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Why we don't judge Thompson Boats:

Andreas and I were sent an email by Mike Gresham and Gene Porter of the ACBS asking us if we would like to give out a "best Thompson" award or some such at the national Antique and Classic Boat Society (ACBS) show.

Since I am not into judging, I threw the email away. Andreas sent both gentlemen a brief note saying the Thompson Marque Club does not believe in judging, does not give any awards at our Thompson rally, and has no interest in giving an award at the national meet.

This was answered by another email from both of them with the following question: If you don't believe your boats should be judged, then what criteria do you use to keep them authentic, or maybe this isn't important to you?

Here is our response. I am making this available here on the website because I think it offers a valuable perspective and history for those who are into our classics boats!

Dear Mike, Gene:

Per your email, Andreas and I would like to explain why The Thompson Boat Club doesn’t judge the boats that participate in the Thompson Antique & Classic Boat Rally, held every two years in Marinette, Wisconsin. For the record, we generally discourage the judging of classic outboard powered boats in general, and Thompsons specifically.

In our view, there are several factors that come into play regarding whether a boat show or rally be judged. Some of these reasons are personal, but for the sake of keeping our reasoning relevant, we will discuss our logic as to how it relates to the ACBS.

We have the utmost respect for our fellow ACBS members and judges who enjoy the judging process. We do not say this lightly. We find it amazing there are folks among us who can tell us what color and gauge the ground wire is on a 1939, 19’ Chris Craft Barrel Back, or the engine choices on a 1947, 22’ Sportsman, or any differences between the wood and fiberglass versions of a 1967 Century Arabian, other than the obvious.

The above examples all have very specific criteria in the boats’ components. This is not the case with classic outboard boats. The reason is simple. The very nature of outboards such as it is, most any boat can have most any engine on it. This difference alone implies one has to add certain hardware to accommodate any given engine and if taken literally could lead to a debate on a boats’ originality. Granted, this is an obvious example, and to be fair, the judging process keeps this in mind when modifications were made to handle the engine. We suppose things could get sticky when it is clear the boat has gone through two, three, four modifications to keep up with newer outboards that have been installed through the years. This brings up another issue; Does a classic outboard boat have to have a classic outboard motor on it, and if so, at what point is the engine choice no longer considered appropriate.

A discussion of outboard engines aside, and any related issues as to how a boat may be altered for the engine, the issue of judging a Thompson made boat for it’s authenticity is far more involved than what meets the eye. Thompson of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, Thompson of Cortland, New York, Cruisers Inc., Thompson Royal-Craft, T & T, and Grady White sold their boats to their dealers in their hey day in a variety of ways. These boats were all sold from very few “factory installed options”, to boats fully equipped. Since dealers made more money buying the boats stripped and adding their own hardware and various other options, the question of what is “original” becomes a very complex issue. This explains why you can have two identical hulls built next to each other at the factory and when launched, one has a Thompson or Kainer steering wheel on the starboard side of the front cockpit while the other has another brand steering wheel in the port rear cockpit. One boat may have a bow light at the tip of the bow, and the other may have the bow light half way between the windshield and the bow. Where the bow light was placed on the latter hull depended on where some seventeen year old decided to install it when he worked at the Thompson dealer after school or on weekends. One boat has front seats only, the other front and back with the back seat possibly upholstered. One has a canvas canopy, the other none. Looking at the boats next to each other in the water, one could be hard pressed to learn they were literally built next to each other, except one was fully equipped at the factory and the other at the dealer. These are simply non issues for any of the traditional inboard manufactured boats.

If a person sends us a picture of their “project” boat and in their letter states they want to bring it back to as close to “original” as possible, we explain the above scenario in more detail. Often times, bringing a Thompson back to “original” condition is how that boat was delivered from the dealer, not how Thompson would have delivered the boat had they made it with the same options.

For those folks who truly want to bring their boat back to life as Thompson would have delivered it to the dealer, with no third party after market options, we have the means, through various members’ boats, catalogs, and literature to provide people with the information required to do just that, how Thompson would have “made” their boat.

We do not interfere with ACBS’s views, procedures, criteria and execution of how the organizations’ judging is handled. We do not encourage or discourage Thompson owners from having their boats judged. If a person has an issue with the outcome of how their boat faired in a judged show, and has a question about the legitimacy of the decisions made, we can generally verify if the decision was valid or not based on the information they provide about their boat and the interpretation of how and why the judges made the decision they did. We do not get involved with disputes. If the individual wants to take the information we have provided to them back to the judges to correct a situation, that is their prerogative.

We have all witnessed bruised egos and strained friendships at the dock or awards banquet when the judging results have been announced and awards given out. We could point out numerous examples of what was deemed correct or incorrect in evaluating a particular Thompson, only to find the judge(s) could not have been more off the mark. Whether the judges were correct or not is a moot point as far as we are concerned. It is our opinion that judging is not what classic boating should be about, especially when it comes to outboards and specifically Thompsons.

Frankly, we have not come across any judges who are capable of judging Thompsons, given the many subtle differences between the same hulls and how they were differentiated from each other. This is not meant as an insult to any of the judges out there, but rather an admission of how difficult judging could be. It is one thing to find experts on the Chris Craft line of utilities, or Cobras. It is quite another to keep up with a company like Thompson, who made several versions of their various models through the years and produced models within models using the same hull. One of the reasons Andreas and I enjoy what we do is we learn something we didn’t know before on a weekly basis.

We should point out as well there were subtle differences between the Peshtigo, Wisconsin made boats and the Cortland, New York made boats. Same boats but different trim packages. Thompson also changed the style and length of their boats but kept the same model names. This fact alone confuses many when a particular model is the same length as the last generation’s different model Thompson. As proof, more than one out of three people who are members of the Thompson Boat Club have a different model and/or year Thompson than they thought or were told when they purchased the boat.

As if everything that has been pointed out thus far isn’t overwhelming or confusing enough, there are two more facts that should be pointed out. Thompson modified boats per a dealer or customer request on an ongoing basis in a separate facility. They also produced limited editions of certain models going as far back as the 1930’s. These boats also show up at different events and provide yet another definition for what could be construed as “original”. The examples range from electric power to Carvel planking to custom installed gas tanks. The list goes on and on and on.

In conclusion, there are many moving parts and pieces with regards to documenting the authenticity of any of the Thompsons and boats made by its’ affiliated companies. Using the model of “judging” to keep a part of pleasure boating history authentic and accurate would be a formidable challenge at best. It may work for Hackers, Chris Crafts, Gar Woods, Centurys, and most any of the other traditionally built inboard boats. The judging model might work for certain outboard powered boats made by smaller manufactors who did not offer all the variations Thompson did. By virtue of the fact outboard boats lend themselves so easily for modifications, we suspect one would be hard pressed to find a company that shipped an outboard powered boat with no additional hardware or modifications done at the dealer, and subsequently, sold as delivered.


Miles Kapper
The Thompson Dockside

Andreas Jordahl Rhude
Thompson Antique & Classic Boat Rally


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