Archive for October, 2009

18
Oct
09

The “New Deal”: An Alumacraft “FDR” restoration part one…

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Alumacraft is a name with which I am familiar, but only in the sense that I see a lot of these boats around, both new and old.  They seem to have a good reputation, especially the older craft. 

Alumacraft is still in business, and is known for making modern and sleek boats…primarily for fishing.  Back in the 1950’s I suspect they felt some pressure to enter the market for motorboaters who wanted to pull a waterskier, and cruise the lake while on the yearly family summer vacation.  Thus, Alumacraft outfitted their standard fishing boat with a wheel deck and steering.  The aluminum bench seats were retained and upholstered seatback and cushions were added to make the little fishing boats look more sporty and comfortable.  A windshield was also an option.

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The story of the boat ending up in my backyard is one of kindness.  It is as follows.

For those who follow this blog, or more for those who don’t, my wife’s job has been cut due to budgets being cut back at all level of her work.  We decided to put some money in our pockets by shedding things that were not necessary, and that meant one of our boats had to be looked at a surplus.

There was no way I was going to part with our 1949 Thompson Cedar Strip 14 footer.  I’d sell the house first.  This meant the 1955 Feather Craft Vagabond was going ot be put on the market.  I had only finished the restoration this year, but times are tough…so up for sale it went.

The Vagabond was posted on various websites for sale, including  www.feathercraft.net.  I was contacted by a buyer from Tennessee who offered me what I was asking, and was willing to come pick the boat up.  I was relieved he and his girlfriend seemed to be thrilled with the boat, and it would have a good home port, and Captain and Crew that loved it…perhaps more than I did.

Upon listing the boat as “SOLD” on the Feather Craft forum, I got a funny call from one of the members.  He introduced himself, and stated he saw I’d sold my “ship”.  He continued…“I’ve had some shitty and tough times in my life.  I know what you’re going through, and I wanted to help out.  I have a 1959 Alumacraft boat, with trailer! I want you to come pick it up.”

I explained, I couldn’t afford to buy anything right now…but the man cut me off to continue…

“You’re not going to pay for it.  I want to do something nice for you so you and your wife will have a boat for next season.  This boat is good and straight, no dents or dings, and no leaks.  I just want you to come get it!”

I really couldn’t believe my ears!  Fortunately my wife was in the car, because she could hear the conversation from my cell phone, or she wouldn’t have believed it either!

I told the caller I’d better check with my wife.  He laughed and said “seriously?!?”  I explained that I found myself in the doghouse when I bought the Vagabond, and this would be best for all concerned.  (Refer to blog post:  Feather Craft Vagabond Part One: From the Boathouse to the Doghouse…)

My wife and I talked it over, and I called to accept the vessel with great excitement.  I couldn’t believe someone I’d never met could be so kind.  I was…and am truly dumbfounded!

Now I have a new project to work on!  I had heard Alumacraft was a great boat, but I didn’t know what kind of boat this was.  I didn’t really care though.  If it was just a fishing boat, GREAT!  I could run my smaller antique outboards on it.  But the man had mentioned rigging still being on the boat…so this means it must be a runabout of some kind, though I knew of no such boats made by Alumacraft.

We set a date for Saturday October 17th, 2009 for my road trip to Kentucky to pick up the vessel.  In the meantime I called my buddy Larry to ask him to accompany me for the trip.  Larry is a former railroader.  He is used to staying awake for long trips, staring out the window of a cab, and generally he is entertaining to spend time with as he re-lives stories of railroading.  I knew we would have plenty to talk about.

On the date specified, I picked Larry up at 7am sharp, and down I-75 we headed for Kentucky.  I was tired, and excited.  Larry was in rare form that early in the morning…dropping the “F-bomb” every four or five words in each sentence.  We rolled along re-living our lives on the railroad, cussing, and laughing, telling stories…and being MEN.  He had my sides hurting at some points from laughing.  He’s a wonderful guy…but a real character!

We got to Maysville, Kentucky at least an hour before I expected, stopped for lunch in Flemingsburg, KY, called the “boat benefactor”, and set out down the road for the 20 minute trip his home.

He greeted us, and showed us several of his beautiful boats and motors.  Then he took me to my new vessel.  I was thrilled.  (Even Larry said later that he was surprised by the boats condition.)  There sitting on it’s vintage Balko Brother’s trailer was a wonderful little 14 foot  Alumacraft “FDR”.  It had the original steering wheel, pulleys, and splash well on the transom, the bow handle, and even a nice Perko Bow light.  “This boat has real potential” I thought.

Well, everything wasn’t perfect.  Despite new wiring, and lights, the trailer light plug did not match my truck.  Larry and I hitched it up and headed back to Flemingsburg to the NAPA store down the street from the McDonald’s where we’d had lunch.  After dragging some guy from behind the counter to assist me, I found an Emergency Trailer Lighting Repair Plug”.  6.99!  It simply was a snap together plug that fit my truck.  Larry and I cut the existing plug off the trailer, put the new plug on…and down the road we went.

Now for the boat.  I had done some research about Alumacraft boats in the week and a half from the call to “Greg and Larry’s Big Adventure”.  I found a website that had an old brochure with an Alumacraft runabout.

Oh!  What a great looking little boat!!

Oh! What a great looking little boat!!

I had found that Alumacraft had indeed made a model called and “FDR”.  This was the model-“F” styled  hull, with the “D”eep hull for more freeboard than standard fishing boats, and the “R” was a designation for runabout.  I had hoped this was the boat we would be getting, but again, anything was a gift.

Indeed this “FDR” was the very boat my “boating benefactor” was bestowing upon me.

Our new 1959 Alumacraft "FDR" at her new port of call in Toledo.  What a great lottle boat this will be!

Our new 1959 Alumacraft "FDR" at her new port of call in Toledo. What a great little boat this will be!

This boat has great potential.  It is very well constructed, and appears to be tight as a drum.  Nice lines and she looks to be a great project boat!  The hull very much resembles our Thompson, so I suspect she’ll ride well, and be a FAST ship!

This lil' darlin' was outfitted with a windshield at one time.  I'll start hitting the bone-yards looking for one that will fit.

This lil' darlin' was outfitted with a windshield at one time. I'll start hitting the bone-yards looking for one that will fit.

The Helmsman should be nice and comfy in this roomy cockpit! The wood on the transom will require replacement. This wood is original to the vessel.

The Helmsman should be nice and comfy in this roomy cockpit!

 

She is outfitted with the Patented "Aqueduct Transom".  This is a  splash-well that allows any water that comes over the transom to drain out rather than sit in the bilge.

She is outfitted with the Patented "Aqueduct Transom". This is a splash-well that allows any water that comes over the transom to drain out rather than sit in the bilge.Her capacity plate is still affixed to her transom.

  
 
There is no denying her heritage.  The letters "FDR" are stamped into the transom brace.

There is no denying her heritage. The letters "FDR" are stamped into the transom brace.

This was the 130th hull of this design model made for 1959.

This was the 130th hull of this design model made for 1959.

 

Her transom wood is original, but likely will be replaced.

Her transom wood is original, but likely will be replaced.

Although most work will not happen until warmer weather in the spring, I am looking forward to making this little vessel into a good representation of her original self.  New seats and upholstery for the front and back with be replicated.  New electrical will be strung.  Checks for any leaks and sealing of same will be a priority.  A windshield and additional deck hardware will be added.  Stay tuned for updates in the future.

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15
Oct
09

The Glenn Miller Orchestra: America’s Musical Time Machine…

I found out late that the Official Glenn Miller Orchestra was to play for veterans at Toledo’s Stranahan Theater on this past Wednesday.  I had not had a chance to see the band in close to 10 years.  I had however placed a call to the band’s office several years back requesting Larry O’Brien, the Musical Director’s help in finding someone to refurbish my vintage 1938 King 2B trombone. 

Larry indeed did call me while in a hotel somewhere on the road.  He offered some advice, and I wanted to drop by to say hello and thank him for his kindness.  Of course Mr. O’Brien didn’t recall the conversation, and we had only met once before 10 years ago, but he was very kind, and offered to allow me to hang out backstage during his performance.

I was supposed to be working, but spoke to my boss who was gracious about letting me have the afternoon free to go see the band.  She is a wonderful person too.

So I ran home and grabbed my camera, got into a more comfortable shirt, and off to the theater.

I watched Mr. O’Brien put the band through its paces during the sound check.  He was calm and relaxed, and yet very deliberate in giving direction of how the band should be playing.  He is neither bossy, not mean, but rather very kind and respectful when issuing the directives.  He understands his musicians are people.  There was absolutely none of the “Band Leader mentality” that has been written of Benny Goodman and “The Ray” (A glare Goodman used with underperforming musicians.), or the military discipline of the orchestra’s namesake leader, Glenn Miller.

At the end of the rehearsal, Mr. O’Brien gave everyone a list of songs to pull out of the thick and overwhelming orchestra music books.  He introduced to the band an Alto Saxophone player from Detroit who was subbing for their own regular guy who had gone home sick. Last he thanked the orchestra members for their time and work.

At 2pm the band was introduced and the members piled on stage to their respective spots on the bandstand.  Larry O’ Brien entered the stage after the applause died down for the band members.  More applause for the “conductor”.  Then the band was off and running.

The saxes rise and play the Glenn Miller sounds of "Moonlight Serenade" as Larry O'Brien conducts.

The saxes rise and play the Glenn Miller sounds of "Moonlight Serenade" as Larry O'Brien conducts.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra has many incarnations over the years.  Immediately following World War II, Tex Beneke, star saxophonist and vocalist lead the band until a break-up with the Miller Estate.  The band lay dormant for several years until old friend and Miller colleague, as well as the man who fronted the USAAF Orchestra following Major Glenn Miller’s disappearance over the English Channel, was tapped to lead the band.  Than man was drummer Ray McKinley.  He had perhaps one of the most swinging version of the Glenn Miller Orchestra through the years.  Ray played great time on drums, and swung like crazy.  The band followed. 

After 10 years Ray settled down, and the Baton was passed to clarinetist Buddy DeFranco on the premise of the clarinet lead, he would be a good fit.  For a while, former Miller USAAF Orchestra clarinetist Peanuts Hucko led the band, Buddy Morrow did a stint before taking the reins of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the late 70’s, and that brought in trombonist Larry O’Brien.

Larry has always been a top notch trombonist, working in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra Jr., and many other headliners.  But Larry had also worked playing lead, and all the tough Tommy Dorsey trombone solo for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra directed by saxman Sam Donahue (who by the way also played trumpet, valve trombone, and all the reeds.)  Larry eventually worked for the Glenn Miller Orchestra under the direction of Ray McKinley.  This makes him uniquely qualified for his position as the current musical director.

Larry O'Brien is playing solo trombone on Johnny Mandel's "Easy to Love".

Larry O'Brien is playing solo trombone on Johnny Mandel's "Easy to Love".

 After the opening, Larry played four full tunes before addressing the audience.  FOUR!  Unheard of for most concerts, but this set the tone for the pace and flow of the show, which the leader has mastered.  One of my favorite pieces he played was Johnny Mandel’s “Easy to Love”.  It is a piece I’d been watching trombone great Bill Watrous play on You Tube the night before.  Larry played with great sensitivity…and his full broad, lush tone ringing in the hall was phenomenal on this lovely ballad. 

Larry is in a league with the likes of the greats such as Dick Nash, Buddy Morrow, Chauncey Welsch, Lloyd Ulyate, Joe Howard, Tommy Dorsey, and yes, dare I say Bill Watrous.  His high register ballad playing is unparalleled in today’s jazz scene.  He uses taste.  Vibrato as required.  And most importantly, as with the whole band, dynamics.  Something largely lost in today’s jazz and certainly in music as a whole.

Larry is no “baton swinging leader”!  He is always a man in motion!  He beats the songs off with crisp claps of his hands, and at the perfect tempo.  Constantly swinging his hips side to side (Which nearly got Elvis thrown off the television some years ago.), Larry taps a foot, make a face, or gives a look…and the band responds.  Only one other leader was able to do this so well, Count Basie.

Mr. O’Brien rolls side to side, and plays along whenever he feels the need!

The photo shows "the man in motion" fronting the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

The photo shows "the man in motion" fronting the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Larry also insists on showmanship, as did Glenn Miller.  Miller always liked the way the great Jimmy Lunceford’s band played and threw their horns in the air, twirling trumpets, and derby hats waving in front of the brass section bells.  This kind of showmanship has diminished, yet is synonymous with the Big Band Era!  The leaders were super heros, the sidemen were kept track of by fans like baseball players.  Who left whom to go to where, and is playing with what band now.

This band still does the gymnastics of old, making a Catholic Funeral Mass seem like a leisurely walk in the park!  UP! DOWN, SWING LEFT, SWING RIGHT!

Sitting in their seat, the trombone section is about to get their workout!

Sitting in their seat, the trombone section is about to get their workout!

Upsy...daisy...gentlemen!

Upsy...daisy...gentlemen!

Look out saxes...here we come!!

Look out saxes...here we come!!

The momentum of the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s presentation has never been better.  Always moving forward.  Larry still talks to the audience, but the commentary is brief, but very pertinent to the music being played.  The the next song begins…and were moving along again.

Larry at the mic, taking another solo on the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn masterpiece "Chelsea Bridge".  This is a tour-de-force piece many trombonists have played through the years.

Larry at the mic, taking another solo on the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn masterpiece "Chelsea Bridge". This is a tour-de-force piece many trombonists have played through the years.

Above Larry is playing “Chelsea Bridge” from the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn songbook.  This piece has been played by many trombonists over the years.  Bill Tole with the USAF Airmen of Note, an extension of the USAAF Orchestra Glenn Miller led during WWII.  A beautiful ballad piece, Larry plays with buttery smoothness.  Duke would be so proud of his music when played by great musicians, as on this occasion.

The “Girl Singer” of the Miller Band is Julia Rich of Nashville, TN.  She has a wonderful southern draw, and a mastery of singing almost anything.  She does a wonderful job on the Miller Band, and has for a number of years.

Songbird Julia Rich solos at the mic, eliciting memories of great "Girl Singers" like Helen O'Connell, Helen Forrest, Bea Wain, Connie Haines, and Jo Stafford!

Songbird Julia Rich solos at the mic, eliciting memories of great "Girl Singers" like Helen O'Connell, Helen Forrest, Bea Wain, Connie Haines, and Jo Stafford!

 Of late…the Glenn Miller Orchestra has been pulling out arrangements that have not been heard in many years.  On this occasion the tune was a surprise to even me.  The tune was originally played by the Will Bradley – Ray McKinley Orchestra around 1939 or so when their band was heavy into the Boogie Woogie sound with Freddie Slack’s deft piano playing.  Miller was not adverse to putting his spin on a novelty tune.  The tune was sung by Tex Beneke and the Modernairs originally.  This time sung by the Moonlight Serenaders. “Booglie Wooglie Piggy” is back in the band’s repetoir.

The Moonlight Serenaders singing "The Boogily Woogily Piggy", a great novelty tune.

The Moonlight Serenaders singing "The Boogily Woogily Piggy", a great novelty tune.

During intermission Mr. O’Brien was kind enough to sign the bell of my 1950’s vintage Getzen Super Deluxe trombone, along side Buddy Morrow’s signature.  We took the photo below, and his lovely wife offered to have me sit with her near the front of the stage for the second set.

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Larry and his lovely wife Judy, who travels with the band.

Larry and his lovely wife Judy, who travels with the band.

On the second set, after thanking the sound man, the ushers, and the audience, Larry explained that this orchestra was an acoustic orchestra.  He asked the sound man to shut off all the mics, and launched into “Danny Boy/Londonderry Aire”.  Again, with the beautiful flugelhorn opening by the lead trumpeter, Ashley Hall, the band set about adding a soft tone with brass and saxes on this lovely old folk tune.  The solo originally played by Glenn Miller was played impeccably by Mr. O’Brien, showing his beautiful tone and fluid sound.  He wow-ed the audience with his mastery of circular breathing (Inhaling air from thecorners of the mouth, while still playing the instrument.  very difficult!) by holding and sustaining the last notes for seemingly minutes.
 
Being a sentimental slob that I am, I may have shed a tear or two at this point.  It was simply pure, and wonderful, and beautiful.  No amplification.  You could have heard a pin drop.  For me, this was the best of any playing a big band could do.
 
The band lunched into the old familiar “In the Mood”, a tune made famous by Miller.  It started life before Miller with Artie Shaw’s Orchestra under the name “Tar Paper Stomp” running some 7 minutes long.  Then Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra took a swing at it…but to no avail.  Miller being an arranger chopped out the “bad parts” to make “In the Mood” a big band staple.
 
Then off to the band’s theme “Moonlight Serenade” and two encore tunes for the crowd of veterans and their families.
 
The show moved forward at all times.  The band played with amazing dynamics, and at 77 years young, Larry O’Brien is daily giving young well trained musicians life lessons in music.  He has more energy than 3/4 of the band I suspect.  An amazing trombonist, leader, and orchestra…keeping the Music in the Miller Manner alive and strong.
10
Oct
09

Feather Craft Vagabond Part Thirteen: Thanks for the memories…

Well , in these tough economic times, changes and belt tightening are inevitable.  And so it goes at our household.

Due to tax revenues being greatly decreased in the state, Ohio has seen fit to cut funding to the public library system statewide, regardless of the fact that record numbers of people are going to libraries for assistance in job searches, filling out on-line resumes, etc.  My wife has been caught up in the effects of these drastic cuts by being reduced to part-time and likely will not have a job by years end.  But this is all for a separate blog…so I digress.

In an effort to keep some cash handy for necessities until she finds full-time work, we have begun to shed a few items.  The first casualty just left the driveway behind a pick-up truck heading for Tennessee.  My Feather Craft Vagabond is gone.

She was indeed a fun little vessel.  We spent time cruising the Maumee River since her completion in late may.  I was always toying with something to improve the boat.  Higher pitch prop, brass prop, aluminum prop, more trim, less trim, trim tabs.  I finally got her to the point she really was in a nice groove.  She ran well and handled well.

I spent time twisting and turning while chasing seagulls and jet skis along the Maumee.  I polished her up, and was told by a young man at the dock she looked like a silver bullet going along the water.

Alas, she has left, and I am grateful to have had some time with this eye-catcher .  She delighted all who saw her.  Now, for the winter anyway, I will get back to working on a few old outboard restorations.  Hopefully by spring we may not be wiped out, and my wife will have a full-time job.  If not, my boss always says “it’s just stuff”.

I’m not really remorseful, just glad she’ll have a good home and care takers in her new Captain and Crew.

And so it goes…

AMOCI Constantine, MI 7-11-2009 037

So off to life in Tennessee with a wonderful couple who will enjoy her.

So long Silver Sonic!  Thanks for the memories…