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Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Antiques Article… The Boys in the Boat

January 18, 2015

I wrote this article as a part of the series that I write for our local newspaper, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletion.  The series focuses on antiques as seen through the focus of our Shady Lawn Antiques business.  This article was published in the late Fall of 2014.

The interior of my George Pocock built cedar racing shell

The interior of my George Pocock built cedar racing shell

The Boys in the Boat – and the George Pocock Wooden Racing Shell

Antiques, fine woodworking, and rowing are three of my great passions and for the most part they are unrelated. However they have recently become intertwined…

The book, ‘The Boys in the Boat’, was recently named as number one on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. It was written by Daniel James Brown. The book tells the story of nine University of Washington rowers and their quest for the Gold Medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

A prominent figure in the book was George Pocock. He was a third generation racing shell (boat) builder. Brown describes that during the 1930’s, Pocock built shells in the UW boathouse and that he was an advisor to the coaches and to the oarsmen.

Pocock was a religious man but he also felt a strong spiritual connection to rowing. By the time that I began rowing in the 1970’s it was evident the rowing community also had a strong connection to Pocock. He was held in such high esteem that when any rower used the single name George, it was automatically assumed to be Pocock.

This summer people began coming into Shady Lawn Antiques to see the Pocock cedar racing shell that is hanging from the ceiling, in the back of the shop. I was a bit puzzled about the sudden interest because the shell had been hanging there for twenty years.

It turned out that there were at least two book clubs in Walla Walla that were reading ‘The Boys in the Boat’.   They were interesting in seeing a racing shell that George Pocock had built… so here is the story of my shell.

I ordered a single scull (one-man racing shell) from Pocock Racing Shells, Seattle in 1974. By that time George’s son, Stan, was in charge of the daily operation of the company. George continued to build the single sculls and he completed mine when he was 83 years old. My scull is one of the last three that George built.

It is made from a single plank of western red cedar that is over 26 ½ feet long. The completed single weighs approximately thirty-five pounds with the seat and riggers (to hold the sculls). The design of the Pocock racing singles was unchanged for over fifty years making my shell appear to be even older than it is.

By the 1980s racing shells were no longer made of varnished wood and an era had passed. In the Antiques World an item tends to be called an “antique” when the design, the method of manufacture, or the construction material changes. By that definition, my cedar single has become an antique and my passions are being woven more closely together.

The single is now forty years old and it has been rowed well over five thousand miles. Even so, the attention to detail and the quality of George’s craftsmanship are still clearly evident. George is/was an inspiration to me not only as a rower but also as a fine woodworker/craftsman.

“for him (Pocock) the craft of building a boat was like religion. It wasn’t enough to master the technical details of it. You had to give yourself up to it spiritually; you had to surrender yourself absolutely to it. When you were done and walked away from the boat, you had to feel that you had left a piece of yourself behind in it forever, a bit of your heart.”
Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Please come into Shady Lawn Antiques and see my George Pocock built, varnished western red cedar, racing shell. It is truly a work of art!

Dave Emigh is the owner of Shady Lawn Antiques and is a fifth generation ‘Walla Wallan’. He writes about antiques and life in the ‘Valley of the Two Wallas’ on his blog:

Notice the humble Pocock Racing Shells decal and sliding wooden seat

Notice the humble Pocock Racing Shells decal and sliding wooden seat

Stan Pocock was 91 years old when he died December 15, 2014.  Less than a month earlier a relative of his came into Shady Lawn to look at antiques and commented on the racing shell.  He told me that his cousin was married to Stan.  He then called his cousin and when Stan was on his cell phone, he handed it to me.  I was fortunate to be able to tell him how impressed the readers of the book are with George, the Pocock family, and their outstanding racing shells.  I told him about the (this) article that I had written.  Stan said that the workers in his shop always called his father Mr. George, out of respect.  He also mentioned that the book was so well written that the race descriptions gave him a tingle of excitement even though he knew the results.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had one last conversation with a truly humble and distinguished legend of rowing.

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