Boatyard Recollections

Of all the types business that we had on City Island, the main backbone was the boatyards. –Vincent Hauptner

During the war, Nevins was turning a minesweeper a month. – Adolph Trahan

Through the years, I’ve done everything that could be done on boats. – Adolph Trahan

During the war, a lot of people gave up the boats because gasoline was hard to come by. – Captain Fred Schmahl

I went back to Nevins and stayed there until they closed up. There was a lot of union trouble and I was made shop steward until they closed down. And I was the last man out. – Joe Engelhard

I didn’t like working on fiberglass. It got in my lungs. Too much hand sanding and they didn’t give you any mask to cover your nose or anything. – Joe Engelhard

Business is going to hell in the boatyards. City Island never paid big money for workers here. Except if you worked double shift and you made time and a half. Even when we had the union here, the pay was low. Could make more money elsewhere. – Joe Engelhard

Real craftsmen could make more money elsewhere. They went into carpentry, painting and so forth. You know, repair work. Again there were no benefits and the money compared. After a while you had that housing boom, and the guys could go out and make much more money in construction. – Skip Lane

And then we built the Nevins boat, Mr. Nevins’ boat. This boat was built out of one piece of mahogany, even the plugging and everything, from the same piece we put in there, and the grain had to run just the same way; otherwise, you had to take it out again and put in a new one. That was the “Good News I.” It was in 1930 or 1931. – Joe Engelhard

We had a hurricane that came in and busted up a lot of boats. There was a lot of repair work for a few years. – Joe Engelhard

There were boatyards, Minnefords on one side and Jacobs on the other. The whole east side of the Island was pretty much boatyards. And there were a lot of very large boats in those days. It was nothing to see a 100-foot boat, which you very seldom see today. – Vincent Hauptner

You really had to be skilled to work on wooden boats. I remember my father talking. They had all different men who did different things on the wooden boats. There’s caulking. That was a whole skilled profession. People who worked in boatyards years ago considered it a profession and took pride in their work. It’s not like that anymore. – Maureen Byrnes Varusso

War was coming on. My father worked in Nevins Shipyard. So he said to me, “You can get a job here as an apprentice or helper.” So I went to work in the yard, and as I recall, I got 84 cents an hour, which was a lot of money then. Then they started working the 12-hour day, 6 days a week. So for every kid, it ran into quite a bit of money. – Skip Lane

My first job at Nevins was the “Elizabeth Macaw.” That was the Reynolds Tobacco Company boat. She was outside on the anchor. So I had to go out with Jimmy Anderson, who was the boat tender at that time for Nevins. Mr. Eggers came out there. Naturally every time he came out there, he tested my tools. He wanted to know how sharp my tools were. I gave him a piece of wood and he started to cut, and he cut his finger. He never tested my tools again after that. – Joe Engelhard

World War II, that’s when traffic first started, because at 4:30 in the afternoon, if you stood on the corner of Ditmars Street and City Island Avenue and looked south, whether it be summer or winter, cars would come up City Island Avenue three abreast. And they wouldn’t stop passing for half an hour. Flying to get off the Island, to get home. There must have been, I don’t know how many, thousands upon thousands of people working up here during the war, building mine sweepers. – Leo Keane

Everybody went to Ratsey Lapthorn back then. Biggest sailmaker in the world. And Nevins made the masts. Sometimes 120 to 140 feet, and bring the router all the way down, to make it round. It took 20 to 30 men to handle one stick, what they called the mast. You had to go all the way out the door and then come back in again, nice and slow. – Joe Engelhard

My father was a shipbuilder in Nova Scotia, those three and four masters. That was the type of work I wanted. I wanted to work on yachts.
Adolph Trahan

Nevins had a way of building boats and that was it. He built all kinds of boats, but he was more interested in sailboats than anything else. – Adolph Trahan

Well, to build a boat like that, say the boat was laid down on the floor in September, with, oh, 20 men working on it—ready in June. I believe “Columbia” was longer than June. – Adolph Trahan

There were a lot of Norwegians in the shipyards and Frenchmen from Canada. Very few Italians in the shipyard. Germans and Norwegians. – Adolph Trahan

I had heard of all the people who worked at City Island years and years ago. I came here looking for work. I remember I worked for Nevins building boats. Began in the fall of ’25. I worked as an apprentice and I worked in Nevins three or four years, and first thing I knew, I was a mechanic.
Adolph Trahan

There might have been a total on the Island of maybe 2,000 or 3,000 people in the marine industry as a whole. Their children would find their way in there, looking for their fathers for something. They would get a little boat or something and they would go down to the boatyard and say “Hey, Pop, can you fix me up with this?” – Hunter Hild

I went to work in Nevins shortly after my father died. So I went to work there and when I got sick and had quincy sore throat and I was laid up for over a month, I got my pay every single week. That was one thing I couldn’t gt over. Finally, I ended up being the head of the office. Mr. and Nevins and I understood each other, but we told each other off every once in a while. And he was a staunch New Englander. The idea of a young woman just telling him where to get off. It just didn’t sit right with him. – Elsa Kroepke

People always felt like—when they looked at what we did—these people must really make a lot of money, and that was never true. – Tony Italiano

When you come right down to it, we all knew that there was nothing there for us and we could have gone anyplace, but we stuck it out because it got to be sort of a family thing. You didn’t want to let the other guy down, I think, and the ones that stuck it out to the end were doing it as much for each other as we were for the company. We had, I still think, the best people in the industry right there, those nine people were still the best there were. –Tony Italiano

Haven’t you heard the saying that if God intended us to use fiberglass, he would have made fiberglass trees? Boating has changed. – William Clancy Sr.


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The City Island Nautical Museum is operated by the City Island Historical Society, a not-for-profit organization, which relies on donations, grants, and membership dues. Admission to the museum is $5 per person (no charge for members and children under 12). We welcome new members as well as contributions to our general fund and to our endowment fund, and all donations are tax deductible. Annual membership dues are: Individual $20; Family $25; Corporate $50; Student $10. Please make checks payable to the City Island Historical Society and send to City Island Historical Society, P.O. Box 82, Bronx, NY 10464.


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The City Island Nautical Museum wishes to thank the following City Island businesses that have become Corporate Members.

A-Quality Glass
Barron's Marine Services, Inc.
City Island Beer Company
CI Construction
City Island Pharmacy
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City Island Yacht Club
Connie's New Way Market
Consolidated Yachts, Inc.
Eben Hansmire
Charles Mandel
Seafood City
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Tony's Pier Restaurant

Thanks in part to Councilmember James Vacca, CIHS received a larger grant than usual this year from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. This funding will enable us to mount two important exhibitions in the spring—the work of Mark Whitcombe and images of the City Island Bridge. If you have works of art that you would consider lending to either show, please call to let us know. Ron Terner of Focal Point Gallery will be curator of Mark’s show; call him at 718-885-1403. Bridge artists should call 718-885-0507. The show on the yacht building will remain in place until December 18, when we close for the season.


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