At the age of 18 in the year 1958, a couple of boys (Verdon and Vernon Weber) fresh out of high school and their older brother (Marvin), age 23, decided they would head for Alaska, and on the way back tour many of the western and southern states including California and Texas. And with their parents' approval (hesitatingly!), they left their home on Flint Ridge in the hills of Lafayette County, Wisconsin. Their mode of transportation was a 250 cc Allstate motorcycle. Now not knowing what the Alaskan Highway would be like back in 1958, these three daring brothers left with only a knapsack, some supplies, and a few essentials for their motorcycles bound for the Great Frontier--that urge to explore just bursting at their seams!
About 14,000 miles later on, 15 flat tires, 3 broken head lights and 2 worn out drive chains all were the typical result of traveling the rocky dusty Alaskan Highway. Sleeping outside under the stars wrapped in blankets (no tents), awakening to having a stray dog licking your face and catching a restaurant occasionally near the highway for a morning of huge fluffy pancakes swimming in syrup kept the boys going. It was a trip they will never forget--even made the headlines of the local Cuba City, WI, newspaper.
But upon the return home after 39 days away, that yearn for excitement hadn't left the boys--and experimentation was in their blood. From building airplanes in the hayloft of the barn, flying gyrocopters towed behind a car, testing hang gliders
and flex wings, and, of course, various and sundry injuries, their parents never quite knew the full extent of all of the experimentation. As their younger brothers wanted to get in on the act, it became impossible to hide everything from mom and dad's eyes. Vernon was hurt flying the hang glider and Joe was hurt flying the gyrocopter, but this didn't stop them.
Their dad was an inventor in his own nature. From the home-made tractor to the self-propelled 8' rototiller, Ed Weber was the person to contact if you needed a new part built that wasn't quite out on the market yet! With a dad who was always creating something new and a welding shop right on the property, a young boy's enthusiasm could not be curbed.
Sometime in 1959, Verdon and Vernon Weber had been reading several issues of Popular Science when a particular issue had information on the ground effect machine invented by Dr. Bertelson. He became the 'name' of the day and the Webers began serious experimenting with hovercrafts.
Well, the reason I mentioned earlier that they had left for Alaska on their 250cc Allstate motorcycles has a very important bearing in this story. You see the motorcycles were brand-spanking new when they left for Alaska. Upon their return home, the motorcycles were well broke in--and now the boys needed an engine for their first hovercraft. What else--the 250cc put out 14 h.p. and it weighed 150 lb. It was available. What more could a boy ask for? In the mind of a young boy, you can be safely assured that no small engine is safe from being confiscated when it comes to experimentation. Ask any model builder!
The first Weber hovercraft was actually two round shapes created from a couple of 1x4's which had been split into ¼ strips, bent into 7 ft. circles and glued together. Stakes were driven into the ground to provide the bend for the 1x4's. The circles were held with a framework of two 1x6's 14' ft. long. The skirt consisted of 10" strips of oil-cloth draped around each circle. Cardboard was the basic floor. The engine was offset from the center and would power both the lift and the thrust. The 3 ft. propeller was a variable pitch device the teenage boys designed and built themselves. Crude as it may have looked back then, they had created it, and were proud. I could not find a picture of the original craft but do have a sketch. (click here!)
From there, many designs came and went, changes had to be made to allow for thrust, weight, etc. and even though both gentlemen married, their desire to keep on inventing stayed with them.
In their spare time after hours of work in carpentry, the two Webers kept their love for hovering going by reinventing the hovercraft over and over, until they came up with their present pointed nose style, which they won't trade for any other craft on the market, they say.
Vernon Weber takes some 'reflective' time on the Mississippi River on one of those mild December days!
Today they are known as Weber Hovercrafts, and have their shop in the lovely hills of Lafayette County, Wisconsin, just outside of Cuba City . Producing hovercrafts to order had previously been only a sideline, because the ice fisherman were about the only users in this area of the state of Wisconsin, and ice only lasts so long! Ice fishermen then put their crafts away and use their boats the rest of the year! This did leave some time for experimenting with WIGs (wing-in-ground-effects), as well as reverse thrust propeller systems and positive steering devices and hydro brakes for hovercrafts, etc.
But late in 1997 the recreation area of hovercrafting in Wisconsin took hold, hovercraft orders came in from all over the United States (including Alaska), and the Webers had to retire from their full time business (carpentry) to produce hovercrafts. If you ask them if they are sorry they have to stay in a warm shop every day of the winter and have to turn down building new homes in Illinois, Iowa, or Wisconsin in all kinds of weather, they will say "not in the least". And when you ask them, after they have built their 130th hovercraft, if they are getting tired of it, they say 'not in the least'. "
We build one style craft with one red stripe on each side, one red StarCruiser logo on each side of the duct and the craft in one color (white)! And we like to see everyone satisfied with their purchase."
(Since July 1, 1998)