Yellow Jacket Boats still holding interest

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DENISON -- It was a hallmark business in Texoma more than 50 years ago. Mark Van Paasschen takes us back in time to the days of the wooden speedboat.

Life in the 1950s was a much slower, simpler style of living. But for those who had a need for speed, there was a little company in Denison that helped feed that need.

Lake Texoma is home to some of the finest fiberglass boats in the southwest, but there was a time where a different kind of boat ruled these waters.

It was the 1950s Elvis was king and Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.

But back in his native town of Denison, Texas, the mahogany plywood boats were making waves.

"This was the most fun job I ever had in my life," said Gene Ramey.

Ramey is a former employee of the Yellow Jacket Boat Company.

"Everything was hand made... hand made, hand painted," said Ramey.

That's right, hand made wooden boats were being put together right here in Denison and being shipped all across the country.

The factory building still stands today, located at the end of Yellow Jacket Rd. near Denison Dam.

David Kanally is a former president of the Wooden Boat Association of North Texas. He says that the boats made here in Denison were a sourc of passion and pride.

"To have a boat like this, and even to see a boat like this brings back lots of memories. A lot of these were run on Lake Texoma, a lot on other area lakes. A lot of young people water skiied behind these boats, and had a great time in Yellow Jacket Boats," said Kanally.

They were made of cold molded plywood and that gave these boats a very unique feel.

"There's nothing like being surrounded by the wood grain of a beautiful mahogany boat. Also, you get a lot more looks in a boat like this," said Kanally.

At the company's height these boats were so popular that the company was turning out 35 to 40 boats a day.

"Today this is a storage building for the current owners of River Bend Cabinet shop. If you can imagine 50 years ago, this was just filled with activity of people assembling the boats. From down below the hulls would be brought up without any transoms or seats. They were brought up here, and then an assembly line would go from the back of the building all the way out the front,"

On the walls faded signs still hang indicating where the different lengths of boats were kept.

"This was the part of the beginning of the assembly line where the hulls were stored before they began the process of going through the assembly line," said Kanally.

And the finished product was a thing of beauty, a treasure for everyone who owned one. It was a definite source of pride for Ramey and his former co-workers.

"Mac and Rex and Finnes and Wendell Rich and Clyde Brown and George Goforth and Calvin Parrish and everybody took a lot of pride in what was going on," said Ramey.

Mac McDerby who founded the Yellow Jacket Boat company apparently chose the name for no other reason than that he was just a fan of the Denison High School football team.

I understand that a lot of you have information about Roy Rogers' involvement with the Yellow Jacket Boat Company. I would like to do a follow up story to include his role in the company, but I will need photos or videos of him working with or in the boats. If you have materials like this, please e-mail me your information.

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