If you tried to imagine the most unlikely profile for success in the west coast custom high performance boat business you might start with something like a Michigan native working for cereal giant Kellogg’s as a sales rep. But that’s how the Eliminator Boats forty-year ascent to the pinnacle of the performance marine industry began.
In the late 1950s a then teenaged Bob Leach hitch-hiked his way out of the Saginaw snow and into Southern California sunshine with $50 in his wallet. After working at several different professions, Bob discovered boating as a much enjoyed diversion from his daily routine. Toward the latter part of the1960s, Bob and brothers Bill and George Verkamp teamed up to build a flatbottom SK boat. The hull was fiberglass and the deck was custom handcrafted wood. The finished product was such a hit that people wanted to buy one just like it. The salesman in Bob immediately recognized that a business opportunity was blossoming. The Verkamps decided to remain firefighters while Bob found an empty gas station in Huntington Park, California that soon became Eliminator’s first official home in 1969.
“The first couple of years in business were a real struggle,” recalls Bob. “We’d finish a boat and then hope that another customer wouldn’t be too far behind. We did some flatbottoms but the jet boat business was really booming so we added an 18-foot semi-vee hull to the mix and that did pretty good for awhile.”
What Bob, or anyone else in the marine industry didn’t foresee, however, was the looming national energy crisis of late 1973. “It seemed like it happened overnight,” said Bob. “When people can’t get gasoline for their automobiles, the interest in buying a new boat dries up pretty quick. It was especially hard on the jet boat industry.”