In the 15 years since Mike Worcester has been at the Cokato Museum, he has had only one inquiry about the small and short-lived outboard manufacturing company, Cokato Boat Works. That was up until recently, when a Sauk Rapids outboard repairman showed up on the museum doorstep with a restored original wooden boat from Cokato Boat Works.
Bruce Reischl, owner of Bruce’s Outboard Shop, repairs and restores outboard motors and boats. After seeing an auction advertisement which listed a three-piece boat used as a book shelf, Reischl had to check it out. What also caught his attention was that the ad explained it was a Cokato Boat Works boat, which Reischl had never heard of before.
“When I saw it in three pieces, it almost made me cry,” Reischl said.
“I knew I had to have it regardless of price,” he added.
Last winter, Reischl finally got around to working on it, and, what was once in three individual pieces, is now whole again. Reischle guesses the boat was built between 1949 and 1950, and is fairly typical of wooden boats in that era.
When the boat was completed, he tested it out and found it leaks a little water, which is normal for a wooden boat. All-in-all, “it’s in good shape now that it’s back in one piece,” he said.
To find out more about Cokato Boat Works, Reischl did some investigating and found Cokato had its own historical society. Reischl drove the boat out to the Cokato Museum June 14 to show his newly-whole boat.
“Before he showed up, we had very little information about Cokato Boat Works. His bringing the boat to us helped us add a little more to the story,” said Mike Worcester, Cokato museum director.
“Considering how few of them were actually made, it’s likely many of them were turned into scrap wood or book cases long ago. So, we do feel fortunate we were able to find out about and photograph this one surviving boat,” Worcester added.
Original Cokato Boat Works owners, Gordon and Milton Mattson, were entrepreneurs of sorts, according to Gordon’s wife, Isabelle. Isabelle said she remembers the brothers starting the outboard shop out in their parents’ garage in the spring of 1948. Why they started building cedar strip boats, “be darned if I know,” Isabelle said, explaining the brothers were entrepreneurs. Isabelle, who helped build boats, can attest to the labor-instensive work it took to build them including steaming and bending the wood.
Not only were the boats hard work, but they were also time-consuming, and after about seven years, the brothers switched their focus to building buildings instead, with Mattson Building Co. and Stran Steel.
According to Isabelle’s memory, about 30 or 40 wooden boats were made, making this particular boat a finder’s-keeper.
[Editor's note: On 6 October 2012, Bruce Reischl graciously donated the boat to the museum. It now resides in the main gallery. We truly apprecaite his willingness to share this unique part of Cokato's past!]