Wooden Boats Hit the Water in Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

Thinking back to summer trips on Flathead Lake with his grandfather, Ron Tjaden still vividly remembers the fast-moving motorboats of the 1950s. As an impressionable teenager, there was nothing he wanted more.

“It seemed like all of the cool people had those gosh darn wooden boats,” he said. “I saw them as a kid and dreamed of having my own.”

Starting on June 28, more than two dozen of those boats will be cruising Whitefish Lake as part of the Big Sky Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society’s second annual Whitefish Woody Weekend. Boats from as far as Washington and California will be on hand for three days of displays and parades. According to event organizer Tim Salt, the Whitefish event is the first one of the summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Salt said the highlight of the event would be Friday night’s cruise along the shores of Whitefish Lake.

“As cool as a wooden boat is sitting, they were not made to sit, they were made to run,” he said. “To see 20 or 25 boats cruise by is an awesome sight.”

The Big Sky Chapter of the boat society also hosts the Antique and Classic Boat Show in Lakeside during the first weekend in August. Last year, it decided to expand to Whitefish and Tjaden, president of the chapter, said it’s a nostalgic experience.

“If you want to know what Whitefish Lake was like in the 1940s and 1950s, then come to the Lodge this weekend,” he said.

Tjaden grew up in eastern Montana and moved to Rollins in the late 1990s, when he purchased his own wooden boat – a 19-foot Chris-Craft built in 1952. Tjaden does much of the work on the boat himself and said that is part of the fun of having one. Keeping the boat close to original condition is important to him and he often does research to ensure the appliances and additions on his craft are historically accurate. The same goes for Salt, who also has a wooden Chris-Craft boat built in 1955.

Salt and his wife had originally wanted to get a classic automobile, but thought that a boat would be more fun.

“It’s a 58-year-old engine and 58-year-old wood, so there is a lot of work to do on it, but that’s part of the fun of having it,” he said. “We’re not just boat owners, we’re the curators of a piece of art and it’s our duty to maintain it for future generations.”

The Whitefish Woody Weekend kicks off on Friday, June 28, when boats start arriving at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake in the early afternoon. At 8 p.m. the boats will then cruise the shores of the lake for a public viewing. On Saturday and Sunday the boats will be on display. On Sunday at 10 a.m. some of the boats will partake in a poker run around the lake and the public is again encouraged to watch.

Salt said many of the owners would be on hand to answer questions about their wooden boats.

“There isn’t a boat owner out there who wouldn’t stand and talk for hours about their boat or share stories,” he said.

This is not the only opportunity to see some of these classic wooden vessels. On Aug. 2–4, the Eighth Annual Big Sky Antique and Classic Boat Show will be held in Lakeside. For more information about both events, visit www.bigskyacbs.com.

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