Gretchen Roufs' portraitThey’re sleek, elegant and rare. The youngest of the three is 60 years old, and the oldest is nearly 80. Yet, thanks to the attention paid by Ken Gast, they’re still in the prime of their lives.

Ken, president of The Janitors Supply Co., Inc., a Fort Wayne Ind.-based distributor, collects and restores antique boats. Currently, he owns a 1929 Hacker-Craft, a 1938 Greavette Streamliner and a 1947 GarWood.

His love of boats originated during the summers he would spend on Lake Wawasee as a kid. In 1947, Ken’s dad bought the GarWood and Ken remembers it as the fastest boat on the Northern Indiana lake.

“I would speed it in toward the shore, aim the boat at the dock, hit the reverse lever, and the boat would spin around,” said Ken.

It was a great trick, except for the time when there was a malfunction and the then 15-year-old Ken, ran into the dock. The boat’s windshield and upper planking was torn out, and the boat had to be rebuilt.

The boat builder told Ken the repairs would be finished the following summer. Ken was stunned. Apparently, there were a number of boats in need of repair that were scheduled ahead of Ken’s. The boat builder told Ken that if he was willing to help, it could move things along.

“The boat builder taught me to bend the wood, sand it, plane it, stain it and seal it,” said Ken. “Because I was able to help with the repairs, we were able to get the GarWood back in the water three weeks later.”

Ken has that same GarWood in his collection today.

As for the Greavette, Ken found it at an antique boat show in Gravenhurst, Canada. “It took me a year to buy that boat after I found it. Kate — the lady I bought it from — wanted to make sure it went to a good home and that we weren’t going to turn around and sell it,” said Ken. “We visited Kate in Canada three times before she would sell the boat to us.”

The Greavette is named “Ethel Mae” after Kate’s mother. The Ethel Mae has her picture taken every year, and Ken gives the pictures to Kate.

Ken’s third — and oldest — boat is the Hacker-Craft. In this case, he bought the engine — an old Scripps engine that weighs 1,000 pounds — before he bought the boat. “I was looking for a Scripps engine because they’re rare,” Ken explained. “This one was built in the 1920s in Detroit.”

Ken’s son Phil, who heads the service division at The Janitors Supply Co., found the boat on eBay.

The Hacker-Craft is being completely rebuilt and will be done in about a year. Rebuilding a boat, according to Ken, is a “work-in-progress” forever.

“Boats take your mind off business,” said Ken. “You work with your hands and slow down your pace. It’s a work of love because they don’t make these boats any more.”

When you’re rebuilding a boat, you don’t just use any old wood. Ken uses either African mahogany or Honduras genuine mahogany.

I figured that these extraordinary boats with the button-tufted leather seats and exotic woods would be on display, and not used very often. “Oh no,” said Ken. “All my grandkids get to drive the boats. The boats are there to be enjoyed.”

Those lucky kids. I hope they — unlike their grandfather at one time — drive slowly when they’re heading for the dock.

Gretchen Roufs, an 18-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at