Cruisers Boats Gather
by Andreas Jordahl Rhude
Forty-three wooden and
fiberglass boats were on display at the third annual Thompson Antique and
Classic Boat Rally August 8-9-10, 2003. Held at Nestegg Marine in Marinette,
Wisconsin, the Rally celebrates the marine endeavors of the Thompson family.
For the third year in
a row over 40 antique and classic plus a few contemporary boats made by the
Thompsons were on display. Boats from as far away as Missouri participated. All
told there were 27 boats by Thompson; ten by Cruisers, Inc.; three from T & T
Boats, Inc.; one by Thompson Royal-Craft; and one each from Chris-Craft and
Correct Craft. Cruisers, T & T, and Thompson Royal-Craft were spin-offs from the
original Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. of Peshtigo, Wisconsin.
The oldest boat was a
1941 Thompson TVT Deluxe Speedster sixteen-footer and the newest was a 40-foot
2004 Cruisers Yachts 400 Express. A special emphasis at this year’s Rally was
the fiftieth anniversary of Cruisers Yachts.
Cruisers traces her
origins to the summer of 1953 starting out as Cruisers, Inc. Her founders were
six of the second generation Thompson family members. Ray, Glenn, Roy, Grant,
Bob, and Ted Thompson, Jr.
established Cruisers as a result to fill a niche for larger
outboard cabin cruiser type boats.
Cruisers, Inc. was created with the full blessing and cooperation of Thompson
Boat. The synergy between the two corporations is evidenced in the initial
actual cabin cruiser made by the two firms. In the late months of 1953 Cruisers,
Inc. built a nineteen-foot cabin cruiser. She was a clinker hull suitable of
using the largest of twin outboards then available. The advertising flyer
proudly stated she was “Thompson Designed” and built to “Thompson Quality” by
Cruisers, Inc. and sold by Thompson. The cabin boat was built specifically to
show at the New York Boat Show in January1954. Another one was purported to have
been built for display at the Chicago Boat Show, several weeks later. The model
was dropped from the product line and those two boats were the only ones of the
type built. No one knows what happened to them.
From her inception in
‘53 until the end of 1958 Cruisers and Thompson were working hand in hand.
Another example of this cooperation was the 1955 Thompson Off Shore
eighteen-footer. The exact same
picture was used in the 1955 Thompson catalog as was used by Cruisers the
following year in their literature to illustrate their Vacationer model.
Ownership of Cruisers changed hands effective January 02, 1959 when brothers Roy
H. and G. Grant Thompson gained complete control. From that point forward the
firms competed with one another.
As more and more
builders introduced fiberglass boats, the markets for wooden watercraft were
declining in the early 1960s. Cruisers was producing 3,000 boats annually in the
early sixties. This dropped precipitously when only 800 were sold in the 1965
sales season. The only means to get back in the game was to make the leap from
wood to reinforced fiber plastic technology.
1962 Thompson 18’ Sea Lancer
Roy and Grant and their cousins at Thompson Boat, T & T Boats,
and Thompson Boat of New York all resisted the impeding change. They all
believed that a good wood boat (which they all made) could out perform, out
live, and out sell any comparable fiberglass boat. Consumers,
however, had a different philosophy and wooden boats were on their way to
extinction. Roy and Grant began retooling for fiberglass production. The ’66
model line included several all-glass boats as well as the traditional wooden
clinkers. By the following year all wooden boats had been unceremoniously
dropped from their product mix. They brought in Cyrus Atkinson to head up their
fiberglass production. He had years of experience with the material and he was
instrumental in making the transition at Cruisers, Inc. as painless as possible.
The operation at
Oconto eventually got over the pains of evolution and Cruisers, Inc. was on an
even keel by the late 1960s. Grant Thompson retired from the firm in 1970 and it
was announced in December 1971 that Cruisers, Inc. had been sold to Mirro
Aluminum Company. Roy Thompson remained at the helm of the Cruisers Division of
Mirro Marine until his retirement in 1979. Thus ended his boat industry career
that had spanned half a century.
Cruisers rode the
peaks and troughs of the marine industry and for the past decade it has been
owed by K.C. Stock and it is known as Cruisers Yachts A Division of KCS
International, Inc. Today they make high quality fiberglass yachts ranging is
size from 28 to 54 feet. The foundation that was built in the 1950s and 1960s by
family has been used to build the company to the successes she currently enjoys.
Cruisers yachts helped
to celebrate the Thompson Antique and Classic Boat Rally in August 2003. Not
only did they contribute financially, a forty-foot yacht was brought to the
Rally and she was open for tours during the show. Some folks even got to go for
a ride. Paul Stenton and Jeff Butz of Cruisers Yachts were on hand during the
Rally to give tours and let folks know what the firm was up to in the
twenty-first century. What a juxtaposition to compare the new boat with those
built in the 1950s!
A slide show on
Cruisers’ history was presented at the Rally on Friday evening along with a
welcome reception. There was an in-water boat parade Saturday afternoon with
thirteen classics and two modern boats participating. The boats motored down
river into the big waters of Lake Michigan’s Green Bay and headed to the
Menominee, (MI) Marina several miles away. It was quite a sight to see all the
beautiful boats in formation! Numerous former employees of Thompson, Cruisers,
and T & T were on present during the Rally to answer questions from today’s old
boat enthusiasts. Thompson family members were also present during much of the
event and for the first time ever, some Thompson family members got to meet one
another. They were brought together by the Rally!
The forth annual Rally
will once again take place at Nestegg in Marinette on August 13-14-15, 2004.
This will be a special year, one that will mark the 100th anniversary of the
formation of the original Thompson Boat in 1904. For more information and to be
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