Ron Smith, a young craftsman who worked at Cowell Boat Works during
most of its history, is now a builder in North East, PA. Ron recently
offered these reflections about Cowell Boat Works.
"Back in those days we used to drive the truck to the lumber
company near the tracks and pick up a train car load of wood, drive back
to the shop where we would stack the wood for drying, forming, etc. Each
boat was built entirely by hand. Each plank was cut and fit over a jig and
then removed, brass screws and rivets were all applied by hand. The nose
piece was formed by steaming , gluing, cutting to fit each boat. Ribs were
all oak cut from rough cut oak, run through a machine, put in a steamer
and bent over the jig."
A surviving Cowell Boat Works jig in
2007. Photo courtesy of the Erie
"Two other employees were Dick Brunner and Ray Scott. Joe Dedinsky
was the boss of the outfit. Joe taught all of us how to use the tools. All
employees, including myself, were from Harborcreek PA."
"The boat works address was Erie, PA but it was located in
Harborcreek Township. At that time my starting wages were 1.60 per hour.
Every boat that came off the line during that time,I worked all the
mahogany work....decks, rails, some of the painting. Pretty much from
start to finish."
Boat Works checks showing the Erie address.
"Joe made about 10,000 or 15,000 per year, and that included
caring for the beach and all the tenants. I can not believe they ever made
any money on the boats. I can say they were probably one of the best built
boats you will ever find...not just because I was building on them but
because all the material put into them was the best grade. Joe was an
expert craftsman." [As evidenced by the two Kings picured
Many thanks to Ron for sharing his memories!
Tom Dedinsky, son of Joe Dedinsky who headed the Cowell Boat Works
operations for many years, adds these photos and comments about Cowell construction:
"This picture is of Tony - an employee of Cowell Boat Works (driving) and Tom Dedinsky, Ray and Johnny Meyers off the shore of Lake Erie in front of the Boat Works: they were either testing or taking photos for advertising brochures."
"This picture I believe was taken at the Cleveland, OH boat show. A dealer from Huron, OH used to cosponser with Cowell Boat Works every year in the show."
"The Boat Works started as a boat livery and Tom Cowell just wanted to make boats for his livery to rent at first: They built a small building and about 15 cottages, a snack bar on the beach and opened a Lake Erie Resort or Vacationland - Cowells Boats & Beach. Almost immediately, customers began asking if they could buy boats so Tom started building for sale and sought out dealers in the tri-state area to sell the boats. (Above): they were loading boats on a semi and trailer for transport ot a dealer they were sold to, from a storage barn about 1/2 mile from the Boat Works. The man on top in both photos with the hat is Joe Dedinsky. This is about the time they put an addition on to the building about doubling the size."
"This 1953 Pontiac Wagon was the first company car. Behind is the storage barn where the stored inventory: they also had a pickup truck and a larger stake body truck that pulled a trailer with three boats and a rack with one on the truck for delivery of four boats at a time to dealers."
"This is the first production 'livery boat' for their own use and for sale-It was a 13' 0".
"This is the first production 19'0" day cruiser at 6-Mile Creek in the livery area of the Boat Works. It was an outboard but they also made an inboard/outboard using Volvo engines in some of the day cruisers and the larger open boats. the people are Wanda, Patti, Larry & Tom Dedinsky- Joe's family."
"This is a picture of two brothers from Buffalo,NY: they bought matching Cowells - 16 1/2' Vikings and used to travel to the Boat Works via Lake Erie from Buffalo: These were taken off the shore at the Boat Works. They bought the boats from Hoover Marina in North Tonowanda, NY."
"This is the first Day Cruiser, 19'0", inside the factory. Half of the building was for all the assembly/rough-cut work and millwork, etc. Then the boats were moved into the second area through large doors where it was clean /dust free for painting; varnish and final installation of windshields, steering, hardware, cushions etc. Again the same people (Joe Dedinsky's Family) staged this picture."
"In the later years, they began adding a fiberglass bottom to the
boats to increase the strength over the pounding of the waves. This
procedure involved putting a resin on the bare wood, then a layer of
fiberglass cloth covering all seams and laps, then several layers of resin
(white, yellow or aqua--depending on color of boat), then finally
"The Cowell was deeper than Lymans, Cruisers, or Grady White etc,
and could ride waves and bad weather in worse conditions than one should
be out in: they were made that way by design."
"When some customers in the Buffalo, NY area began telling of long
trips and getting into bad weather and how well the boats took the waves,
Joe Dedinsky began looking at ways to strengthen the hulls, and the
fiberglass did just this, as well as protect the wood from rotting, bug
infestation , and mildew etc. He also felt this was a round-about-way to
combat some of the points of fiberglass boats which were beginning to make
in-roads in the marketplace."
"They actually used to take boats out in Lake Erie and have an
employee lie under the deck as the boat rode the waves, looking for and
feeling the deflection in the hulls, and then inspect them in the shop
afterwards. A boat hull does bend and flex as it rides the waves, and this
fiberglass was a way of making a stronger and safer boat."
"Cowell was the first to offer a fiberglass covered bottom as an
option, and I believe on some models it was a standard: I don't remember
if any other manufacturers began offering it or not."
"I lived at the Boatworks with my dad from kindergarten until high
school when it closed. I worked as a kid hanging around with Ron Smith and
the others, sanding boats, cleaning shop, etc. I went to all the boat
shows and hung around them as my Dad and the dealers sold boats. I know I
skipped a lot of school to go to Chicago, Cleveland and other
Thomas Cowell attending a boat show in
the mid 50s.
"I unloaded trucks, went on deliveries to dealers, steamed ribs,
butted rivets, glued the keels and bows etc, not as a certified worker of
course but just helping out the way a kid helps out on a farm, until I got
older--then I did a lot more."
"When I was 16, in 1966, I bought a 1957 chevy and I fixed it up
in the closed Boatworks. My Dad painted the thing in the paint room still
intact from the boats. The electricity was still on. The paint booth, the
compressors and the outdoor overhead hoist they used to load boats on
trucks were all working. I used that hoist to lift the car and install new
"There was a pier built off the beach in front of the Boatworks,
and on a few occasions they hired a professional photographer, but mostly
Ron Smith drove the boats (he was best able to swerve the boats towards
the camera for the best view, and my Dad took photos off a tripod. These
photos were used for the brochures and they made new ones every year just
like the auto makers did."
"At that time, the Beach had about 20 or so cottages they rented
out by the week to people from Pittsburgh, and there were a lot of people
around and my dad would get someone different to ride the boats and take
photos in action: I am pretty sure that on the one picture in the brochure
on the site is Ron Smith driving and me and a friend sitting in the
"This is in front of the factory in winter (obviously). It would get so bad with drifts, that they could only dig a path to get inside and work. No shipments could get in or out for several days at a time. Also since the Boat Works was at sea level with the livery, many times in spring the ice in Six Mile Creek would break, jam and flood the inside of the building, since the lake was still frozen, and the broken up creek ice had nowhere to go. More than once they used dynamite to actualy blow the mouth ice up to free it so it would flow into Lake Erie thus eliminating flooding of the factory."
Thanks to Tom for these insights.
You can see surviving examples of the 1957
King (our boat at the top of the home page page of this site), a later model King
(Rip and Judy Bodman's 1959 boat in the Models section), the Viking
(including Captain Seaweed's and Tom Murray's), and the Pride.
The advent of fiberglass, the constraints of manufacturing capacity,
and Tom Cowell's untimely death all contributed to a premature end to this
elegant and affordable line of recreational watercraft. The last
boat made in 1960 bears the hull number of 3219. This beauty survives
today, and belongs to Bob Dancause (see Models section). This site is
dedicated to finding and recording the stories of Tom Cowell's legacy.