When Jeff Weathersby told his wife, Sonya, he was going to build a boat, she didn’t think too much of it, as he has always loved building model boats in scale.
She didn’t get excited until the day a big truck delivered a huge stack of lumber to their home.
That was a little more than two years ago, and what a boat he built!
It is a replica of a 19-foot 1936 Chris Craft barrell-back runabout, authentic in every way—only his is 1 foot, 6 inches longer, to make more room in the back seat.
When Jeff first began to think of building this boat, he studied pictures in books and looked at their designs. Once he decided on the craft, he bought a model of it, and built it first to scale so he could understand how it was made. That model, built on a 1-to-24-inch scale, is displayed in a glass case in his office at Southern Triad. This exercise gave him basic drawings, but no detail. He had to figure and hand-draw his own plans. He hung the full-scale drawings on the wall of his workshop and started to work.
He began by building the hull first—upside down. When he had it constructed about one-third of the way up he had to turn it upright to finish it. He devised a wooden cradle on rollers to put it on to be flipped and it took six friends to turn it right side up.
Through this whole project, Jeff has been bothered with various medical issues as a result of three back and two neck surgeries, and even a ruptured colon, which took him out of commission for eight months.
All of this has limited his ability to lift, pull or bend, and he has had to compensate with various methods of ingenious leverage and rolling devices. Luckily, he usually had friends looking on and willing to help with the tasks he couldn’t handle. One of those helpers was his daughter, Myranda, who helped guide and place the motor in the boat.
During the eight months he couldn’t physically work on the project, he was on the Internet attempting to locate original hardware. He also learned he could no longer get parts for such a craft, so he had to make them.
One of his more ingenious ideas was installing a remote controlled engine hatch lid, as he knew the weight of it would preclude his lifting and lowering it each time.
The boat is powered by a 350 Chevrolet engine and has a marine automatic transmission. It is equipped with all the modern accessories of a new boat.
Jeff describes it as, “An old boat with all new hardware.”
One of the more challenging tasks of the boat construction was making a metal cutwater, the piece that covers the bow of the ship and keeps water from entering the seam where the wooden sides come together. Jeff made a template with cardboard, then cut the iron strips from the pattern. He constructed a wooden frame to hold the iron pieces while he screwed and welded them together. After it was all in one perfectly fitted piece, he had it chromed before mounting it on the boat, and it fit perfectly. That was the one part of construction that continues to amaze his wife the most.
The floor of the boat is solid cherry and the exterior is mahogany. The steering wheel is custom made of a metal insert covered with mahogany.
Jeff said when the state inspectors came to look at and register the boat, it was the first of its kind they had ever seen.
A good luck token in the form of an 1894 silver dollar, given by a friend, is bolted under the dash. It is secured with the set of pins and rods that were removed following Jeff’s first back surgery.
Jeff, who has been on pain management since his surgeries, said the construction of the boat has been a great stress reliever and he considered naming it “Therapy” or “Miss-Stress,” but after his family vetoed both of those names he decided simply on “My Lady.”
Jeff is described by his wife as a person who always has to have a project. He has built a small airplane and cars before, but nothing of this magnitude. He says the joy for him is the challenge and creation of something he has never done before.
“Working on this boat through all the pain of my medical problems has been what has kept me sane,” he said.