Where she'll be moored on White Bear Lake is still under negotiation, but the Queen Mary is expected to make her debut late next month.
Co-owner Pete Sampair confirms the 38-foot custom cruiser has been restored to her original grandeur and is only awaiting a rebuilt transmission. Apparently 80-year-old transmission parts are hard to find, especially when the company is no longer making them.
The rest of the Queen is shipshape, thanks to a Mennonite cabinet maker in Riceville, Iowa, who restored her from top to bottom verbatim to the day she rolled out of Johnson Boat Works in 1939. Originally named JoanII, her owner was John O. Johnson, the Norwegian immigrant who built racing sailboats out of his Lake Avenue boatworks. His son Walter "Buster" Johnson inherited the boat in 1982 and renamed her Queen Mary since she was the largest vessel on the lake. A Birchwood resident bought her from Buster soon after and moved the cruiser to Lake Superior.
Two years ago, that owner offered the Queen to anyone who promised to return the boat to White Bear Lake.
Sampair took him up on it. With help from Johnson's great-grandson, White Bear Boat Works owner Jason Brown and several committed investors, the Queen was trailered home.
Brown likes to retell the story of how they fortuitously stopped at a gas station along the way. A vehicle with Mennonite passengers admired the boat, giving each other enthusiastic thumbs up. That gave him the idea to find a craftsman like the Iowa Mennonite who agreed to take on the project. "He had never done a boat before, but was persuaded when I told him to consider the Queen a 38-foot piece of furniture," Brown recalled.
The end result of that business partnership, observed Sampair, is nothing short of "phenomenal."
Asked if he cared to share how much money the restoration has cost, Sampair declined.
"Let me say this, it's a bottomless pit. It's so much money it's embarrassing," said the White Bear businessman, joking that he's "afflicted with wood boat disease."
"Everyone has taken a risk (in this project) but they're committed," he added. "There were times when we thought, 'Are we going to bail?' but we stuck together and it's turning out amazing. It's getting really exciting now."
At this point, plans are to make the boat a floating historical piece on White Bear Lake. It will be privately owned and operated but for certain occasions, the Queen will be available for rides. Things like charity events, boat shows or taking seniors for a cruise are some ideas. Meanwhile, owners are working to secure a spot to moor the Queen.
Sampair calls owning the boat with its Johnson Boat Works roots a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
But more than that, Sampair said he hopes the community will be proud to have the boat back on White Bear Lake. He believes it will.
As a launch date draws closer, watch for a "Coming Home" party. Sampair and Brown plan to make it a big splash.