Tuffy: A first boating love

by Cliff Steele

It didn't take me long to complete the Cheryl Ann Tug model. In fact, it was a bit boring, with no wood, just a lot of gluing of all the plastic pieces. I must admit that it looked very professional when I completed it. The next day my family went up north on our yearly vacation. The rented cottage came with a rowboat and a small calm lake to float it in. As soon as my dad stopped the car, I ran to the dock and jumped into a waiting boat. With my new Cheryl Ann on the seat beside me, I rowed out a distance. Then, setting my little tug on the water, I turned on the motor switch. I was pleased with its tight circles, but as they got tighter, the Cheryl Ann rammed the rowboat, rolled over and went to the bottom! That day my Mom and Dad shared a good part of my sudden nautical grief.

In spite of the Cheryl Ann disaster, I went on to build other models-- Chris Craft cruisers, runabouts, and many more that I enjoyed building. Radio control units were now available for hobbyists. I could stand on shore and control my little crafts to harass ducks that resided there.

Years passed and I became involved in other things, building only a few models now and then. I now had my own car, a 54 Chevrolet that made me dream about pulling my very own full-sized boat and trailer behind it. That idea was dashed whenever I would see the prices of what it would cost - at least $1,800 for an all-new 12-footer with a new 25 hp Johnson on the transom! Anyway, I had another interest in my life now, a wonderful girl named Sandy. We had plans of marriage and for some unknown reason, my hobby of building model boats no longer held my interest.

Working nights as a truck dispatcher during the slow early morning hours, I read a newspaper left behind by the day shift. A full-page ad declared "West Bend Marine Division no longer to manufacture outboard motors". Included was their very powerful twin cylinder 40-hp Golden Shark outboard motor with rare electric start! I departed work early that morning.

At 5 a.m., clutching the ad, I drove to the outskirts of Chicago recalling the rumor that West Bend melted down their old pots and pans to make outboard motors! At day break I was allowed to enter the warehouse and immediately hurried over to a crate with "my" new motor in it! It was priced at $250, a lot, considering I paid that for my car. A salesman made out the papers and the powerful and streamlined Golden Shark was now mine. Two husky men wrestled it in my trunk for the long trip home. Traveling towards Chicago I had one persistent thought as I drove my little car with the big box sticking out of the trunk: I didn't have a boat for my new motor!

A few days later an ad in Poplar Mechanics stated "BUILD YOUR OWN BOAT... SAVE MONEY". It was Glen-L Boats. Without hesitation I mailed off 8 cents in postage for a picture catalog. I knew I could build my own boat. After all, it was just another model, only bigger, and I could save money!

Soon the catalog came and on the front cover was Tuffy, the boat of all my dreams, since I built my first model at age 10! Tuffy was 12 feet long, could seat a cozy four and would easily handle the "ultra powerful, 40 HP out board motor". Tuffy looked lightning fast. As I stared at the photo with glazed eyes, I visualized Sandy and me speeding along some waterway with soft summer winds blowing through our hair.

I decided to buy Tuffy and thought it would be only proper to tell Sandy of my plans. That call went about like this: "Sandy, I ordered a boat today named Tuffy. It's really nice - seats four and the new motor should make it fly."
"I know it will be nice Cliff, but we will need furniture when we get married", Sandy replied.
"But I have thought of everything. We are going to build it and save a lot of money and still have a real boat!"

Looking back, Sandy handled my idea well, like most all of the rest I've had these past 40 years!

In March I rented a small garage for our project. It had one problem, it was unheated and in the north country temperatures can still be in the 30's at this time of year. I received a call from Glen-L shipping, that Tuffy had arrived from California and was ready for pickup. Making plans to transport the large crate to my garage, I borrowed a new Impala convertible! It was snowing, dark and cold when I pulled up to the loading dock. With the top down and a good layer of blankets on the trunk (and me) the forklift operator had little trouble carefully balancing the 14 foot, 497 pound crate, carefully resting part on the windshield brace and the remainder on the cushioned trunk. The foreman, with my check in hand, just stood there as I drove off in the snowstorm. Sandy and I now had our Tuffy... We just had to put it together!

It was a joy building Glen L's Tuffy kit. All the frames were pre-cut and glued up. All materials were there in the giant box. It was really no different than one of my first models, but Tuffy wasn't going to leave us on the shore. Sandy and I worked on Tuffy every weekend. Snoopy neighbors were going nuts trying to guess what we did in that old garage for hours on end. They would have to keep guessing until May! Sandy remained throughout the project to support and encourage me. She worked long and hard hours so as a team we would succeed. Some nights it was so cold the water-based glue would freeze. Nearly 40 years of marriage (and boating together) we still do everything together and still encourage each other's projects in life.

My dad would occasionally drive from Chicago and help sand and screw in the thousands of screws (no drill drivers back then). Friends forgot us, like "The little red hen baking bread" children's story. Everyone was supposed to help, but no one did. Tuffy's instructions were complete with lots of photos and hints for success. The black-and-white photo of Tuffy shown in the instruction booklet was all I needed to spur me on. I decided to fiberglass Tuffy as the weather got milder. It was a new medium then and I had fiberglass fingernails for months afterward.

I needed one other thing to complete our project - a boat trailer. I had found one really cheap - $35.00 - my kind of deal. It sat in an old barn as the farmer displayed it to me with about 50 roosting chickens on it, claiming it home! The farmer proudly proclaimed, "the tires have air". Standing there, I silently added, "They need it with 60 pounds of chicken dung on it!" It was dark (luckily) as I left with my bargain chicken dung trailer in tow behind my newer car, a 61 Chevy Impala (coup). I already installed a sturdy hitch to be ready for the big day soon to come.

Tuffy was finished and looked so handsome. The steering was cable and pulley as the newer types still hadn't been invented. I painted Tuffy in white and blue flecking. The West Bend cover matched perfectly and little golden plastic sharks adorned the hood on each side. Tuffy was ready and just reeked of excitement and speed.

The word leaked out. Tuffy was to be launched this day. When Sandy and I drove up to Tuffy 's garage, we couldn't park. Cars all over were waiting to go on a boat ride. Some of the anxious "supporters" were inside the garage looking at Tuffy's sleek lines and handsome colors. The little red hen and her chicks, remember? The work of making the bread was now complete, and each wanted a slice. The $250 outboard motor, the $199 Glen-L Tuffy Boat Kit, and the $35 chicken dung boat trailer were ready to go. Our life of boating had now begun.

Tuffy was launched on a beautiful spring day, sliding smoothly into the Fox River from the newly painted blue trailer. All stared as Tuffy just floated serenely, level and proud. Climbing in, I clicked my life jacket (just in case), checked for leaks, turned the key and started the new 40-hp motor.

Easing Tuffy 's controls forward, together we had began our first boating adventure. Inching the fuel to wide open, we easily did 40+ and I still remember my eyes watering either from the wind or my emotions.

Sandy and I were to enjoy so many great memories as Tuffy cruised the Illinois River, Lake Michigan and protected waters of Lake Cumberland. Tuffy was very forgiving to a new boater. Sandy had made padded seating to help cushion Tuffy's flat bottom upon ours.

Seasons later, we traded Tuffy for our first commercial boat. It was a 16' Winner and had the newest 105-hp four-cylinder Chrysler outboard in production. About a year later, we stopped at the dealership and asked what had happened to Tuffy? The owner took us out back and pointed to some tall weeds. Just visible was Tuffy, just left to rot away... miles from water and someone to enjoy her. As Sandy and I walked away, I thought that whoever said "You will never forget your first love", also must have been a boater.

Dear Gayle,
This story is dedicated to Glen-L Craftsmen (and women) throughout the world in the hopes that some day 40 years from now those same builders of your kits can look back and remember the memories (and the work) of building their handcrafted vessels.
Odd as it seems Sandy and I still talk about those wonderful memories we shared in a empty garage in the dead of winter building little "TUFFY" It will always remain so dear to our hearts.. ...Cliff