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Sneak peek at vintage racing boat

The 'Champion' racing boat on display at the Washington Square Mall gleams in its rebuilt glory. VICKI GERDES/TRIBUNE

Though his boat racing days may be behind him, Ross Rolshoven continues to indulge his love for the sport by collecting and restoring vintage boats.

“I’ve been a vintage boat collector and restorer for probably 15 years now,” says the Grand Forks man, who has one of his more unique models on display at the Washington Square Mall this week, as a promotion for the seventh annual Quake the Lake powerboat races.

That boat, a 1954 Champion race boat, has a dual meaning for Rolshoven.

“It’s the year I was born, and 54 was also my professional racing number,” he said, “so I decided it was a good boat to restore.”

He purchased the boat from a man who said that while it had been sitting in a barn in Pennsylvania for 20-odd years, “it was basically water ready.”

“Nothing could have been further from the truth,” Rolshoven said.

Essentially, the boat had to be rebuilt from the supports on up. “The bottom of the boat we kept, but everything else, we have redone.

“The wood for that boat came from France, so it was $110 a sheet, and we had to drive to Minneapolis to get the stuff,” he said. “It’s a rare boat. I belong to the American Classic Boat Society, which has a directory of all the big vintage collectors. I haven’t found another one (of this particular model) that has been listed in there. It’s a rare bird. It’s probably one of the few surviving models.”

He’s also fairly sure it’s one of the few that’s been restored to nearly its original condition. The motor has been overhauled, the plumbing replaced … essentially, it’s almost a brand new boat.

“It took a long time, but I think it turned out really nice,” said Rolshoven.

Now, he’s going to see if the boat is finally water ready. On Friday, he plans to take it out of the mall and out onto the waters of Big Detroit for a little jaunt around the lake.

“Hopefully, it will go smoothly,” he said, noting with a laugh that he doesn’t want to disclose the location of the launch just in case something goes wrong.

Rolshoven said he also plans to have the boat on display at this weekend’s Quake the Lake powerboat races, which are set for Saturday and Sunday on the lake in front of Detroit Lakes’ Holiday Inn.

He has served as the race director for Quake the Lake since its inception — but said this year will be his last at the helm.

“I am retiring from that position this year,” Rolshoven said. “I think the club (the Twin Cities Powerboat Association) is interested in continuing the race, but it’s going to be up to new blood… sometimes that’s a good thing.

“Even though it’s been a successful event, maybe they can make it even better.”

Though he’s stepping down as Quake the Lake’s race director, Rolshoven is not walking away from his love of the sport altogether. His passion for boat restoration continues unabated.

“I’ve always enjoyed old boats,” he said. “The first one I restored was a 1954 Lone Star cabin cruiser, which I still own. I plan to run it sometime this summer.”

“It’s fun doing the research on what they’re supposed to look like,” Rolshoven said. “I particularly enjoy boats from the ’50s that were made to look like the cars (from the same period), with vertical and horizontal fins.”

One 1959 model by Herters had fins that were 2 to 2½ feet tall — “it looks like the Bat Boat from Batman,” he joked.

One of the more challenging aspects of boat restoration is finding the parts — “to find the parts, you have to deal with other vintage collectors,” Rolshoven said.

Occasionally, the part is so rare that an original has to be borrowed, and used to make a mold that is then used to cast a new part.

Rolshoven says that he probably has about 70 boats right now, in various states of restoration.

“It’s kind of a collection gone amuck,” he admitted.

But he doesn’t keep them all. He’s sold some of his restored boats to restaurants and other businesses that use them solely for display purposes, and also to people who use them recreationally.

Those who would like to see the boat are invited to view it at the Washington Square Mall from now until Friday, and also at the Quake the Lake races, which start at noon on Saturday and continue through Sunday.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454