In 1954 Denison Yellow Jacket Boat Manufacturing Plant owner, Richard A. “Mac” McDerby, and western cowboy movie star Roy Rogers set out from the Denison Dam headed to New Orleans by way of the Red River in Yellow Jacket boats.
Allan Carter of Richmond, Texas, near Houston, is planning to a commemorative rerun of the trip in 2016 to mark the 60th anniversary of the trip and to raise funds to bring awareness to the Hydrocephalus Clinical Research Network.
Allan bought a fiberglass Yellow Jacket a few years ago and contacted me trying to find out more information about the YJ boats. I put him in touch with Gene Ramey, a former superintendent at the local plant, and later he contacted David Kanally, president of the Wooden Boat Association of North Texas.
Allan was smitten with the Yellow Jackets and now owns the UD class race boat that was built around 1950 for McDerby that still is being talked about today. It is the only known surviving Hornet built by Yellow Jacket, along with a 1957 wood-molded hull. He also is negotiating to buy another pre-Yellow Jacket McDerby boat.
He had been talking with David and planning a rerun of the 1956 trip in April 2016. He already has been busy mapping out the trip and made the first leg of the river in an aluminum boat, drove the full length of the river looking for places to stop and restock the boats and places to spend the nights. Also he flew the river full length three times, once very low at 45 knots.
Each boat will need a three-person crew, he said, with two needed in the boat and one as a member of the chase crew that will switch around as they want to. He has three boats besides his own already enlisted and said many more are welcome to join them.
He’s hoping to make the trip large enough to attract a country western celebrity to accompany the boaters on the trip and put shows on as Roy Rogers did in 1956. Attracting the Discovery Channel or A&E also is on his list of wants.
Allan hopes to have three and maybe four Yellow Jacket boats making the entire trip with other boat owners joining in for the fun. He said boaters can join the procession anyplace along the trip and he suspects most likely will join them at Shreveport, La.
The 1956 trip began at Denison in great weather, with more than 3,000 spectators gathered at Red River to see McDerby and Roy Rogers off on their ride with four boats. Everywhere they went on the trip crowd control was their biggest problem. Roy’s public relations agent went along to take advantage of the excitement with pictures and to arrange PR opportunities.
This was the only other trip from the Denison Dam by boat since Mac came up from New Orleans in 1944. The trip was a huge success and a fun trip for both Mac and Roy who received all kinds of publicity from the media, both personal and commercial for the boat company. Unfortunately they didn’t have a clue how to capitalize on the opportunity so nothing much came from the trip.
Allan selected the Hydrocephalus Foundation to be recipient of any funds raised in the 2016 trip because a good friend has the disease. He said he was surprised at how many people are stricken with it and how few people know what it is. His friend got it first from a blow to the head playing basketball in high school. Then from a car wreck. No one knew that a blow to the head did damage until the car wreck 20 years later.
It’s an ambitious undertaking that Allan is looking at, but with the help of other Yellow Jacket boat owners and Denison and other towns along the river route, it could become a big event for the area in a few years.
DONNA HUNT is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.