DURING ITS HEYDAY, THE WEST’S TOP BUILDER OF OUTBOARD RUNABOUTS
by Marty Loken
The Reinell company began in 1928 as Adams & Reinell, Inc., first in a small shop on Lake Stevens, then on the shore of nearby Ebey Slough in Marysville, Washington, 30 miles north of Seattle.
From the beginning, the company specialized in fine lapstrake and carvel-planked boats in the 10- to 18-foot range, but they advertised their ability to design and build pleasure cruisers or yachts up to 110 feet in their spacious plant.
Adams & Reinell (C.B. Adams and Nick Reinell) seemed especially proud of their fast lapstrake runabouts, which featured nearly plumb stems, beautiful planking lines and fine entries forward, providing a soft ride at higher speeds.
Only the finest materials were used, according to the company’s 1930 catalog: “The ribs, keel and stem are oak; transom is mahogany (one piece); the quarter deck forward and all trim including thwarts are of cedar or mahogany. The hull is clear, vertical-grained, air-dried cedar. The boats are finished natural all over except inside, which is painted green below the thwarts.”
In 1930, Adams & Reinell’s premium lapstrake models were the 16-foot Sea Rex ($170 at the factory), and the 18-foot Aristocrat, which sold for $250.
Like many other outboard builders during the late 1920’s and early ‘30’s, Adams & Reinell dabbled in racing boats, producing two beautiful stock models--the Stepper, a slippery-looking step hydro developed for A, B, C, D and E racing classes. The Steppers must have been extremely lightweight, as they were built with 1/4-inch cedar planking, spruce frames, cottonwood decking and mahogany trim.
Another fast model was the Flyer, a low-slung outboard racing runabout with a long foredeck, steering aft and construction that mimicked the Stepper series--cedar planking, spruce ribs, cottonwood decking and mahogany trim, all varnished and described in the 1930 catalog as “a smart, seaworthy outboard runabout (whose) grace of line is matched by her staunchness...combining perfect beauty with a flashing get-away.”
In the early 1930’s C.B. Adams dropped out and the company became known as Reinell Boat Works. The plant was expanded several times and new models were added to the line, making Reinell the most productive builder of outboard runabouts on the West Coast.
The company was known from Alaska to California for three things--1) the uncompromising quality of materials used (they had a yard brimming with the best air-dried cedar, airplane-grade spruce, Honduras mahogany, white oak and other species; 2) the strength of Reinell’s heavy “rivet and burr” fastenings, which added longevity to its boats; and 3) performance of the boats, which were known to be dry-riding, well-balanced at all speeds, light and fast.
In addition to elegant, larger runabouts and classy little lapstrake tenders, Reinell developed an affordable line of fishing boats that became popular in the rental fleets of Puget Sound salmon-fishing resorts.
The fishing-boat line began with simple flat-bottomed skiffs (10 to 16 feet), which often were used on calm-water lakes, and continued through the more popular series of V-bottom, sawn-frame, batten-seam outboards in the 14- to 18-foot range. While the fishing boats were standardized models--not as elegant or expensive as the bent-frame carvel and lapstrake runabouts--they shared a reputation as terrific performers with their smooth, dry ride and sturdy construction.
Less popular in the 1930’s and ‘40’s (counting the number of boats built) were Reinell’s inboard and outboard cruisers, most often sedans ranging from 18 to 24 feet.
Like many builders, Reinell started using some marine plywood by the late 1940’s--ply transoms on some models, and later plywood planking and decking.
Plywood made sense for fishing-resort fleets, since ply boats were considered strong, less leak-prone than planked hulls, and economical to build.
Unfortunately, they were less attractive than the earlier lapstrake and carvel-planked boats, and when fiberglass boatbuilders exploded onto the scene in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s, the utilitarian plywood boats were easily dismissed in favor of the new, “maintenance-free” glass hulls.
Across the country, hundreds of wooden-boat builders changed careers as fiberglass became the dominant production material. Some traditional builders switched to fiberglass, including Reinell, but many seemed to lose their spirit and focus after embracing molded-glass boats. Reinell’s management had bitterly resisted the trend toward fiberglass, but market realities prevailed and the company’s production of fine wooden boats ended without ceremony, 10 years after Reinell produced its first tail-finned glass runabout in 1957.
After producing a variety of not-too-distinguished glass runabouts and cruisers in the 1960’s, Reinell Boat Works was sold to the then-President of Alaska Airlines in 1967. Facing increased competition, and having endured a disruptive series of management changes through the 1970’s, the company shut down and all assets were auctioned off in 1980.
Lost in the process were all boat plans, photos, sales and production records, brochures and other evidence of the company’s rich, 52-year history. (If any readers have photos, catalogs or other details on early Reinell boats, please get in touch. We are hoping to produce a monograph tracing the history of Northwest boatbuilders and would deeply appreciate any information that might be available.) -- Marty Loken