A Boater's Cottage
This family's retreat doubles as a classic wooden boat museum
Published: May 1, 2009
John Thompson and his wife, Carolynn, love their view. From their hexagon-shaped living room and deck, the couple has a perfect 180-degree vantage of Missouri’s Table Rock Lake and the Ozark Mountain range beyond into Arkansas.
We've all seen boat-style beds sold at furniture and department stores. But this bed was made from an actual boat.
Photo by John Thompson
They purchased their hilltop 1970s-era cottage in 2003, and since then they’ve done some upgrading. They brightened up the interior with some fresh paint and added some windows for light, says John, but mostly they elected to leave the solid bones of the place intact.
But that doesn’t mean the Thompsons haven’t put their personal stamp on their retreat. It started with the wet bar. There was an area prepped for one, but the previous owners never got around to installing it.
“You can almost hear the wheels turning in John’s head when he’s working on one of his wacky ideas,” says Carolynn with affection. The idea that time was to use a drydocked Thompson (no relation) boat for the bar and seating.
Carolynn actually responded at the time with, “Great idea!” She considers herself a willing accomplice in the creative repurposing of boats into furnishings. In fact, she considers herself lucky. “This is a hobby that we can do together.”
For the Love of Wood
At the root of the Thompson’s hobby is a pure love for old wooden boats. “It’s just something else,” says John. “The way a wooden boat feels and sounds going through the water, you just can’t replicate that with fiberglass.”
This passion started when John was a kid learning how to ski behind a classic Thompson wooden boat. “It’s not just because we share the same name,” assures John – who is smitten with the brand that he feels represents a “golden era” of wooden watercraft. This adoration set the stage for the couple’s cottage to become a sort of home for wayward wooden boats. And the various craft hanging around the cottage all have names – there’s “Big Thom” the 18-footer, “Tiny Thom” the 12-foot row boat and “Rescue Thom,” a boat that spent some years as a search-and-rescue craft in Ohio, but came to Missouri via Minnesota towed by friends.
Many of John’s stories start something like this, “We found a boat that had too many problems to fix so …” This has led to cabin creations like their Cruisers, Inc.-brand “boat bed” complete with outboard motor. It’s a “25-horsepower ol’ Buccaneer” with the lower prop going right through the ceiling and into their son’s bedroom where, not surprisingly, there is a boat headboard. “It’s all kind of crazy,” admits John, “But we’ve just decided we ought to have fun in life.”
By virtue of his repurposed Thompson boat, John has added new meaning to "wet bar."
Photo by John Thompson
Once they started, it seemed opportunities for boats were endless. And they add up fast when obtaining that one rowboat you covet means having to buy two boats as a package deal.
Then there are the boats that just come your way. “The guy down at the marina had this 1969, 41-foot Chris Craft cruiser helm station …” starts John. Now it’s located in the great room, complete with wired-up, working lights and horn. There’s also been the eBay finds such as the cedar strip canoe from a scout camp in Texas. “It still has the number 9 painted on it,” says John with pride adding, “My daughter claims it’s all getting ‘out of control.’”
Nuts & Bolts
Both John and Carolynn are quick to point out that their “boathouse” wouldn’t exist without their handy neighbor and friend, Lyle Marsh. “He’s just one of those kind of people who knows how to do everything,” says John, “And if he doesn’t, he’ll figure it out.” John is the idea guy, and then Lyle is left to “lose sleep over it.” This can mean determining which doors and windows need to be removed just to get the boat into the place. “But Lyle always does it, and we’re very grateful for his role in our fun,” says Carolynn.
At the moment there are four Thompson boats and one Cruisers, Inc. craft inside John and Carolynn’s vacation place, serving as everything from window seating to tables to décor. There are also three additional working Thompsons down in the lake, which see their share of use. When asked to explain how he acquired each of his eight boats, John laughed saying, “That sounds like a guy with too many boats.”
But one of the best things about the vacation spot is that once a year they open their place up for the annual gathering of the Heartland Classics Chapter of the Antique Classic Boat Society. The Thompsons are active members of this group that shares their passion. “These people feel about old wooden boats the way others feel about antique cars,” explains John.
Each year on that weekend, about 70 guests fill the house and deck for a party after a lake cruise. “It’s always interesting to see the way different people notice different things.” Be it the obvious boats hanging from the walls and ceilings or smaller details such as the boat compass mounted on the deck, there’s plenty to see – including the beautiful White River Valley. John says, “It’s hard to compete with what nature can do.”
But compete they try. As John is fond of saying, “We take having fun seriously.”
Contributing editor Lucie Amundsen knows her way around a boat, having sailed on the Great Lakes with her husband on their 30-foot vessel, Finlandia.
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