Gil Stork Finds The True Pleasure In Restoring Boats

higgins boats
Gil Stork traded for his first Higgins boat in 1972. He bought it in a swap for his Corvette and $1200.


By Gail Wood

kaufman scroggs logoGil Stork isn’t fooling himself.

He knows the time and money he’s spent on restoring a 1949 Higgins plywood boat isn’t going to make him rich. Not financially.

But the value of the satisfaction and pleasure the 19-foot boat he bought in 1972 brings him? That’s priceless. It’s the sentimental value that’s important.

“That’s the reason I bought it in the first place,” said Stork, who grew up in Aberdeen and still runs the paint shop his father started over 60 years ago – Stork Painting.

higgins boats
Gil Stork traded for his first Higgins boat in 1972. He bought it in a swap for his Corvette and $1200.

The boat has some Grays Harbor history. And naturally, Stork knows that history. In 1947, when the boat was new, it belonged to Charles Cyr, who owned a fuel company in Hoquiam. Two years later Charles Quigg bought it and then the Root family purchased it in 1952.

In 1972, when Stork was 23 and painting for his dad, he bought it in a swap with the Root family.

“I restored it at that time,” Stork said.

It needed restoration. It leaked. Badly. He estimated that 80 percent of the wood had deteriorated and needed replacement.

“It was in such terrible condition most of my friends said I was nuts to buy it,” Stork said. “It had a lot of rot. It was just a piece of crap. But it was a nostalgic thing.”

To get the Higgins boat, Stork swapped his 1964 Corvette. He got the boat and $1,200. The car at the time he said was worth about $1,500.

higgins boats
The Stork family has enjoyed water sports with his Higgins boats.

“He wanted the Corvette and I wanted the boat,” Stork said. “We both got what we wanted.”

Stork also got a project. By asking friends, reading books and just by doing, he learned how to restore both the boat and the motor.

“It turned out pretty nice,” Stork said. “By 1979, it was in really usable condition. And I used it pretty much in that condition until two years ago.”

Today there are only about a dozen Higgins boats, once a popular pleasure craft, still around in the country. Stork recently noticed that a Higgins boat in New Jersey was listed online at $79,000. Andrew Higgins was the designer and owner of the boat company in the 1940s that produced the pleasure craft. His company was also a big player in the production of LCVP, landing barges used in World War II.

“They were a big company in New Orleans,” Stork said. “They made the PT and the LST. Then after the war, in 1946, they went into small boat production.”

higgins boats
Gil Stork currently owns three 19-feet Higgins boats.

Higgins made both a 19- and 17-foot inboard motor boat, with the smaller boat being more popular.

“Partly, that’s because they were easier to haul around and it was less expensive,” Stork said. “The bigger boats in my opinion were better looking and they handled better. But they did not sell well.”

By 1952, Higgins discontinued the 19 footers and made just the 17 footer. All of Higgins’ wooden boats continued to drop in sales by the early 1960s when fiberglass boats entered the market.

Stork now owns three 19-foot Higgins plywood boats. He just might be the largest owner of that craft in the country. Two of them he’s restored. One is still hanging in his garage with an uncertain future.

One of Stork’s Higgins boats – which is restored, of course – is at his beach house on Phillips Lake near Shelton. Five years ago, he restored that boat which he had owned for some time. He’s going to put it in the water again soon. But he doesn’t plan on using it like he did when his daughter was younger.

“I’ll probably use it some, but not to the extent that it was used,” Stork said. “For many years, it was our user boat. My daughter growing up with her friends used it for water skiing just like you’d use any boat.”

Last year, Stork restored a 11 ½ foot runabout that was owned by his father-in-law, Art Tingwall, who died five years ago. It’s a boat Art built in 1951 and used to travel on the Chehalis River.

higgins boatsAgain, Stork wasn’t motivated by making money when he restored the boat.

“It’s not a monetary thing,” he said. “I kid my wife and tell her it’s a $25,000 restoration on a $500 boat.”

His wife, Julie, used to kid with Stork about the value of his hobby of restoring boats.

“She used to say working on the boats kept me out of bars at night,” Stork said with a chuckle. “It’s fun. I enjoy it.”


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