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Tuffy, So Dear To My Heart

On October 17, 2014, in News From Gayle, Outboard Powered, by Gayle Brantuk

by Cliff Steele

(originally written for Heartland Boating)

Forty years ago this month we built “TUFFY” our first boat…but, before I tell you about TUFFY, I must go back 50 years. I was 12 back then & enjoyed a hobby that later would lead me and introduce me to a life long relation with boating. I would spent long hours in our basement building model boats on an old rickety table, gluing & cutting little pieces of balsa wood then painting them. I would then load up the basket on my green Schwinn bike & peddle to the nearest Chicago park pond and launch them. The little boats would have small electric motors and flashlight batteries crammed below deck to make them move across the pond.

A TV series about this time named WATERFRONT was very poplar & starred Preston Foster. He was the Captain of a Harbor Tugboat named the Cheryl Ann. The plot was always lame but I was drawn to the sturdy tug with all the harbor scenes. In real life the Cheryl Ann was actually a tug named Milton S. Patrick. Less than 2 years later the show was cancelled. Could it be the curse of renaming a boat’s original name I thought? A model of Cheryl Ann was soon available in hobby shops & I bought the first…& perhaps the last kit. It was all out of plastic, had real turned brass hand rails, an electric motor & even included paints. I had found my new challenge… plastic model boating.

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 parents went up north on their yearly vacation. The rented cottage came with a row boat and a small lake to float it in. As soon as my dad stopped the car, I ran to the dock & jumped into a waiting boat. With my new Cheryl Ann sitting on the seat beside me, I rowed out a ways. Then setting my little tug on the water I turned on the motor switch. I was pleased with its tight circles, and as they got tighter the Cheryl Ann rammed the row boat…rolled over and went to the bottom!! That day my Mom and Dad shared a good part of my sudden nautical grief..

After the Cheryl Ann disaster I went on to build other models, Chris Craft cruisers, runabouts, & many more that I enjoyed building. Radio control units were now available for hobbyists. I could now stand on shore and control my little crafts to harass ducks who 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 & 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 future plans of marriage & for some unknown reason my hobby of building model boats no longer held my interests.

Working nights as a truck dispatcher during the slow early morning hours I read a newspapers 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 OB MOTOR with rare electric start! I departed work early that morning.

Cliff with his motor

At 5 am, 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 & immediately hurried over to a crate with “my” new motor! It was priced at $250 – a lot considering I paid that for my car. A salesman made out the papers & the powerful and streamlined Golden Shark (with electric start) 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 postage for a picture catalog.. I knew I could build my own boat, after all, it was just another model…just bigger , and I could save money! The phoenix had arrived!! Soon the catalog came & on the front cover was “TUFFY“…the boat of all my dreams ever since I built my first model at 10 ! TUFFY was 12 feet long , could seat 4 cozy & would easily handle the “ultra powerful,40 HP out board motor”..(with electric start !). TUFFY looked lightning fast. As I stared at the photo with glazed eyes., I visualized Sandy and I speeding along some waterway with soft summer winds blowing through our hair. Meanwhile, stored & crated in my dad’s garage was my new O/B motor. One day he asked “What are you going to do with that motor? ….. You don’t have a boat.”

I now decided to buy “TUFFY” & 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 4 and the new motor should make it fly.” Sandy: “ I know it will be nice Cliff, but we will need furniture when we get married“ me:….but I have thought of everything. WE are going to built it and save a lot of money and still have a real boat!”…….Looking back, Sandy handled my idea well, like most all the rest I’ve had these past 40 years!

In March I rented a small garage for our project with one problem, it was unheated & in the North Country temps can still be in the 30*s I received a call from Glen L shipping that TUFFY had arrived from California and was ready for pick up. Making plans to transport the large crate to my garage I a borrowed new IMPALA CONVERTIBLE! It was snowing, dark & a cold when I pulled up to the loading dock With the top down and a good layer of blankets on the trunk(& me) the fork lift 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 snow storm . . Sandy & 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 precut and glued up. All materials were there in the giant box…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. The neighbors were going nuts trying to guess what we two did in that old garage for hours on end. They would have to keep guessing until MAY! Sandy remained throughout the project to support & 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 (& boating together) we still do everything together and still encourage each others projects in life.

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

I needed one other thing to complete our project – a boat trailer! I had found one really cheap – $35.00 cheap – my kind of deal. It sat in an old barn as the farmer displayed it to me with about 50 chickens roosting on it claiming it home!! The farmer proudly proclaimed “the tires have air” Standing there I silently added my thoughts, “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.

Sandy & Tuffy

TUFFY was finished and looked so handsome. The steering was the 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 & little golden plastic sharks adorning the hood on each side. TUFFY was ready & just reeked of excitement & speed and……& it had electric start!!

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 wanting to go on a boat ride. Some of the anxious were inside the garage looking at TUFFY’S sleek lines and handsome colors!! The little red hen & her chicks…remember ? The work of making the bread was now complete …and each wanted a slice. The $250.00 O/B motor, the $199 GLEN L TUFFY BOAT KIT, and the $35.00 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 chicken dung trailer . All stared as Tuffy just floated serenely, level & proudly. Climbing in I clicked my “life jacket” (just in case) checked for leaks, and turned the key & started the new 40 HP motor (it had electric start!)

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


Sandy and I were to enjoy with so many great memories as “TUFFY” cruised the Illinois river, Lake Michigan & protected waters of lake Cumberland.. “Tuffy” was very forgiving to A new boater. Sandy had made padded seating to help cushion TUFFYS flat bottom upon ours. Seasons later, we traded TUFFY for our first commercial boat. It was a 16’ Winner brand & had the newest 105 hp 4cyl Chrysler O/B in production. Winner was the first production all fiberglass boat. About a year later, we stopped at the dealership and ask “whatever 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.& someone to enjoy him. As Sandy & I walked away I thought…..Whoever said “You will never forget your first love also must have been a boater“.

“First Love”


For more information about “Tuffy”, see the Glen-L website here:


Your Thoughts?

One Response to Tuffy, So Dear To My Heart

  1. Duane says:

    What a wonderful boat building story by a wife and husband team. I suspect that the building experience also helped build a strong marriage.

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