- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

LAKE OZARK, Mo. (AP) - Terry Hart walked down to his dock at Lake of the Ozarks and introduced a visitor to his pride and joy.

“This is Chug,” he said, nodding toward his vintage wooden ski boat. “This is our go-to-dinner boat.

“When we pull up to a dock outside a (waterfront) restaurant, they’re not coming out to look at the million-dollar boats.

“They’re coming out to look at our boat.”

The 1961 Chris-Craft ski boat, all 17 feet of her, is a reminder of the big lake’s rich past, when wooden boats were common. Now sleek fiberglass models - everything from runabouts to cruisers to bass boats - dominate the water, The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/1KgN50q ) reported.

But there are still a few wooden boats drawing stares and looks of envy on the water. When Hart, his wife Sue and his friend Kevin Tracy, took Chug out for a spin on a recent weekday, they quickly commanded attention. Other boaters honked or waved as the Harts and Tracy roared past.

“When I bought this boat, the owner told me, ‘At one time, this was the fastest boat on the lake,’” said Hart, 63, who lives in Lake Ozark, Missouri. “Well, I didn’t believe that for one minute.

“This boat might go 40 mph tops. But I didn’t buy it for its speed. And I sure didn’t buy it for its ride. It’s a rough-riding boat.

“I bought it because I just love these old wooden boats.”

So, it has to be worth a lot, right? Nah. Hart estimates it might be worth $25,000 at most.

Still, he isn’t about to get rid of old Chug (named after a previous owner’s sons, Charles and Doug). He laughs when he looks back on a day when he had to turn down an attractive offer for the boat.

“A guy asked me how much it would take for him to buy the boat,” Hart said. “I threw out the figure of $13,000, thinking there was no way he would go for it. But he did and I had to back out.”

For Hart, Chug may be the centerpiece of his passion for classic boats, but it certainly isn’t alone. He estimates he owns 25 antique boats, all the way from some of the first paddleboats made to fancy, ahead-of-their-time cruisers.

“I love the history behind these boats,” Hart said. “That’s what fascinates me.”

The first boat Hart ever owned was a 1963 Chris-Craft. But it wasn’t the looks or the performance that persuaded him to buy that boat. It was the price tag.

“I went in with a friend to buy that boat for $1,200,” he said. “We did some wood work on that boat, got it looking nice and we used the heck out of it.

“I can’t tell you how many hours we put on that boat, just water skiing.”

Today, Hart still uses the wooden boats he buys instead of turning them into show boats. He has ready access to those older watercraft. He owns a dive and salvage business on Lake of the Ozarks, and is often called on to retrieve boats that have sunk, mostly from months of neglect at the dock.

When Hart brings those boats up and finds that the owners no longer want them, he often offers to buy them at reduced prices. He gets some bargains, then goes to work to restore them.

At one time, that was going to be a business for Hart. He and his wife would work the salvage business in the spring and summer, and then he would restore and sell the wooden boats in the winter. But when the economy went into a tailspin, the demand for the wooden boats declined at Lake of the Ozarks. So Hart became content at becoming a collector who enjoys his boats recreationally at the big lake.

“Some people might say I’m a hoarder, but I’d prefer to call myself a collector,” Hart said with a laugh.

Even his work boat for his dive and salvage business is a collector’s item of sorts.

“My tug boat was made in 1964 on the Puget Sound,” he said. “And it still works great.

“It’s the baddest tug on Lake of the Ozarks.”

Hart also takes pride in his 1926 Lake Union Dreamboat, an ahead-of-its-time cabin cruiser. It features a rich wood finish, a cabin with living space, room to sleep and a galley.

He is a big fan of Chris-Craft, the first company to mass-produce wooden boats and manufacturer of some of the finest watercraft on the market. The company built its last mahogany boat in 1971, completing a transition to fiberglass. But thanks to Hart and others, the early works live on.

“At any given time, we’re probably in the oldest boat on the lake,” Hart said. “And for me, that’s fun.”

___

Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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