Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 20, 2002

Love of water and wood propel couple's boat restoration hobby

By Julie Yurek

Water and wood are what Chris and Brad Ernst of Lester Prairie enjoy as a hobby ­ restoring boats.

Together, her love of antiques, and his of wood, combined with their love of the water, made restoring classic wooden boats an obvious choice for the duo.

They purchased their first wooden boat about five years ago, a 1966 Chris Craft, which is a 17-foot utility and water ski boat, Chris said.

"Wooden boats are very affordable to purchase and restore, if the owner does most of the work," Brad said.

The Ernsts do all the restoring themselves. "Brad does the wood cutting and installing, and I help glue, sand, and varnish," Chris said.

"We both have a hand in the restoration," Brad said.

A very noticeable difference between owning a wooden boat and a fiberglass or aluminum boat is the maintenance, Brad said.

"Every year a wooden boat needs a coat of varnish applied," Brad said. "Sun is bad for it."

"There are two things to remember about a wooden boat. It should be kept in water, but out of the sun," Brad added.

"If a person can't keep it at a lake for the summer, then it just needs to be wet down first before heading to the lake," Brad said.

"A day or two before we use the boat, we remove a section of the floor and put a garden hose in the bottom of the boat to fill it with water," Chris said. "The water makes the bottom swell, which makes it floatable and leak-proof."

"Depending on the boat, a plug can be removed to let the water out when we get to the lake, or a bilge pump can be turned on," she said. "It's just something that wooden boats require."

Before talk of going to a lake could even begin, the Ernsts had to do a bit of restoring to the 1966 Chris Craft.

The first thing Brad did on the boat was to remove the "ribs" of the boat, wood inside the boat that supports the entire structure, and put in new wood, he said.

Once that was done, the boat was put on its top so they could replace the bottom, Brad said.

About five thousand screws later, the bottom of the boat was bare and ready for new wood.

He replaced the boards on the outside of the boat, just below the water line. He didn't replace the wood above the water line because it was still in good condition, he said.

In between the boards, Brad put a special glue to help with the contraction and expansion of the wood.

Next, he put glue over the entire bottom of the boat and placed another layer of wood boards on top.

Then the two begin sanding with some help from the family, Brad said.

"When replacing a boat bottom, it needs at least 12 coats of varnish," Brad said.

The boat is not only beautiful, but also is fully operational. The pair use it to waterski.

The Ernsts keep the boats as original as possible. "It's very similar to classic cars, to keep everything original," Chris said.

In fact, many boat interiors look like cars of the time when the boat was built. "Our 1966 boat looks very similar to the a car in the 60s," Brad said.

"It may look like boats took after cars, but it was the other way around," Brad said.

"Boats could cost four times more than a car in the 1950s and 60s," Brad said.

With this hobby, it is hard not learn about history.

The Ernsts have obtained original advertisements and catalogs for Chris Craft boats, Chris said. "We got them through eBay (the Internet)."

"We have definitely learned about the history of boats, the economy, and life as it was in the 60s," Brad said.

Last year, the Ernests bought a 1952 22-foot Chris Craft, which they hope to complete by next spring, so they can take it to the boat show at Treasure Island in Red Wing.

The boat show is a popular event for the Bob Speltz Land-O-Lakes Chapter, a boat club which the Ernsts belong to.

The organization is nationwide, with about 10,000 members, 500 being in the Bob Speltz chapter.

Many members bring their boats to the show and display them, Chris said.

They have brought the '66 and a 1930 boat to the show and want to bring the 1952 too, Chris said.

The Ernsts also own a 1930 homemade runabout, which is a type of fishing boat, they said. The man who built is was Glen Buck of Glencoe. He built it one-third the size of a 1929 33-foot Gar Wood. It is 12-feet long.

"From a certain angle in some pictures, it looks like a lot bigger," Chris said.

"Mr. Buck certainly did an outstanding job. The boat still floats," Brad said.

Many people who have ridden in the Ernst's boat, the '66, want to get their own wooden boat, Chris said. "Once we tell them the work and time that is involved to get the boat to look this way, they seem to put the brakes on about buying one."

"Not that it can't be done by other people. We just want them to be informed before they buy. We talked to many people before we bought the first boat," Chris said. "It took us a year to find the right boat to buy, which was is a good thing, because if we had bought the first one we saw, we probably would not have had such a good experience restoring it."

"The advice and information we received from the boat club was great," she said. "The chapter gets together once a month or so, and in the summer, we go boating as a group on Lake Minnetonka or the Mississippi."

"If anyone has questions or wants to get involved in wooden boats, feel free to call us," Chris said. Brad agreed. "We want to help, just like we had people help us."

"People ask us when we're at the lake, if it's really a wooden boat. I don't know if many people know they exist anymore," Brad said. "It would be great to have more people restoring them. Wooden boats are a part of history."

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