Webmaster: "Robert, I have a few questions from back in the '70's. When I was visiting the Cabot plant back in the Spring of 1979, there was a discarded boat in the field behind the plant. It looked like a TX-19 tunnel similar to the present day CP tunnel (there was not such a boat at the time). What was the deal? Was there such a thing?"
Witt: "The tunnel with the TX-19 deck was a sort of prototype, to see if the tunnels really would help or hinder the performance of a jet boat. Actually it was a TX-19 with the bottom cut up to make tunnels."
Webmaster: "Did y'all try a number of boat designs over the years?"
Witt: "We didn't try any different designs really, just went with the TX-20 picklefork based on the one tunnel prototype. We really could not afford any Research and Development to speak of back in those days. We just had to do the best engineering we could on paper and then try it in application"
Webmaster: "How did y'all decide to do a picklefork?"
Witt: "As for deciding on the picklefork, I think it was a combination of needing the picklefork nose to adequately incorporate the twin tunnel design as well as doing something radical and in keeping with what the west coast boys were doing."
Webmaster: "If I remember correctly, the first picklefork, the white tunnel, was originally setup with just a regular intake and the boat would not run properly. Seems like the tail drug in the water. Then y'all put a full machined intake with plate and shoe and the ride plate helped to lift the tail. Then on Rick Hendricks picklefork, the bottom was setup a little too light and when we took it to the river to test for the first time the bottom flexed and bent some of the pump brace hardware. I think y'all then braced the keel from the inside by glassing in a board with braces... etc. ... Can you verify or elaborate?
Witt: "Your memory is correct on the first boats were white. The 20' picklefork took a pretty radical change in the way the intakes were set up to get the boat to lift and work. And we considered it a small disaster when the bottom flexed on Rick's boat and the stringers started to delaminate. All in all it was in a days work I suppose for a new design, but at the time it was a sobering experience. As you say, it was a pretty simple fix with some small bulkheads being glassed between the stringers and really not much more material at all."
Webmaster: "I know you did a lot of the shop management, graphic and glass layout of the hulls, etc. Did you go to many of the races or drive much? Any race stories?"
Witt: "I did go to quite a few races back in the seventies, not so many in the eighties. I only drove the race boats for testing and/or for fun. I only recall going near or over 100 m.p.h. once, in a blown gas Picklefork."
Webmaster: "Also, on the development and marketing of the TX-19. I know JBE in Cabot was the primary plant and builder, how did Earle Smith with the plant in Lubbock and Jimmy Johnson with JBE in Oklahoma fit into the picture? Did y'all license other boat plants to build the TX-19? Or did these other companies just "splash" the boat?"
WITT: "I built the set of molds which went to Vian with Jimmy Johnson and Dan Rosen. It was my first task after rejoining Jim after he started his own company. They paid for the molds and were paying Jim a royalty on each boat. The deal with Earle was supposed to be the same but I don't think Earl lived up to his end of the bargain. Same with Jimmy Dominick, started out okay but as with most of Jim's business deals, they didn't work. Jim was getting out of the TX-19 production (biggest mistake he made back then) and Jimmy Dominick bought the original molds. I had the chance to move to Lubbock and work for Jimmy but turned him down. I was also approached by Johnson, Smith, Bodie, etc, wanting me to work for them. I felt a loyalty to Jim and said I'd never compete with him, though I did build about 20 boats for Greg High of Memphis, who was Bodie's friend and who still has the Sunkist molds. He brought the molds to me after I moved back to Cabot and after Jim had moved to Monroe. And of course there were several guys who did 'splash' the TX-19 where Jim never recieved any compensation at all. One of them was my brother-in-law Budd Clark. It caused a bit of a fuss in the family while I was still with Jim but we all got over it after I left. That was Clark Custom Boats in Gravel Ridge, AR. I love the website. You've done a great job. Have you been in contact with Jim? I would really like to see him again, just because."