The Meloon Family… all of these people are boat builders all the way back into the 17th century when we came to the United States we were boat builders. We built our own boat to come across the waters to land. And the reason why we came was because King Henry the VIII had made a law that said everybody in England was going to have to become a member of The Church of England. We did not think that the government should be telling us what church we should go to. So we decided we’re boat builders, Portsmouth, England, we’ll just build our own ship get in and sail across and we landed and named the city of Portsmouth. So that’s why the Navy Yard, the first Navy Yard that was built was built in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The Meloon Family Homestead in New Hampshire
Actually, they called it the Portsmouth Navy Yard, but it was on a river that went between Maine and New Hampshire and the Navy Yard was actually in Maine, but they always called it Portsmouth, New Hampshire because that was the big city and there was nothing on the other side except the Navy Yard that we built boats out of, so that’s where our Navy started…
The first boat made by W.C. Meloon photographed on Province Lake, Maine near the Meloon Homestead in New Hampshire
LISTEN Part I (17:52) (Text highlights excerpts from audio recording.)
Gifted Boat Builders and a Gifted Businessman
You must remember that in order to be a good boat builder you have to be gifted. And I was not gifted. There were three of us boys: Walter was the oldest, I was the middle one, and Harold was the youngest. Harold turned out to be a great machinist and very helpful to Correct Craft.
Pine Castle Boat Company, 1935
Because without a good machinist you do not develop new machines, new things. And look at all the things we did for the three wars that we were in. Without Harold we would have been in real deep trouble. My older brother was Walter Meloon and he was gifted to design boats. And yet I’m the only one that graduated from high school. They never even got a high school education, but they were naturally boat builders, naturally machinists. So I turned out not having that gift, but I was very good with figures so I turned out to be the one to run the business….
The Meloon Family Home at Mills Street and Virginia Drive
Building Boats for War
We made more boats for the defense of this country than anyone else did. I’m talking about the number of units that we produced out of this factory and the one in Titusville exceeded 20,000. No one else came anywhere near that. World War II, Korean War, and the Vietnamese War – three wars that we had…
Correct Craft Boat Factory
Well, of course we were dying because we couldn’t buy material because they had already made it – unless you were building boats for the government, well you didn’t have priority. And without priority you couldn’t build boats. You didn’t have the material to build them. And there was restrictions on gasoline. Nobody could buy gasoline unless they were using it for the government. So nobody could buy boats. So we almost died waiting for a contract. And so I flew to Pittsburgh, to Chicago, to Washington, New York, Atlanta, everywhere, anywhere just bidding on contracts constantly in order to try to get it.
Ralph Meloon and W.C. Meloon at Correct Craft
When they finally could not do anything to get Hitler and he was the main man that we had to get in order to stop the war. So when we realized we had to get a fast enough boat to cross the river before they could shoot it. So they put out a contract and asked us if we could participate in the contract. So they let out the contract to four… they were all given the same number of boats to build in hopes somebody would be successful. Because we’re talking about the first week in February and they wanted all those boats by the end of February. So it was what you might say an impossibility. But we were the only ones that got our boats done. They assigned us, each one of us to 300 boats that they wanted by the end of February. They figured they needed almost 500. And they figured if two would be successful at getting half of them, why we’d have enough. And none of the rest of them even got one boat out. And yet two of these contractors had built this boat before. We’d never seen the boat before. We had to try to take the drawings, and we had to walk the boat, we had to make all the parts, the jigs and everything and get started. And so this is quite a story. I’ll give you one of the stories to read….VIEW.
Six Days for Boat Building and Sunday for the Lord
They kept saying everybody else is working on Sunday. We want you to work on Sunday. Dad said, “No.” He refused to do it. He said, “No, I put my trust in the Lord… I turned this business over to the Lord in 1935 and we’re not going to do it.” We’re working til midnight Saturday night. We’ll start midnight Sunday night. But we’re going to trust in the Lord…. We’re the only ones that got the boats ready. And we were three days ahead of time and we had our three hundred and six boats ready three days ahead of time…. They had hoped at least two companies would have the 300 boats and they didn’t do it… When the colonel comes and he sees all three boats and they couldn’t even get them out of the back door yard. We had hundreds of them out there waiting to be shipped. They couldn’t even get the flatcars to put them on. So what happened is he got on this cutting bench that we had, and he said, “I’ve been to all three of the others, and they haven’t even one boat finished.” We had 306. And he said, “Would you build 100 more in the three days you got left in this month?” We built 100 boats in two days. And so we had them finished…. We were building 50 boats a day. That’s in a 24 hour day, of course.
Correct Craft’s Titusville Boat Plant Operated from 1942-1955
And it was just remarkable to realize that Florida, well, of course, we were Yankees, but after all, they didn’t expect Florida to do anything because we’re not even thought of as being anything. And these boat companies have been up there for years, Century Boat Company… of course, they’re all gone now… Chris Craft and our boat company that’s about the only two that’s left now of the old ones… So you can see only God has been able to do what we accomplished. He used us to accomplish it and to God be the glory….
Scenic Boat Rides in Winter Park
A man by the name of B.R. Coleman came along, became a good friend of my dad’s. And one day he said, “Mr. Meloon can you make these canals deep enough that we can get our boats through?” And dad said, ” Well, you’ll never be able to dig holes because the banks will keep caving in the deeper your water. The boats that are faster are going to make waves and it’s going to cave in. That means you’ve got to put a tongue and groove wall eight feet down and up there about 30 inches which is what you can see right there. And it’s a tongue and groove deal so that there’ll be a tongue over here. Let’s say there’s the tongue here and that’s the groove here. So when you push it down we have a jet stream of water and we push it down and we had it angled so it kind of pushed in hard at the bottom. So all that miles of wall took a while to build and Mr. Coleman paid for half of it and the City of Winter Park paid for half. So Mr. Coleman really made Winter Park. In fact, up until that time we only had city managers in Winter Park. And the first mayor was Mr. Coleman and they didn’t have anybody else running. He didn’t even run. They just came and asked him and he became the first mayor. And so we made him a boat house.
B.R. Coleman’s Winter Park Boat House, circa 1936
There are a lot of boat houses on the lakes over there… But these canals that you go through today are going to be there for a long while because they just keep repairing them. Our walls lasted for 70 years and finally they rotted out and they just restored them lately…. We made the boats… that’s one of our boats there. Then we had a long one, 38 people in the other one. This one only had 20 people….
Boat Rides on Lake Conway
In those days few people had money to buy a boat, but they paid 25 cents to take a ride in a boat. I’ve got a picture of my slow boat I started driving when I was about 8 or 9 years old. And it was just a slow boat on Lake Conway. We have three lakes over here that’s connected and I drove on the three lakes. That was my first job at Correct Craft was driving the slow boat. They paid 25 cents for an adult and 10 cents for a child. We’d get about 20 people on, I guess. We had docks. We had docks here. We had docks in the other lake. The little lake we never had docks in there but we still went over and took them through there and that used to be an island. That used to be Nela Island. Now there’s a road all the way across. But at that time we could go around the island and so we did. We’d run the boat around the island…
Correct Craft Boat Scenic Tours on Lake Conway
There was just no money back in those days. You realize when I started to work I was getting paid $3.00 a week, I was living with my parents so I was clear except that I tithed so therefore 30 cents would go to the church. But I have the payroll from back in those days.. I’ve got all the bookkeeping my mother had. I can see where my cousin Donald got 10 cents an hour… he worked ten hours a day so that meant he got a dollar a day. And he worked six days a week so he got $6.00 a week. And I only got $3.00, but I lived with my mom and dad and I saved my money… My brother Walter he got more money than I did but he was a natural boat builder….
King Hussein Learns to Ski at Cypress Gardens
King Hussein was a water skier. He liked the water and he came soon after we got Cypress Gardens going. So he came here. He actually learned to ski at Cypress Gardens. He liked the water. He flew back and forth several times. But he was always doing big things for water skiing. For instance, there was never a world water ski union. Water skiing was started by my father and just grew a little bit, a little bit because there wasn’t much behind it just us. But King Hussein he was interested. And Correct Craft and Mastercraft along with King Hussein got together with a man… and he started the World Water Ski Union in Switzerland… The interesting thing is that the vice president under him for several years is now the president of it and he and I were the only two that were brought into the Communist nations to get water ski started.. when we would go into these countries he was the chief judge and they have to have somebody out of the world office and so this was only the Communist world. We even had North Korea was there. They came to all of our tournaments…
Socialist Friendship Cup, Katowice, Poland, July 1986
We always told them now when Sunday comes we are not going to be at the tournament. We’re going to find a church. Well the only churches they had were the underground churches. And so we didn’t know where they were, but I had a friend, he spent 13 years as a pastor in a jail because he wouldn’t quit preaching the Gospel the Communist took over… He became a good friend of mine. [He] spoke at the Boat Factory once; spoke at Pine Castle First Baptist Church… Now everybody in the Communist world when Sunday comes they get out of the city. It’s dead because they don’t go to church. They’re not Christians. Only the Christians go to church at all the underground churches… So I stopped a man told him… and I opened a door [to an underground church] and I mean it was packed….
We have worked in 81 Countries…
Ralph Meloon in South Korea
Probably one we did not really enjoy was Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was so bad it’s hard to believe how they can be so strict and do things like they do… I had no idea that I shouldn’t be showing my pictures of our boats running because it showed water skiers behind them and the girls had bathing suits on and it’s in Saudi Arabia so when they finally sit down to see what I have they get up and run because they didn’t dare watch it… Interesting thing was when the show was over how many guys wanted to come and buy the machine. But it went to the dealer that went to sell our boats for us, we left it with him. We always sold our boats in Saudi Arabia, but we never sold a lot of boats because only a few people have money….
I used to go to South America… fill up suitcases with things for the kids… first stop Venezuela… I landed and they lost my bag. I remember going into the hotel and now I didn’t have my Bible… there’ll be a Gideon Bible. [It was] much better than my Bible because [the person I was meeting with] he only spoke Spanish. The Gideon Bible there, Spanish on the one side, English on the other. God was always taking care of me in so many ways. It’s just remarkable to see it. And we had so many people that we’d stop to see that were missionaries or people we were trying to bring to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. It was just great to see how God would answer pray, answer pray, answer prayer so many times….
I tell you when you look at Betty in there and you say, what a wonderful wife she’s been for 76 years. It says for better or for worse. And when you marry a girl and it is for better or for worse that means you got to be ready for the worst because it could happen. We didn’t think it would happen to us. I mean we’d gone through all those wars….
I drove the first boat at Cypress Gardens and the reason why I did was because Dick Pope had no money and he couldn’t buy a boat. And Dick Pope and my dad were friends because my dad was boat builder and Dick Pope was president of the Outboard Motor Association for the State of Florida. So he was in charge of all the boat racing and everything, everywhere in Florida. So dad was the builder of the boats and he was the man that arranged them. And everybody came from up north down here because they could run their boats in the wintertime there and they couldn’t up north. So we had a lot of people come to Pine Castle. We had a little hotel here that was very cheap and we all played volleyball after work. So we had a lot of fun together. But when Dick Pope called up my dad and said that he wanted to know if he would come down with a boat that he wanted to show off the land that he was trying to sell the government with Works Progress Administration… So I went down and I put my boat in Lake Howard and Dick Pope would sit in the motor hatch in the middle of the boat and I would drive them back to the chain of lakes back to where I was. That was the big thing! I mean boy, they really liked that. My boat was fast. When I got out of the canal I could go fast and slow down through the canal. When I’d get there I’d take them through the canal in that little lake in the back and then bring them out. And then we’d get up on that deck that was about to fall down and go up and he’d show them. But boy, he’d talk them into all of it….
Correct Craft 26′ Biscayne Sportster and 16′ Rocket Skier
But if he’d had to drive them down through those orange groves and no roads why they would have never come up with the money. But they did. They came up with the money…. Well then, we had no money to buy a boat to run, to do the waterskiing. So then they sent me back down and so I drove the boat for him until he got started…. When I stop to look back over we would have never thought that waterskiing would be the very thing that we’d be making our living from. It was not in it at all. The only reason why we did was to get the attention of the people and then we’d take them for boat rides and live a little longer. Nobody had the money to buy boats. Very few people. We couldn’t make our money from that. So we had to make a living out of carrying passengers. Now it’s entirely a different situation. I went to the lady that’s in charge of hiring the people and hearing all this talk about raising the minimum wage. And I said, “Any problem with this nine and a half dollars or anything?” She said, “Mr. Meloon, our floor sweepers make more than eleven dollars.” And she says, “Nobody’s anywhere near down there”. Plus the fact that we do so many things for them. We help them to save money. We help them to plan their money. We help them in every way…”
Correct Craft Mission Trips
So they are putting their trust in Correct Craft to have a job so they get a paycheck every week and time off and different paid days, vacation days. It’s amazing, and all these things. And then we make it easy for them to go to India or some other country because we do the mission trips. Now we make them pay $250.00 of that cost. If they don’t make an investment in it it isn’t worth anything to them. So when they make an investment and they go over and they begin to see what they’ve done to help somebody. When we flew into India we went in there mainly to help those teenage girls… because girls have no values and they know they have no value. But we are making them realize they do have value. We bring good speakers in. We have a Bible study every week for them. If they come in to the Bible study they get their lunch free of charge. When you see all the little things that we do to encourage them to become smarter and smarter and after all if you don’t have a chance to do that where do you go? Nowhere. Every week is a dead end road. But now they can see they’ve saved some money. They’re planning on their future. They’re beginning to think through things that they ought to be doing. changes their mind. Changes their life. Then they put their trust in the Lord. Then we see great things happening…. It’s our aim to try to help people and do things that’s going to help families. So when you see what God has done is he’s given us that ability to do it. Now what we should do is what we’ve been enlightened to do.
Ralph Meloon Oral History Interview, Part II
Ralph Meloon Oral History Interview, Part V
Ralph Meloon Oral History Interview, Part VI
Ralph Meloon Oral History Interview, Part VII
Ralph Meloon Oral History Interview, Part VIII
Ralph Meloon Oral History Interview, Part VIIII