Yellow Jacket Stories from Friends and Family

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My 1954 Yellow Jacket Catalina "Dart Delete" Race Boat by Dennis Cheatham

My Dad's Yellow Jacket by Chuck Reynolds

My 12' Yellow Jacket Project by David Bruyn

Denison Presents a Yellow Jacket Boat to Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, on Labor Day, 1955 by John Reynolds

My Parents' Hornet by Yellow Jacket Industries, by Melodie Rieger

Bill Vint and his Racing '58 Yellow Jacket by Don Fleming

Roy Rogers and his Racing '57 Monterey by Robert Richter

Valley Boat Sales of Van Nuys, the Valley Boat Club and Roy Rogers, by Bill Gude

The Night Watchman, by Jim Sears

Mac McDerby Rescued from Fog-Bound Race to Catalina, by Allan Carter

How We Almost Became Yellow Jacket Dealers, by Gay Perry

Being in a 1958 Yellow Jacket Dealer Ad, by Bill Brown

My Dad's 1957 Yellow Jacket Riviera, by Sam Lievsay

The Fastest Victor Boat, by Vic Brown

Roy Rogers Sighting, by Clint Allred

My Dad's Rare Aft Deck Yellow Jacket, by Steve Hendricks

My Yellow Jacket Story, by Jack L. Sims

Mac McDerby and Roy Rogers drive Yellow Jackets from Denison to New Orleans, By Leonard Melson, submitted by Valerie Dalton, plus additional details from Pic Cyr

Assorted Memories of Uncle Mac, by Pic Cyr

Lunch with the French Street Gang, By David Kanally

Roy Rogers and his '57 Skyliner, by Lawrence Matthews

Growing up in Denison, by Mary Lee Conatser Miller

Finis Terrell and Leadership by Example, by Bob Terrell

Richard C. Cole, by Mike Cole

George Wesley Theakston, by Elaine Theakston and Valerie Marr

My '54 Yellow Jacket "Dart Delete" Race Boat

by Dennis Cheatham

This is a short story about my 1954 Yellow Jacket Catalina Custom Race Boat built by my father, Richard Cheatham, and his co-worker, Carl Bilderback, at the Yellow Jacket plant in Denison, TX. I recently acquired the boat from Carl, who had been its caretaker for over twenty years.

Having completed restoration of a 1958 Yellow Jacket Riviera in 2016, I began to share and show this boat at local DFW & Denison, TX boat shows, car shows and festivals. While sharing the ’58 at the Denison Main Street Festival in 2016, I was made aware of Carl Bilderback and his 1954 Yellow Jacket Custom Race Boat.  As proud as I was of the ’58 restoration, many local Denison admirers could not keep from talking about Carl and his boat.  I learned that Carl was approximately 82 years of age, a former Air Force Chaplain, a local minister and an early employee at the Denison, TX Yellow Jacket Boat Company during the 1950s.  Many Denison residents referred to Carl, pictured at left, as a “local legend” and “The Yellow Jacket Expert.”  Before the day was over, I made up my mind that I had to track down this local legend and see his amazing 1954 Yellow Jacket custom race boat.  Eventually, a friend of Carl’s gave me his phone number and soon we connected on several phone calls, then eventually in person.  Amazingly, Carl recognized my last name and immediately proclaimed he knew and worked with my father at the Yellow Jacket plant.  Our friendship immediately developed, and I felt truly blessed to finally meet Carl in person.  We initially met several times at the local McDonalds in Denison for coffee and sometimes breakfast.  Every time we met, I learned new facts about Yellow Jacket Boats, the production process at the plant, and even things I hadn’t heard from my father.

My Dad, Richard Cheatham

Surprisingly, my father and Carl started working at the Yellow Jacket plant as Denison High School co-op students in the early 1950s.  Carl and my father were initially given the dirtiest, hottest, and most dreaded jobs in the plant.  If they survived this “Yellow Jacket Boot Camp” they would be elevated to jobs on the production line along with most of the more experienced workers.  They were the lowest of low-wage workers trying to earn a few extra bucks to purchase their first cars and eventually cruise the streets of Denison looking for pretty girls and buddies to hang out with on Saturday nights.  I soon learned that Carl was a captivating storyteller, historian, and polished spokesman for anything to do with Denison, Yellow Jacket Boats or the mischief he and my father might find on Friday and Saturday nights in this sleepy railroad town just 60 miles North of Dallas. And yes, he confirmed my father’s stories about quick trips across the Red River to Oklahoma to purchase the adult beverages my father couldn’t purchase in Texas. And he shared many stories of visits to the peaceful shores of Lake Texoma. Carl made me feel like I was listening to my own version of “Happy Days or “American Graffiti”.  It was like watching a short film of Carl and my father in my mind.

Carl Bilderback and his "Dart Delete" 1954 Yellow Jacket Race Boat
But back to the 1954 Yellow Jacket Custom Race Boat.  As it turns out, Carl and my father survived the “YJ Boot Camp” and soon began to help out in production stations like the older and more experienced craftsmen.  When a production station was short on manpower, or fell behind, the two compadres would be directed to these areas to help that station catch up with production.  As a result, these two young men learned every trick, shortcut, tool, and secret passed down by the senior craftsmen in each station of the plant.  Eventually, they were given full control & responsibility for a production station installing boat decks and trim.   And apparently, these young bucks became so efficient at their specialty, they were frequently caught sitting down to rest while waiting on the next boat to arrive in their station.  Well, this leisure was not tolerated by the Production Manager, Finis Terrell.  After threatening to fire the boys for sitting down on the job, Finis finally decided to place an unfinished boat hull in their area. Since they had learned all the production secrets from the other workers along the production line, these boys were tasked with producing a Yellow Jacket, Elgin or Hornet wooden boat from start to finish.  Yes, Finis, along with Yellow Jacket co-owners Mac Mc Derby and Roy Rogers, found a way to streamline the production line and deal with any custom order boat that would normally slow down the line.  And at the same time, they kept these young and energetic boys from sitting down on the job. 
So, Carl’s stories about the boys, their challenges (and rewards) while working at the Yellow Jacket Plant abound and were confirmed by my late father who passed this last fall 2020.  As it turns out, the ’54 Yellow Jacket that Carl owned became my own in February, 2020, after Carl was able to purchase the boat from 30+ years in the Jasper County Historical Museum in Jasper, TX, and having survived 10 years racing for Kiekhaefer/Mercury racing under the helm of another Texas legend, Albert Snell from the Justin / Houston, TX area.  Carl eventually convinced the curators of the Jasper County Historical Museum to sell him the boat in 2011.  And as it turns out, this special custom Yellow Jacket Boat was one of the custom order “Dart Delete” boats he and my father manufactured from start to finish in their station at the YJ Plant.  You may already know that “Dart Delete” meant that the iconic yellow darts on the decks of most production Yellow Jacket boats, were to be deleted to save costs. Thus, these decks were easier and quicker to produce and were finished in the rich, natural red mahogany grain appearance.

Finally, on May 1-2nd 2021, Carl’s daughter Deb and I, were able to show this rare Yellow Jacket boat at the Keels & Wheels Concours d’Elegance at the Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook, TX. The boat was awarded the coveted “Corinthian Trophy” for its originality, condition, and legacy.  On May 8th, 2021, I was able to present Carl with this trophy when he joined me at the Wood, Waves and Wheels Show at Eagle Mountain Lake Yacht Club. It was great to see Carl with the boat again and to honor all the hard workers at the Yellow Jacket plant in Denison, TX, with special salutes to my father, Richard Cheatham & Carl Bilderback! 

Above, Dennis Cheatham and Carl's daughter, Deb, receiving the Keels & Wheels Corinthian Award.

It was an honor for me to present the Keels & Wheels Corinthian Award to Carl Bilderback on May 8, 2021 at the Wood Waves & Wheels show in Fort Worth.

PS: As coincidental as it may seem, when I was young, my father nicknamed me “Lightning.” And as you can see written on the side of the boat- “In the Beginning, there was Lightning.”    Guess it was just meant to be!  I am honored to own this boat.

My Dad's Yellow Jacket

by Chuck Reynolds

Above is a picture of my Dad and Mom's Yellow Jacket boat. It had a Mark 55 red and white Mercury.  If remembering right, Dad said it had a powerhead from bigger motor, I think a Mark 58.  Mom and Dad varnished it in our living room in Frisco, Texas. It was beautiful and fast (around 50mph if recalling right) There was a special prop from James propeller that helped. The picture is circa 1966-67, where my Dad pulled it out of garage and we cleaned it. They used it on Lake Lewisville in Cottonwood Park and on yearly summer camp out at Lake Texoma.

My parents bought it used before I was born in 62. They taught me to ski behind it. We all hated to sell the beautiful Yellow Jacket in mid 70s, but replaced it with a used fiberglass 1968 Cobia sprint with 65 4 cylinder Mercury. I was about 13 when the Yellow Jacket sold and remember my dad saying the guy that bought it was from Texas Instruments which was the same place my dad worked.

My 12' Yellow Jacket Project

by David Bruyn

In 1959 at age 13, I managed to get my hands on a 12 foot Yellow Jacket hull and a rough transom that was 1” thick.  With all hand tools, I managed to mimic the design of the Yellow Jacket style layered transom and fabricate decks, seats, stringers, etc.  The first year out (1960) I had a 1955 Evinrude 15 horse.  The second year I had a 1956 Johnson Javelin 30.  The rig sank at the mooring during a rainstorm.  Not to worry, I repowered it with and Evinrude 18 horse and finally sold the rig in late 1961.  Check out the true story below. 

The year was now 1959, some three or four years after being reprimanded by Northport’s finest for throwing rocks at Jesse Carll’s barn on Lewis Road. By now, our landlord, Mr. Zillian had purchased the barn from Mr. Carll and scheduled it for renovating and conversion into a grandiose residence. 

Concurrently, my boat-building effort at a friend’s house had stalled, since his own project consumed all of his valuable expertise leaving me in the “tomorrow” pile. I had no expertise…I was a grunt. It became late fall and it seemeed obvious that my project would be covered for the winter, leaving me “boatless” for yet another season, an unacceptable notion. I asked Mr. Zillian if I could complete my project in his barn and he agreed, but told me that when the renovators got to that part of the barn, I would have to vacate.

My brother and I managed to get this partially built boat into the barn by tipping it sideways and sliding it through a series of door ways and on down to the designated spot where Mr. Zillian agreed to let me work the boat. Ironically, this was the very spot where just three years earlier, one of Northport’s finest had threatened to “draw” on my brother for his “fleeing and eluding” caper during our rock-throwing episode. But then that was nearly a quarter of my life-ago. Time had changed everything and now, I was a serious young man of 13 with an agenda. 

I had already addressed this problem with Dad and he agreed to fund the unfortunate event with tools; thirty dollars worth. I was so thankful to everyone for the faith they had shown in me. Now, I just had to figure out how to do this. Even in those days, thirty dollars didn’t go that far in the tool aisle, a constraint that precluded power tools. I remained undaunted. 

My “fatherly” tool seminar got underway with mentor, Ed Staab of Snug Harbor Hardware (and later....marine) who led me through his tool labyrinth. One of his oft used phrases in response to my questions was ”you buy cheap… get cheap”. I reminded myself of my budget andbought cheap.With a hand drill, Japanese “knock-off” Yankee screw-driver, a hand saw, block plane and a few other hand tools I was ready to craft a fine vessel of beauty. What I lacked in experience, I would make up for in determination. Fortunately, my older brother Steve did hang around for a time and provided some elbow grease. With those hand tools, there was no shortage of that need.

We got the bottom battens installed and the deck framing complete when the renovators gave us our 3-day notice. In compliance, we moved the still-unfinished boat toward the patio behind our apartment. I say we had to overcome a glitch (the term "glitch" may have been in it's infancy at that time). We had created the classic “boat-in-the basement” dilemma, the real thing! My beautiful boat that we had worked so hard to get to this stage of completion wouldn’t fit out the door. The crown of the deck made the boat too beefy to fit through the door opening when turned on its side! Both sides of the door opening were major building support columns of perhaps 16” x 16”, typical of old barns that had been constructed by shipwrights of the 1800’s. We pushed, pulled, coaxed and measured. Something had to be changed to make the boat fit through. Surely, it wouldn’t be the boat. The keel on this boat was just ¾” thick and that was all we needed to gain clearance for exit. We reasoned that if we cut a notch in the support column, we could fit the keel in that notch as we slid the boat on through. This made perfect sense to us, so with an old hatchet we created some minor engineering modifications to Mr. Zillian’s barn. 
Oh, well……The boat slid through and into the sunlight where it spent the winter under a tarp on the patio, not 3 feet from my bed. Come spring, at the advice of Mr. Don Windus of Northport Lumber, I planked the decks with Rotary-Cut Lauan Mahogany Marine Plywood. I finished the boat with paint and varnish, rigged it with a windshield, remote controls, steering, etc. and capped off the transom with a 15 horse Evinrude. 

By the spring of 1960, I was now 14 and ready to rock & roll. I launched the boat and the highest praise was that few of my peers believed me...that I had actually built it 

Having had the privilege to grow up when I did.. in the small town where I did…with the people I did…gives me a focus on the true measure of wealth. It was these early lessons of responsibility and a little help from these unwitting mentors that gave me the message that I could. I was thirteen. I built that boat because I didn’t know I couldn’t. Steve pitched in because he thought it was a worthwhile and plausible time investment in his little brother. These values are from a bygone era. Folks who have not experienced this will never understand the impact of "the true measure of wealth". 

Denison Presents Yellow Jacket Boat to Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, on Labor Day, 1955

by John Reynolds

As a resident of Bonham, and remembering Roy Rogers' trip down the Red River in 1956, I've been interested in the Yellow Jacket story for some time. When I found these slides of Bonham's favorite son, Speaker of the House, "Mr. Sam" Rayburn in my dad's collection, I was very curious to learn about the nature of the event. Thanks to Jim Sears, who did some Internet sleuthing, I learned that Denison Mayor, Harry Glidden (seen standing and smiling behind the boat) presented this Yellow Jacket Beachcomber to Rayburn (see leaning into the boat checking out the upholstery) on the occasion of a Labor Day event along Lake Texoma, on September 5, 1955.

Here are two more shots by my dad taken at that event:

My Parents' Hornet by Yellow Jacket Industries

by Melodie Rieger

[Ed. note: In 1957, the peak year of production for Yellow Jacket Boat Company, Mac McDerby founded a new company, Yellow Jacket Industries, Inc., to broaden his market to larger, plywood-on-frame boats, which were very popular in the 1950s. He opened a new plant on Highway 75, north of Denison, to build the boats. The venture was short-lived however, and only a few Hornets survive. Hornets were produced for only a little over two years. This is the story of one of these rare survivors.]

I grew up with this Hornet boat. My parents and I spent many a weekend on Lake Travis near Austin, TX. I can remember eating lunches of Vienna sausages and crackers on the lake in that boat. My parents both skied, and later I, and many of my friends learned to water ski behind the Hornet. Many years of good memories!!! It is a 1958, 15 foot, wood, outboard Hornet with a Mercury Mark 55A motor last registered in 1993, but the sticker on the boat is 1985.

I know my parents tried to get some more information about the boat back in 2010 and found plenty of information on the Yellow Jacket Boats, but nothing on the Hornets.

Also, I think that they were going to donate the boat to the Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, MO at one time, but before all the arrangements were completed for the museum to come pick it up, the museum closed down. Therefore, it's still in the garage.

My dad passed away in 2018 at the age of 86. He obviously was the one that knew more about the boat than my mom and I do.

My mom told me that my dad purchased the boat somewhere in San Antonio. I believe it was new at the time. Supposedly he saw the boat at the place where he was picking up something for East End Lumber Company.

My dad put his own layer of fiberglass over the wood on the bottom of the boat and repainted over it with the original orange color. Mom said he did this because the lake had a rocky bottom and shore, so he wanted to protect the wood on the bottom of the boat.

Bill Vint and his Racing '58 YJ

by Don Fleming

I was a ten year old kid hanging around Bill Vint’s garage when Bill Vint was racing Yellow Jacket boats in the 1950’s. Bill was a marine insurance adjuster by trade, a WWII vet who was a bombardier over Japan in B29’s. He and I became close friends since his only child was a girl and I was really interested in his boats. Bill raced two boats I can remember in Southern California. The first boat was Miss Yellow Jacket and the second was Queen Jacket. Both had new twin Mercs every two years provided by Mercury right out of the box. Roy Rogers was a friend or team mate and we saw him regularly at Bill’s house and at the races. Bill raced in unlimited outboard class with counter rotated engines running top water props. He won a lot of races for many years at Long Beach, Catalina, Salton Sea and off shore. Bill had a garage full of trophies. I'm hoping someone will remember Bill, although I am pretty old now and a lot of people from that era are long gone. I believe the boat in the attached photo to be Queen Jacket in the process of the lower unit being counter rotated on the new starboard side 1958-A Merc. You can see in the photo that the transom has been cut lower to get the racing lower units to the right level. Those boats were way over-powered; one of us would have to climb up on the bow to get up on plane. Another movie cowboy we knew than who also raced boats was Dick Jones from TV show Buffalo Bill Jr. I don’t remember if he was involved with Yellow Jacket or some other boat company.

Roy Rogers and his Racing '57 Monterey

by Robert Richter

This was Roy at the Bayshore Boat Club in Highlands TX. My dad, Lee Richter, Pasadena Outboard, Pasadena TX, is partially behind the right merc. When Roy and Dale were in Houston for the Rodeo, we would go to their dressing room and exchange props and talk boat racing and Yellow Jackets until he went out in the arena. We were Yellow Jacket dealers and avid boat racers. Roy and Dale were great people.

Valley Boat Sales of Van Nuys, the Valley Boat Club and Roy Rogers
By Bill Gude
The year was 1956; I was just ten years of age when I saw my first Yellow Jacket boat.  On this day, we were out on a lake in Southern California.  We had a ten-foot Collins Craft which was nothing more than a wood rowboat with a 7-1/2 horse Scott Atwater motor.  We would putt-putt around at about ten m.p.h. and watch what we called speed boats race by.
On this day my life would change forever.  When John Eaton, a friend of my dad’s, arrived at the launch ramp, he had a 1940  vintage 16-horsepower Evinrude tucked under his arm. After a little bit of discussion, my dad and John clamped the Evinrude on the little Collins Craft and away we went around the lake, with the wooden planks that were laid across the boat for seats flying up and almost out.
 “What a ride!” John shouted. “Look! We are almost as fast as a YELLOW JACKET!” I did not care what a Yellow Jacket was; all I knew is that this boat was going (FAST REAL FAST -- fifteen to twenty m.p.h.  Well, it felt fast.)

Valley Boat Sales promo shot from 1956: Front seat: Cy Breen, rear seat on right: Bill Bowlus. Let us know if you recognize the third guy.

The next weekend found us at Valley Boat Sales in the San Fernando Valley. Dad was going to buy a 20-horsepower Mercury for the Collins Craft. I was thrilled, and boy, if it was fast with a 16-horsepower motor, how fast would this thing go with 20-horse Mercury?!
Then came the bad news. My dad had an old flying buddy, Bill Bowlus (of the famous Bowlus aircraft family) who was a salesman at Valley Boat Sales. He said there was no way would he sell a 20 horse motor to put on that little boat.  “Why it’s just not safe for anyone, much less the wife and kids.” My heart sank.  There goes my fast ride. Bowlus went on to say they did have a 14-foot YELLOW JACKET, a new boat that was very safe, and there had never ever been any case of one turning over.  This was to be the big sales pitch, but at ten years old, who cares if it’s safe!  Then to top that, Bowlus said his wife takes their Yellow Jacket and the kids to the bay every other day or so, by herself, because the Jacket is easy to launch and safe for anyone to drive. “He said, “I don’t ever worry about them.”  What a sales pitch.  Even I didn’t buy that one, but dad did!

So we bought a 14-foot birch Yellow Jacket, complete with a 30-horse, rope-start Mercury, and a three-blade bronze prop. We became the 32nd member of the Valley Boat club, the members of which were all Yellow Jacket owners, except for two odd balls who later did buy Jackets.
I was in the back watching our boat getting its keel trimmed off.  About the last three feet was being block planed off.  Even at age ten, I thought this was a ripoff for more money, and a stupid thing to do.  If it was not needed, why was it on there in the first place? I asked my dad why they were cutting up our new boat, and he said the last part of the keel is not needed and would cause drag, which would slow the boat down.
Well, if it makes it go faster, it was ok by me.  Pull out the bucks, Pops!  But I still wasn’t fully sold until that magic name was dropped by the guy shaving the keel.  “Oh yeah, we do this to all the boats we sell, same as we do on Roy’s race boat.” he said.  I said my dad’s name is Roy.  “No,”  the mechanic said, “Roy Rogers, you know the cowboy, Trigger and all that.”
Now in nineteen fifty-six, Roy Rogers was the king of the cowboys to all ten year olds. “And he has a Yellow Jacket?” I asked.  “The fastest!” the mechanic answered. “We do the work on it here.  Did your dad join the boat club?  If he did,  you will see Roy and Dale at the outings and races.”
I told him that my mom’s name is Dale, no he said Dale Evans, Roy’s wife.  This name thing would cause confusion in the boat club for years.   Anyway, if shaving the keel was good for my hero Roy Rogers, it was “go for it” time in my book.
I’m not sure how this transpired, but somehow while our boat was being rigged at the boat shop, Dad said someone talked him into putting his new 30-horse Mercury on a Yellow Jacket race boat, and racing it at the 1956  Paradise Cove to Venice Pier race, a 120-mile open ocean marathon.
Arriving at the race, it was the first time I ever saw Roy Rogers in person. He was right in front of us as we were launching. He had a birch hull Yellow Jacket with the deck style of the of the Riviera, and rear cross deck with rear steering like the Catalina, a custom dual bottom and two aqua blue Mark 55s on jack plates, and pumps, with lines everywhere, with two big Litton top water props, or OJ props, and quickie race master lower units.
I believe the name on the boat was Anna Belle. Roy won hands down; Dad finished fifth. It had been a very rough race. A few Javelins and Premiers broke up and sank along with an Aristocraft or two. 

Roy Rogers racing.

Even though Roy had won, he was not happy, as the custom double bottom hull he had made special for off-shore racing had started to delaminate.
We all stopped for an early dinner at the Golden Pheasant, a high-end restaurant on the valley side of Malibu. Roy and Dale, John Derek and his harem, as they called it, were all there, along with a few other racers.  After dinner, we all drove to Valley Boat Sales, where everyone was talking about the race and their boats.  But I was glued to Roy Rogers. Looking back on it, I am lucky he didn’t trip over me.  He inspected the crack in the hull bottom.  “I had them make this special hull and its cracking!” he sputtered to some guy next to him.  I asked how he got a boat special made. Surprised he turned to me, laughed and said, “I bought the factory.” So, he was owner or part owner of Yellow Jacket Boats, as best I could understand.  Just the shock of Roy Rogers speaking to me froze my brain.
John Derek also had a Yellow Jacket and was at the race. It was the first mahogany Jacket I ever saw. Prior to this, all the Yellow Jackets I had seen were birch. It was a Fury model, with the bee logo, and lance-type design that came on the ‘55 and ‘56 models. John’s Jacket had cowhide-upholstered seats with side pockets and six guns mounted all over, topped off with a big set of Texas longhorn cow horns mounted on the bow, with two bronze mark fifty five Mercury engines hanging on the transom.
I don’t think Derek ever raced, he just cruised around looking cool with a boat load of scantly clothed girls. The men were intrigued by the very sexy women Derek would bring to the events, much to the disgust and envy of their wives. This was quite a contrast to Roy and Dale, who even on a weekend outing, would pack up all their kids and attend a local Christian Church on Sundays, and then return for the events.
I remember a race at a Valley boat club event at lake Millerton.  The morning started off great for a pre-teen kid, as one of John Derek’s starlets emerged out of his tent for breakfast bare chested, and proceeded to daintily pick at the eggs and bacon John had whipped up. Much to my disappointment, my dad ordering me back into the tent. He didn’t notice that I didn’t go back in; I guess he was a bit distracted.
At the events of the day, my Mom and Dad won the Powder Cat race, an event for couples only.  The men would go first, racing around the course and the women would try and match the lap times of the men in the same boat.  The team that had the closest lap time to each other won. My Dad would tell my mom to hold it wide open and just drive.  Now Mom not being the gutsy type at all, but very determined, would get her Southern stubborn and pride up, and would drive like a wild woman.  Over the years, they would win this event many times even as the boats got more powerful and much faster. I recall once Mom was driving our new three-point hydro in the Powder Cat race. She hit a wake and a gust of wind and the boat got airborne just suspended in midair, for what seemed like an eternity.  Everyone on the beach gasped as it looked like she might flip or blow over, as they say in the racing world. Mom never let off the throttle, went blazing through the finish line and they won again. 
Back to the race at Millerton, in the all-out speed event, the race course was out to an island, proceeding around it, and back to the start/finish line.  Roy Rogers let all the boats in the club go first, including John Derek, with his dual mark 55 engines. It was about two miles out and two miles back.  Now everyone said Roy’s boat would run 55 m.p.h. That was fast in 1956. A point of interest, however, was the math at the end of the race did not work out that way. Roy said he would not start his engines until the last boat rounded the sland and turned for home.
He kept his word and still beat everyone back! How fast was his Yellow Jacket, 55 m.p.h.? I think not. Dad’s boat in many races averaged 36.2 m.p.h., and Roy Rodgers handily beat him, so Roy had to be at the 72 m.p.h. mark or so , NOW THAT’S A FAST YELLOW JACKET!


by Jim Sears

William J. Sears was born east of Denison, across the Red River in Kemp, Oklahoma in 1923. He lived there until he joined the Navy in WWII. He was one of several Kempites (Kempians?) to go to the Texas Panhandle after the war to look for work. He found it at Phillips Petroleum, and I was born in Borger in 1950. My older brother and two older sisters were all born in Kemp.

W.J. Sears clowns with a cigar in the '50s

In 1951 our family returned to Bryan County, Oklahoma for a year or two before moving again, this time to a cotton farm near Chillicothe in Hardeman County, Texas. After a couple of years on the farm, my dad got a job with a railroad, and we moved into Quanah, the county seat. We lived there for two years, until he was laid off in the spring of 1957 and had to find work again. I don't know why he decided to look for it in Denison. Perhaps it was because he had family nearby and could stay with them while he searched. At any rate, he got the job at Yellow Jacket Boats, and we moved to Denison in the summer of 1957. He lived there for the rest of his life, as did my mother until she moved to a nursing home in Whitesboro a couple of years ago. It has occurred to me that, had the boat company had no position available at that particular time, my dad might have found work in some other town, and I might have grown up in a place other than Denison -- perhaps even somewhere in Oklahoma.

My dad began with the company as a production worker. He moved into the night watchman job shortly after he started, because he had an allergic reaction to the fiberglass. So far as I know, my father had no particular experience that qualified him to be a night watchman, although his father had been a policeman for a few years in the 1940s. Dad carried a revolver at the boat company. I don't know whether it was his personal property or the company's. I don't remember seeing it again after the company folded. I think at least one other watchman worked there, but I don't know any specifics about their schedules.

Dad William, author Jim and brother Richard Sears in the '50s

My brother, who was three years older than I, was the first to accompany my dad to work. He may have gone more often than I did. I can't ask him about it now, because he drowned while swimming in the Red River in 1961. I don't remember how many times I went, but I would be surprised if it was more than a half-dozen. Most nights my dad worked there alone.

By the way, "there" was not the facility at the end of Yellow Jacket Boat Road. He worked at the newer fiberglass fabricating site on Hwy 69.

Back now to my dad and his job. I suspect that nights at the fiberglass works were, for the most part, lonely and uneventful. It was probably his idea to take along me or my brother on occasional weekends to break up the monotony. A small room on the east side of the main building, perhaps a foreman's office, had a radio. My dad spent a lot of time there. He may have listened to the Grand Ole Opry and St. Louis Cardinal baseball broadcasts. I remember seeing a dozen or more Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour novels in our car at one time during those years. When I was in that room with him, I remember that he had to get up and leave every hour to walk around the premises. I don't think he ever came face to face with any prowlers. There was at least one occasion, however, on one of the nights when he was working alone, that he heard noises and found evidence of tampering. Whoever it was must have fled when they heard or saw him coming, thereby avoiding a confrontation.

My recollection of the inside of the place has faded over the decades. I vaguely remember boats in various stages of construction. The fiberglass was everywhere, and I was warned to minimize my contact with it to avoid the itching it causes. I'm not sure whether it was the fiberglass, the paints, or other synthetic materials, but the interior of the building had a strong, unpleasant odor. Although I did take my John Deere pedal tractor there once, and I did ride it around inside the building, I usually played outside until after dark. I remember shooting my Daisy air rifle all around the place. My dad sometimes took his .22 rifle and shot at targets he set up on the east side of the buildings.

Another activity he engaged in briefly was woodworking. My mother got her first full-time paying job outside the home in December of 1957, when she began her 27-year career at Levi Strauss & Company. Among her first purchases with "her own money" were the Encyclopedia Americana and The Book of Knowledge, which she bought from a door-to-door salesman. My dad saw the plywood scrap pile at work as a source of affordable shelving for his family's new books. Using a band saw and other tools readily available to him, he built a three-shelf mahogany bookcase for the encyclopedia. A smaller unit to house The Book of Knowledge was fashioned from some other plywood, perhaps beech. I assume he obtained permission to build them. They were both projects that took more than a night to complete, with multiple finishing coats, and they would have been visible for anyone to see in the daytime. Apparently someone higher up than the foreman did see them eventually and objected to the moonlight woodworking, because Dad stopped after the two bookcases. I believe the grounds for the objection had more to do with the use of the company's tools than with the taking of the scrap. Or perhaps it was felt that any additional wood shop projects might interfere with his watchman duties.

But before he renounced on-the-job carpentry, and maybe before he made the bookshelves, Dad succeeded in building what may have been the only two wooden boats ever to come out of the fiberglass division of the Yellow Jacket Boat Company. They were each just over a foot long, and they were both rowboats. He painted one of them red (for my brother) and the other brown (for me). I don't know what became of the brown one, but we found the red one several years ago in a storage area at Mom's house. The matching red oars had been lost, but the brown ones from my boat were still there. Attached is a photo I took of them at my sister's house in Whitesboro. The boat is in need of some restoration. I don't know the source of the mysterious brown interior stain. You can see two modifications that I attribute to my brother. A screw in the bow was probably for attaching a string to tow the boat in the water. The board tacked to the stern was for mounting a small, battery-powered outboard motor that has long since been lost or discarded.

Author Jim Sears aboard his trusty John Deere in the '50s

My sister also has the two bookcases. I don't know whether she kept the books. I sometimes joke that we could sell the cases with the provenance of "furniture stolen from Roy Rogers." The operative word there is "joke." I don't seriously believe that my dad took anything without the knowledge of his employer. He was an honorable man. The photo below is his memorial plaque, presented to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas and permanently displayed on a wall in their Memorial Garden.

Mac McDerby Rescued from Fog-Bound Race to Catalina

Contributed by Allan Carter

[Note: This story, an AP wire feed, appeared in the April 23, 1956 edition of the Sarasota (FL) Herald Tribune. The article was researched and submitted to us by Texas Yellow Jacket enthusiast Allan Carter]

"Air and Sea Armada

Finds Missing Boats

LONG BEACH, Calif., April 22, 1956 (AP) A sea and air armada, fanning out from the Southern California coast, today located all but three motorboats of some 36 reported missing in a mainland-to-Santa Catalina Island race.
The Coast Guard used 17 ships, two airplanes and two naval reserve blimps to criss-cross the treacherous Catalina Channel for nearly 4 hours before accounting for 206 of 209 outboard motorboats that were scheduled to start the race.
"We feel that we'll find the three unaccounted-for boats will turn out to have never left port," Cmdr. Arthur M. Davison, search chief, said. He said nine others believed missing proved to have scratched from the race.
Two men -- R. A. McDerby, president of Yellow Jacket Boat Works, Denison, Tex., and John Miller of Venice, Calif.. -- were rescued by a seaplane after drifting all night in the heavy fog that shrouded the channel and hampered the search.
They were picked up by a plane piloted by Dick Probert, head of Avalon Air Transport Inc., about 12 miles south of Catalina.
The boat, one of 14 which had been reported missing overnight, ran out of gas. McDerby and Miller were cold and hungry, nothing more.
The 21-mile race from nearby Cabrillo Beach to Avalon was sponsored by U.S. Sportsmen, Inc., of North Hollywood. Davison said a permit had been issued for the race and details of the channel had been discussed with the outboard enthusiasts.
"There is little doubt that the race was loosely handled," Davison commented. He declined to say yet whether an inquiry will follow.
Most of the 450 or so participants in the race were Californians. There were two or more persons aboard each boat entered.
Last night 36 boats were first reported missing, but many turned up at Newport Beach, Balboa and other mainland ports. There was no report of injury.
Actor John Derek, 29, was among those reported missing earlier. The boat he was in was spotted by an airplane before dark yesterday and towed to Avalon by a guard vessel. The boat has run out of gasoline."

[Note: Local legend in Denison credits Roy Rogers with arranging the rescue of Mac McDerby in this incident. We were curious about any link between Roy Rogers and Dick Probert (pictured at right photo courtesy of Catalina Goose Homestead), the pilot who rescued Mac. Sure enough, there was one...Roy Rogers' sidekick in the Republic series of films in the late 40s was Andy Devine, who was an early partner in an aviation company with Probert. Probert then founded Avalon, a company providing seaplane service from the mainland to Catalina. Given his frequent visits to Catalina, it is likely that Roy know Probert, and it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that Roy gave Probert a call to assist the Coast Guard in their search for Roy's friend and business partner, R.A. "Mac" McDerby. Probert was piloting an Avalon sea plane, much like the one pictured below, when he rescued McDerby.]

Below, Roy Rogers and Andy Devine on a lobby card for "Bells of San Angelo".

How We Almost Became Yellow Jacket Dealers

by Gay Perry

In 1960, my family lived in the Houston area, but my Dad had considered purchasing a marine dealership in McKinney, as evidenced by an envelope full of correspondence, (see excerpt of letter from Mrs. Knox below), inventory documents and other papers related to the dealership. I don't remember much being said at the dinner table about this idea at the time (I was VERY young :-)), but I'm sure my Dad was giving the possibility some serious thought...serious enough to collect and keep all the inventory documentation, anyway. For whatever reason, he decided not to go through with it, but it's fun to think about how we almost became a Yellow Jacket dealership!

Being in a 1958 Yellow Jacket Ad

by Bill Brown

My name is Bill Brown. I was born and raised in Denison. I worked at the Yellow Jacket Plant and also at the Denison Marine Center owned my Mac.

This picture was used several different ways. It was taken from the intake tower at Lake Texoma. I'm driving the boat and the girl next to me was my high school sweetheart Peggy Preston who was Mac's niece.

I still have this, maybe one of a kind, piece of Yellow Jacket Literature.

My Dad's '57 Yellow Jacket Riviera

by Sam Lievsay

Here are two photos of my Dad's Yellow Jacket on a weekend outing at Lake Texoma, probably about 1957. This is a Riviera model. He and Mom had a lot of fun in that boat on Lavon and Texoma. I know the outboard was a 35 horse Evinrude...Dad sold this boat sometime in 1961.



Sam Lievsay and his dad recently met up with webmaster David Kanally at the 2010 Wooden Boat Association Ride 'n Show at Lake Lewisville. Here, l-r, are Sam Sr., Sam and David:



The Fastest Victor Boat

by Vic Brown

In 1969 when I came home from the Marines my dad was still making the Victor boats but the hull plant had shut down and dad had only a few hulls left. With the orders he had there was only one hull left. I had to have it. I made a deal with dad to help him build the last orders in trade for the last hull. Finished the orders and went to work on my boat.

I wanted to build the boat that had been in my head for years. I built the boat so that it would pass the specs from the National Outboard Association but just barely. The boat was the bare minimum and had the hull pulled up at the transom centerline to make it a simi-cat hull
and the nose was pulled down for various reasons. Soaked the hull with black industrial enamel and wet sanded until it was slick as glass on the final coat. Tested it out on Texoma with the 65 HP Merc that I had and was very pleased with the tests. Made some minor adjustments and headed back to town to get the motor tuned.

While the motor was torn down a race came up in Oklahoma and Wayman Tamplen wanted me to run the boat so we used his motor which had set the world record in the 65 Hp class. Got there, entered, and set out to run the first race. There were about thirty boats in my class and when we started I was about the middle of the pack. My boat with Wayman’s motor was very strong and by the second lap I was in the lead. Third lap and I was lapping a lot of the slower boats. I couldn’t have been more proud of what I had created. First turn, last lap I was far in the lead. Went into the turn and got cut off by one of the slower boats. Swerved to miss him and barrel rolled a few time and completely
destroyed my boat. Only good news, got the motor out with no damage and put it back on Wayman’s boat. End of story except the love of the boats is still there.

I used to have hundreds of Yellow Jacket, Stinger, and Victor boat photos. Some were during construction, some were during shows, some were our own personal boats, and a lot were made at the races when we were building and participating. But, all were lost when my home burned back in 1989. Lost all my equipment and photos. So, I have been gathering photos from anywhere I can for years.
End of Story....Maybe!

Roy Rogers Sighting!

by Clint Allred

In the mid 50's My father took me to a boat race on the old San Jacinto River near Channelview, Texas.There I got to see Roy Rogers racing or showing off his Yellow Jacket boat. To the best of my memory he had two Merc's on it. My father bought the Sears version with the vertically mounted inboard it was plagued with over heating problems and true to Sears return policy they took the boat back. He next got the outboard version with the 25 hp Elgin which we had a few years. Lots of fun and memories.In 1958 or 59 we stepped up to a Carter Craft with a Merc on it.

My Dad's Rare Aft Deck Yellow Jacket

by Steve Hendricks

My father Bob Hendricks, was an attorney from McKinney. We spent many, many weekends on the Islands of Texoma when I was growing up. The story on this boat that I remember was that Yellow Jacket built two of these aft deck boats; one for Roy Rogers and one for Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The one we bought is the one that Roy owned. We owned it from 1956 till about 1960-62 when we traded for a GlassPar boat. We saw it once more at Texoma after we traded it off.
The boat was built like an inboard in the back but had a metal bracket, extended off the back, to which the engine bolted. (Possibly the industry's first jack plate?) This bracket set the engine back approximately 12-14 inches from the transom. Inside the rear hatch was where the fuel tanks, battery and skis were kept. The upholstery was pleated in pale yellow.

My Yellow Jacket Story

by Jack L. Sims

My fondest memories of my childhood are with my family at Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas having family fun in our 1956 Yellow Jacket.
I’m 57 years old now, Mom and Dad are gone but not the memories or the photos. I’m one of those “baby boomers” who indeed did take naps below the front bow, the slow drumming of the breaking water across the bow hypnotizing me to slumber.

I remember my Dad prior to leaving for summer vacation preparing the Yellow Jacket with a fresh coat of marine red paint below the water line of the boat and the sweet smell of fresh varnish on upper portions of the craft.

Remember watching my Mom, Dad, Aunts and Uncles skiing behind the pull of my Dads 1956, 35 horsepower Evenruide, colors light blue and white.

I remember the feeling the floor of the Yellow Jacket moving up & down under my feet as my Dad tore across the lake at a rather high speed, although I was never scared.

The smell of the two cycle gas & oil mix burning and leaving the exhaust of the engine, and the oily sheen of that mix floating across the top of the water of the lake.

I remember my Dad talking about how Roy Rogers actually was a co-owner of the Yellow Jacket Boat Co., and that the man actually responsible for the original design actually took it from the WWII P.T. Boats, pretty good memory for a 4 to 6 year old boy at that time.

As the years have gone by, you can see just how much all of this means to an old “baby boomer”.

That being the case, in 1989 I had found a another Yellow Jacket, I had been looking to restore one in tribute to my Dad.

But having found one, the previous owner had mounted “way too large” of an outboard motor on to the transom, tearing the transom out beyond any possible repair.

Anyway, those are a few of my memories and thought I’d share.

Jack L. Sims

Mac McDerby and Roy Rogers drive Yellow Jackets from Denison to New Orleans

written by Leonard Melson, in November 1998, submitted by Valerie Dalton

A note from Valerie Dalton: "The following is information provided to me by Leonard Melson, in November 1998. Leonard was a friend of my father's before Mom and Dad married in 1948. Our families spent many fun hours together through the years - shared meals, conversations, boating, outings to Lake Texoma, card games, etc. Many of the events occurred at the breakfast nook in our home, either Elm St. or later on Kerby. Bonnie and Leonard and their daughters, (Lynn mostly as Kristin wasn't born until I was 16), were woven into the fabric of our lives, along with the Monroes - my aunt Jessie (Auntie), uncle Weldon, Ronnie, Steve, and the Zacharys - Patsy, Johnny, and daughters Jeannie and Carol Ann. Leonard passed away in 2001, I believe."

Leonard Melson's story:

These are a different view of Roy Rogers, the famous movie star, and singer.  I thought you might be interested in Roy Rogers the man and a great guy who loved the outdoors, both as a boater and general outdoorsman (he hunted in several times) as well as always being ready for a boating adventure of any kind.

Crowds gather on the shores of the Red River as the McDerby/Rogers trip to New Orleans begins.

I was introduced to Roy Rogers when I went to to set up a distributorship for Yellow Jacket Boats. The man who I set up (Cy Breen) had been a cameraman for Republic Studios, which is where he met and became good friends with Roy.

Roy at the helm of his specially equipped, twin-engine Yellow Jacket Racer, the "V-2". We were testing on Lake Texoma, before the boat was shipped to Southern California. That is Roy driving the boat. It was loaded with the other guys to test for speed. The boat would be fitted with long range fuel tanks for racing, so the crew was ballast. As you can see from the dress, it was winter in Denison.

Cy mentioned that Roy was an avid boater and asked if I would be interested in supplying a boat in exchange for using his name to promote Yellow Jacket Boats. I said yes as at that time, Roy Rogers was the best known of the western movie stars, and in fact was one of the best known movie personalities in the world.

Roy (in trademark cowboy hat) and Mac (in Captain's hat) are surrounded by the crowd as they tape a radio interview prior to departure for New Orleans.

As a result of sending him a boat to use in which he won many races, he became interested in the Yellow Jacket Company as an investment, came to Denison, looked at the firm, liked what he saw and purchased a major interest in same.

Roy and Mac prepare for departure as Denison crowds look on.

As a result of this he and Richard (Mac) McDerby started talking about a boat trip from Denison, down the Red River to Shreveport, and from there down the Missippi to New Orleans . This would be a great fun trip and the promotional value for Yellow Jacket Boat would be excellent.

Roy and Mac pose for publicity shots with their 1956 Yellow Jacket Cruisettes en route to New Orleans.

When the Denison Dam was completed in 1944 and ready to be dedicated, in the process of getting maximum coverage, it was noted that the Red River had been used for commercial traffic back in the 1880's and 90's.  However due to silting of the channel, there had been no commercial traffic since early 1900's.  In addition to flood control and water conservation, it was suggested that with the dam to control spring flooding, the channel could be cleared and the again could be open to commercial traffic.

The Yellow Jackets have no trouble making good time towards New Orleans.

The plans were made to have a group of Military Landing Craft come up the , to the foot of Denison Dam. They were to stop in Bonham, Texas, the home of Sam Rayburn, (Mr. Sam) and bring him to Denison as the featured Speaker which also included the Corp of Engineers key people, both Governors of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as local mayors, and other dignitaries. McDerby was a test Engineer for Higgins Boat Company in , and a publicity hound of the first order, as well as an outstanding public relations person.

Roy and Mac down river, west of Shreveport, with a ferry in the background.

He had made several films with Higgins which were used for publicity during the war to train operators of Higgins Boats (they were the largest builders of military craft during WWII) and for general promotion of Higgins. Mac was the captain of the three Higgins Landing Craft Boats that came up from New Orleans to Denison.  As a result of this trip (1945), Mac met all the local people, saw the opportunity for boat sales connected with , and as soon as he could be released from Higgins, came to and founded Yellow Jacket Boat Company (1949).

The caption for this photo has been contributed by Mac McDerby's nephew, Pic Cyr: "This picture was taken at Ponchatrain Beach which was an amusement park and that was the stage. You may ask how I know...I was there about 5 ft from Roy when that picture was taken. Mac was my uncle and he called my Dad and said for us to come to New Orleans and bring my sister and I and Mac's son Clifton to greet Roy on at stage when they arrived at the beach. I was 8 years and I can still see him jumping in the water, notice his wet pant legs and beard. We sat down beside him and he sang songs to the crowd. He and Mac, Catherine, Mac's wife and my parents went out for dinner that night. We had breakfast with Roy the next day. We went shopping with him and were with him when he left the hotel. My sister was 7, cute with blonde hair, kissed him goodbye, he turned around and said, I have to have another one of those. One of the finest men I ever met. I enjoyed looking over your site. Spent a lot of time with Uncle Mac the last 10 years of his life. He did a lot in his 92 years."

In 1956, they planned the only other trip from Denison Dam to by boat since Mac came up in 1945. The trip was a huge success. Mac and Roy Rogers had a fun trip and received all kinds of publicity from the media, (both personal as well as commercial for the Boat Company), and received a lot of promotion.  So much for this story.

Author Leonard Melson and sister-in-law Mary Lou in a late '50s model Yellow Jacket Riviera

Assorted Memories of Uncle Mac, by Pic Cyr

I have hundreds of Uncle Mac stories. In fact Uncle Mac gave me a 3' model Yellow Jacket used in the 1954 New York and Chicago boat shows. I have had it with me all the years, one of my pride and joys.

Our family would go visit Uncle Mac and Aunt Catherine. My father was in the lumber and insurance  business. Since I was four years old, I was in the lumber and millwork supply business and have seen many high end homes.

Uncle Mac's home was and still remains in my mind as one of the finest home I ever saw. I well remember the bar/gun case, but it also had a room to room intercom system and piped music into every room. Uncle Mac still had most of the furniture from the house when he died, wonderfully crafted.

Reading the French Street Gang article brought back old memories about Keith Hubbard, Clifton and myself playing together and climbing little Red Bluff  and BIG Red Bluff near the house. The house looked like something  that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed. Interior was open. Uncle Mac also had a great Chrysler Imperial 2-door hardtop.

Uncle Mac also was head of the offshore boats that supplied the first offshore rig drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. It was drilled off Morgan City, LA and Mac was a big part of that operation. It was drilled by Kerr Magee right after the war and Uncle Mac bought PT boats in New York and ran them down the East Coast into the Gulf and to Morgan City. For the 50th anniversary of the project he was given a plaque for his contribution to the project. There was a movie made in the 50s with Jimmy Stewart about it, it was named Thunder Bay.

Uncle Mac was the first offshore supply/crew boat operator, this is a very large business in the oil business today, and Mac was the first. There were many firsts in Mac's 95 years.

Mac also taught the Landing School for Higgins Boats. He was the only teacher that Higgins ever had. Mac moved to New Orleans in the early 60's and started building a fiberglass boat company, and called the boats Thunderjet…ell built boats and sold them mostly in New Orleans and the area around there. He built a 14-footer for us, I beat the heck out of it skiing and running in rough water. Got it when I was 14.

He also built the first fiberglass pirogue, or Cajun canoe. I still have mine after 50 years. He then started West End Marine, which my Dad was a part owner, and sold Trojan and Stern Craft boats. He sold boats to Al Hurt, Pete Fountain, and other well-known people.

After that, he was the head man that ran the New Orleans Boat Show in the Super Dome. He retired from that and they would come get him when they had a problem, but it has never been the same since he left them. There's not much to it any more; it's not in the Super Dome any more.

Well hope you enjoyed my rambling, but if someone doesn't write it down, it gets lost and never recovered, and now I am the old people at 62, most of his generation are gone. Really miss him and my Dad. Every New Years for about 10 years Mac and Cliff and Aunt Catherine would come for New Year Day, Mom would fix a big meal and we would watch all the Bowl games, all hell would break loose if Texas happen to play LSU. Still have never had as much fun as those New Year day games. I also have the props and trophy from his race boat that set the world record for the Catalina Island Race. It was the boat you have that has Mac in it and twin engines. It was 15' long.

The cup beneath the boat reads, "World Record", below that is "38 mins 6 seconds ", The plate at the bottom reads:1957, then "Long Beach-Catalina Marathon," then "R. A. McDerby--John Miller". John Miller was a young man who worked for Uncle Mac and was his co-pilot.

Lunch with "The French Street Gang"
by David Kanally

"I'm not sure what kind of shape this boat is in," I shouted over the whine of the tires and the roar of the wind on the soft top of my Jeep Wrangler as we barreled north from Dallas to Denison, Texas on US 75. Lew White was in the passenger seat trying to hold up his end of the conversation over the road noise. Lew was along for the ride at my invitation. We had spent some quality time together in 2007 restoring my 1934 wooden sailboat, and are both members of the Wooden Boat Association of North Texas. Truth be known, I also wanted his expertise in assessing the work required to bring the boat we were going to see back to useable condition. A 79-year-old shipwright, Lew is an accomplished woodworker and knows more about building and fixing wooden boats than I ever will. He did his apprenticeship in Portland, England building the hardy line of Tod boats in the 1940s, and until his retirement, had been involved in building boats on both sides of the pond for fifty years or better.
We were on our way to see Chuck Pool, long-time Denison businessman and recently, the owner of a 1956-vintage Yellow Jacket 14-foot molded plywood boat, built right there in Denison. Chuck had called us for advice on restoration, hoping we could bring to bear the experience of our wooden boat club on the restoration of his Yellow Jacket.

Toward the end of our one-hour drive, we reached the Eisenhower Parkway exit (President Eisenhower was born in Denison), and before we knew it we were in the heart of downtown, turning right onto Main Street and then right again, into the parking lot of Main Street Lumber, Chuck Pool's place of business. Within minutes we were in the wood-paneled offices at the rear of the store, waiting for Chuck to finish a phone call. Sixty-something Chuck emerged and greeted us with warmth, humor, and a drawl that told us Chuck was a lot more south than north, and a lot more west than east.

We toured the hardware and lumber store, which also contains show areas for the custom doors and frames done by his millwork business. Chuck is proud of the workmanship of his craftsmen and the creativity of his marketing guy. "When a customer gets a proposal from us, he can already see the quality." Chuck says.

If business is down these days, it's no fault of Chuck or his younger brother Robert, his 50/50 partner in all their business activities. Commodity values of lumber are half what they were a year or so prior, and the housing market fell early and hard in the recession of 2008-2009.
"It took me a while to figure out that I like working for myself the best." says Chuck. "I was an executive in the oil and gas business in Oklahoma and Texas for many years. My dad had lumber yards in Denison and Houston while we were growing up. Today, my brother and I are partners in the family business. It has its ups and downs. I may have had a bad day. I may have had a bad couple of days. But I don't think I ever had a bad week."

We climbed into Chuck's SUV and drove through town back toward Chuck's place. The drive took us past the Denison High School, "Home of the Fighting Yellow Jackets" (Aha! thought I, that's where the boats got their name.) We also passed the Methodist Church where the Pool brothers went to Sunday School and their folks contributed time and talent and gifts helping to build a faith that keeps the bad times brief.

We drove along streets lined with small clapboard houses built in a simpler, humbler time, and then on to a modern subdivision of expansive brick homes along Waterloo Lake, once the town's water supply, but now a pretty little lake to build nice houses around.

We pulled into Chuck's driveway. He opened the garage door revealing a 14-foot Yellow Jacket boat sitting on a '50s vintage Yarbrough Highlander trailer with an old Scott-Atwater 35hp outboard motor laid on its side on the garage floor. The boat had become the repository of detached parts, life jackets and even a bag or two of potting soil and garage paraphernalia--typical of a man whose busy schedule, ambition and curiosity keep a long to-do list out in front of him. We tossed the junk out of the boat and had a look. It was an early model; the seats were mounted rigidly to the deck, without the trademark "Flote 'n Ride" spring suspension of later models. The decking was in reasonable shape, with only a couple bites taken out of the edge of the 1/4" mahogany plywood. The stain was very dark and the varnish was reticulated, so a total stripping and staining was a must (and some plywood replacement to really do it right). The hull was in pretty good shape, but would need a fresh coat of paint. The rear seat had been reversed, facing the stern for fishing. That would need to be turned back around for the boat to return to its original configuration. But as wooden boat restorations go, this would be very doable. Lew would prepare a checklist of restoration steps. Chuck would find someone, preferably locally, to take on the job.

Chuck then invited us into his "memories room" where a large poster and photos of his dad's exploits aboard a WWII bomber hang, alongside autographed pictures of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and also photos of Chuck's family. Roy Rogers was a partner in Yellow Jacket Boats, and became the firm's spokesperson and endorsing celebrity. (More about him later).
Chuck punched a few numbers into his cell phone and just like that, a lunch at the Cotton Patch Cafe was organized. Brother Robert and friend Keith Hubbard would join us "in about 20 minutes." (We soon learned that Chuck lives in the moment and 20 minutes can easily become 45 when there's a good story to be told.)

Lunch did come to pass eventually. We took a swing past Main Street Lumber to pick up Robert. Keith was already patiently waiting at the Cotton Patch. It was around this lunch table that Lew and I learned we were in the presence of the "French Street Gang"...these guys had grown up together in the '50s on French Avenue, the same street where the McDerbys lived. Mac McDerby was the founder of the Yellow Jacket Boat Company, and Mac's son Clifton was one of the gang.
"The streets in that part of town are pretty hilly" recalls Chuck. "We used to roll down them in red wagons, and I even built a green racer." To these kids, Mac McDerby was "Uncle Mac" who in addition to founding and running Yellow Jacket Boat Company, served as their pitcher for whiffle ball games. "Roy Rogers would come to town and we'd all go over to Uncle Mac's house and Roy would tell us stories." adds Chuck. "We all got his autograph, too. He always signed his name and Trigger's."

Robert adds, "Uncle Mac had built a rotating hideaway bar that was a gun cabinet on one side and a bar on the other. It wasn't too common to have a bar in your home in those days, so depending on who was visiting, it could be a bar or turned around to be a gun cabinet. If you turned it half way around, you could reach into some bookshelves inside. We used to love that thing."

The conversation soon got around to how Mac McDerby and Yellow Jacket Boats came to Denison in the first place. Mac worked for the Higgins boat company during the war, training troops in the use of Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) for the D-Day invasion. He was aware of the advantages of plywood for boat construction from his days at Higgins. At some point during his Higgins career, Mac was navigating up the Red River promoting the sale of War Bonds. He reached Denison, and while attending a dance there, met Kitty Conatser, to whom he became engaged and then married. The early name of his company was the McDerby-Conatser Boat Company, which began building Yellow Jacket Boats in 1949. Mac would use molded plywood hulls designed by Richard Cole, and built by Industrial Shipping of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

(The conversation about the history of Yellow Jacket went on, but the story has been more fully documented in the book, "The Real Runabouts IV", by Bob Speltz, and on the web at Additional history about designer Richard Cole and hull manufacturers Industrial Shipping and Theakston Boat Company may be found by clicking here.)

The remainder of the lunch was spent spinning yarns of various colors and lengths.

Keith remembers seeing Mac testing Yellow Jackets using twin motors at Burns Run near the Denison Dam which forms Lake Texoma. Boat racing was a common passion for Mac McDerby and Roy Rogers. There was once a boat race from Newport Beach, CA to Catalina Island. It was foggy, and as the pack roared toward the island, with Mac in the lead, they became completely socked in. The Coast Guard was dispatched to bring the racers back to shore. They rounded up all the other boats and drivers, including Roy Rogers, but Mac was still out there somewhere. The fruitless search continued late, until the Coast Guard was ready to call it off. But Roy Rogers made a few calls to the authorities, and the Coast Guard continued the search until Mac was found. Mac never forgot how Roy helped save his life that day.

At some point in his youth, Clifton McDerby decided he wanted a small-scale Yellow Jacket, so he and his dad built one six or seven feet in length. They built this boat in a room on the second floor of a building behind the furniture store in downtown Denison. When they were finished, they realized that the boat was too big to fit through the door to bring downstairs, so they had to knock out part of the wall to get the boat out.

By the late '50s, major boat manufacturers were making the transition to fiberglass as the hull material of choice. Yellow Jacket Boats made the same move, but the effort was short-lived. Mac never lost his ability to dream, however, according to Chuck. "Even in his last years, Mac would say to me that if I could get him the wood, he would build the boats." Mac was well into his 90s when he passed away in 2004.

Before Lew and I left Denison, Chuck borrowed a few minutes from his next appointment to share a couple other remarkable moments in the town's history. It was in Denison that the then-musicians, The Marx Brothers, transformed their act to comedy and became film legends. Denison is also home to the first ice cream soda and the first free, graded public school. And happily for Lew and for me, Denison is home to the one and only French Street Gang, keepers of the legacy of their parents, their heroes and their hometown.

Roy Rogers and his '57 Skyliner

By Lawrence Matthews

I don't remember a great deal about Roy Rogers as he visited infrequently but I do recall on one visit he drove a Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner (probably a 1957 model). What made this so memorable was that on these cars the hardtop roof retracted into the trunk, so you could have a convertible or a hardtop. I think we drove Roy Rogers crazy one day asking him to demonstrate it for us which he did. Here's a link to a video on YouTube that shows the car and the top being retracted: Pretty futuristic stuff in 1957.

Growing up in Denison

By Mary Lee Conatser Miller

We all have many good memories of growing up in Denison - of which our Yellow Jacket memories were great. We grew up in Denison at 930 W. Sears St. and our father, Clifton Conatser, was also involved in the business.

I am attaching a picture that we received during one of Roy Rogers' trips. You may have heard the story about Uncle Mac (R.A. McDerby) being on a YJB promotional tour off Catalina Island in California and becoming lost in rough weather. Roy Rogers, of course, arranged the rescue.

Of interest, is the history of how Uncle Mac became a fixture in the boat industry during WWII leading him to build the YJB. The best source for this is Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats that Won World War II. It is our understanding that Uncle Mac was involved in the establishing of the WWII Museum in New Orleans.

Left: Clifton and Darlene Conatser with daughters (l-r) Mary Lee, Candy and Cheryl in a Christmas card photo from 1954. Right: (l-r) Candy Conatser Channell, Mary Lee Conatser Miller and Cheryl Conatser Vandiver at the Sisters Seminar at Lake Texoma in 2004. At one time, Clifton Conatser's family and his three siblings all lived within one block of each other in the 900 block of Sears in Denison.

My grandparents - J.V. and Bethel Conatser also lived in that block at 916 W. Sears. My Dad, grandfather and Uncle Bill Conatser had the Conatser Insurance Agency for many years in Denison.The Conatser cousins - especially Clifton McDerby (R.A. McDerby's son, named for my Dad) -are very knowledgeable of this time period. My cousin, Peggy Preston Powell and Charley Powell owned a Yellow Jacket at one time - I think!

My husband, Dick Miller and I spent time with Uncle Mac during what I believe to be one of Uncle Mac's last visits to Denison in what we remember to be the spring of 1996. His son, Clifton, was with him. We spent the day touring the old factory, hearing boat stories and visiting with Uncle Mac and his good friend, Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown had been gracious enough to store part of the wooden hull and boat building materials at his home. It was a great time of reminiscing .

Finis Terrell and Leadership by Example

by Bob Terrell

The following story is based on my memories at age 15, so some of the details may be a little off. My father, Finis Terrell, was born in 1916 in Delaware Bend, TX, a site now under the waters of Lake Texoma. Early in his career, he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers in the building of the Denison Dam. In the late 40s, the Corps decided to move its offices out of Denison, and while my dad had an opportunity to move with them, he decided he would stay in Denison and seek employment opportunities there.

He was soon hired (as one of the first employees) of the newly-formed McDerby-Conatser Boat Company in 1949. This was before the company was located out by the Red River; they were doing business in a building downtown, on Woodard Street next to the B&B Grocery.

As I recall, my dad didn't have any prior experience in boatbuilding, but he was a craftsman, and a good, detail-oriented leader. He learned the Yellow Jacket business from the ground up. The company later moved to the Red River site, into a building that had been a storage building for the Corps of Engineers. Before too long, Dad was promoted to Plant Superintendent, and oversaw operations at the factory all during the company's heyday.

Dad worked alongside his men. He would never ask an employee to do something he wouldn't do himself. He had quite a reputation for quality work. In fact, I remember that when some customers brought their boats in for repair work, they would request that my dad be the one to do the work personally. He worked both ends of the plant…the fabrication end and the loading and shipping end. He never really considered himself the boss in the traditional sense.

When things got busy, Dad worked seven days a week. I spent many Saturdays and Sundays at the plant during those days. Dad was a hands on guy. I remember seeing him with a hand plane and a straight edge in his hands. He just loved that company.

On February 16, 1959, my dad got up at the usual time in the morning. He had been at the plant the day before, which was a Sunday. He had been finishing up some paper work and loading boats. On Monday morning the 16th, he went into the bathroom to get ready for another day at work, and had a heart attack and passed away. It was difficult for all of us to lose him so suddenly and at such a young age. Yellow Jacket was home to him. He worked hard, loved his work, and set an example for all of us.