Witt's Words!
History With The Youngblood Boats

Robert Wittenburg shares his memories of working with Jim Youngblood

         It was sometime in the summer of 1972. I worked at Cabot Lumber Yard in Cabot, Arkansas. I had started there when I was just 15, loading building materials and delivering them to the construction site, waiting on customers inside the hardware portion of the business, and whatever else the boss said for me to do. All the customers were pretty much the same, country folks looking for materials to do some fixin' up around home, or contractors to place orders for someone's new residence.

         But on this particular day, in walks this couple who looked so totally out of place. Must have been like on Green Acres when Oliver (Eddie Albert) and Lisa (Eva Gabor) first came to Hooterville. I mean these folks looked different. And then when they talked, what kind of accent was that anyway? Really it was just the female of the couple who did the talking. A couple of times she would ask him something and he would just give a growl or grunt of an answer that I could not hear. I don't remember the exact material they wanted but suffice to say that we had never stocked the item and didn't know where to get it. I remember feeling a little embarrassed that we didn't have what these 'fancy folks' wanted. It made me feel inadequate, a feeling I did not like. But, I really didn't ponder the situation too much as there was always a ton of work to be done. So, time went by and occasionally they would come in again and purchase a piece of wood trim or some odd tool and, as always, the lady would do the talking. Okay, so I found out later the new guy was Jim Youngblood and the lady was his girlfriend, wife, or whatever she was at the time, Linda. I found out that he was one of the folks who had been involved in building boats in a converted garage for the past year or so, and they had just moved into a new building on the outskirts of the city limits.

         That spring my wife and I were expecting a child which was great. But things weren't going too great between me and the boss at the lumber yard and I ended up leaving and being without a job and with a new family relying on me. A friend of mine, Jerry Baldwin, owned a gas station and auto repair business in town and it was sort of a hangout for the local guys who liked driving fast cars, motorcycles, and other testosterone driven activities. Jerry had also gotten acquainted with this new guy Jim, since as it turned out, they had a lot in common and Jim was doing business at Jerry's gas station.

         After I 'hung out' around Jerry's station for about a week, he offered to take me down to this new boat shop to see about getting me a job. So, I rode down and met the guy, who seemed like a total asshole to me on first meeting him, but before I knew it, I had a job working for him assembling jet boats. This was at Triple 'C' Enterprises, manufacturerof Apollo Boats. Jim had a couple partners in the business, Neil Clark ( who later became my father-in-law) and Pedro Rodrigues. Neil was the sales manager, Pedro was the business manager, and Jim the ship/production manager. Jet boats were to me at the time, absolutely exotic. I couldn't believe that these beasts wre being manufactured right there in little ol' Cabot, Arkansas. I mean, they looked like they were going 100 m.p.h. sitting on the trailer. And the metalflake finish on them was incredible. This country boy was impressed to say the least. Jim was the gelcoat man at the time, pulling tape, masking off the molds, and creating these metalflake beauties.

         Well it seemed that Jim saw something in me and my talents that he liked. He started teaching me how to gelcoat. I quickly became his protégé and friend. I looked up to him almost like a god figure. He was not just talented, but had this charisma about him that made most people just want to look and listen to whatever he was doing or saying. He had a deep voice, the California accent, really large biceps, and a confident manner that, taken altogether, was admirable. And to a country boy who'd hardly been out of Cabot, he was, like I said, almost a god figure. The fact that he had raced boats, and intended to continue racing boats, was a huge attraction to me. It was so exciting to be a part of the planning and construction of the race boat (s), and to go to the races and be part of the team was like a dream come true for me. And just to be around this unusual fellow and help him on projects made me feel special. It seemed that he had been places and done things that only people I had seen on television had done.

         Now here I was, getting to drive a raceboat on occasion ( just for fun or testing), and going to regional races, and learning a host of new skills which enhanced my own self confidence. It was quite a growing experience. Then Jim left Triple 'C' and started his own company, Jet Boat Engineering. He created, manufactured, and raced the venerable TX-19. I stayed with Triple 'C' for a while but ended up leaving under bad terms with Neil and went back to my 'roots' so to speak, by doing new home construction and remodeling. Somewhere along the way I started dating Neil Clark's daughter Kim and not long afterward, had the opportunity to go to work for Jim again at his new company. He was still building and racing the TX-19, which was immensely successful. I joined him again in '76, first building a set of new molds which were destined for Vian, Oklahoma, where Jimmy Johnson and his partner were gearing up to begin producing and racing the Youngblood hull.

         The new picklefork design was just coming onto the scene in jet boats and Jim had his mind made up to do a new design incorporating the twin tunnel, picklefork nosed, hull. In the fall of '78 the project began. Jim laid out the basic design and I did all the 'grunt work' on the prototype. This was a very rewarding experience for me. Our goal was to have a finished boat in the Dallas trade show early in '79, a goal which was achieved. I'd never felt so proud in my life as I did when I walked into the show where our Dallas dealers, J.D. Simms and Larry Morden had the boat tilted up sideways on display, a black and silver beauty. I can still picture it like it was last week, instead of 25 years ago.

         That spring, Jim had been approached by a new customer of his, who owned a boat dock on Greers Ferry Lake. This guy, Joe Lacey, had been talking to another businessman in Greers Ferry who had a building for sale, ( still in boxes on the ground) and wanted Jim to move the business up there. About this time Jim was going through a divorce and wanted to 'get the Hell out of Dodge' anyway so a plan was hatched. Jim approached me about becoming a partner in the business, an offer I didn't hesitate to jump on. I ended up driving back and forth every day (130 miles round trip), beginning the construction of the building. My brother Carl and I poured the concrete, erected the metal building, and finished getting the building set up for manufacturing.

         We moved the business in early summer of that year and things rocked on pretty well until the recession of '80 & '81 took hold. A decision was made that I would resign from the company and move back to my home in Cabot. I ended up at Concord Boats in Sherwood, AR, where I did all the gelcoat work for seven years and then was Plant Manager for two years. In 1991 I left to open my own company doing fiberglass repairs and occasionally gelcoating boats for 'Wolf' McClendon. I built the shortened and narrowed version of the TX-19 for Greg High of Memphis (Sunkist Boats), and also manufactured my own brand (WittCraft Boats) which included an outboard version of the Apollo XK, the TX-19, and various smaller fishing boats. Since 1994 I've built many types of fiberglass products including aircraft parts, amusement park rides, eighteen wheeler parts, and motorcycle saddlebags. Wittco Enterprises and hardbags.com

         Though I haven't seen Jim Youngblood in 20 years, I have a feeling that if he called and said he wanted to build a new design and wanted my help, I'd be on the way. I've never lost the admiration for him that I first felt over 30 years ago. Thanks Jim.

      Robert Wittenburg