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A Tribute to My Father, Glen Lewis Witt

On July 27, 2017, in News From Gayle, by Gayle Brantuk
17

I’m saddened to share with you that my father, Glen L. Witt, founder of Glen-L Marine Designs in Bellflower, California has “retired” at the ripe old age of 98 years. Only his passing away on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 ended his work with the company and calling to which he dedicated his life and passion.

Dad never officially retired but for the past few years was not able to come to the office due to health reasons. He designed his last boat (the Torpedo) at age 94 and his mind stayed sharp right up to the end. He was my rock, my mentor, and the best dad a girl could have. I will miss him deeply.

Not many people have a chance to get to know their parent on both a personal and professional level, and I’m so very grateful for having had that opportunity. If you will, I’d like to share with you a bit about this man who is such a huge part of who I am, and who was a pioneer in the DIY boat building plans, patterns and kits industry. Not to mention the impact his body of work has had on the lives of thousands of people all around the world who have built striking examples of his designs, while creating life-long memories in so doing. Many of these finished projects can be seen on the Glen-L.com website.

Glen L Witt May 1921

Glen L. Witt was born in Los Angeles in 1918 and lived in a home on property that his father worked with a horse-drawn plow. Young Glen would often throw a rifle over his shoulder to go hunt for critters in the local fields. It’s a little difficult to believe there ever was a Los Angeles like that.

Dad’s first experience in boat building was helping his older brother Elbert build a boat in the garage. Elbert was a meticulous craftsman, but not a saver. When Elbert ran out of money, Glen started his own project and in time Elbert became his helper. Glen had several businesses while he was growing up, which is why he had the money for his project.

Glen found the plans for his first boat in a Popular Mechanics magazine, but finding the plans very difficult to work with led him to surmise that the author had probably never himself built a boat. Plans typically came without instructions and certainly not with patterns. This being the days of the Great Depression, dad scrounged old oak table leaves and other wood to build this boat on the cheap. This first boat was a flat bottom on which he put a deck to make it look like a runabout. Thus began a hobby of building boats that would last a (long) lifetime.

Dad landed a job at Magnesium Products in Los Angeles in 1939, a foundry where products were manufactured for the war effort. He went from knocking out the cores of castings and general labor to the finishing department. He soon discovered that he could make more money by making molds, so he began doing this after work by learning from his fellow workers.

Boat being built by “C” Co 1886 EAB. LOA 17′-0″, Beam 6′-0″, May 1946, Okinawa.

Chapel on Okinawa–Designed by Glen L. Witt

He was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1944 where he became a member of the “Aviation Engineers” and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. They were there to build air strips and things of that nature. While in the service, dad took the Westlawn Institute of Yacht Design course. While on the island he designed a boat for one of the Lieutenants who wanted to build one; the Lieutenant did build it, but dad never saw the finished product.

Upon his discharge from the Army Air Corps, dad was able to get back his job at the foundry and over time became a General Manager and Plant Supervisor. While there he continued to design boats and made casting patterns for boat parts for his and his brother Elbert’s boats. He made struts, rudders, shaft logs and lots of other things.

On the side, dad contacted a couple of local marine dealers whom he convinced to sell his boat plans. Having this success he started working more intensely on designing boats. He also made custom patterns and castings by request. He made some hatches and motor brackets for Ryan Boats, as well as some design work for them, Eddycraft and Morgan Craft.

On one of his trips to a marine dealer he ran into a friend who thought he could easily sell a little fishing boat of about 11 or 12 feet long, built out of plywood. Dad designed it and showed his friend Don Ruffa (who is featured in much of Glen-L literature) how to build it. They ended up selling a couple hundred of these boats; dad would deliver them to the local dealers stacked on a trailer pulled behind his 1956 Ford T-Bird.

During this time dad and his brother Elbert decided to join forces and try to sell the boat parts from the patterns he had been making. They created the name “Glenwood” for the company, using my dad’s first name and Elbert’s middle name Woodrow. Garwood boats were popular at the time and that probably also influenced the name.

The two of them started a foundry in Glen’s backyard with a homemade furnace, gas line and vacuum cleaner blowing in air to increase the temperature. They made parts using trimmings from old propellers and any other scrap brass they could get. At the time, Elbert worked in a foundry where his job was to adjust the proportions of metals to achieve the proper alloy.

They would make the parts, Elbert would finish them to make them pretty and dad was the salesman. Dad said that when they were casting, the furnace made a really loud noise that could be heard throughout the neighborhood. This was ultimately the reason they had to find another way of having the parts cast.

Dad continued to pursue designing boats and he and Elbert amicably parted ways before Glenwood really got off the ground. Elbert worked very hard and made Glenwood Marine a successful business that continues today. And, we continue to sell Glenwood parts on our site, many of which are from Glen’s original designs.

All during this time dad was still at the Magnesium Products foundry, and due to an earlier agreement with the foundry owner, was able to walk away with stock in the company that paid him a salary for about 5 years when the foundry went out of business after WWII ended.

Dad’s boat plans were now selling quite well and he bought a piece of property in Bellflower with cash, where Glen-L Marine still continues today. He put up a concrete building which is our current warehouse, so that Don Ruffa could make “frame kits” for dad’s boat designs; dad recognized the wisdom of frame kits and full size patterns because lofting of the frames would likely be a sticking point for folks building their first boat. (We stopped making the frame kits many years ago because most prefer to make their own using the full size patterns we provide.)

He would loft out his first designs on the sidewalk in front of the business. He started advertising his plans with good success, but what really got Glen-L going was the relationship he formed with Popular Mechanics magazine.

Dad and Don were working on a cabin cruiser design they wanted to put out so he got in touch with the guy at Popular Mechanics who handled the “Craft” section of the magazine and got him interested. Dad had named the design the P.M. 17, but Popular Mechanics changed it to “Sea Knight.” One of our local builders, Warren Trombley, built the Sea Knight and it appeared on the cover of Popular Mechanics in 1957.

Dad was able to get another design on the cover in 1958 which was the “Swish,” a finned-tail design reminiscent of the Cadillacs of the era. He was able to have published quite a few articles over a period of years not only for Popular Mechanics but for Sports Afield’s boating annual and many issues of “How to Build Twenty Boats”. The magazines liked his submissions because he wrote the articles, photographed the project being built and sent a complete package to the magazines, virtually ready for publication.

During the 1970’s Glen continued the “tinkering” that started with his first project when the light-weight V8 engines became readily available. Putting this kind of power in a displacement hull was not only pointless, but dangerous. Through experimentation by Glen and others, the planing hull was developed. Southern California became ground-zero for high-speed planing boats and Glen-L was the first to offer plans and patterns to builders around the world. At one time, a South African builder of the Glen-L Tornado was taking on all-comers and at 105 mph +, easily leaving the competition in his wake. It became necessary to set up a handicap system in order to find someone to race against. Several “manufactured” boats in Southern California had a decided “Glen-L” look… probably just a coincidence.

Four more Glen-L designs were on the cover of Popular Mechanics – the “Saucy Shingle” (now named “Tiny Titan”) in 1965, the Glen-L 10 sailboat in 1971 and the “Tunnel Mite” in 1974. In 1973 one of our camper designs was on the cover too. Yes, an RV division of Glen-L was begun in the early 1970’s and we offered various component kits to build them for quite a few years. When the gas crunch of the late 70’s hit, well that pretty much did in the kit side of the RV business, but we do continue to offer the plans and patterns for them on Glen-L.com to this day.

Through the years, dad had a couple of designers/architects that would assist him from time to time. In the early 1960’s he met Ken Hankinson who was working for a local naval architect (Don Hall) designing large boats for professional boat builders. Business was slow for Don, so he contacted dad to see if he had work for Ken. It so happened that at that time dad was working on the Tiny Titan/Saucy Shingle and was in dire need of some help. Ken was the person behind the wheel in the PM article.

Ken Hankinson is shown with the Glen-L 10

Ken was a talented designer and dad mentored him in the methods he had developed for designing boats with the beginning/backyard boatbuilder in mind. Ken and dad had a successful run of designing boats together for about 22 years. Ken thought he could make an offer to take over Glen-L since dad was approaching “retirement” age at the time, but my dad never had plans to retire so that ended that and they amicably parted ways.

Ken started his own boat plan business which he successfully ran for about 18 years, after which time he retired. Glen-L was able to add Ken’s later designs to our portfolio some years back. Ken comments on his passing, Glen was not only my mentor but my closest friend and teacher.  I would not have had the opportunities I’ve had in my life if I had not met him 57 years ago and he had taken me under his wing. We made a complimentary team and his influence through all the years was invaluable to me.”

This is just a brief history of my father’s life as it pertains to the boating industry. About 20 years ago my dad began handing the business over to my brother Barry and me. When my brother retired in 2008 I took over the business, and my husband John (and our dog Buckshot) came on board as well. We continue to run the business from the original location in Bellflower, California, and provide over 300 boat designs my dad and his associates created over the past 64 years along with the many books my father wrote and DVD’s we’ve produced.

I look forward to carrying on Glen Lewis Witt’s rich legacy for many years to come.

Happy “retirement,” dad….

Ken Hankinson and Glen L. Witt 1960’s

 

Glen and Ken in 2013

 

Glen with great grand kids Kelly and Paul (2008) for which the “Ke-Pau” design was named. He has 6 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. 

 

Dad’s birthday, 2013

 

Dad & Gayle working on the Torpedo design, 2015

 

Your Thoughts?


17 Responses to A Tribute to My Father, Glen Lewis Witt

  1. Al Neill says:

    Just read about your dad Gayle. Yes, he was a wonderful man and seemed to have lived a good full life. Popular Mechanics and Glen-L have been with me for many years, and I loved the information provided by both companies. At 74 I still use my Glen-L Audeen regularly. My boat is admired by many and I always mention Glen-L and direct others to your wonderful website. You can be very proud of your dad and the company and beautiful designs that he created.

  2. Nick Moschis says:

    Just resumed my long project and sad to read about the passing of your Dad! He was truly blessed to have been able to work with his daughter and in a job that he loved. No doubt the reason he lived so long! What a proud man he must have been! I am now even more determined to finish my Bandido project.

  3. Paul (Skip) Snowden says:

    What a wonderful article. It was really nice to see the connection with Ken and Glenwood. Your father was a very talented man and I feel honored to have built one of his designs.

  4. scott hitt says:

    “best dad a gal could have”! That’s the winner. Well done.
    blessings, scott

  5. Simplicio T. Aguas Jr. says:

    My deepest condolence for the lost of your father. I’m sorry for your dad’s passing.

  6. Marcos Lodi says:

    Great professional that has inspired my career

  7. Rick Davies says:

    I have been reading Wooden Boat magazine for years and learned of Glen-L Marine from adds in Wooden Boat. I grew up in Downey, CA, where my mom still lives. I often drive up Rosecrans to the 605 freeway on my way back from my mom’s house to our place in Fountain Valley. I still have intentions to build MY own wooden boat after retirement, which is not too far away. My dad bought an unfinished Javlyn hull and finished it in our garage there in Downey when I was 4 years old (60 years ago). I have dreamed about building my own boat since then. I just love looking through your catalog, reading your articles, and cruising around your website. I am sorry for your dad’s passing. What a fantastic body of work he acheived.

  8. Mike says:

    My deepest condolences for the loss of your father. You are a living monument to his memory, this was a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man.

  9. Jim & Peggy Stewart says:

    Just plain beautiful!
    How wonderful it would be if all we dad’s enjoyed a daughter like you and a life full of wonderful things to share.
    I’m sure he is proud as I’m sure you too are.

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