Cadillac McDaniel’s “Field of Dreams”
If you are a lifelong boat nut in your 50s and missed last month’s column, “Classical Glass,” do yourself a favor — click the mouse and don’t look back. If you fit this demographic and are still reading, you may as well give your kids your credit cards and light your wallet on fire. As I promised last month, I have visited Cadillac McDaniel’s “Field of Dreams” — a sacred burial ground for the forgotten remains of fiberglass boat history. Fortunately, my wife, Nelia, made me leave my wallet behind!
It all began with this thought: Just as our fathers fantasized about the woodies of their youth — Gar Woods, Chris-Crafts, Hackers, etc. — we fifty-somethings dream in fiberglass — old Bertrams, Formulas, Donzis and the like. For some these dreams are harmless. However, for others they become a nightmare, and sufferers feel compelled to “invest.” Question: Would blowing $100,000 on the restoration of, say, a classic 20-foot Bertram Baron seem odd? Don’t answer. Instead, let me introduce you to Cadillac McDaniel. I thought I had a problem with boats — Cadillac is truly sick.
We met thanks to a friend who had invested in the remains of a rare 1965 Bertram 31 race boat exhumed from the Field of Dreams. Cadillac had first spotted her in the early 1990s. “I used to drive by her every day thinking, ‘I’ve got to save that boat,’” he said. “Then she was gone.” Last year he spotted her distinctive reverse transom on a weed-filled lot in a bad part of town. After a year of negotiation she was his. “It was close — the fellow was going to chop off her deck and turn her into a fishing boat,” said Cadillac with a look of disgust. He is a patient man and a year’s negotiation is about average. “I try not to rush things…Folks usually know what they have but have no idea of value.”
Cadillac’s Field of Dreams is out of the way but hard to miss. Other than cows, there is little to see as you motor west from Stuart, Florida, toward Lake Okeechobee. At about the halfway point I spotted what I believed was a Hatteras 28 cruiser hiding behind an oak tree. As I got closer I realized that the remains of dozens of old fiberglass boats were scattered everywhere. Two Prowlers, a Bertram 38 race boat, a 22-foot Chris-Craft Dory, and the list goes on — it’s really quite incredible. Few are restored, most are in rough shape, but all have been pressure-cleaned and appear ready for redemption. The Field of Dreams is complete with a wood shop, a paint shed and an antiquated but functional marine railway.
I found Cadillac in a storage shed looking over a 16-foot 1969 Magnum Missile — he’s got four of them! “Can you believe Don Aronow built this boat — I had one of these when I was a kid,” Cadillac said. “They called these the Tower of Power,” he explained with affection as he dusted off the boat’s 150-horsepower Mercury outboard. As he guided me through his collection of recreational marine history, it became very clear that, for him, buying is more important than selling. He enjoys being surrounded by the boats he remembers from his youth. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” explained Cadillac, who served in the Coast Guard and spent years in the offshore race-boat game. And yes, Cadillac is his real name. “Dad was a Caddy nut and an unofficial dealer,” Cadillac said. “When he was sued for using the brand, he named me and then named his dealership after me — case closed!”
If you happen to come across a rare, 1969 Donzi “bench-seat” Hornet, Cadillac has been dreaming of one. I’ve been dreaming of breathing life into a 1968 Formula 233. Don’t tell the wife, or I’ll need a burial plot at the Field of Dreams!