Kansas farmers-turned-factory workers build luxury watercraft
Wearing cowboy boots and blue jeans, fifth-generation farmer Mike Craig, 45, puts the finishing touches on a sleek 32-foot luxury sports cruiser built by Cobalt Boats in Neodesha, Kan. (pop. 2,842).
Craig installs a GPS on the Cobalt 323, then inspects every gauge and component before making sure that every cedar-lined closet is flawless—consistent with the company’s mantra to “compromise nothing” and reflecting the Midwestern work ethic he developed while growing up in rural Kansas.
“Every one of these babies is hand-built, made from scratch,” says Craig, who has assembled Cobalt boats for 25 years and also raises cattle on 240 acres of rolling Kansas prairie.
Craig is among Cobalt’s many farmers-turned-factory workers who build 2,000 boats annually in Neodesha, 1,500 miles from the nearest ocean and a two-hour drive to the closest sizeable lake. With a company culture that stresses ingenuity, pride in workmanship and small-town family values, Cobalt crafts high-end runabouts and cruisers that are considered among the best in the industry.
Starting the boat-building business in landlocked Kansas was anything but smooth sailing, however, for founder Pack St. Clair, 70, a former football star at Kansas University. He always loved boats and, growing up in southeast Kansas, boated with his dad on area lakes. But St. Clair knew nothing about building them in 1968 when he converted his slide-making fiberglass company into a boat factory in Chanute, Kan. (pop. 9,411).
At his first boat show in Chicago, he failed to sign a single dealer, and the headliner on one of his cruisers even fell off during the drive from Kansas. “My wife [Jill] spent the whole boat show inside the cabin,” he recalls. “Every time someone would stop by to look, I’d tap on the side of the boat, and she’d hold the loose headliner in place.”
Pages: 1 2