After purchasing a 1959 boat, Jodi and Al Blum get help from local businesses to restore it.
When Jodi and Al Blum attended an antique car and boat show in Bay Head last fall, they planned only to take in the sights and sounds. That changed when they spotted an elegant but neglected vintage cruising picnic boat and decided that buying the restoring it would be a fun project.
The boat, which they purchased for about a thousand dollars from its owner, needed a lot of work. Built around 1959 in Penn Yan, N.Y., it had fallen into disrepair and required electrical and mechanical repairs, as well as extensive cleaning, sanding and varnishing. Old instruments had to be changed out and vintage parts had to be reconditioned or replaced.
The Blums knew they could do the bulk of the work themselves but needed help with precision wood cutting, metal work, parts restoration, and canvassing.
Finding craftsmen who had the skills to tackle the work at pricing that Jodi, a locomotive engineer for N.J. Transit, and Al, a lineman for PSE&G, could afford was a challenge. After scoping out shops in the shore area and finding them too pricy, they decided to explore nearby businesses in Ewing and Trenton.
After some online research and calls to friends, they found three local companies that fulfilled their needs: Kisthardt’s Auto Products and Naticchia’s Custom Woodworking, both in Ewing; and Harrison Machine & Tool Inc. in Trenton.
The Blums estimate that they saved thousands of dollars by working on the boat themselves and using the professional services of Ewing and Trenton businesses owners. They estimated that they spent about $1,100 on the project, including the cost of parts and services.
The Blums said the restoration would have cost a lot more if they had the work done by shore businesses because of the high demand for boat work there. The shops have a waiting list, and people are willing to pay high prices just to get the work done. What’s more, people who live at the shore or who own boats tend to be affluent. They can afford to pay higher prices and they are perfectly willing to do so.
The project spanned three months, from the end of February through the end of May. Jodi installed new parts she was able to find locally or order online, including an ignition and choke plates, a speedometer, and a steering wheel. She also sanded and varnished, while Al fixed all of the electrical and mechanical problems. The local shop owners took care of the specialty needs.
Harrison Machine & Tool made a protective metal plate used as a barrier between the motor and the back of the boat. It also made decorative stainless steel plates to replace ones that had deteriorated.
Owner Steve Harrison, who started the company in 1990, said he has boyhood memories of family outings in Penn Yan. His father had owned a boat from the 1930s and Harrison still has the boat’s flag.
Harrison describes his company as a job shop. “We work on anything that comes through the door,” he said.
Although Harrison works on vehicles for road and water travel, most of its focus is on scientific instrumentation including surgical implants, including metal bone splints used to mend broken bones, and pharmaceutical machinery, including stainless steel containers and blades that are used for blending powders.
Recently, the company worked on a project repairing an eight-ton bank volt door by remaking faulty pieces of the door’s locking mechanism.
Harrison’s runs his company with two tradesmen, who have been with him for about 20 years. “I owe a large percentage of my success to my employees,” Harrison said.
Naticchia’s Custom Woodworking cut the boat’s new wood and added surface grooves. Called v-grooves, they are decorative but necessary for accurate restoration, Blum said.
Naticchia also made new seat backs out of leftover wood from the original bow of the boat. At first glance, the seat back appears to be a simple rectangle, but it has a very subtle curve. Blum said she was impressed that the shop was able to shape the curve with 100 percent precision.
For owner Joe Naticchia, his contribution was simply part of a day’s work, “We made the parts the Blums couldn’t find anywhere else,” he said.
The company, open since 1992, is a family run business with 11 employees. Naticchia describes his business as an architectural wood shop.
The shop specializes in molding and millwork for businesses and home owners, including most of the Ewing area fire companies, the Ewing police canine training center, and Make a Wish Foundation. The company has received awards from various fire companies for work it has done for them including specialty tool cabinets used on fire trucks.
One of the jobs Naticchia especially enjoyed involved a project for the West Trenton train station, which included period doors, window shudders, and other woodwork. Another project he enjoyed involved making a set of trophy cases and a bar for the Union Fire House in Titusville.
Naticchia does a lot of work on old colonial homes in Ewing and Princeton, and recently he has worked on homes in Colorado and Florida.
Kisthardt’s Auto Products, a local landmark since 1928, replaced the boat’s canvas with a new cover, installed a new windshield and restored many of the brass pieces that would be almost impossible to replace.
Blum said that as the work progressed, she found other nearby companies who helped her save money by giving her free advice, including Hamilton’s Mercer Marine and Ewing’s Heath Lumber. Mercer Marine also saved her money by giving her free shipping. Blum said that amounted to a big savings because shipping costs add up quickly. Another perk from Mercer Marine was that they were willing to match or charge under the online prices because she gave them a significant amount of business.
Blum completed the restoration by applying a coating of red paint to the bottom of the boat on May 26. She named the boat “Dark Star,” influenced by the title of a song by Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Before launching Dark Star’s maiden voyage from Point Pleasant, Ocean County, Al insured that the boat was sea worthy. After confirming that the motor was working, he took the boat out for a short cruise and then let it sit for about an hour to see how much water it had taken in under the floor boards.
All boats take in some water explained Jodi. A small amount of water is to be expected but if you find too much, something is wrong. A knowledgeable person like Al can determine whether the water level is acceptable.
Dark Star passed the level test with flying colors and the Blums celebrated their maiden voyage on Memorial Day. Now, with Dark Star safely docked at Point Pleasant, the Blums are now planning their summer itinerary.
Kisthardt’s Auto Products: 354 4th Street, Ewing (609) 434-0700
Naticchia’s Custom Woodworking: 1597 5th Street, Ewing (609) 882-7709
Harrison Machine & Tool, Inc.: 21 Lexington Avenue, Trenton (609) 883-0800