Beautifully restored antique and classic wooden boats will bring back a lot of memories for those attending the Whitefish Woody Weekend II show next weekend.
The pleasure boats are a throwback to good times on Whitefish Lake. But then, there have always been good times on Whitefish Lake.
In 1904, the year Whitefish became a city, one of the first boat races was held, when four early-day watercraft made their way from City Beach to the Point of Pines dance hall on the lake’s east side.
Two years later, the editor of the Whitefish Pilot declared that boating on the lake was “quite the thing.” At that time, there were six or seven privately owned launches on Whitefish Lake, “and nearly every family had their own row boat,” the newspaper article noted.
“There will probably also be a number of additions to the ranks of launch owners this summer and this form of recreation will be indulged in by many,” the Pilot stated in 1906.
Newspaper archives further reveal the first powerboat race on Whitefish Lake was held on Independence Day in 1907, and by 1908 the Whitefish Launch and Boat Club was organized. That effort paved the way for the Whitefish Lake Boat Club that organized in the mid-1930s.
The Whitefish Lake Regatta was launched in 1934 and was the premier boating event on the lake. It was the social event of the season, and was the longest-running powerboat race in the United States before the event was anchored into the history books some six decades later, according to Charlie Abell, who was active with the American Powerboat Association for many years.
“The regatta was a big deal,” Abell said. “I remember cars backed up to the viaduct” as boat enthusiasts made their way to City Beach.
The boat club’s showy regattas drew hundreds of spectators who brought picnic baskets and stayed all day to watch speedboat racers challenge one another and sailboats gracefully skim the water.
Abell’s father, Rusty Abell, was active in the Whitefish Lake Boat Club, and Charlie followed in his footsteps. Charlie’s two sons also raced in the regatta.
“When I came back to Whitefish in ’65 I got involved in helping put races on sponsored by the Montana Powerboat Association,” he said.
John Moore of Whitefish got into the racing scene in the late 1940s while he was still in high school. By that time, the regattas were so popular they drew racers from as far away as Seattle and Salt Lake City. Canadians came down to compete, too.
It took years to grow the event, though, and the regatta wasn’t held from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.
“There were not that many boats on the lake before World War II,” recalled Moore, who now lives in a home on Whitefish Lake where the town’s first hotel stood. “The railroaders had no time for recreation.”
Moore, 82, raced the Star Dust U-33, a “beautiful runabout” owned by Ray Markus, competing in the C-service hydro class.
“I won now and then,” Moore said with a smile. “I was the only kid racing. The guys were really good to me. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if the guys hadn’t helped me out.”
The Daily Inter Lake reported in 1976 that 85 families in the upper Flathead Valley participated in water sports activities on Whitefish Lake. At that time, the regatta powerboaters raced in four major classes: inboard, stock outboard, professional racing outboard and outboard performance craft.
There were a number of skilled racers from the Whitefish area, the Inter Lake noted, including Hoagy Carmichael, who won the national championship in 1975 in the inboard class. Other nationally ranked powerboaters in the mid-1970s included Charlie Abell, Gene Hedman and Eric Platt.
While the regatta may have put Whitefish Lake on the map, visitors and locals have always sought out the pristine water for pleasure boating. The Butte tour boat took passengers around the lake in 1909. Many longtimers will remember the Ranger tour boat of the 1950s. In recent years The Lodge at Whitefish Lake has featured its Lady of the Lake, a classic 31-foot Windsor Craft cruiser that takes up to a dozen people around the lake.
The Flathead Valley’s boat makers left their own mark on the history of wooden pleasure boating. In the 1930s two local Flathead boating enthusiasts, Ole Lee and Stan Young, started their respective wooden boat building companies, LeeCraft and StanCraft.
From 1938 through the mid 1950s, LeeCraft turned out a variety of wooden boats, building more than 3,000.
StanCraft was launched in 1933 at Flathead Lake near Lakeside and built wooden boats there until World War II broke out. After the war, the StanCraft Boat Co. resumed business in the Flathead until the wooden boat popularity gave way to Fiberglas in the early 1960s, when StanCraft adapted and changed to modern materials. In 1981, StanCraft relocated to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where it continues to build modern custom versions of the classic wooden boat.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at email@example.com.
John Moore pictured on the Star Dust U-33 he raced.
Regatta racers send up rooster tails of water on Whitefish Lake in 1982.
In the early 1900s, a group of women in period attire were headed to the Point of Pines dance hall on Whitefish Lake. There were a couple of dance halls along the lakeshore at that time, and tour boats routinely transported passengers eager for an evening of entertainment.
Tour boats were all the rage on Whitefish Lake in the early 1900s. One of their primary functions was to shuttle people to the various dance halls around the lake, but pleasure cruises were equally popular.
John Moore, 82, of Whitefish, holds a scrapbook of photographs and memorabilia from his regatta racing days in 1948-49. He was still in high school and was among the youngest racers on Whitefish Lake.