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The Linda Lee: Ferry of yesteryear to visit BLC Antique & Classic Boat Show

Sat, Sep 1st 2018 07:00 am
Look for the classics return to the Buffalo Launch Club on Grand Island next weekend. (NFACB photo)
Look for the classics return to the Buffalo Launch Club on Grand Island next weekend. (NFACB photo)
40th edition of event returns to Grand Island
By Terry Duffy
Editor-in-Chief
The 40th edition of the Antique and Classic Boat Show returns the weekend of Sept. 7-9 to the grounds of the Buffalo Launch Club on Grand Island's south shore.
Presented by the Niagara Frontier Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society and the BLC, this annual happening typically brings in the "must-sees" of yesteryear - boats that were a common sight on area waterways in times past, but no more.
Come Saturday, Sept. 8, visitors will have a rare opportunity to view a range of beauties from the famous makers - boats like Chris Craft, Garwood, Lyman, Thompson, Richardson, Penn Yan, Century and more. The Dart Boat Company from Toledo, a classic boat firm now reinvented, will be among those visiting with some neat, 1920s-era Prohibition runabouts expected and a special presentation at the BLC.
And there will be boats certain to bring back special memories - those simpler times of crossing via ferry. Where there have been numerous such boats that worked the upper river, there was yet another idyllic border crossing route, found way down in the lower river. It was known as the Youngstown ferry - an enjoyable two-boat setup that for decades - from the 1940s to at least to the 1970s - took visitors from the U.S. docks south of the Coast Guard base at Youngstown to the Niagara-on-the-Lake docks, an area just south of what today is the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours NOTL dock.
One could board at Youngstown, answer a few simple questions by U.S. Customs (like "where you going, anything to declare?"); pay your fare (Roughly all of 25 cents) and take a neat little boat ride a mile or so cross-river.
It was so simple - easy, quick and cheap. And the boat was rather nice, too.
Anyone ever hear of the Linda Lee?
Owned today by Rick Vantine of North Tonawanda, a member of the Niagara Chapter of ACBS, the Linda Lee dates from the 1940s and is the surviving twin of a two-boat fleet of Chris Crafts used as a small boat ferry in the lower river.
According to "The life and times of the Linda Lee," a short story penned by Vantine, the Linda Lee model was acquired in 1940 by Libby Pierce of the old Pierce Marine on Water Street in Youngstown. Today, Niagara Jet Adventures is found on the site.
Vantine describes the Linda Lee, acquired back then for a mere $1,495, as "An entry level cruiser. Though all mahogany, the cabin sides and seats were often mismatched planks of either blonde or red species and not meant to be varnished or bright. Advertising copy from 1940 describes it as 'colorfully finished - huskily built.'
"Chris Craft could offer a great boat at modest cost."
Vantine continued, "Their floor plans made them ideal for carrying eight to 10 passengers on the short hops. The big transom seat held four passengers. Simple benches beneath the cabin (parallel with keel) seated four more."
The Linda Lee and her matching twin would go on to make literally thousands of cross-river trips to Canada and back, operating under a royal charter from the British government from 1940 to about the early-mid-1970s.
Vantine recalled the boat's final days.
"I took my last ride in August of 1970," he wrote, recalling a first date crossing the river from Canada in rough weather.
"Remnants of a late summer storm had sent huge rolling waves in off Lake Ontario where they met up with the river's current. All this put considerable chop on the water. The ferry had come in fast and endured a rude greeting with the concrete pier, shoved forward by her own wake. ...
"I can still hear the flathead's valve crack, then the loud choke and belch as her exhaust cleared the water's surface. She had parked facing downstream, her bow to the lake. A nasty wave came on and gave the boat a real slap."
Vantine recalled that event would ultimately go on to spell the end for the Linda Lee and the Youngstown ferry service.
"Around 1975 the ferryboat service was shut down. Afterwards, the Linda Lee may have seen brief duty with the Youngstown Yacht Club, though in what capacity I don't know," he said.
From that time, she went from junk boat status, sitting on the beach in Youngstown to being acquired by Vantine whose father began a long-term restoration process that continues to this day. His family acquired the boat in the mid-1970s, and worked on restoring it through the 1980s and 1990s as they moved from the Buffalo area to North Carolina to later return to Youngstown. By the early 2000s, the partially restored Linda Lee would make an appearance in the Village of Youngstown bicentennial parade.
"... The Linda Lee had come full circle. It was a nice way to welcome the old Youngstown ferry after 25 years," wrote Vantine. "(But) it turned out 2005 was the last year we would run the boat."
Family issues forced a sale in 2010. "Thirty years after their rendezvous with the boat on that little beach in Youngstown my parents said goodbye to her," he wrote.
Vantine thought at the time his family's link with the elderly vessel was history. But lo and behold, a find of a lifetime came in September 2013 while attending the annual Antique Boat Show at the BLC.
The Linda Lee was on display at the show ... and it was up for sale.
"I'd only half expected to find our old boat," Vantine wrote. "Perhaps she was back in the water, maybe even partially restored. Even when some familiar lines caught my eye I wasn't sure this forlorn and trailer bound craft parked before me was the same boat.
"All doubts came when I looked inside. Up front was the pilot seat I once built. Even dressed in different colors it was the Linda Lee and she was for sale."
Turns out, the Antique and Classic Boat Society had acquired the Linda Lee from the same seller who had purchased the boat earlier from the Vantine family. The ACBS was now selling the boat and extended an offer to Vantine he could not refuse --- free shop space for one year, provided the boat remained in Western New York.
"The decision was not hard to make," wrote Vantine. "... Here was an opportunity for a determined and quality restoration. We bought back the boat!
"Today at 73 the old gal begins another chapter in her life," wrote Vantine in 2013. "She shares good company with other vessels in various stages of renewal" at the ACBS.
Still in the process of restoration, the Linda Lee will be among a number of classics expected for a three-day visit to the Buffalo Launch Club on the Island. The affair gets underway at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, with a "Fun Run" of classics and current models down to Canalside. No charge for this one, and that evening a Pit Party featuring Buffalo-style foods, drinks, music plus "Salty Dog" maritime trivia for prizes takes over the BLC.
Come Saturday, it will be boats, boats and more boats. Flags will hoist at 10:05 a.m. with a day full of both on-shore, dockside and on-water activities, according to 2018 NFACBS Chairman Jim James Barrick.
As reported earlier, the Dart Boat Co. of Toledo will be among a host of exhibitors, local and regionally that will be attending.
"We are looking at five, six Dart Boats from Toledo. Boats from the roaring '20s and Prohibition times that were instrumental in the bootlegging industry, known for their speed in outrunning police boats," said Barrick.
He adds that antique boat enthusiast Jim Holler will host an interesting seminar from noon to 3 p.m. on the history of the legendary Dart Boats. Joining him will be Ramsey Brothers Restorations of Toledo, Ohio, who specialize in boat restorations from woodies to aluminums to fiberglass.
And speaking of fiberglass, look for some interesting "Glassics" models - vintage fiberglass boats from the '60s, '70s and '80s, featuring exotic fins and sculptured shapes that were dominant in car and boat designs of that era. The website www.glassicsonline.com boasts the unique models celebrate "the pioneering spirit of those classic runabout manufacturers of the '50s, '60s and '70s. Classic glass, aluma-classics, woodies ... these are the boats that brought power boating to the masses."
Added to this will be an antique car show of more than 100 vehicles, a display of boat building in action by students of the Buffalo Maritime Center, boat displays and judging, children's activities, basket raffles, a Saturday evening steak/corn roast dinner and awards presentation - even opportunities for visitors to ride the river in a visiting classic.
"This show looks to be 'user friendly,' not just 'dunk-in and tie-up, ' " said Barrick, noting that visitors throughout the show will be able be to check some beauties - at the Friday evening "Fun Run," at the dock on Saturday and in another "Fun Run" Sunday morning on the river.
Stop by the BLC on Grand Island and check out some very neat classics, including the Linda Lee ferry, the Dart runabouts, the woodie roundabouts, the Glassics and more. There's no cost to attend and parking will available on the BLC grounds for $10 per vehicle.
For more information, visit www.OldBoats-Buffalo.org or call Barrick at 716-909-9463.

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