Allen G. Tripp
Allen G. “Bill” Tripp was interviewed by Mary Giles on October 12, 1976. He spoke about his work building boats.
We had what was just a boat shop at my father’s home, which is up on Main Road. I think it was started before 1903. He built boats up there.
I was born in Westport; the whole family was born here. I’m sure someway or other, we’re all part of the group of Tripps.
My father built boats in this shop by the high school, and they all had to be moved to the river, and he decided it would be much better to come down in this area. The real reason we left there was that they had a fire in the place, and it almost completely burned down and he’d been thinking about coming down here, so that was a good reason to move. This place (Tripp’s Boat Yard) was very small at the beginning and it certainly has grown. My father was quite young. His father before him had built houses and he didn’t like that nearly as well as building boats. He worked with some of the Briggses and got interested in building boats. This move was made when he was quite young. He was in business at his home around twenty years before he came down here in 1931. They were wooden boats up to 40 feet long. They all had to be moved down to the river. I remember being told about their being horse drawn. They hitched two or three horses to this big long cart that they had ‘specially made to carry these boats on. They came down the Main Road and then I think they launched most of them at the Hix Bridge at the town landing. It was a sizeable project.
My mother always did the bookkeeping, in fact, still does, and my four brothers and I, we built the boats. We did design one or two.
The boats we build now are fiberglass boats. We built eighteen to twenty- five per year, eighteen to twenty-two feet or so in fiberglass. We supervise the building and maintaining, and hauling boats is a big part of our business, storing them for the winter. I sort of supervise the whole thing. Jimmy supervises the outboard work; George, who is the oldest, does all the inboard repair and machine work, and my brother, Harry, does most of the yard work. I help out in the selling and office and I supervise the buildings.
I went to school here for the first eight grades, then I went to New Bedford Vocational School after that. Here I went to Brownell’s Corner School, Factory School and others, which aren’t being used any more. I spent a lot of time down here when we were kids. I had to help my father out a lot and we were constantly swimming or sailing, and I didn’t get involved in other sports. I’ve always loved to sail and swim and any spare time I’ve had, I’ve done that. Christopher Briggs, the boat builder, taught my father most of what he knew. My father died in 1953. He was here every day until the last two years of his life.
It’s great to have the family business together. The fact that Mother is around, sort of keeps us all together amicably. We just have to work together in this business.
At the beginning there probably weren’t more than twenty-five small ones and large ones (boats), and now we handle 500-600 boats every year plus some that are in the water all year. Of course, we handle a good many boats that come in for a short period of time, going south or … It’s a large business.
Until recently, Ed Yeoman’s ‘Amberjack’ was always moored here. He keeps it in Padanarum now because the entrance to this river has gotten shallower and the boat is getting old and would sometimes hit the bottom, so he’s gone to Padanarum where there’s much deeper water. This is true of any boat drawing six feet or more that they hit going out. The sand shifts, and on days when it’s most shallow for some boats, it’s a matter of staying in on those days. An offshore storm will break through right across the entrance. Our boats here in our marina are strictly pleasure boats to fish or just be on the water, often just on the river. Most of our boats go out for a day or just overnight, except on weekends when some of the larger boats might stay a weekend.
My father built a lot of nice boats of his own design, and some of others. Gradually he began to build more sailboats then powerboats and now, the only boats we build are powerboats again. Before we started in with fiberglass boats, we were building wooden boats, and I’d say we built about half and half sail and powerboats, all on order then. Now we build them by a production method in a mold. Ed’s (Yeoman) wanted me to go with him in some of his tournament races. I’ve never had time to go, but I would have loved to. I’ve sailed in the ‘Amberjack’ many times. It was the oldest boat that was in here for some years. Ed hated to part with it, but there was so much that needed to be done always. Fiberglass boats are a lot easier; there’s no question about that.
You ask me about skiing. Yes, I love to ski. We have a place in New Hampshire and I go almost every weekend in winter because in winter this business isn’t quite as demanding. In the winter we do most of our repairing. My wife and my three children love to ski. My older daughter loves to sail. Sailing isn’t fast enough for the others.
The cost of keeping a boat has gone up so much. Even the fiberglass boats are so much more than they used to be. We maintain most of the boats form the Harbor, but they dock them over there. The people with boats shouldn’t use their toilets when they are in the river, so as not to add to the river pollution.
There’s much talk now about the form of town government that we have. I don’t think that Westport is too large for the Town Meeting form. Many larger towns have it successfully. The trouble with Westport is that so many people just don’t go to the meetings. We see that there are over 6,000 registered voters in Westport, and at any town meeting, if you can get 400 people there, you are lucky. It takes a controversial issue like the lagoon or something like that to get people out, but it’s really a struggle. All the money that’s spent in the town over the whole year comes up and the people should have their voice by just voting if nothing else. And we’re lucky to get three or four percent of the registered voters to vote and make the decisions. It’s interesting to note that fifty to seventy-five percent of the people at any town meeting will be from the south end of Westport.
I think the problem getting the North End involved is that most of the people living there came out of the cities where there wasn’t any town meeting form of government. They came from places where they had mayors and decisions were made for them. The problems of people at the North End are probably being overlooked because they just don’t go to the town meetings. Westport has changed a lot in the last 25 years or so. A lot of new people are coming in, but there’s a great deal of movement from one place to another right here in town. The growth has slowed down a lot in the last five years. Of course, the zoning laws now give a minimum size to the lot you can build on, and that has influenced it. I was originally on the Zoning Committee. We worked on that for one and a half years and it was a thankless job. The prices that houses are being sold for, well, you can almost name your own price. There’s no place here at the Point to build anything on, and whenever anything existing comes up for sale, if there are enough people who want them, they can put almost any price they’d like on them. A lot of this is inflation, I’m sure. A home that 20 years ago was worth $50,000, now all of a sudden is worth $100,000. It’s the inflated dollar. Anyone who had been away for ten years and came back would certainly notice it.
We have enough moorings out in the river, but we never have enough dock space. People who’ve been here, we give them a chance to dock the next year. There are so many people who like to dock at one place and then at another.
People will drive for many hours to get to their boat, just as I will drive for many hours to get to my place to ski in New Hampshire. I like to take a trip every winter to Barbados or some island south of here. Last year, I took my family to Guadeloupe. I’m eager to go to Europe. We had a trip arranged, but it was cancelled.
You ask me what I’d hope for Westport. I’d say I’d like to have it not change any more than it has already. I’d like not to have too many more people come here from the cities and try to make Westport like the cities. There’s still enough green grass and trees to make it nice. Today there’s a lot of control on people building houses. You have o go through a lot today before you can build.