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Steel Boats, the Steel King line, and the Grafton Boat Works

Steel Boats – the family Steel King

Steel boats are sturdy, and yet lend themselves to creature comfort and pleasurable cruising.  Steel King boats were popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and played a big part in my growing up years.  My family owned a steel boat – a 26 foot cruiser, one of several models and styles rolled out over the years by Grafton Boat in Grafton, Illinois.

These pages contain some of the history I’ve come across.  “The Waterways Journal”, in an article from January 1966, stated “Grafton has been the scene of boat-building since 1892”.  Here is their photo, used with permission, of the factory in the era when my family’s boat was built:

Steel King Factory in the 50's or 60's

Home of Steel King boats decades ago, courtesy “The Waterways Journal”

Why Steel Boats Impressed Me

Recalling a time when our boat slowly bumped onto a shallow round-topped rock while we were maneuvering for a good fishing spot, I can attest to this sales point:

safety afloat

There was that fear of a cracked hull you would get with the then-prevalent wooden-hull cruisers, but in no time our boat was backed off with no damage! (OK, maybe some paint scraped off but it did no harm)

The sales material goes into why…

Steel boats - hull under construction

It also goes on to say “Every glamorous new Steel King is constructed of quality materials “By Master Boat Builders”. The hull is of 12 ga. special alloy steel all electric welded and sand blasted…She has a double chine and flared sides, making her a fast, dry boat in any kind of weather. The engine is rubber mounted and has direct internal cable controls… The fuel tank is vented overboard, and copper lines run to the engine with shut off valve… The cabin is of fine light red Philippine mahogany, finished and protected by a sealer and three coats of marine spar varnish… floor boards are coated with a preservative and covered with inlaid linoleum. Bunks and seats are upholstered with top quality embossed plastic material”

 The Other Steel King Boats

Searching back into history, especially when decades have gone by since the last of the Steel Kings floated into the water, is a bit tedious, much like an archeological expedition.  Thankfully, there are still people out there either with knowledge of the Steel King boat era or who actually own one who are willing to share that information.  Without them, these pages would go empty.  It’s fun to research over time and see what’s still out there, how the boats are being used, and discover some of the history behind them.  This is fueled by the fun I had as a kid on my father’s 26′ foot Steel King cruiser.  Older now, I realize there must have been a bunch of people who enjoyed Steel King boats, and that the model I knew wasn’t the only one out there.  In this site I hope to bring forward some information of interest to steel boat fans.  Enjoy!

CIRCA 1959 – note the distinctive arrow on the hull.  It was green on this boat and combined the slanted strip and arrow, seen separately on the models below which preceded her.

Steel boats - Steel King

CIRCA 1957 – note the full-width open cabin window forward, compared to the later models.  The arrow on the hull is without the thicker stern-end stripe of a few years later.

Steel boats - "Mystery" Steel King circa 1950's

“Mystery” Steel King circa 1950’s

Grafton Boat Works Steel King

CIRCA late 50′s – note similar lines to the boat above, however forward cabin window is split, as is the cockpit window.  Also, small bow windows appear here similar to the 26 foot cruiser model above and the hull striping is thicker toward the bow half and has no arrowhead

Steel boats - another Steel King model circa late 50's

another Steel King model circa late 50’s

Steel King Express

Late 1950’s – 24 foot (assumed from the “24” on the wooden side panel)

Steel boats - 24 foot Steel King on trailer, circa 1950's

24 foot Steel King on trailer, circa 1950’s

Mid 1960’s – This was built by the Grafton Boat Company and is a 35 passenger high speed crewboat for the Portland Oregon area.

Steel boats - Grafton workboat

Grafton workboat, courtesy “The Waterways Journal”

These sturdy boats came from a long-gone boat yard, but served many boaters well, both pleasure and commercial.  If you have any Steel King stories, please share them in the comments section below!

NOTE: Some information is from Boating Magazine of the era (Boating Magazine – Grafton Steel King)



  1. David Osborn says:

    I live 3 miles east of grafton Illinois. I recently offered to gather info about the grafton boat works for the tourist welcome center at grafton. I would like to focus on the Vietnam boats built around 1969.

  2. deWOZ! says:

    FYI from:

    from: Bob Stoner May 28, 2008
    to:Doc Riojas;

    Glad you mentioned the STABs. Here’s a short progression on them. As you know, ST-2 developed the first STAB (SEAL Team Assault Boat) for use in RVN in 1967. (I have a connection to the son of the original owner — the boat was a modification of one of their fiberglass boats, PowerCat 23C — and were built for the USN.) ST-2 modified them before using them in RVN. As you indicated, they lost one when it fell from the transport chopper and landed in a parking lot, killing some cars.) John Woody, who was the MST-2 OIC, brought six spare engines over to RVN after the first STABs were put into service. Grafton Boat Works, Grafton, IL built the 16 Light SEAL Support Craft to replace the Boston Whalers, LCPLs, and STABs in-use. The contract was let in 1967, and the boats were delivered in 1968. One boat was retained in Coronado for training and the others went to RVN. Above: Detchment ECHO’s LSSC on the beach at Nam Can showing off its propulsion system. SEA FLOAT was not built at this time. Admiral Zumwalt and his staff came up with the idea of transporting an LSSC sized boat by helicopter behind enemy lines to raise hell and then get airlifted out. Proof of concept was accomplished by flying an LSSC on a CH-47A Army Chinook helo. The first two lifts went OK. On the third lift, the LSSC developed an uncontrolled oscillation below the helo and it was jettisoned into a rice paddy. The boat hit the paddy and the two engines kept on going. Later that day the Air Force put in an air strike to destroy the remains. Above: Getting ready to lift the LSSC. Below: The LSSC is airborne carried by an Army CH-47A. The Navy cut a follow-on contract to Grafton for 22 Mk 2 LSSC’s. These boats changed the propulsion from two Ford 427 gas engines and Jacuzzi water jet pumps to two Chevrolet 427 gas engines and MerCruiser stern drives (same as used by the larger MSSC). The Mk 2 boat was designated as the STAB (STrike Assault Boat). The “improved” STAB was two feet longer (26 feet) than the LSSC (24 feet). Above: Twenty-two of Grafton’s “improved” LSSC were contracted in 1968 and delivered in 1969. Twenty boats were deployed to RVN as part of StabRon 20. StabRon 20 was under the operational control of RivPatFlot FIVE and not MST-2. Note the differences in the stern and propulsion between the STAB and LSSC. Below: The STAB plaque from StabRon 20 clearly shows the protruding stern drives. During tests at Coronado, the boat ran over a waterlogged piling that ripped one of the stern drives out of the back of the hull.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for sending that – for reference to readers, this snippet has a historical reference to Grafton Boat Works. See the link in the comment for a very long web page, I recommend once on the page that you do a CTL-F (find) and search grafton to find specific mention.

  3. Larry W. Thompson says:

    In response to Mat Bivens request for a photo of the Grafton Boat Works building, I have a brochure from the Boat Works showing an aerial view of the entire facility. Please tell me how I may share this image with any interested parties.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Larry,

      Interesting! Is it a current photo (the current building/venue) or is it an old brochure from the ’50s or ’60s when they were making boats there?


    • Matt Bivens says:

      that is wonderful. you could email me at
      I am writing a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the property…it has a lot of incredible history and the interior looks exactly as it did when it was built in the early 1920s…even the hoists are still there.

    • Josh says:

      Can you send some pictures of that brochure to my email

  4. Matt Bivens says:

    Wondering if anyone has any more historic photos showing the Grafton Boat Works building? I am preparing a National Register document for the building and not finding a lot of good historic imagery. The current building dates to 1924-ish.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for writing! Your business site looks interesting. I don’t have any leads for you on historic photo’s, unfortunately. I believe the building itself is currently some sort of restaurant or similar venue. Perhaps they have something or could provide a contact for the owners who may. Good luck to you.


  5. Alf Beharie says:

    Amazing boats, just what I need but your article should have added more detail about which country and place the boats were made in because there is a lot more than just one place called Grafton in the world! :

    • Mike says:

      Hi Alf – excellent point, and I’ve updated it to mention Grafton in the state of Illinois. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Cam Cook says:

    The building in the top photo is still there today, used for an occasional flea market. It sits behind “The Loading Dock” bar and grill, a very popular place. Grafton,IL sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Cam,

      Thanks so much for that information! It’s good to know it’s not all gone. I found the website for “The Loading Dock”, it looks like a nice place.

      Enjoy your summer,

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