Scenes From a Launch Ramp

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It’s April 1955, and the folks around Apalachicola, Florida, are celebrating the coming of a new boating season on the Chattahoochee River with a Boat-A-Cade, an event during which many boats will cruise
together to multiple destinations.

In this image, participants attempt to get a little wooden runabout with its 25-hp Johnson Seahorse onto its trailer, under the gaze of a crowd of onlookers. A Chevrolet Bel Air is backed up at the makeshift launch site, the rear wheels perilously close to the water. One person gets his pants wet at the boat’s end, while the other one gets to roll his up on the car’s end.

The marriage of the trailerable boat and the automobile was in full swing by the 1950s. As boat sales picked up after World War II, sales of trailers spiked, too, increasing from around 1,000 in 1939 to more than 90,000 by 1954. Trailering gave boaters the chance to travel beyond their local
waters. Anywhere a car could go, a boat could tag along, and trailer manufacturers were quick to develop user-friendly models with handy features such as rollers, tilting tongues and winches.

The Tee-Nee Trailer Co. switched from making military trailers to boat trailers, watching sales jump from 5,000 in the late 1940s to 168,000 in 1959. The Ohio-based manufacturer painted its trailers a distinctive yellow and offered a Tip-N-Turn tilting system for easy launching. By the mid 1950s, the Tee-Nee catalog displayed 11 models ranging in capacity from 400 to 3,400 pounds. Holsclaw and Arnholt, both based in Indiana, were two other trailer makers. At this time, small boats were getting bigger, as evidenced by the cabin cruiser in the photo, and trailer makers accommodated the trend with models for boats up to 28 feet.

A quote in a March 1954 article in Sports Afield summed up the impact of the trend: “There is nothing more responsible for the boom in watercraft than the modern lightweight boat trailer.” 

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.

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