505 Albert Lea Street
by Lee Wangstad
My good friend Ross Pfund sent me a copy of Popular Boating magazine the other day. It was the January 1961 issue, and there in the letters column was one titled “Old Boat Specs” and read as follows:
“My hobby, for the last four or five years, has been that of collecting old inboard speedboat catalogs, glossy photos and brochures. Last week I received in the mail 18 old 1932 Chris-Craft runabout postcards that are in perfect condition. These are now my oldest pieces of literature in my collection. I was wondering if you possibly had any old photos, catalogs, brochures or other literature on the following old inboard speedboats: Mullins steel inboards (information for any year); Dodge wooden inboards (information for any year); Chris-Craft, early history and any literature up to 1937 and from 1937 to 1949, also 1951, 1952; DeWitte, information for any year; and Doane, information for any year. These are just a few companies on which I would like to receive either a small written history or the literature for the years stated. I know this is a big order, but I think you can help me.”
The letter was signed, Bob Speltz, 505 Albert Lea Street, Albert Lea, Minnesota. Now, maybe to some, the address doesn’t mean a whole lot, but the name hails a significant message to all of us classic boat aficionados out here in Minnesota —. and the rest of the world as well.
The really amazing thing to me is that, here it is 1961, and Bob has to be all of 18 years old. Already, he has been researching the old classics for four or five years and collecting the literature and histories and writing them down. It makes me think of what I am doing and where I’m at in 1961. Wow, ten years old and barely in Little League. Where is the rest of the hobby at this early date? Bob would have a long wait for the rest of us to catch up.
When I see the address 505 Albert Lea Street, it immediately brings to mind the house with its white clapboard siding, freshly painted, always neat and tidy. It’s on the hill overlooking Fountain Lake in a quiet, tree lined neighborhood, that seems to be coming right out of the 30’s. And theres the porch that enter into the comfortable living room. Bob’s mom, Angie, is answering the door to always greeting you with a smile and a manner which immediately sets you at ease. You know that you are with friends. This is the house where Bob Speltz grew up. It is the house where he stayed and wrote the volumes that have taught us all about those wooden runabouts that he was so anxious to research.
When I was young, I would travel down to the Minneapolis Boat Show with my family, and collect the literature from each display, and lug the bags of catalogs around all night. Then, I’d bring them home, sort them out with my favorites working their way towards the top of the pile, while the bottom of the pile slowly finds its way out of the house headed for the next paper drive at school.
Bob Speltz did a very similar thing, only there was no top or bottom to his pile. He loved them all equally. He would hang onto this literature the rest of his life. Thats how he was. These things were important to him, and just as he had saved and collected the literature from the shows he had attended, he started to travel back in time and collect the older things.
It would only be natural for him to write on this subject. He had a fifteen-year head start on everyone else. There was little else on the subject when he first produced the REAL RUNABOUTS. If Bob had been like most people, he would have been content with a successful book and the accolades that followed. But he was driven by something deeper. The more he looked, the more he found. The whole thing was beginning to open up to him. The first book was the tip of the iceberg. Each succeeding volume would bring forth more information — not just on the boats in Volume I — but on companies that most had never heard of. The hobby grasped his books with true dedication, following his lead in the discovery of an industry that time had swept aside.
He wrote this collection of works from his office in his home at 505 Albert Lea Street. Overlooking Fountain Lake, where memories from his boyhood would spring up while gazing out the window, he would chronicle the history of an industry focused on recreation — in and around the water.
My favorite picture of Bob shows him on the back of a pontoon boat that’s rigged up with a hoist to pluck lifts out of the lake each fall and return them again in the spring. He had told me of how he had custom-rigged this thing to make it possible to work on Fountain Lake. It was what he wanted to do — be on the lake. I found this picture while sorting a batch of literature that he had given me. On the sideboards are the words “Bob’s Boat House”. On the front is the familiar phone number 373-2145. Each time that I read the number on the picture, I am reminded of the great conversations about boats that we’ve shared.
I can’t think of 505 Albert Lea Street without the image of Angie at the back door with a jar of candy, offering a handful to my daughter Emily for the long ride home. And the smile on Emily’s face, just knowing that this was someone who truly cared. As I think of that 1961 letter to Popular Boating, I can only think that he wrote that letter because he cared. There was information that he wanted to know, information that he would share with others. Not just today or tomorrow, but forever.