A Golden Anniversary

by Jerry Petersen (Guest Author)

My son, Chuck, has mentioned my 1953 SwitzerCraft, 14 foot, Bullet in several of his articles in this column, hence, I was somewhat reluctant to give it more coverage. However, since the boat turned 50 this summer, I figured a few more comments might be in order, since not that many love affairs last 50 years! Anyway, I’ll make my comments from a different perspective than Chuck’s.

I bought the Switzer new in 1953 when I was a freshman at Northwestern University. I had grown up with our family’s only power boat being a long deck Thompson with a 16 HP electric (motor-generator) opposed twin Johnson. This was a great cruise boat, but it couldn’t pull water skis, which was a growing frustration through my teen years. When I was 15 I got my first boat, a 14 foot Dunphy, molded plywood Dolphin, powered by a Mercury Super 10. This was much more of a speedster, especially with one rider, but it still couldn’t pull water skis. However, not having a ski tow boat didn’t stop me from water skiing. I just had to find friends with inboards to give me a ride. One such tow boat was a 1939 split cockpit GarWood owned by a girl I dated. That started a couple of love affairs, but those are other stories.

Come the summer of 1953, I got a job waiting tables at the Lake Lawn Ballroom on Delavan Lake (near Lake Geneva). What a perfect summer job for a freshman in college. I worked from 5:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and had all the daytime hours to swim, boat, and water ski. This was toward the end of the Big Band era. The Lake Lawn Ballroom had a good house band, and every Saturday we had a traveling name band on stage. Anyway, I wanted to do more water skiing, and still go fast when I wanted to cruise.

A well known outboard boat racer (Jack Maypole) lived on our home lake (Lauderdale), and he interested me in outboard boat racing. One race of special interest here in Wisconsin was the Winnebago-Land Marathon. It started from Fond du Lac at the south end of the Lake Winnebago, went up the west shore to Oshkosh, and then returned to Fond du Lac. You had to have a good rough water race boat, but still one that was fast on the straight away. During the early 1950’s the boat to beat was the SwitzerCraft Bullet — a Class D (40 cubic inch) utility racer. Most Class D utility races saw Switzers finishing in at least three of the first five places!

APBA utility class race boat rules required a front seat, so
the Switzer Bullet could also be used as a ride boat — that is if you didn’t mind smacking the waves. I was hooked, and traded my Dunphy and Super 10, in on a Switzer Bullet with a Mercury Mark 40. In addition, I bought two lower units for the Mark 40; a regular one that worked fine for water skiing, and a racing one (QuickSilver) for single operator top speed. I entered and won several local races, but never got into the APBA circuit. What was more important, I had a great boat for summer fun. Over the years, the Switzer has retained a special place in our family boating experience. Although my interest has turned to restoring old wooden inboards (two GarWoods and a Shepherd), I (and both of my sons) still look forward to those high speed runs each summer in the Switzer.

I took my Switzer to the ACBS Antique Race Boat Regatta at Clayton, NY in 1996. Figure 1 shows the boat at my dry land display there. What was especially interesting to me was the number of older eastern U.S. boat racers who told me that the Switzer Bullet was also “king of the marathons” on the east coast back in the 1950’s. There aren’t that many Switzer Bullets left. Their plywood construction requires weather protection for longevity.

Remarkably, a lifelong friend, Stu Anderson, also acquired a Switzer within a year of my purchase. His was the Baby Bullet (Class B, 20 cubic inch), and was powered by a gold Mercury Mark 20H. The two of us raced around Lauderdale in our Switzers for many years. Due to Stu’s untimely death a couple of years ago, this Baby Bullet is now owned by his son, Scott Anderson, who is a very close friend of my son, Chuck. This surviving Switzer was displayed at the Rendevous this August, (Figure 2) and won the “Best Outboard Racer” award from the outboard club co-hosting our event.
Figure 3, shows Carol in my Switzer way back in 1954, some three years before we were married. In fact, I met her here at Lauderdale Lakes at the home of the friend who owned the GarWood. The first thing I did after meeting her was to give her a ride in the Bullet, since I had arrived by boat. We were both students at North-western, and married after graduation. She claimed to love fast boats when we met; a remark that some have told me was never true! Regardless, she has been a wonderful wife for over 46 years. We hosted two other couples on our Shepherd on the Rideau Romp in September and had a wonderful time. Over the years, I have found that collecting old boats is really about meeting great people. The ACBS has truly proven that to us.
Anyway, the Switzer is kept in my dry boat house here at Lauderdale Lakes on a cradle that rolls down a short track into the lake whenever we want to use it. It never sits in the water when not in use. It is in excellent original condition (never stripped).
I have done some transom work, and a refreshing varnish job every decade. The engine is still all original; never repainted, and never opened. Chuck is a big help making sure the lower units are maintained, and that StaBil is added to the gas each fall. In fact, that gives both of us an excuse for another ride. Figure 4 shows me at speed this fall, and Figure 5 shows me coming back to the dock. What a great way to end the boating season!