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Restoring the Past | Bob Shapton, Boat Restorer
"There's something magical about old things. I love these old boats. Really. It's an obsession."
It started with his grandfather, who owned the first boat that Bob ever got behind the helm of. Growing up, he'd spend his summers at the lake fishing and boating, and from those long summer days Bob knew he always wanted to stay near the water for the sense of adventure it brought.
It's just stuff, but for some reason, when you bring it back to life, it's important."
Bob first bought an outboard motor of his own at age 15—a 7.5 horsepower 1952 Mercury—from a garage sale for $25. He took it out and fished at every opportunity he had. But it was later, when he finished school, that the real collecting began. "I think I caught the bug," Bob says, recalling how he'd learn of another motor at a local sale and couldn't help but walk away with it.
While many collectors put the outboards on display, very few actually restore them to run. But Bob didn't want to just sit and look at the engines. His challenge was to get them running and to have them run even better than new.
In time, Bob began taking his collection to boat shows around the country, which garnered interest in his work. People started calling and asking, can you do one for me? He started reproducing parts for the outboards, especially forming the components that antique boat collectors could no longer get their hands on. There came to be so many calls that "it got out of control"—Bob recounts.
Currently, Bob's shop holds multiple boats and nearly 350 engines in various states of development. He continues his restoration work, focusing increasingly on preserving the boats as a whole rather than just the outboards. "I love the shape of boats... especially old boats," says Bob. He admires the natural and elemental materials that make up the finished vessels—the wood, glass, iron, steel and rubber that come together in these old art forms.