Earlier this year Stan Widmer, right, and others viewed the full scale, wooden model of his boat design. Note the perforations in the bottom which are the kiss offs that will give his final thermoplastic boat hull their flexibility. This wooden hull was produced at the Wisconsin plant from molds designed by Widmer and his employees.
A welder at a plant in Cedarsburg, Wisc, welded two halves of Stan Widmer's boat hull together. This is an aluminum mold of the hull, which will be used at a Missouri plant to form the final thermoplastic hull that will be the final boat hull. (Stan Widmer photo)
Stan Widmer's dream becoming reality By Tom Crawford News Editor
Sometime next spring on Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, Wisc., some anxious designers and engineers will be watching as a prototype of a never before built boat takes to the water.
The driver, taking the boat away from the dock the first time, will be Stan Widmer of Staples. He plans to take his engine mechanic beside him, with his design crew taking the second voyage.
Hopefully, among those watching will be one or two officials from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), an agency that provided the overall specifications for Widmer's prototype as well as key people from the navy. This boat will be a seven meter long (22 feet, nine inches) craft that can carry two crew members. Widmer's boat has several potential uses, from patrolling rivers to countering pirates on the high seas off the coast of Africa. As an unmanned boat it can clear mines.
"There is talk of an 11.8 meter or 38-foot long boat, if they like this one," Widmer said from his offices in the Staples Industrial Building in the city's Industrial Park.
Widmer and his five employees have been designing and building models and molds for this boat for the past two years. He has received two different congressional appropriations to continue development of his boat, which he refers to as 'unsinkable.' It's unsinkable due to the unique design he's developed over his lifetime and for which he received a patent in 2002. The hull he designed incorporates V-shaped thermoplastic 'kiss offs' along with aluminum struts running the length of the hull. The kiss offs, which are triangular shaped thermoplastic pieces that fit into offsetting openings, have a unique ability to bend but not break, thus absorbing the tremendous shock of the boat moving through rough seas at high speed.
The kiss offs are an idea that Stan has thought over and revised a few dozen times since he raced power boats in the late 1950s as a teenager in Wisconsin. He came up with his thermo molded kiss off design in the mid sixties and ran a patent search in 1974. But he never filed for his patent until he was satisfied with his changes. Even now, with a wooden prototype already built and molds designed and built, he and his two full time designers are making changes.
"We're currently working on revisions of parts," Stan said. They have recently added three air bags on each side of the boat to cushion the blow from waves. The air bags will also cushion the boat from the side of a Navy ship. It's being designed with four pickup points so a 'mother' ship can hook on cables and hoist it aboard. He's also replacing some stainless steel parts in the hull with aluminum or plastic with retooling of the boat and he's now studying the idea of removing the aluminum rails or struts that go the length of the boat.
The prototype will be assembled in Widmer's unit in Staples, but the parts are coming from several different subcontractors who have been working for Widmer. His personnel did the design work, with the molding produced by a firm in Cedarsburg, Wisc.
From the patterns, sand casts are made of the hull and deck portions. A fiberglass solution is used in the process, which forms the wall contour in the final tooling. Final molding is in a rotational molding process which will take place at a plant in Missouri.
That final process is extremely critical. "They will have to mold it right. The material must 'cross link' during the molding process, if it doesn't cross link, then all you have is high density polyethylene," Widmer said. He added the cross linking process is what gives the hull its flexibility, its ability to flex when the hull hits the waves at speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour or more with a memory to return to its molded shape.
As many people in the Staples area know, Stan Widmer's former business, Stanley Widmer Associates Inc since 1971, was a casualty of the economic downturn brought on by off-shore trading after 9/11. He lost his building through foreclosure after many years of operation in the city's Industrial Park. He operated out of his home for several months, resurrecting and revising his boat ideas at that time.
He also recalled receiving a phone call from a rotational molder several years back. He explained he had heard of Widmer's financial troubles and said. "What are you doing for food?"
"I was speechless," Stan recalled, even more so a few days later when he received a check in the mail, wrapped in a plain sheet of paper, for many thousands of dollars. "There were no strings attached. I have since paid him back," he said.
Stan also began working with the navy's research branch and with Sen. Norm Coleman's office seeking grant funding. His first grant in March of 2007 brought in $1.25 million for operating capital. That allowed him to move into the Industrial Building quarters and to hire draftsmen and mechanics. He has since received a second phase grant of $1.7 million that kept his operation going, including paying his many sub contractors.
Currently there are six people on his payroll, himself, Gary Gustafson and Justin Beach, both Computer Aided Drafting designers; Andy Stone, an engine mechanic formerly with Larson Boats in Little Falls; Duane Pogreba, his long-time model maker; and his wife, Paula, who is the business's accounting specialist.
A mere two years ago, many people probably chuckled at Widmer's business revival. Today, he's at the threshold of producing his first boat. If that boat's trial runs are successful, what then? As usual, Stan has several ideas. The Navy and other military branches, including the Coast Guard, are the first possibilities. The Department of Homeland Security, which has been assigned the security of America's harbors, is another.
A larger company may take an interest in building his boats. Years ago he offered his patent to General Dynamics, a major boat builder for the Navy, but they only said they'd think about it. Today, according to Stan, they want alot of money for each of their boats similar in size to Stan's. "They are aluminum boats that sink," Stan laughs.
He was recently contacted by another defense contractor in Virginia, who had heard of Stan's boat and wanted more details. After he described most of his boat's design and capabilities, the naval architect who called responded, "That's exactly what we are looking for."
Who knows, perhaps a design that is now only on paper may materialize.on the north edge of Staples. It is a hub design with several huge production buildings that cover roughly 120 or more acres. The parts of his boat would be molded and built in the different buildings, then assembled in the final building and ready for shipment from the nearby airport or by truck. The hub design's proposed location is immediately west of the Staples airport, on the land intended as the next industrial park
It might just happen. Stan is a man of faith, who explains, "We all have a gift from God, mine just happens to be product design."