WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — When it comes to sailing, most people wouldn’t think of Wichita Falls or our local lakes. And many probably haven’t heard of the Wichita Falls Sailing Club at Lake Arrowhead.
Well, one member caught wind of rumors of an old sailboat from the 1930s stored in an attic of what used to be a hardware shop downtown, and, after digging through decades of dirt, Jim Loudermilk discovered a stern with the name “Play Baby”. He said after seeing that, he knew his search was over, and years of restoration work was ahead.
Meet Jim Loudermilk, a man who several years ago heard reports that there was a sailboat stashed away in the attic of an old building in the heart of Wichita Falls.
“I went up there and got permission from the manager of the building to go up the stairs, and I said where is this boat?” Loudermilk said. “I started looking around in the attic, then finally, in the corner I saw the stern on it with the name Play Baby just sticking out from a pile of junk.”
Loudermilk said the owner told him that if he could get it out and restore it, he could have it. Getting it out was no easy task, taking about six friends and a cherry picker lift outside.
“I recognized the model of it and went to the International Snipe Association with the hull number, and they came back and told me who built it and when it was registered and what kind of racing history it had,” Loudermilk said.
Loudermilk discovered the sailboat to be originally owned by Charles P. Warman, who built Play Baby back in 1935 from plans sent in the mail, making this boat the 1496th Snipe to be constructed by hand.
“I mean I was amazed,” Loudermilk said. “I said, ‘Okay it’s a well-known boat model.’ Wichita Falls used to have a fleet of Snipes, and they no longer do. They changed the type of boats they sailed a long time ago, but when the club came into existence back in 1935, this was one of the first boats that came into the sailing club.”
As you can imagine, restoring Play Baby back to its original condition was no smooth sailing.
“I say if I had a nickel for every hour, I’d be a rich man today,” Loudermilk said. “The canvas was off of it, and it had a thousand flathead screws that were painted over that I had to dig out each screw before I could unscrew it. I got the deck off, I sanded and caulked where I could on the inside.”
He said it took roughly three years to complete the restoration and said now he’s ready for what he calls the Titanic moment: Will it float or will it sink? Stay tuned.
Loudermilk said he can only sail Play Baby when winds are below around 12 miles per hour, so this Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m. out at the Wichita Falls Sailing Club, Play Baby will be back in the water for the first time in 80 years if winds are calm.