1955 17 foot Shepard Runabout

Selby & Maureen Turners’ 17 foot Shepard Runabout. 

1955 shephard runabout

It’s winter, the snow swirls around my storage barn, just feet away from the Lake and safely tucked in among the cedars on Isle La Motte. I enter, almost tentatively because I’ve not been in for several weeks. I flick on the lights and suddenly the 35×75′ space is alive with all my summer friends: 3 antique cars ranging in age from 67 to 88 years and two boats ages 96 and 64 as well as two 61 and 67 year old tractors, several newer boats, carriages and assorted lawn machines etc. The 1955 Shepard mahogany runabout sits in the middle and I’m drawn to it because I’ve promised it a spring coat of varnish. I’m already imagining the task with a pad of 220 grit paper in one hand and a soft brush in the other. I try to remember to varnish before summer humidity so the drying won’t blush and think about maybe adding some japan dryer to hasten the process. 

The 1955 Shepard is a 17′ (all original) Canadian made mahogany boat built to compete with US made Chris Craft. It is a “runabout” as opposed to a “utility” because the engine is covered by a hatch and not a box which you need walk around. Runabouts are considered more of a “sporting” boat while the utilities would more likely be used for maybe fishing. Shepard built their products first class. The 17′ runabout has a double planked bottom and is designed to accommodate 5 passengers in the same cockpit. To achieve this, Shepard installed the engine with the flywheel facing the stern (back) of the boat and powered the prop with a V drive transmission. Thus the engine is in the back of the boat covered with a hatch. Most boats are the reverse and their engines are of necessity in the middle of the boat forcing a split cockpit arrangement and, in the Runabouts, a very wet ride for half of the passengers! The engine, original to the boat, is a Chrysler “Ace” which develops 95 hp. These very popular marine engines were available as well in 125 hp as the Chrysler “Crown”. The engine is a 6 cylinder, in line flat head. The exhaust is a straight pipe which develops a most seductive and powerful rumble that reverberates across our bay, bringing people to their doors in awe! Shepard had an arrangement as well with Chrysler to provide accessories such as the steering wheel (also used in the 1955 Chrysler cars) and knobs, etc. The dashboard gauge cluster is one used in both US and Canadian boats for several years. 

I purchased the Shepard, we named the M&M after my wife and daughter and alternately the candy (our candy ride), about 27 years ago. I found her in a field of vines and tall grass and covered with old carpeting and torn tarps sitting on an old hay wagon. The owner refused to uncover her until I paid for it. He claimed he didn’t want to sell…I bit. The fates must have been with me because when I uncovered my now purchased boat, the topsides, cockpit and engine were in fabulous condition. In fact, that year I didn’t even varnish! 

1955 shepard runabout stern

There are many stories to follow thru the years including a tornado that flipped the boat upside down and sunk her under her boat lift. We were able to restart the engine before any further damage and I spent the balance of that summer with goggles and mask retrieving fittings at the bottom of the Lake. 

I have another 1955 Canadian custom made, 36′ sedan cruiser that I rescued from the wrecking ball at a boat yard in Colchester. To my wife’s dismay, it resides in our driveway and necessitates some creative turning to negotiate around. 

v drive transmission
Upper left: Engine power into Transmission — Lower left: Power to propellor

V-drive is a propulsion system for boats that consists of two drive shafts, a gearbox, and a propeller. In a “V-drive” boat, the engine is mounted in the rear of the boat and the front of the engine faces aft. Connected to the rear of the engine is the transmission. The first drive shaft connects the rear of the transmission to a gearbox mounted in the center of the boat. The second drive shaft extends from the gearbox to the rear and out the bottom of the boat to where a propeller is mounted 

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