17' long APACHE 17 aluminum lake canoe - $300 (Denver Colorado)
Date: 2011-05-19, 11:38PM MDT
17' long APACHE 17 old aluminum lake canoe made by Browning Marine, St
Charles Michigan. Maximum Horsepower 5, Maximum person capacity
(pounds) 745, Maximum weight capacity (person, motor & gear) (pounds)
Aero Craft. A leading post-World War II producer of aluminum,
outboard-powered recreational boats, Harwill, Inc., manufacturer of
Aero-Craft boats, was a boat-building firm in St. Charles, Saginaw
County, Michigan, established in 1946. A. S. Brennan was president of
the firm; L. B. Harkins, vice-president and general manager; D. Wiltse,
secretary and sales manager; and Leon Harkins, the treasurer and
Among its diversified products were parachute packing tables for the
U.S. Air Force in a contract awarded in about June 1951.
One source reported 60 males and 15 females working for the company in
1950. The company produced aluminum boats, toboggans, pontoons and
custom metal work. H. M. Robins Company of Detroit was the export
management company for the firm in 1950.
By 1955 the firm employed 75 males and 25 females for a workforce of
By 1959 the firm was located at 400 Water Street in St. Charles, the
same address as Harwill, Inc., its parent firm. By 1960, the firm
utilized Universal Sports Corporation of New York City as its export
manager. Staffing had increased to 100 males and 25 females by 1960.
The firm apparently closed sometime after 1978.
AeroCraft -- Harwill
By Andreas Jordahl Rhude 31 January 2002 Revised 02 May 2002
© Andreas Jordahl Rhude 2002
Harwill, Inc. got its start in February 1946 at Bay City, Michigan. The
company was founded by brothers L.B. and Leon Harkins along with
Douglas Wilste. L.B. was president and the two other men were vice
presidents. The infant firm sought a small city for manufacturing
operations and selected St. Charles, near Saginaw. The city offered use
of the old waterworks facility at favorable lease terms. Harwill
therefore had a location for their operations.
The company name HARWILL came from combining portions of the names
HARkins and WILste. L.B Harkins had taken a course in aircraft sheet
metal work in Detroit at the outset of World War II. He subsequently
worked for Briggs Aircraft and later Dow Chemical in Bay City. At Dow
he worked in their magnesium fabrication plant. After the war Dow began
making magnesium boats. L.B. and Wilste claimed they could make a
better boat at lower cost and this was their impetus for forming
Harwill in 1946.
The first AeroCraft aluminum boats were made in June 1946 at St.
Charles. The original boat constructed was a twelve-foot row-motor
boat. Ten boats per week rolled off the assembly line by November.
Orders came in at a much quicker rate than expected, so that by March
1947 they were building fifty boats per week with sixty workers on the
payroll. That year they purchased an eight-acre plot on the outskirts
of the city and constructed a new production facility. The first public
stock offering occurred in 1948 when lack of working capital forced the
owners to seek assistance. A number of St. Charles businessmen invested
including A.S. Brennan who became president.
Some of the early products in addition to boats included experimental
boats up to 27 feet in length for the Army; parachute packing tables;
aluminum mess and card tables for the Navy; aluminum cabinets for Navy
ships; and laundry tables for the Army Quartermaster Corp. One hundred
were employed by the summer of 1953.
The company was originally formed to make plastic products, however the
aluminum fabrication took over immediately. Aluminum boats were their
first products. Ultimately they added a line of fiberglass boats to
supplement the metal operations.
Harwill was purchased by Browning Arms Company in the spring of 1969
for a cash amount exceeding $2 million. The boat operation became the
Browning Marine Division and all personnel were kept on the payroll. At
that time, Harwill had 120,000 square feet of production space on 17
acres of land. 1968 sales amounted to $2,769,691.00 with after tax
earnings of $91,692.00. Both L.B. and Leon Harwill were with the firm
as was A.S. Brennan at the time of the sale to Browning. They remained
with the new owners as managers.
One third of the workers at Browning Marine were layed off in early
December 1973. They all came from the fiberglass production staff.
Uncertainly in gasoline supplies had boat sales plummeting at the time,
so production had to be cut. Browning wanted out of the boat-building
field and closed the plant on 19 July 1974.
The Browning Marine Division was sold in August 1974 to Fuqua
Industries, Inc. of Atlanta according to an announcement by J.J. Klein,
general manager. The closure of the sale ended months of rumors of
impending shut down of the boat works. Production on a limited basis
began soon after the sale. The trade name Browning AeroCraft continued
to be utilized by Fuqua. Browning AeroCraft was assigned to Fuqua's
subsidiary Signa Corporation.
On the second of February 1976 a fire destroyed a large portion of the
St. Charles boat works. Estimated damages reached the $400,000.00 mark.
Many of the boat molds were consumed by the conflagration.
At peak production the company was building 250 aluminum boats and
30-35 fiberglass boats each week.
In 1979 Signa moved AeroCraft production to their boat plant at
Decatur, Indiana. Soon after, a group of local citizens rallied and
established St. Charles Boatworks, Inc. with the intent of purchasing
the abandoned AeroCraft facility. Over $125,000.00 was raised, however
it was not sufficient to swing a deal. So the idea was abandoned and
the funds returned to the investors.
The economic uncertainty of the late 1970s took its toll on Browning
AeroCraft when she was closed down. A liquidation auction took place on
17 December 1979.
An interesting an ironic turn of events took place in March 1976. Fuqua
agreed in principal to sell the Fuqua marine subsidiaries to Saul
Padek. These assets included Thunderbird Products and Signa
Corporation. Thunderbird made boats at several plants in the country
and Signa owned the Browning AeroCraft operation at St. Charles. Padek
was owner and president of Thompson Boat Company of Peshtigo,
Wisconsin. The sale between Fuqua and Padek never materialized,
however. In 1980 a new occupant took over the abandoned AeroCraft
facility, Thompson Boat Company. Thompson went belly up in the summer
of 1980, about a year after Padek sold out. Dale and David Anderson of
Detroit purchased the Thompson assets and they moved the operation,
lock, stock, and barrel, to St Charles. They moved into the former
AeroCraft plant. Thompson continued to make their boats at St. Charles
until about the year 2000.
Sources: St. Charles (MI) Union Saginaw (MI) Valley News Peshtigo (WI)
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