There is perhaps no sailboat more steeped in Riverton lore than the diminutive Duster, a 13-3/4 foot long craft designed by Jim Merrill in 1933 and built by his father RYC Commodore Edward Merrill the following winter in their workshop at 301 Main Street. He and some friends lowered the craft from the window, took it down to the river, and christened it a “Duster.” Established as a class in 1946, it became a world-class sailboat.
Ayers, Carhart, Coe, Gladney, Hunn, Knight, Lundstedt, Lippincott, Parsons, Thompson, Shoemaker, and Storey are some of the other names of sailors associated with the Duster’s conception, construction, and racing.
While many residents will swear they have seen a photo of Duster #1 emerging from the third floor window of the home, obtaining a scan to post here has eluded the Society for years.
Imagine my excitement when, during a conversation on June 10 with John Hartnett while watching the Historic Riverton Criterium, he mentioned that he had seen such a photo on Facebook. Later that day he emailed the image file to me. Was this the long sought after photo depicting the very moment of the Duster’s birth?
The following Wednesday, I elatedly passed around my iPhone with the photo during our HSR Board meeting, and Roger Prichard politely pointed out that the boat with the rounded bottom in the photo looked more like a Comet.
Ohhhh, nooooooo… Could such a photo illustrating the Duster’s origin be a myth?
Meanwhile, John Hartnett had continued to run down the source of the photo, and he sent me another photo later that evening.
Albert Seither’s Facebook post of July 2017 explained that his grandfather and Alvar Erickson built a Duster in the attic of 417 Lippincott Avenue.
Right boat; wrong house and time, but still a cool bit of Riverton history.
So, our wish to the Universe is that someone reading this will help connect us with a picture of Mr. Merrill and friends lowering the first Duster from the third-floor window at 301 Main Street.
Moreover, Tom Shaw, the current owner of the Duster’s birthplace at 301 Main, wants to find an old Duster, seaworthy or not, that he can place in the yard as a kind of “The Duster was born here” historical marker.
(Sources sometime disagree on dates for the design and construction of the Duster. We deferred to information by Riverton Yacht Club in this article.)
We appreciate your comments, additions, and corrections. Please comment below or contact us if you can add to the origin story and history of the Duster sailboat. – JMc