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Lake George Resident Acquires Elco, Historic Maker of Electric Boats

By Anthony F. Hall

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Steve Lamando, the Shelving Rock resident who purchased Hall’s Boat Corporation in 2006, has acquired another historic boat company, Elco.

“My family and I have formed Elco Motor Yachts, LLC, to operate the company that was started in 1893 to provide boats for Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition,” said Lamando.

The company is based in Athens, New York, a Greene County town situated on the west bank of the Hudson River.

Lamando is the third Lake George resident to own Elco. In 1987, Joseph W. Fleming, inspired by the example of Hackercraft owner Bill Morgan, purchased the rights to use the name, with the intention of building replicas of every model produced by Elco.

The company was acquired in 1996 by another Lake George resident, Chuck Houghton, who was inspired at least in part by the electric boats on Lake George (his great grandfather, W.K. Bixby, brought the 36- foot St. Louis to Lake George in 1903).

“We’re continuing Elco’s heritage by building launches, as it has done since 1893,” said Lamando. By that, Lamando means, in part, that his boats retain the appearance  and the style of the launches that Elco produced in the 1890s.  They have the same fan tail  sterns, wood combings, and white hulls  of the originals.

Lamando himself owns  a piece of that heritage. He’s acquired Wenona, a 36-foot launch once owned by an earlier Lake George resident, Bishop Ernest M. Stires.  Lamando brought the Wenona from Lake Champlain, where it was owned by the late composer Ernie Stires, to Hall’s Boat Corporation to be restored.

Lamando expects  the restoration to be completed later this year.

With the return of Wenona to Lake George, five of the thirty original Elcos known to exist can be found on this lake.

There’s the Barbara, once part of a fleet of electric boats owned by F.R. Smith for the use of fishermen and still owned by the marina. The Wolgins own the 1907, 20-ft Whim, which was once owned by the Millers, who replaced it with the McGuffy, a 25-foot, 1904 launch.

The best-known, because the most visible, electric boat on Lake George is the St. Louis. Virtually silent, with no visible means of propulsion, and large enough to accommodate a small party, the St. Louis is itself something of a tourist attraction, a local landmark to be identified and commented upon by the passing tour boat captains

The St. Louis is as cherished as any member of the Bixby family. Perhaps even more so.“If  you damage this boat, you’re banned from the family,” says Doug Houghton, one of Chuck Houghton’s brothers.  “If she sinks, you go down with her.”

Today’s Elco launches have been given some “creature comforts and modern conveniences,” said Steve Lamando.  “They’re not RVs, but they provide a more comfortable ride.”

“An electric boat is beautiful boat that’s quiet, so you can converse; it’s meant for cocktail cruises, not for water skiing,” said Lamando.

Lamando says that his company has devoted most of its energies to improving the electric propulsion systems, whose batteries are  rechargeable by either shore power or onboard solar panels and a wind generator and provide  6 to 8 hours of travel. Among the companies that have embraced Elco’s technology is the maker of Hunter sailboats, which uses the systems for auxiliary power.

“What’s really exciting about owning Elco is the opportunity to be a leader in green, fossil fuel- free technologies,” said Lamando.  “The automobile industry has adopted electric propulsion, and so should the marine industry. Joe Fleming says timing is everything, and we’re in a situation now where people appreciate the virtues of electric boats now more than they did 20 years ago. In the United States, but even more so in Europe, the company is blossoming.”

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