financed another boat, a 38-foot scow he named the Minnezitka, Indian for "Water Bird." It went on to win the club championship that year and is the predecessor of the legendary Class A Scow, still raced on White Bear Lake during the summer. -- Read on: http://tinyurl.com/WBL-021313

EDITOR'S NOTE
: Do you have a Johnson Boat Works story to share? Please post it in this thread or send it to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com




The Publisher
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Feb 14, 2013, 9:19 AM

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From Walt Spevak:
Our family bought our first sailboat, a yellow 16' fiberglass "X" boat with a wooden mast and boom, from Johnson Boat Works in 1964, some 48 summers ago when I was 10. Steve Johnson was always available to help us kids with rigging tips and techniques to help us go faster.

Generations of Midwest sailors learned our sport on Johnson boats, raced against the Wisconsin kids sailing their Melges boats and have stories to tell decades later about sailing on White Bear Lake with its larger than life yacht club. Thank you to the Johnson family for introducing the sport of sailing to so many families these past 100+ years.


The Publisher
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Feb 14, 2013, 9:19 AM

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From Tom Abel - Somers, Montana:
In 1965 my friend, Dean Hedstrom, invited my dad and me to crew for him and his dad on their brand new Johnson C Scow in a race on White Bear Lake. Neither Dad nor I had ever raced a sailboat. We were hooked immediately, enough so that Dad bought a rotted out 1938 Amundsen C Scow from a person living on White Bear Lake soon afterwards.

We spent a summer restoring that boat with the help of Dean's dad, Art Hedstrom. Some of the oak ribs were broken or rotted through, so we visited Johnson Boat Works to see if they could advise us on making new ones. One of the workers with a strong Norwegian accent pointed to the C scow form and asked me about where did the rib come from. After pointing out where the rib went on the form, he said come back in two days. He soaked some oak rib stock in the lake overnight and then nailed it to the form when the rib became pliable. The next day it had dried and kept the shape of the form. The new rib did not fit exactly onto the Amundsen, but it was close enough that we made it work.

The Johnson scow forms did not last forever. When they wore out, new ones were made. The new ones were not exactly the same as the previous ones, so one series of Johnson scows could have a slightly faster shape than others. It turns out the 1965 C scow was one of the better hull shapes.

Iver Johnson was always there and greeted us at the door. He was happy to show us around the entire operation. Skip was a young man then and was seen driving the jeep around the yard, moving boats. The lawn next to the boat works was used for folding sails after coming in from sailing on the lake. The Johnson's did not mind having their lawn used for sail folding, or if they did, they never said anything.

There were always new scows under construction at Johnson's and it was interesting to watch how it was done. I remember how the cedar planking was applied to the ribs. A board was placed next to the last plank and it was scribed to fit with a compass. After cutting the board along the scribed line, it was placed temporarily in place. To get a straight line on the other side of the board, they used a simple carpenter's chalk line to snap a line. The board was removed from the form and cut along the snap line. It was then placed back onto the form and screwed to the oak ribs with brass screws.

The masts were made from wood, maybe white pine or spruce. A box section was glued together in the desired mast shape. The edges were radiused, the bolt rope groove routed in with a ball end router bit. Aluminum spreaders, tops, bases, etc. were then installed.

The Johnsons had their own rigging shop. Cables were cut to length and fittings swaged to the ends. It seems they even cut large plates of steel for the boards and rudders.

Years later, my dad and I had moved to Montana and got involved in racing on Flathead Lake. The restored Amundsen was sold before the move. We had an M Scow purchased from the Hedstroms, and wanted something larger. We made a trip to White Bear Lake and Skip Johnson showed us an E Scow that was in our price range. We came very close to purchasing the boat, but opted for a V hulled boat instead to better handle the big waves on Flathead Lake.

My dad has passed away, but we enjoyed many years of sailing and racing, due to the inspiration of Johnson Boat Works in White Bear Lake, and of course the Hedstroms. I continue to slug it out on Flathead Lake every summer with other racers, now as a member of North Flathead Yacht Club racing Santa Cruz 33, Hull #4.


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Feb 14, 2013, 9:20 AM

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From John Gluek:
Many of us throughout the Midwest can give credit for our love of racing from the upbringing we had racing scows. Those of us that are fortune enough to have a family scow background have sailed what I consider one of the best racing boats along with a top notch organization with the ILYA in the world. The scow organization can be proud of turning out many world class sailors along with great mentors such as Buddy Melges.

Johnson Boats built my grandfathers A scow which he raced in the ILYA back in the early 1920’s and he made sure to have his grand children experience his same joy with a new cub boat built in late 1960’s. The experience of visiting the shop while our boat was in early stages of production is what I remember most. Truly an art of top notch craftsmanship, design, and group of people under the Johnson’s leadership taking pride in building race boats throughout the Midwest.

Many of us have gone on and made a career working within the marine industry which started from a passion sailing scows and would like to wish the Johnson family members the best ahead.


The Publisher
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Feb 14, 2013, 9:20 AM

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From Terry Bischoff:
My future wife's father, Bill Kyle, a Johnson Boat Works' advocate and Commodore of the Inland Lake Yachting Association, purchased a 1960 C Scow for his daughter Susie from Iver Johnson. In those pre fibreglass days, this boat was a double planked, white cedar wooden hull, with the distinctive "stiff" Johnson feel. Kyle was an early innovator on his E Scows, and Susie's boat came with an outboard rudder, standard today, and a long, not very adjustable boom traveler, and a slimmer and lighter wooden spar. There was no boat weighing and very little measuring of Scows back then, and I suspect that even tho double planked, this boat was pretty light, and her spar quit flexible. In those days, the "northern lakes" sailed Johnsons, and the "southern" sailed either Melges or Stamms. So her Johnson C was a rarity in southern Wisconsin.

She was fast out of the box, with a Kenneth Nelson, Chicago, set of sails. By the time of the Inland Champs, then the "Nationals" for the class, she had been a consistent winner. Susie went on to finish sixth I believe, with a second in one windy race, with my brother pulling her mainsheet, and Tom Holbrook on the boards. No hiking straps then. This was the first top ten finisher by a girl, since Jane Pegel, who had by then moved to the M 16 class, which Susie sailed in shortly therafter as well. C Scows are a tough boat to sail, requiring quite a bit of strength, even with those smaller sail shapes.

Her top ten finish for a female stood from 1960, until only a couple of years ago, when a very good Porter girl from Lake Beulah cracked that spot. Susie sailed that Johnson until we were married and the kids starting coming But when she returned to skipping, it was in the very compettive M 16 class, which often had over 100 boats on the line in those days. She bought a new Melges M, built in white cedar, the last wooden boat Melges built. Can't beat the smell of the cedar shavings in the bilges.


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Feb 18, 2013, 7:46 AM

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From Bee Anderson:
The memories last week regarding Johnson Boat Works bring to mind a certain 73 year old Johnson C Scow.

In 1940, my dad Jimmy Friend bought me the BEST C boat I owned from Skip Johnson. I was 18, lived on Pine Lake in southern Wisconsin, one of the original 10 ILYA lakes. My dad helped create the first Class E scow, with Iver Johnson, so he was an ardent Johnson Boat Works customer.

"Carousel" was built with White Oak planks running full length of the hull. She won several seasons on Pine Lake and regattas on nearby ILYA lakes too, plus 1 "Journal Regatta" on Lake Michigan. My husband, Don Anderson, crewed for me after 1946.

This boat is still sailing, although I am not, for pleasure now (2013). She is owned by my son, Jim Anderson. All the old treasures still belong---heavy side bilge boards, back stays, double side stays, and cotton sail!

Sailing still runs my family. I have an Olympic Granddaughter, Sally Barkow, her brother Augie Barkow is ILYA Champion in the C and E Scow fleets, and there are at least six more talented grandchildren on the water.




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Feb 19, 2013, 3:58 PM

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From Al Johnson - Seattle, WA:
Far and away the most fun per dollar I’ve had in 40+ years of sailing was on a 1941 Johnson E-Scow that a friend and I bought in 1973.

It was spring of my sophomore year at the University of Washington, and there were already two old wooden E-Scows moored on the UW docks pretending that they belonged to the UW sailing club, so we figured why not three? It cost us $800 for the boat, complete with a clear finished hollow “box” cedar mast, and set of 1948 Murphy & Nye cotton sails.

The first time we sailed the boat in a good breeze, the jib blew out into three or four large pieces, plus some small ones we never recover, but it gave us a chance to learn how the club’s sewing machine worked. Fortunately, the class had just legalized aluminum spars, which meant all the boats that raced in the Midwest needed to upgrade to a new mast, which required new sails.

There soon became lots of used sails available, and after buying a used set of Dacron sails from a boat on White Bear Lake (sail W-111) for $110, we were in back in business. We put two sets of trapeze hookups on the boat, bought a used Soling chute from Bill Buchan, and we were on top of the world.

There were markers for a measured nautical mile painted on the 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington at that time, and you knew exactly when you were even with them because there was a flash of daylight when the pilings lined up. We’d go out in 15-20 knots of breeze with a stopwatch and sail screaming beam reaches in the smooth water to leeward of the bridge. Our best one-nautical mile time was 5:03, for an 11.9 knot average.

As we put more and more hard miles on the boat, the cedar planks worked more and more on the deteriorating oak frames. In spite of the application of many tubes of Life-Caulk into the seams, we needed to put an Elvstrom bailer to keep up with the leaks while we sailed. Then we had to put in a second one. And then a third one. That was sort of okay as long as we were sailing, but the boat would completely fill with water (deck awash) overnight when we tied up.

I “solved” the leaking problem by buying three Styrofoam logs that were used for floatation under docks and houseboats. I cut the logs to the appropriate shapes, and packed the hull and cockpit solid with Styrofoam. We gave up on sealing the seams, since the hull was now internally floated.

I bought a Tartan Ten in 1982, and we sold the then 41-year old E-Scow for $200 to someone who said he wanted a project. He certainly got one. Since we never paid any moorage, our operating costs were near zero, so I figure that my cost per use was under one dollar. Those really were the best of times.


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Feb 21, 2013, 10:32 AM

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From Walter Schwarting:
I started crewing 76 years ago on a 1938 Johnson C scow owned by Irv Burdick on Pewaukee Lake (boat was named Snit which means a small beer in German). It was a heavy wind boat, and any time the wind was over 14 m/h, it was sure to win the race on Pewaukee Lake, with Snit winning many regattas. By the way, Irv Burdick was the grandfather to Andy Burdick's, who is now the President of Melges Performance Sailboats.


hwprattii
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Mar 4, 2013, 4:57 PM

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I had the pleasure of having 3 different new M-16 scows and one new MC built by JBW. Skip and Jason were a delight to work with and they gave our fledgling scow fleet in Des Moines great support. It was like a trip to the candy store to visit the Boat Works in the fall, roughly sketch out a custom gel coat design and have it delivered exactly as anticipated in time for spring racing!

Skip was the guest instructor one week at Steve Colgate's "remedial racing" class at South Seas Plantation (FL) and shared tips that I still use today.

Iowa sailors have fond memories of the whole family and everyone else at JBW.


flyingjohn
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May 9, 2013, 10:08 PM

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To Al Johnson.....I remember those boats! Most fun I've had sailing as well. Would just crew (ballast) on heavy wind days. Still remember how they would sink at the dock, neat that I wasn't imagining it. Then we would go out and the boat would start to plane, AMAZING! Still think the E Scow was amazing looking on the water. Now returning to Seattle and looked into joining as an alumni. Not the same club it was in the '70's. Too bad. So just joined the Renton Sailing Club, should be neat. Thanks for the great memories of sailing those scows on Lake Washington





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