By Bruce Claflin | email@example.com
One of the greatest things about working on a Boating publication is the opportunity to discover some very interesting stories from the boating community. Many times, the people behind the stories are as engaging as the stories themselves. Boaters love the Boat Show. It’s a great opportunity to see all the latest in boats, marine technology, and a seemingly endless array of ‘must have’ boating accessories. For many boaters, and for me personally, the best part is the gathering of the boating ‘fraternity’ . The annual gathering provides opportunities to make acquaintances, share experiences, and renew old friendships. This was certainly the case at this year’s show when I had an opportunity to meet, and speak with long time Lake Minnetonka resident Jim Rippitoe.
Jim’s family has been on Lake Minnetonka for 84 years. Now 76, Rippitoe has spent his entire life on the lake and in the time since his youth he has probably explored every corner. Recently retired from the commercial real estate business, Jim has taken on another challenge. His new task is a restoration project. It’s a labor of love. Rippitoe is a collector of sorts, he has some 19 boats he’s gathered over the years. One in particular has really grabbed his attention– it’s a 1948 Steelcraft Sedan Cruiser. You see, Jim worked for the Water Patrol in the early ‘60s. It was a time when they used private boats for this work and Jim recalls a Steelcraft that they used on the lake for dive and rescue missions. Always very impressed by that particular vessel, it would be many, many years until Jim acquired one for himself.
Churchward and Company began operations in 1921 in New Haven, Ct. as a welding company and a manufacturer of various steel products. By the early ‘40s, and as part of the war effort, they had expanded into the manufacture of bows and sterns for Army vessels. By June of 1945, and with all military work complete, they began to manufacture steel boats known as Steelcraft. They delivered their first cruiser in October of that year. Steelcraft boats were tough. They tested this toughness by routinely dropping boats by crane from over 100ft. into the water leaving only dents. Steelcraft hulls were made with copper bearing Oticoloy high tensile steel. The steel was abrasion and corrosion resistant, and 35- 40% stronger than mild steel. A .38 caliber pistol fired into the hull from 20 paces left only a 1/8” dimple. They were popular in tropical waters as marine borers that feasted on wooden hulls could not penetrate steel. The boats were not made entirely of steel. The cabin tops were made of molded plywood, the floorboards were linoleum covered, and the hardware was brass and chromium. As a result, Steelcraft boats became popular globally not just for pleasure boating, but for navies and coast guards as well.
The Steelcraft story ends in 1952 when, for a variety of reasons, the Company declared bankruptcy. Today, there are Steelcraft clubs and the boats still retain many devotees. Several of these old steel boats have been lovingly refurbished and are still afloat today. If Jim Rippitoe of Lake Minnetonka has his way, there will be another 1948 Steelcraft Sedan Cruiser on the water before long. Jim estimates that his project will take at least 300 hours of hard labor. A job he is looking forward to in his “retirement”. We wish Jim all the best and will check back with him periodically to see his progress.