|International Antique and Classic Boat Show this weekend in Fontana|
|Written by By Loretta Sawyer and Lynn Greene|
|Tuesday, 20 September 2011 13:05|
Randy Streblow,left, offers boat show visitors a ride in 2010 on his double plank bottom, mahogany 1969 boat, manufactured by Streblow Custom Boats, Inc. File photo by Lynn Greene/staff.
(Read the story in the e-edition HERE)
FONTANA — Streblow Custom Boats is the oldest continously operating wooden boat manufacturing company in the United States, and their boats will be on Geneva Lake this weekend.
Gage Marine has been in the excursion boat business on Geneva Lake since 1873. They will have an old steamer and an original 1940 Garwood boat on display.
While these two companies have strong local roots, there will be a definite world-wide flair for the International Antique and Classic Boat Show held Friday and Saturday at The Abbey Resort in Fontana.
The event is sponsored by the Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society. More than 100 of the top-ranked and prized classic and vintage boats in the United States and Canada are expected at the 36th annual event. It will be the 13th annual boat show at the Abbey Resort, said Mark Svoboda, president of the Blackhawk Chapter.
“The international show moves around the country to various locations,” explained Svoboda. “Lake Geneva has a great history, from the early steamers to the very large presence of antique and classic boats on the lake today, which makes it a perfect location for the event.”
Larry Larkin, of Lake Geneva, wrote about this history in his two books, “Full Speed Ahead,” about the steamboat era on Geneva Lake and “The Grand and the Glorious,” about the classic boats on the lake.
Larkin’s history of Geneva Lake is tied to the history of Lake Geneva. His book recounts the aftermath of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.
He said, “there was a great impetuous to come to Lake Geneva. People sent their families up here as a place to live while they rebuilt their houses in Chicago.”
The building boom had begun, which led to the steamboats being built to transport people across the lake from point to point.
Bill Gage, president of Gage Marine in Williams Bay, will have one of these old steamer boats at the show. Gage Marine owns three classic boats in their excursion fleet that were built at the turn of the century. The steamboat “Louise,” built in 1898, has a functioning steam engine. The “Polaris,” also built in 1898, and the “Matriarch,” built in 1902, continue to ply the waters of Geneva Lake.
By 1880, the steamboats became more luxurious according to Larkin. “They became more yachts than utilitarian,” he said.
When the automobile became more popular, the need for the boats diminished. The Great Depression led to the boats’ demise because they were expensive to maintain.
Luxury boats were still made, of course. During the ’40s and ’50s, most of them were crafted of mahogany, an expensive but very durable and beautiful wood.
During World War II, a use tax was slapped on the boats, but following the war, that tax was lifted. Nevertheless, people had already begun to use smaller boats for skiing and recreation on the lake. The nature of boating on Geneva Lake had changed.
“Today, those wood boats are now treasured and very collectable,” said Larkin.
Randy Streblow, owner of Streblow Custom Boats agrees.
“Today there is a demand for wood boats; people get them and fall in love with them,” Streblow said.
Streblow’s father, Larry, began the family business in the ’50s. Since then, Streblow boats dominate Geneva Lake’s choppy waters.
“All of our boats are made of Philippine mahogany, white oak framing, and double plank bottoms,” Streblow said. “We will be giving free boat rides, so people can have the opportunity to ride in a wood boat.”
Gage Marine also will have boats available for people to take boat rides. They will display one of the Gage-Hacker wood boats.
Because Geneva Lake is a long, narrow lake, it can be prone to choppy waters when the wind blows east to west.
Since 1873, Gage Marine has restored, designed and built vessels — from mahogany skiffs to elegant yachts. However, it is the wooden Gage-Hacker craft that has become another tradition on the lake.
In the late ’50s, Russell Gage, Bill Gage and John Hacker tested and refined a hull design in the University of Michigan’s wave tank, which simulates the “Lake Geneva chop.” Today, these boats are known for their smooth ride, beautiful lines and great craftsmanship.
The Antique and Classic Boat Society brings people with a common interest in these antique and classic boats to promote a love and enjoyment of them.
The Blackhawk Chapter began in the mid ’70s and has 275 members from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Approximately 60 members will have boats at the show, according to Svoboda.
“We organized the activities for the members, which begins earlier in the week in Chicago," said Svoboda. “Then we move to the Abbey for the business meeting, member reception and the public boat show.”
“We are honored to have Lake Geneva and The Abbey as the destination for this international event," said David Lindelow, The Abbey’s general manager.
More than 8,000 visitors are expected to attend the five-day event. Approximately 120 boats will be displayed around the property for the boat show on Friday and Saturday.
“Something we are excited about is The Blackhawk Chapter Youth Program,” said Svoboda. “Twelve kids between the ages of 6 and 16 have worked for nine months restoring an 1955 Wolverine to its natural condition. The restored boat will be christened at 2 p.m. Saturday.”
As a sponsor of the event and board member of Lake Geneva’s visitor bureau, Gage sees the boat show as a great opportunity to not only showcase the history and excitement of the antique and classic boats, but also the Geneva Lake area. All ages will enjoy wandering around the boats, talking to the builders and owners of these fine vessels.
Svoboda and Streblow agree.
“We feel it is important to get young people involved in antique and classic boats and boating,” Svoboda said.
“This international boat show is an opportunity of a lifetime for Lake Geneva. The elegance and beauty of the boats reflect what Lake Geneva is,” Streblow said.
“Anytime an area is able to put is best foot forward and show its great venues, it’s a good opportunity,” Gage added. “We have a lot ofgood things in our area and it starts with the uniqueness of the lake.”