A great boat builder
Courtesy Photo Fred Brown works on his first fishing boat.
Bay Port remembers the ‘genius’ of Fred Brown
Published: Friday, February 10, 2012 8:40 AM EST
By Karrie Koceba For the Tribune BAY PORT — Fred Brown was more than just a boat builder, he was a master of all things mechanical. And according to his friends and family, he was the kindest and most talented man they had ever known. Ralph Frederick Brown, known as Fred to his friends and family, died at age 93 on Jan. 8, while visiting his daughter in Sharpsburg, Ga. He was born in 1918 in his lifelong hometown of Bay Port, and later graduated as the valedictorian of the Bay Port High School class of 1937. After high school, Fred Brown built his first well-drilling machine for his father, John Brown, who operated Brown Well Drilling along with Fred’s brother for many years. In 1939, Fred Brown joined the U.S. Army Air Force where he completed his formal education at the General Motors U.S. Service School in Flint, graduating at the top of his class. In addition to his regular Army command diploma, Brown was awarded the Special Gen. Weaver Honor and Distinction Diploma and the Buick Honor Diploma. After completing his education, he was stationed in England during World War II as an aircraft mechanic. Brown’s daughter, Susan, said her father adored his time in the Army and enjoyed sharing stories about his experiences in England. “Even at 93, his memory was still en masse,” she said. Brown returned home from the war eager to put his talent to work. He built his father a new rotary-style, well-drilling machine and then opened his own business, the Brown Machine Co. Fred Brown married Lisa Jensch, a German immigrant, in 1949 and together they built their home in Bay Port where they operated Fred’s boat-building business and raised their three daughters — Susan, Barbara and Linda. In the late 1940s, Fred was commissioned to build his first commercial fishing vessel for the Gillingham Fish Co., the “Doris H.” The Doris H. was the first fishing vessel of its kind to be constructed with a steel hull designed to lift the boat as it moves through the water. This new and virtually indestructible hull allowed for more speed and less fuel consumption, which quickly earned Fred’s design much favor among area commercial fishing companies. The challenge of constructing a steel-hulled vessel of this size forced Brown to use his more than proficient problem-solving abilities. He constructed a large support system to hold the boat hull during its construction. The device was made of two A-frame ends with a large steel pipe that ran between the two supports to allow the boat to be turned freely. Brown realized that he needed a way to form the steel into the precise shapes that formed the boat hull, so he built two machines to help him bend and cut the steel according to his design. Tod Williams of the Bay Port Fish Co. said that Fred was the go-to guy for anything that needed to be repaired. “Fred was a mechanical genius,” Williams said. “He was smart, personable, very gentle and is greatly missed.” In 1990, Brown and Williams collaborated to build Fred’s final boat, the 50-foot-long “Osprey,” which became one of the commercial fishing boats used by the company. Brown’s family and friends estimate he built more than 50 steel and fiberglass boats in his lifetime. In addition to building boats, he also built his own motor home and his own custom truck that he used to transport the long pieces of pipe and steel he needed for his business. Brown was a master at building machines and could construct nearly anything that would suit his family’s needs — including a pottery wheel for his wife and a fabric-cutting machine for his daughter, who made rugs. Susan Brown said her father was a man of many talents and, in his free time, he was always in search of ways to solve life’s little mysteries. “His mind was always working,” she said. She added that her father was always interested in puzzles, whether it be helping her mother figure out a particularly difficult knitting pattern, or dismantling the family room clock just to “see how it worked.” “He was such a smart, creative and nice man,” she said. “I am so proud of him.” Brown’s step-daughter, Linda Wozniak, said that Fred Brown raised her from age 4, and even though she was not his biological daughter, he loved her just the same. Wozniak said, “He told me that when he married my mother, he married me too.” “Fred was a wonderful man who lived a wonderful life and then passed away peacefully,” she said. Fred’s daughters are planning a memorial and celebration of Fred Brown’s life for later this year.
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