TICONDEROGA - Hacker Boat Co. has been making classic vessels for more than a century, but it's experienced a re-birth recently in Ticonderoga.
The company recently got new ownership, moved its operation from Silver Bay to Ti and has expanded its workforce to 50 people.
It's an exciting time for Dan Gilman, Hacker vice president of sales.
"It's an American brand over 100 years old; that really appealed to the new investment group," Gilman said. "Ticonderoga, and Hacker, have great potential in the minds of our investors. They're very civic minded and want to see Ti prosper along with the company."
Erin Investment LLC purchased Hacker about two years ago. George Babcock is the chairman. Lynn Wagemann is the president. Last December Hacker renovated the former Delmar Box on Delano Road in Ticonderoga and moved its production facility from Silver Bay. It still maintains its corporate office in Silver Bay, where its been since the 1970s. It also has two storage facilities in Hague.
Hacker also has a restoration facility on Montcalm Street in downtown Ticonderoga. Now that production has been moved, plans call for an upgrade of the Montcalm Street building.
"Our goal is to be a very positive presence on the main street of Ticonderoga," Gilman said. "We're working with PRIDE right now to improve that building."
Hacker makes hand-crafted, mahogany boats. Every board is cut, all 30,000 screws are placed by hand. Even the metal hardware is fabricated on site. Each boat gets up to 18 coats of varnish.
"There is very little automation," Gilman said. "These boats are made very similar to the way they were made 60-70 years ago. Every employee is a local craftsman. It takes years to learn these skills."
The new Delano Road facility has the capacity to build 15-20 boats at a time. It takes six months - about 2,000 man hours - to construct one and the company hopes to finish 30-40 boats a year.
Prices start at $100,000 and go to $250,000 for standard models. Custom boats cost more.
"We're Ticonderoga's secret; most people don't know about us," Gilman said. "In the niche market of wooden boats, Hacker is No. 1. There's been a real increase in business, particularly in the European market and we have a five-year plan to become a more global company."
As Hacker promotes itself, Gilman said, it will also promote Ticonderoga.
"We will feature Ticonderoga in our ads worldwide," Gilman said. "We will highlight Ticonderoga as our production facility. The name of Ticonderoga will get out to the entire world."
Hacker recently hired five new employees and plans to add more. Workers join the company as apprentices and learn the craft. Most of Hackers' employees have been with the company for a decade or more.
"These are all highly-skilled boat builders, the finest boat builders in the world," Gilman said while giving a tour of the plant. "It takes years of training to be a master boat builder. And they're all local; they're your neighbors."
Erin Babcock, assistant sales manager, said Hacker is committed to the area and its residents.
"We're really trying to advance our marketing efforts while maintaining our ties with Ticonderoga and Lake George," she said. "We want to hire locally and foster a good relationship with the community."
The Adirondack Chapter of the Antique Classic Boat Society recently toured the Hacker plant. The tour was part of an effort to promote the company locally.
"We want the people of Ticonderoga to understand we've made a new start," Gilman said. "We want to be a part of the community."
Hacker Boats races its history to 1908 when John Hacker took note of engines being designed for cars in Detroit and applied the technology to boats.
He designed a round about that became known as the "Steinway" of boats, a reference to the famed piano. He built boats for the rich and famous and helped the U.S. Navy during World War II.
When fiberglass boats were created in the 1950s, their limited maintenance and cheaper price made them more popular with the general public.
Hacker survived, though, by catering to high-end classic boat lovers.
"The brand is such that it endures," Gilman said. "Now the great American boat is stepping forward into the 21st Century."
In fact, Hacker recently unveiled its newest model, the Sterling. It will make 25 and no more, making it a must-have for boat collectors.
"We don't make replicas," Gilman said. "We make originals."