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Classic Comeback: 1920s Dart Boat Company returns to ToledoBy: Scott Recker
Scott Ramsey found what he was looking for stashed away behind a barn in Port Clinton. It didn't look like much, but for him, the old, broken-down Dart Boat — a late 1920s speed boat made in Toledo — was the key to what he and his brothers wanted to accomplish: to find a way to perfectly replicate and reintroduce the Dart line.
"We used it to get all of our casting patterns and hardware," says Ramsey. "That boat kind of got us started in replicating pieces and it's such a rough boat that it would never be restored in one chunk."
That was in 2006. Seven years later, they currently operate out of an unassuming warehouse on 20th Street, near the Ottawa Tavern. He leads me through the main floor of the shop — where new replicas and original models sit side by side — to the basement, where the Dart they found behind a barn is now stripped down into pieces, categorized and marked, allowing them to accurately refurbish and recreate the line.
Dart Boats began as a product line from the Indian Lake Boat Company in Lima, Ohio. They were developed as a line of speed boats to match the indulgence of the Roaring Twenties. In 1928, a group of investors from Toledo bought the rights to the Dart product line.
"The group of investors from Toledo was headed by Webb Hayes, grandson of Rutherford B. Hayes, so a lot of the archives still exist in the Hayes Museum in Fremont, allowing us to document a lot of things that way," says Ramsey.
When the investors moved the product line to Toledo, they brought one of the designers, Irving Holler, with them, whose sons are still alive and living in the area: "They have been an interesting source of information." The company launched a worldwide marketing campaign in the late 1920s, pulling publicity stunts, such as racing their boats against trains in England.
They continued building boats until 1931, when they were forced into liquidations and auctions — probably a causality of The Great Depression, with maybe also something to do with the end of Prohibition, since, as stories suggest, the boats were commonly used as
Starting with a story
The Ramsey brothers had an automotive restoration business during college. One day a customer came in and he saw that they had an old boat in the shop. He started telling them that when he was a teenager — in the 1950s — him and a buddy had a Dart Runabout. The brothers, at that point, had never heard of Dart, but the customer had their attention. His story went that they were in pretty deep water near the harbor light in Toledo, where it's known to get pretty choppy — not exactly great conditions for an 18-foot speed boat. They pulled up to the harbor light, lost control and bashed in the front of the boat, which made it start to leak worse. So they spent the night trying to keep the thing afloat. They ended up trying to have someone tow it in the morning, but it ended up sinking. The guy told them if they ever found it, they could keep it.
They never found it, but they were captivated by the forgotten speed boats. They called around trying to find history on the company, if anyone currently owned it, if anyone had one around the area. That's when they found the guy in Port Clinton.
Pride and joy
They found their prized possession on accident. It was a vintage boat, but it wasn't properly advertised — in this case, though, it was to their benefit. When the owner sent them pictures, they realized that what they were looking at was a original Dart that had not been altered, except for the coast guard markings, which arguably gives the boat more character, since it insinuates that, at one time, it was used to illegally transport alcohol and was ultimately impounded by the authorities. Despite its incredible history, the boat is pretty inconspicuous in the shop. If you were just strolling through, there's a chance you might not even give it a second look. But, when it's in the water, the minimally-restored classic definitely turns some heads.
"We can't quite figure out what to do with it, but we think we are going to leave it alone because it gets a lot of attention," says Ramsey.
Besides, even after 90-some years, the boat still runs pretty smoothly — to a point, that is.
"It's not without drama every time we bring it somewhere," says Ramsey. "It does two things well: It goes full speed well and it goes really slow well. The reason for that is we sealed the bottom very well. When you creep along at idle speed, you don't take on much water. When you go full tilt, you're on plane and you don't take on much water. When you go anywhere mid-way, you take on a ton of water because it goes through the side planks."
The next step
While most of their business currently comes from restorations, The Ramsey brothers have recently launched their marketing materials to jumpstart the new line of replicated classics, featuring five classic models. Every year they give potential customers a taste of what they offer at the Toledo Antique & Classic Boat Show, which, this year, falls on Saturday and Sunday, August 24 & 25, at the Toledo Yacht Club. If you're interested in seeing a boat that was probably used by1920s-era gangsters to transport booze, you might want to swing by.
The Dart Boat Company is located at 329 20th St. For more information, call 419-255-2628 or visit www.dartboatcompany.com.
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