Different Strokes: Last of the Classic Brush Men in Tahoe | SierraSun.com
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Different Strokes: Last of the Classic Brush Men in Tahoe

Story and photos by Mark McLaughlin
Special to the Sun
Professional boat restorer Chris Ford at work.
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NORTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; Lake Tahoe’s Concours d’Elegance will be held in Carnelian Bay June 18- 20. It’s North America’s premier wooden boat show and the perfect opportunity to admire dozens of gorgeous watercraft, including pre- and post-war vessels and other classic boats. This year’s Marque class, or featured style, is and#8220;Classic Glass.and#8221; The Marque class will include boats manufactured with wood hulls and fiberglass accessories, and others manufactured primarily out of fiberglass (up to year 1964).

The competition always includes a variety of awards. Last year, Andrew Triano, a 9-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, won the and#8220;People’s Choiceand#8221; and placed second in the Youth Entry Class. With his dad’s help, a professional boat designer, Andrew spent two years building his custom 12-foot speedster using wood and carbon fiber to make it light but strong. He scavenged the hardware and engine from old and#8220;woodiesand#8221; and it has the classic beauty of a 1920s race boat.

Lake Tahoe is a world-renowned safe haven for venerable woodies crafted by famed companies like Riva, GarWood, Century, Hacker and Chris-Craft. The cold dry climate hinders dry rot, a death knell for wooden boats, and the short season, three or four months each summer, reduces the wear and tear vessels in warmer climates sustain.



As wooden boats age, their components mature and maintenance costs rise. The once revered classic beauty is sometimes abandoned, allowed to weather and deteriorate, exposed to the elements. Decks and transoms rot, topsides crack, while paint and varnish peel. Over time, abandoned boats assume the appearance of a beached whale, a skeleton of broken ribs and missing planks. Instead of collapsed bones, you find a tangle of desiccated sun-bleached wood, a mere ghost of its former elegance.

Restoring these old beauties takes skilled workmanship executed by professionals like local Chris Ford, a wooden boat restorer and master craftsman who lives in Carnelian Bay. Ford is a meticulous, old school artisan and talented brush man, one of a vanishing breed. Chris Ford has perfected his art during the past three decades, restoring and maintaining the structural integrity, luster and charm of many of Tahoe’s classic wooden boats. Historically, steamers and wooden boats were the transportation of choice at Lake Tahoe, before roads were improved and automobiles took over.



Fortunately, there are still craftsmen who have the ability to breathe life into what was once art. Whether he’s rescuing boats from historic obscurity or carefully brushing varnish to perfection, Chris Ford is on the front line of a painstaking craft and challenging business, but he considers it a privilege to restore these maritime legacies. In his well-equipped King’s Beach workshop, the concrete floor littered with drops of marine varnish and shavings of mahogany and sawdust, Chris practices his art. He gives special care and attention to original form and function; everything has to be accurate, the number of pleats in the seats, hardware and instrumentation correct and placement just right. His painstaking restorations have earned his clients more than a dozen awards, including best of show at Tahoe’s prestigious Concours d’Elegance.

Sponsored by the Tahoe Yacht Club Foundation, a philanthropic organization, proceeds from the Concours d’Elegance are donated to projects and nonprofit organizations in the Lake Tahoe Community that enhance expertise and understanding of maritime skills.

and#8212; Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or http://www.thestormking.com. You can reach him at mark@thestormking.cOM


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