Dominion and Yankee, side by side in Canada during the 1899 Seawanahaka Challenge Cup.

At the turn of the century, no fewer than three boat builders were crafting scow designs on the shores of White Bear Lake

 


 



Dr. Thomas A. Hodgson
is the author and has
provided these
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Copyright 1997 Thomas A. Hodgson
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Excerpts have been reproduced with
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White Bear Lake's involvement with scow development was natural enough. In fact, Maynard Meyer of Pewaukee later called White Bear the "most recognized center" of Midwest boat building at the turn of the century. Three major boat builders had established shops on her shores—Johnson, Amundson, and Ramaley. Add to the mix Lucius Pond Ordway and Milton Griggs—two gentlemen wealthy enough to finance the development of new boats—and you have the ingredients for an almost explosive era of design experimentation. 



On White Bear, this rivalry between builders began in 1896 with the arrival of Alfrida. While visiting his father in Providence, Rhode Island, earlier that year, St. Paul businessman Lucius Pond Ordway saw boat builder Nathanael Herreshoff to order a yacht for his friend and fellow sailor Milton Griggs. (Sailors often bought boats from established East Coast builders before local builders opened their shops and perfected their art.) While in Providence, Ordway and Herreshoff discussed the designs of flat-bottomed boats. Herreshoff had been successful with this design in smaller boats, and Alfrida would be an experiment on a larger scale. Alfrida appeared on White Bear Lake in 1896. She was a lightweight boat with ribs running fully across the hull, canoe-style. John O. Johnson once said that, in his opinion, the real idea for the racing scow came from the Alfrida.  


With the debut of Alfrida, Ordway wanted a boat of his own to compete more closely with his friend Griggs. He immediately commissioned local builder Gene Ramaley to create a boat from the plans of Charles Reed, a major contributor to scow design, who had been active in the Seawanhaka Challenge. Reed, of Reed and Stem (the St. Paul firm that later built New York's Grand Central Station), designed a boat obviously inspired by the canoelike construction of Herreshoff's Alfrida. Such stealing and refining of other boat builders' designs was common in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  

Reed's boat, Yankee, was a centerboard design with an essentially flat bottom with rounded bilges. She had a blunt but pointed bow, with the sides of her broad deck extending nearly straight aft to a squared-off transom almost equal to the boat's width. The wide expanse of deck and the small cockpit (relative to those of her predecessors) gave rise to the moniker "sidewalk boats." 

The wide deck was practical, if for no other reason than to handle the increased crew. As the sole source of ballast, the crew was sorely needed to handle the tremendous areas of sail permitted by the Seawanhaka Rule. 


Johnson called Yankee the first true scow he had seen—not a surprising assessment, given Alfrida's influence on her design. Even Duggan called Yankee an "all out scow." She was 35 feet long overall with a 7 foot, 8 inch beam. She displaced 1,300 pounds with a 6-inch draft and a 13-inch freeboard, and was constructed of 5/16-inch cedar planks over oak ribs on 8-inch centers. Certainly, the combination of Yankee's deck and hull lines looks more like the scows we know today than did either of Duggan's Glencairns or Dominion. 


In 1899, Ordway, feeling confident that Yankee could handle Dominion, sought out Duggan for a challenge. Yachting magazines and eastern newspapers gave considerable advance publicity to the contest, held on Lake St. Louis, near Montreal. Speculation centered on the distinct possibility that Ordway's boat might win. Unfortunately for Ordway, Dominion beat Yankee three out of four, with Yankee's only win coming when Dominion broke her mast in the second race. Yet Dominion's wins might not have been due to superior boat design. White Bear Lake yachtsman Homer Clark, who had been solicited to gather information on that lake's early scows for James C. Kimberly's history of the Neenah-Nodaway Yacht Club, explained this in a 1946 letter to Kimberly. Clark's loyalty to his fellow White Bear Lake resident notwithstanding, he suggested that: 

it was evident that there was no particular advantage in the double-hull but the Dominion won the races because of better sails. They were Ratseys [of the Ratsey Lapthorn sail loft] brought from England and were materially better sails . . . better than anything we had. Also, they had the advantage of knowing the currents in Lake St. Louis, which is simply a widening of the St. Lawrence River. 


The Weirdling
John O. Johnson would make his contribution to the scow's evolution as well. In 1896, he produced his first boat, a scow of his own design that included refinements on a Charles Reed model. Johnson built the boat for Frank Douglass, a White Bear skipper. Douglass called his boat Weirdling—a name indicative of the widespread opinion at the time that the scow design was regarded as highly innovative, and that Johnson's boat contained some considerable innovation of its own. 

Johnson told White Bear sailor Homer Clark that he put double bilge boards in Weirdling, but that Douglass thought them too much trouble and so substituted them with a center board. Weirdling never did enjoy the success of Yankee or Johnson's Minnezitka, but as seen in the Yankee-Dominion competition, design is not always the deciding factor. It's easy to speculate that the competition provided by Ordway and Griggs may have been too much for Douglass and his Weirdling. Because Johnson originally built Weirdling with bilge boards, she was almost certainly the first—if only for a matter of months—true bilge-board scow. On that fact alone, she deserves more than a footnote in the history of scow development.

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