S/L Puffin Soon to be Back in Action!

By Jeff Deren and Kyle Hunter

Puffin” is one of the few boats at CWB maintained almost entirely by volunteers. Over the last five years, the core “Puffin” team of Ken Duvall, Jeff Deren, Max Schneider have logged over 2700 hours maintaining and giving rides in this boat. In 2014, the crew, which includes many other volunteers, gave rides to well over 600 visitors over 25 weeks in service.

Puffin” is currently out of the water at the Workshop and Warehouse at North Lake Union undergoing extensive maintenance. The hull and deck are being completely stripped down to bare wood, the engine and boiler have been pulled out for maintenance, and she has gotten one new plank, two new frames, and a large chunk of deadwood that the drive shaft passes through.

The Steam Launch (S.L.) “Puffin” has long been a highly visible and popular part of the CWB’s efforts to introduce the public to the heritage of wooden boats.  As one of the “Puffin’s” skippers, Jeff has often been asked about its history and how it came to the CWB.  Through interviews, articles, and research at various museums, he has been able to piece together the following history of the “S.L. Puffin”.

The “Puffin” was made in 1906 by the Truscott Boat Works in St. Joseph, MI.  She’s 21 ½ feet long with a six foot beam and weighs about 3,200 lbs.  A 1904 Truscott catalog describes her as a “Compromise Stern” which had the best characteristics of several of their models (see Photo 1).  In 1906 she cost $565 including the engine of your choice.  At that time marine engine technology was transitioning from steam to gasoline engines which were then referred to as “marine vapor motors”.  The boat could be ordered with either.

The Truscott Boat Works produced high quality recreational boats ranging from canoes to 85 foot motor yachts.  Their catalog boasted that “No one builds any better, but few as good”.    To ensure quality, the company manufactured their boats and all the major components including hulls, oars, engines, brass fittings, hand-stitched seat cushions, canvas awnings, anchors, lanterns, and propellers.   The company was jump-started when it received its first major contract to provide gondolas, rowboats, and steam launches for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

We have Kenneth Horsburgh of Cleveland, OH to thank for the “Puffin’s” preservation.  He and his family spent their summers at their lake home in Les Cheneaux, MI located on Michigan’s upper peninsula.  Ken had a passion for boating.  In 1970 he restored a 1905 vintage 21 ½ foot Truscott gasoline driven launch which he named the “An-Tiki” (see Photos 2 and 3).   Although Ken passed away several years ago, his son Kip still uses the “An-Tiki” and keeps it in museum quality condition.

Ken was pleased with the “An-Tiki’s”  stability, performance, and appearance.  By a stroke of luck he found a sister hull in 1974 and use it to recreate a steam launch typical of those used between 1890-1910.  Ken found the hull rotting on a beach in Cederville, MI.  It hadn’t been in the water for years.  Used continuously as a private and then as a resort fishing launch, it was a shambles of patched interior, black oily bilges, and countless layers of paint.  Most of the ribs were rotten but the red cypress hull planking, oak coaming, and hardware were still in good condition.  Ken used Marvin Tassier, a local Michigan Boatwright, for the yearlong restoration.  She was fitted with a 10 horsepower Semple steam engine and launched as the “S.L. Puffin” in the summer of 1975.

After eight years use by Ken as the family’s recreational boat, the “Puffin’s” interim history is a bit unclear.   In the mid 1980’s it was acquired by Robert Evans, a jeweler from Boseman, MT who steamed it on Flathead Lake.  Newspaper articles indicate that he entered it into (and won) several wooden boat shows.

In 1990’s Robert donated the “Puffin” to The Center for Wooden Boats. About eight years ago it underwent another major restoration under the supervision of past CWB Boatwright Heron Scott. Restoration work included a new oak deck, boiler, and steam engine.



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