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Monday, October 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: The Spokane Boat Show had humble beginnings

Ole Evinrude tested the first outboard motor in the icy Detroit River in 1905.

Before World War II, pleasure boats were built of aluminum or wood and were relatively expensive. After WWII and Korea, Evinrude’s transom-mounted motor and mass production of light, sturdy fiberglass hulls put boat ownership within reach of the middle class.

The Spokane Outboard Club formed in 1954 with just a handful of families who wanted to socialize and share their love of boating. In the 1960s, membership reached 313 members, but today is limited to 200.

The club organized the first Spokane Boat Show at the Interstate Fairgrounds in February 1957. The size of the average boat sold at the show was just over 13 feet and the largest outboard on display was 100 horsepower. The show brought boaters together, helped boat dealers and raised a little money for the club. In the 1960s, the show attendance varied between 20,000 to 26,000. In the early years, the show had a pageant to pick a boat show queen, who participated in the nautical fashion show.

The club uses a large part of the proceeds to fund waterway improvements for the boating public, like a side-scan sonar system given to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office for search and recovery. Club members also hold work days to paint, improve or clean up public docks and facilities.

In 1961, the growing club bought 7 undeveloped acres on the Spokane River near Lake Coeur d’Alene, and club members put in a boat launch and landscaped for a beach, clubhouse and parking. May through October every year, the place is busy with parties, dances, cruises and family activities. In 1967, the Outboard Club changed its name to the Spokane Yacht Club.

A group of local boat dealers wanted to run their own show, and for 10 years, starting in 1976, there were two boat shows in Spokane, sometimes running concurrently. In 1988, boat dealer Bill Trudeau told business reporter Bill Sallquist, “They (boat shows) are probably indirectly responsible for about 40 percent of our business.”

Winter trade shows for RVs, autos, agricultural equipment and boats are important to the Spokane economy and the city’s overall mood. “The trade and consumer shows are a tonic of sorts for winter-weary residents and important for sales,” Sallquist wrote in The Spokesman-Review.

“It’s a real efficient way to sell,” said Cathy Doerr, an RV show promoter. “It really increases traffic.”

– Jesse Tinsley

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