CLAYTON, N.Y. — It’s every collector’s dream — whether it’s a fascination with vintage cars, motorcycles or boats — to stumble across a long-forgotten barn and find a piece of history preserved in mint condition.
Only few get to claim that experience, but the Antique Boat Museum is living that dream with Atosis, a 104-year-old race boat that was found sitting in the maker’s family barn, untouched, after some 73 years.
Daniel J. Miller, a curator at the Clayton boat museum, said the 26-foot-long wooden beauty has an unusual construction for a race boat, resembling a canvas-covered canoe. It was found in its original form with no rust and no rot by descendants of the boat’s builder, Burton H. “Bub” Norris.
“It was in a cradle that was constructed to support her pretty fully, and then they had a canvas cover over it. The canvas keeps the dirt off and allows some moisture to escape so it doesn’t build up moisture and rot,” Miller said.
Norris, who also was an electrical engineer for General Electric in Lynn, Mass., built this long, skinny boat — with its 3½-foot beam — in 1906 and 1907 but stored it away in 1912.
Burt Norris, the builder’s grandson, discovered the boat in 1985 in the back of the family barn in Maine. With the help of his father, James, and brother, James Jr., he wiped the dust off and took it out for a ride.
The family brought Atosis to the boat museum’s annual Antique Boat Show in 1987 and recently donated it to the museum to display and preserve it.
“It is one of the most important boats in our collection now. It is certainly one of the oldest of the powerboats,” Miller said, adding that the boat never has been restored or refinished and has a well-documented history.
The boat, which has wide, flat cedar ribs and cedar planking covered with canvas for a lightweight and watertight hull, quickly earned a reputation for its speed after winning several races on Cobbosseecontee Lake in Maine, where the Norris family spent its summers.
It originally was equipped with a 15-horsepower engine from Roberts Motor Co. in Ohio and was relaunched in 1910 with a more powerful 20-horsepower engine.
The second Roberts engine also was found in a wooden crate in perfect condition in the Norris family barn and was donated to the Clayton museum.
But Atosis had a short life as a race boat, because the builder found it too small for the 40-horsepower Roberts engine he bought in 1912.
“Bub” Norris ended up storing Atosis away that year to build its replacement, the Cobbosseecontee Kid.
After the 1987 boat show in Clayton, where Atosis received much acclaim from collectors and museum staff, several people advised the Norrises to restore it. However, Miller said, the family decided to preserve the boat in its original form and had put it in storage for more than a decade before giving it to the Antique Boat Mu-seum.
Atosis has been added to the museum’s permanent collection and will be on display when the museum reopens in May.