Dundee Boats: 'Fishing boats for fishermen'
DUNDEE--What was once a fixture among Keuka and Seneca Lake watercraft, Dundee Boats are now a part of the village's history. Local authority on Finger Lakes boats Mark Warden looked to recapture that history with a presentation on the former boat company Friday, March 20 at the Wayne town hall as part of a lecture series held by the Finger Lakes Boating Museum.
Warden said the history of Dundee Boats is interesting because they were made by a local manufacturing firm that shipped boats all over the world. He said they never strayed from their tradition of making smaller wooden boats and were pioneers in the industry, especially when it came to molded plywood hulls.
"Throughout it all, they stayed true to the original theme of building fishing boats for fishermen," Warden said.
Warden said he has two Dundee Boats, adding he purchased what was left of the company's tools from former owner Ed Kellogg in the 1980s. He said through his discussions with Kellogg as well as research help from the Dundee Area Historical Society, he can now retell the history of Dundee Boats.
"It is interesting to know what Dundee as a village had contributed to wooden boats," Warden said, adding the company used to produce upwards of 360 boats annually. His presentation focused on the history of the company and included some of the tools he purchased on display along with several historical photos and memoribilia.
According to a historical piece on Dundee Boats by Bill Oben, former president of the Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Charles L. Wixom started Dundee Boats in a barn near his residence on Bigelow Avenue in Dundee in 1929.
"Over the next 16 years, under his leadership, Dundee Boats turned out thousands of small rowboats and outboard powered boats," Oben wrote. "Charlie Wixom was born April 8, 1875, in Italy Hill. His father, a local merchant, died when he was 7. Four years later, his mother remarried and the family moved to Hammondsport."
Oben said while in Hammondsport, Wixom attended school with Glenn Curtiss, working as a carpenter building barns in Italy after graduation, while also dispensing drugs in Smellie's Drugstore in Hammondsport. He said Curtiss offered Wixom a job in his motorcycle factory, with Wixom staying on as it evolved into airplane manufacturing.
"It was Charlie who crated the motorcycle for shipment to Ormand, Florida where Curtiss drove to a world's speed record (136.3 miles per hour) in 1907, and who did much of the woodwork on the June Bug in which Curtiss made the first pre-announced, publicly witnessed flight in America, in 1908," Oben wrote. "As airplane construction evolved away from wooden framework, Charlie returned to his home in Dundee and started building and repairing boats. By 1929, demand for new boat construction necessitated expansion of his boat shop, and he acquired property previously owned by the Standard Oil Company on Bigelow Avenue in Dundee and established his boat factory."
Oben said Dundee Boats specialized in the construction of sturdy, lightweight fishing boats.The boats were carvel planked with cedar over oak framing. He said by 1941, the factory occupied 11,800 square-feet, employed 15 to 16 workers, and produced 11 models. These included a 13-foot double-ended fishing boat, a 14-foot cottage boat, a 12-foot, strip planked sport model, a 12-foot fishing boat with a sliding seat, a 16-foot deluxe model outboard, and an inboard first introduced in 1941.
Oben said Dundee Boats were sold through a dealer network located in most major cities along the eastern seaboard. In 1945, Charles Wixom sold Dundee Boats to G.F. Thompson and E.R. Kellogg of Buffalo.
"Prior to his acquisition of Dundee Boats, Ed Kellogg had been a designer with Curtiss-Wright Corporation, where he helped design airplanes during World War II," Oben wrote. "In 1948, Ed became sole owner of the firm, and remained so until 1958 when Gerald and Lawrence Morley became part owners of the corporation."
Oben said during the late 1940s, Dundee boats successfully competed in the annual Albany to New York outboard boat races. He said in 1948, Ed Clancey of Dundee drove a stock model Cottage Sportsman powered by a 9.7 horsepower Evinrude motor to a first place victory, covering the 140-mile course in six hours, 51 minutes and 35 seconds. Oben said four different Dundee boats were entered among the 200 boats which ran in various classes that year, and all finished the race successfully.
"Outboard model boats built by Dundee were a fixture on Seneca Lake," Oben wrote. "The company supplied the cottage market, as well as local boat liveries such as Getchells. During the 1950s, construction evolved from strip plank to 'unilam' (molded plywood). The company purchased molded plywood hulls (skins) from large manufacturers, and finished these into the various models offered by Dundee. In 1959 eight different outboard models were being offered. The factory employed up to 18 employees during peak production periods."
Oben said in February of 1959, a fire destroyed the main plant of the company along with 21 completed boats and several boats in various stages of construction. He said by April, the company built a new cinderblock building to house manufacturing operations.
"During the early 1960s, the boating industry converted rapidly from wood to fiberglass hull construction," Oben wrote. "While many of the large production builders were able to make this transition, few of the smaller companies could support such a conversion. Consequently, the industry lost the majority of these smaller shops. Early in 1962, the Dundee Boat Company closed their doors for good."