Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Pete’s lasting Adirondack legacy

Ever since the news broke that iconic boatbuilder Peter Hornbeck died unexpectedly on Dec. 26, we’ve seen an outpouring of comments, remembrances and condolences. Take, for instance this piece by Peter Bauer, and this one by Lorraine Duvall.

Here are a few others, submitted by readers:

“In 1982 I was a young Syracuse based sales representative for a distributor of composite raw materials selling all the supplies a manufacturer of small boats would need. Accordingly, when I noticed an ad in Adirondack life for Hornbeck Boats, I dutifully called the number introducing myself and company while setting up a future sales call. Little did I know as I hung up the phone the call would be the genesis of a 38 – year friendship with one of the most beautiful and unique human beings my path would ever cross.

Upon reflection I’m not sure I sold anything that visit, but that didn’t deter me from future visits as I thoroughly enjoyed Peter’s company and stories. Truth be told, not sure I ever sold Hornbeck Boats much……maybe my selling skills but most likely his loyalty to the supplier that took a chance on him in his earliest of days. Regardless, for the next several years I made frequent calls on Peter growing our friendship while bringing information on the industry, current technology and SAMPLES of reinforcements. Peter loved samples as they fed his artistic left-brain creative mind on how he could build ever lighter, stronger boats. My arrival at Hornbeck Boats was akin to Christmas morning, Peter couldn’t wait to pop the trunk, root around and see what treasures lay inside. It was on one such occasion that he marveled at a blended fabric of Kevlar and carbon fiber that he found. It wasn’t the right weight or weave but I could see the wheels turning and it wasn’t long before he made a laminate to test and evaluate as he did with many samples. I can’t prove it and Peter never mentioned it but I believe this sample may have been the seed that evolved ultimately into the New Trick line of canoes manufactured with a similar fabric. Not to be lost on Peter’s folksiness was that he was not only the biggest industrialist in Olmstedville, he was also the best. He was dedicated to crafting better, lighter boats to the delight of paddlers everywhere. He with his lovely wife Ann essentially created the market for durable lightweight watercraft.

I loved Peter’s stories. The ones he related and the ones he created. One related involves the very identifiable red stripe on his boats. In the beginning, Hornbeck Boats were made of glass fabric with green pigmented resin. These canoes and guide boats at the time were too heavy and a bit fragile to please Pete so he quickly adopted Kevlar as his go to fabric. Soon these boats were to be seen on car tops across the north country and beyond. Unfortunately, as Peter tells the story, Ann remarked at one point that his canoes due to being made with Kevlar sported the golden yellow hue of urine. Well if you can’t pigment the boats Ann commented, he could add a red stripe on the hull to at least break it up. And the rest as they say is history. If it has a red stripe, it’s a Hornbeck.

A story created involves a camping trip Peter, my older brother and I made to Camp Santanoni before it was resurrected. We met Peter at the parking lot on a chilly day in May and with one of Peters wheeled carriers towed in a guide boat and canoes. Upon arrival at the camp we were surprised to find two odd balls camped inside the ruins. After settling in and readying to fish, Peter begins to chat one of the campers up. He mentions that my brother was his and suffering from a terminal illness. He went on to ask if they knew of any good fishing holes on the lake in hopes of making his (my) brother’s last trip enjoyable. I don’t remember their response or catching many fish that day but that is beside the point, as a day afield with Peter was always a pleasant adventure, fish or no fish.

As my work responsibilities evolved, relocation from upstate New York became necessary, the first of several moves throughout my career in addition to ever increasing travel. While there was an upside to the move and travel the very definite downside was a distancing from Peter and Hornbeck Boats. In spite of my visits becoming far more sporadic we remained solid friends. Regardless of how much time passed between contacts, we picked up as though we had seen each other the day before.

My last visit to Peter was the summer of 19′ when I drove down from our home in Wilmington to spend the day with him. Not surprising, when I arrived he was holding court in his office, with a rotating audience of customers and employees. At noon time we headed to lunch in North Creek where Peter again held court to a new crowd of admirers. People were just drawn to Peter. He was a north country rock star.

After lunch we headed over to a liquor store for him to purchase a special scotch for a friend he was to see later that day. Upon returning to his complex we sat down in the studio above his office and continued our conversation. After a while he got up and began going through his files of watercolors when he selected one and handed it to me. I had admired his work for years and commented that someday would like to acquire one not suspecting this was to be the day. I was humbled. It’s of a kneeling fly fisherman patiently enticing a brook trout to his fly in a small pool. Almost a self-portrait. A cherished remembrance from a kind and gracious friend.

In life’s journey, it is natural to grieve over what is lost while not celebrating what has been gifted. Although Peter’s passing saddens me so, I am beyond grateful for the blessing of his friendship that spanned the years. My heart aches for Ann, Leigh and family and pray that as each day passes their pain eases.”

— Jud Smith, Frisco, Texas

“To Peter’s family, I am very sorry for their loss & time of sorrow. God rest his soul & may Peter have already heard these words, ‘Well done thy good & faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord!’

When I moved to the Adirondack mountains in Ray Brook 10 years ago, I wanted a good lightweight canoe, so I drove to Olmstedville to Hornbeck Boats to buy the best. I decided on a  carbon fiber solo/tandem canoe after trying them all out in their test pond. I placed my order & returned  to pick up my canoe when it was completed & met Peter at that time. Such a nice man    who wanted me to be happy with my purchase & even engraved it with my name & a trout picture. After the purchase he showed me his art gallery & even gave me one of his watercolors paintings of a trout fisherman, which I have had hanging on my wall ever since.

— Brian Gargano, Ray Brook, NY

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Melissa is a journalist with experience as a reporter and editor with the Burlington Free Press, Ithaca Journal and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She worked as a communications specialist for the Adirondack North Country Association and is currently digital editor for Adirondack Explorer, overseeing both the Explorer's website and its community forum the Adirondack Almanack. She enjoys hiking, camping and other outdoors activities, and spending time with her husband, their twin daughters, and rescue animals -- two dogs and two cats.

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