Tahoe Shop : Classic Wood Boats Resurrected

Associated Press

Dick Clark started out as a mechanic and varnisher at Sierra Boat Co. 32 years ago. Clark, 64, now runs the company that he terms the biggest in the nation for classic wooden boat rebuilding and restoration.

The business on scenic Lake Tahoe employs 26 woodworkers, refinishers, mechanics and helpers who can turn peeling, rotting hulks into gleaming, award-winning launches that look as good as they did when first built in the early 1900s.

The cost of a major restoration can run as high as $85,000, although Clark says he tries to avoid the “heavy stuff” that can take years to finish. Instead, he concentrates on projects that typically begin in the fall and are completed by the next summer.

“We do it all here,” says Clark, adding that the hundreds of hours that go into a restoration project are worth it because the result is an “absolutely knockout” boat.

Need for Preservation

“These things need to be preserved, and I really enjoy what we’re doing here,” he says. “It’s marvelous that we are able to find all this early-day craftsmanship. And my hero is the customer who falls in love with one of the boats we find and buys it and fixes it up.”


Clark has gone as far as Canada to find old craft, like his completely rebuilt 1912 Redskin or the 26-foot 1930 Earl C. Barnes or 27-foot 1928 Garwood--runabouts being rebuilt for new owners.

Clark says he likes to sell the classic boats he finds while they are in an unrestored state. Usually, the buyer then gets Clark to do some or even all the restoration work.

“I much prefer that. It’s more fun for the new owner to participate in the restoration,” he says.

More Income Later

And once rebuilt, the boats often are turned over by their owners to Clark for storage and maintenance. More than 280 craft, mostly open runabouts, are stored indoors at the Sierra Boat Works during the winter.

It’s not unusual for a boat to be hauled out for only a few weeks of summer cruising on Tahoe. Then it’s back in the boat shed until the next season.

People who own almost any kind of boat often describe them as holes in the water into which large amounts of money are poured. But Clark says, “I don’t tell people to buy an old boat as an investment. But if you keep one long enough, it’ll take care of you.”