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
The reason for the recent inactivity here on the website is that we have prepared for our display of artifacts that we call our Museum for a Day at the New Leaf Tea Room in cooperation with the Riverton Free Library’s biennial Candlelight House Tour.
Once every two years we get to break out of storage some choice HSR treasures to exhibit to the public. Afterwards, the items get packed away, and until the next time, this online virtual museum will have to do until we get a real permanent one.
I only just found a box postmarked 2011 in our storage space full of donated items relevant to the Yacht Club, particularly the Duster, that former resident Marty Carhart donated.
More details of the remarkable contents will be forthcoming in a later post, but for now, blueprints for building a Duster and two reels of 16mm movie film taken of the 1949 Duster Championship race were just two of the more notable items.
Also in that box, a 1965 book published for the 100th anniversary of the Riverton Yacht Club now serves as a startling reminder that 2015 will be their 150th anniversary. I made a poster outlining some of the milestones in the RYC’s history to go with the table display.
“Tempus fugit,” as my Latin teacher used to say. Tempus fugit, indeed. I think time has even picked up more speed after I passed sixty.
HSR Board Member Bill McDermott also pitched in as a Museum Guide. Turns out he had never heard the story about how Ed Merrill built the Duster in a workshop on the third floor of a house at 301 Main Street. There are probably many things we could all learn from each other if we could pool our resources. We have the bandwidth here if you have something to share.
Readers, please search those boxes tucked away in attics and basements for anything you may have that would help to piece together a history of the RYC’s last half-century. Something spectacular is sure to be planned to commemorate that milestone, and with so many knowledgeable people now living far afield the internet is a great place to collaborate.
I made another poster that explained about Anne Knight Ruff’s book, hoping it would result in some sales, but no luck. This book is a treasury of Riverton history c.1890-late 1900s and should be required reading for anyone living in this zip code.
An exhibit about Riverton’s veterans included a poster with all the original names plus the names added since 2011. Longtime Riverton resident Daniel Goffredo lent us his World War II service uniform for the day.
Earlier this year the HSR bought a presentation projector that we could use for just this type of situation, so we set it up with a screen to show the much expanded Riverton Veterans Album.
Those old hometown newspapers that we got online in late 2012 have yielded a lot of anecdotal information about the people mentioned on the original War Memorial Honor Roll. Additionally, the newspaper files have been the source of many more news clippings about military personnel whom they described as being from Riverton.
That might be the reason if you were to find a person mentioned in the pages of the Veterans Album, but their name is not on the War Memorial Honor Roll.
I showed the presentation to our own HSR Board members Nancy Hall and Elsie Waters, but the best part was listening to them give the color commentary as they watched. – John McCormick
revised 12/22: added ten photos to gallery below
RGC sign for museum display
Carhart RYC items
Carhart RYC items
Carhart items – note newspaper from 90th RYC anniv.
Mrs. Hewlings Horseradish
HSR Vice President Cheryl Smekal
Already part of Riverton history – the Historic Riverton Criterium