Tom Koroknay: 'Doc Lyman' Heals Wooden Boats

By W.H. "Chip" Gross

Master woodworker Tom Koroknay builds and restores classic wooden Lyman runabouts.

Tom KoroknayTom Koroknay is considered the premier expert on wooden Lyman boats and a historian on the original Ohio-based Lyman Boat Works. (Photo: Michelle Burke)

In the rolling farmland of north-central Ohio sits an unlikely boatbuilding shop. The locale is unlikely since it's a long way from any serious water, two driving hours south of Lake Erie, near Lexington, Ohio. But in this one-man workshop, a long-standing tradition is practiced — the restoration and building of a classic wooden boat of the Great Lakes — the Lyman.

The open wooden runabouts, both inboard and outboard, drew a passionate customer base in the Great Lakes region for their seaworthiness, offering a smooth ride even in choppy waters.

Carrying on that wooden boat tradition is Tom Koroknay, known as "Doc Lyman." But Koroknay did not begin his career as a boatbuilder.

"In the 1970s, I owned a construction company and cabinet shop," he said. "I also owned a few wooden Lymans, and people started asking me to do repairs on their Lyman boats. So, in 1981, I started Koroknay's Marine. The business just kind of went along that way until the day I got a call from Lyman Boat Works."

The call that Koroknay is referring to — a phone call that would change his life — came in the fall of 1988. Lyman Boat Works in Sandusky, Ohio, had fallen on hard times and made the decision to produce exclusively fiberglass boats. The new owner had heard of Koroknay's enthusiasm for wooden Lymans and was willing to sell the entire inventory of wood-boat patterns, jigs, tools, hardware, plans, and even the company's archives.

But time was of the essence. If things couldn't be sold, and soon, it would all be discarded to make needed space in the Lyman factory. Koroknay did not hesitate. Cutting the deal the same day, he bought the entire Lyman wood-boatbuilding operation.

"I next called every friend I had who owned a truck, and we started moving the stuff," Koroknay said. "It took us several weeks, but we finally got it all to my shop. Everything from tiny clinch nails to the entire factory 26-foot hull jig."

What Koroknay bought was not just the particular patterns for particular parts, but also the specialized power tools designed to cut the proper bevels on those parts. He knew that not only would such equipment be a tremendous time saver in his restoration shop, but that any part produced from such tooling would be as perfect as the original.

The gamble paid off. Lyman owners nationwide began hearing of Koroknay's Marine and were willing to wait months, sometimes more than a year, for Tom to work on their boats, or build a new Lyman. Today, Koroknay is considered the premier expert on Lyman boats and a historian on the original Lyman Boat Works.

Koroknay recently licensed an Ohio company to manufacture a line of boating clothing and apparel called "Lyman Life." The husband-wife venture began when Joe Burke became interested in possibly buying a restored Lyman, and his wife Michelle asked, "What's a Lyman?"

There's just something about Lyman boats that brings out people's passion. 

— Published: June/July 2018

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