File this one in your “Probably Didn’t Know That About Roy Rogers” file: The famous movie and television cowboy not only put his name behind the Double R-Bar burger and the Fixins Bars at Roy Rogers fast-food restaurants, he was part owner in the Yellow Jacket Boat Company in Denison, TX. And as it turns out, he was an avid powerboat racer, too.
Yellow Jacket Boats was originally founded in Denison as the McDerby-Conaster Boat Company by Mac McDerby and his brother in-law Bill Conaster in 1949. All of Yellow Jacket’s boats were made of hot-molded mahogany and birch plywood. While these materials and the method of bending, molding, and gluing pieces of plywood together into boat form weren’t revolutionary, the pace with which Yellow Jacket produced them was. At the company’s peak, it was churning out over 7000 Yellow Jacket runabouts a year. You could even find several models in the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
But how did Roy Rogers get involved with a boat company? It turns out that company founder McDerby was a master in promotions and marketing. According to an article in Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club’s The Brass Bell magazine, it wasn’t the first time McDerby had tagged a celebrity to help promote his boats. The article states, “When Steve Allen was given an Evinrude outboard motor on the Tonight Show, Mac was quick to give him a Yellow Jacket boat to put it on. When Denison’s native son Dwight Eisenhower became President, Mac made sure that Ike had a souvenir of his birthplace—a Yellow Jacket Boat. And when Mac learned of TV and movie star Roy Rogers’ love of boat racing, Mac provided him with the fastest boats on the water, and enlisted him as Yellow Jacket spokesman, eventually Vice-President.”
There were more than 35 outboard- and inboard-powered boats in the Yellow Jacket lineup including 12-, 14-, and 16-foot models with names such as Riviera, Catalina, Monterey, and Capri. Yes, there was even a Trigger model, named after Roy Rogers’ famous equine sidekick.
By 1959, the proliferation of fiberglass boats in the market had caught up with Yellow Jacket and the company was forced to shutter its operations. Roy Rogers passed away in 1998 and Mac McDerby lived on until 2004.