According to research by owner Bill Overman, articles from the May 31, 1931 Kansas City Star and the September 1931 issue of Power Boating report on the vessels.

It is a boat that recalls the earliest days of Lake of the Ozarks, representing the romance of a reconstruction of the landscape and the birth of a new lifestyle.

With its mahogany exterior, leather and wood interior, chrome accents, not to mention the original Inline 8 Graymarine motor — the fine touches of the antique boat Duchess of Leawood make it a beautiful vessel on its own, an artifact of days of fine craftsmanship and more formal living. The Phantom Racing 8, a 24-foot Hacker-Craft runabout, was carefully constructed in 1931 and still retains 95 percent of her original planking.

Created the same year that Bagnell Dam was completed and the Lake of the Ozarks arose, the Duchess of Leawood appears to be a near match to the first boats purchased by Union Electric Land and Development Company for use on Lake of the Ozarks.

According to research by owner Bill Overman, articles from the May 31, 1931 Kansas City Star and the September 1931 issue of Power Boating report on the vessels. 

Power Boating made special note of the boats’ speed capabilities, running up to the top speed of the era, 35 miles per hour. The Kansas City Star makes of the Niangua and another unnamed vessel, both 1931 24-foot Hacker-Crafts. Purchased for an officer of Union Electric and UE head, Louis H. Egan, the speed of the vessels likely came in handy for covering various points on the large new reservoir.

A Hacker-Craft inventory from March 3, 1931 shows how close the three boats Overman believes were Union Electric’s and his were. The serial numbers are within a few numbers of each other meaning they were likely worked on at the same time, though there are some differences.

Now the Union Electric boats are gone, but the Duchess remains. Overman believes from talking with other local antique boat owners that this vessel is the oldest operating vessel on the Lake of the Ozarks, due to operational issues with a 1926 cabin cruiser owned by Terry Hart.

The elegant runabout helps make the Overmans’ home at the 54 mile marker a popular spot on amateur tours in his vicinity of the lake. Neighbors from a mile away or more bring guests by to see the vessel, along with the Craftsman style home.

On the Lake

If you go by the Overmans’ home though, you may or may not see it docked there. One of his joys is taking the vessel out for a spin between the first of April and the first of November. 

Overman has little concerns about operating the boat in his area, located in the quieter upper reaches of the Lake of the Ozarks. 

“It’s night and day difference. We’re on the main channel, and we don’t have wake breakers. There’s a little bit of traffic, but we’re on the dock all the time. We swim off the dock, waterski in the area,” says Overman.

Retiring as a sales manager who traveled across the U.S. five days a week, he and his wife are self-described home bodies and love their corner of the lake. This is their 10th summer in this particular house after first moving to the Lake of the Ozarks in 1984. 

Overman does have a new vintage-style boat though that he uses for longer trips on the lake. The three-year-old Chris Craft Launch 27 is somewhat rare for the Midwest, he says, being more popular on the east coast, but it has the design characteristics of an antique with a good size for entertaining and comfort. They also recently upgraded their personal water crafts.

“[In the 1931 boat] I can probably take any wake, I may slow down, but I have no worries from a safety perspective. For me, it’s more the idea, the busier it gets, the less enjoyment in the ride. Particularly on weekends, I’m confident, but guests are not as confident. With the Chris Craft, I can take nine people out. And with a 1931 [boat], I don’t want to be driving at 20 miles per hour and decide to jump wake because it’s possible I could break something,” explains Overman.

The Duchess’ top-of-the-line engine, for 1931 that is, and wooden structure is running fine though thanks to Overman’s careful maintenance. A vessel like this takes more maintenance than the typical fiberglass models today. Overman found a spare motor in anticipation of future trouble.

“A motor like this is slowly killing itself. It has fresh water, lake water, circulating to cool it. The natural water inside the block is causing rust, and there’s no way to stop it,” he says. “With a motor of this vintage, there are certain places you have to oil and grease regularly like farm machinery. It’s no choir to me because I like to mess around with them.”

 The important thing for this longtime boat lover is to be in his boats whether he’s running them down the lake, fiddling with the engine or vacuuming out water.

But due to this natural wear as well as other accidental losses over such a span of time, very few original motors from this era still exist, according to Overman. Natural water has been cooling down this engine for nearly 88 years now.

Provenance

Growing up in Wichita, Kan., a block from the Little Arkansas River, Overman remembers making his “first boat” around the age of 8 for he and his younger brother’s use on the shallow river. Quickly caught and told to go home by a passing police officer who happened to work for their father, that watercraft didn’t last too long, but a passion for boating had begun. 

He bought his first “real” boat, a canoe, while he was in middle school, his father away for a training class. Spying the sale ad in the Sunday morning classifieds and a little money in his pocket from a newspaper route, Overman persuaded his mother to take him by “just to see it.”

“I had no more than looked than I gave the man some money. Somehow we got it on the car and got it home,” he recalls. 

While in college his father purchased a boat, which Overman says he quickly confiscated, and the boating lifestyle improved even more when his parents retired to the Gravois Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. Overman would go on to keep his father’s boat 15 years after he passed away. 

Over the years Overman has owned sailboats, motorboats, PWCs, and still enjoys searching for boats for sale, though these days it’s strictly day-dreaming, he says..

The Duchess came into Overman’s possession mainly through sheer availability. 

While the dream sparked long before in Overman’s love of boats as a child, the path to ownership of an antique boat started in earnest when his wife noticed a multi-page Ralph Lauren ad in FYI magazine in 1998 featuring models dressed in styles from the 1920s and ‘30s. Several of the models were pictured sitting on a wooden boat. 

His wife, Jackie, liked the look of the boat. Hearing her interest, Overman jumped on opportunity.

“I’ve always been somebody who takes advantage when my wife is interested in something,” he says.

The search began, though it would take a circuitous route to finale. 

They initially attempted to purchase from a maker of new wooden boats built to look like the antiques. When they didn’t deliver on time and attempted to sell him a different size and configuration, Overman declined and switched to looking for the real deal. He approached a few antique boat brokers in the Midwest and was surprised to find out that antique boats didn’t cost as much as he thought they would. 

Then finally lightning struck — figuratively that is. Overman found his boat in St. Louis in 2000, renaming it the Duchess of Leawood, a fond nickname for his wife.

In addition to making the boat’s interesting historical connection to the Lake of the Ozarks, Overman has spent winters researching the vessel’s provenance, considering himself lucky to have been able to track down the names of all of the Duchess’ past owners, back to the very beginning when it was first christened The Helge. The name is Norwegian for Henry, the first owner. Its home port was on Rainy Lake, International Falls, Minn. Rolled out amidst the depths of the Great Depression, it took a wealthy family to purchase what would have been a high dollar, luxury item in its day. According to Overman, the owner was a physician who owned a small island on Rainy Lake.

Another home for the boat was in Iowa under the name Tri Elegant for the owner’s three daughters. 

Now the boat has given years of enjoyment on Lake of the Ozarks as well. 

Perhaps the Kansas City Star story from May 1931, “Exploring Reaches Of The Southwest’s Greatest Lake,” describes the Phantom 8’s ride and the joys of boating best, the reporter experiencing the then novelty of pleasure boating on the new Lake of the Ozarks.

“The whole front half of the boat was out of the water and she was riding over it like an aquaplane, leaping, as if to spring clear of it and mount up like an airplane leaving the ground, the waves slapping the flat bottom with a force that made the boat quiver. From the waist of the boat two great waves spread out, one on each side. I stood up and looked behind at our wake in the water, where four blue waves rolled and spread out in fan shape, gradually widening away astern until they reached the shore.”