May 19, 2024

Lawrence Johnson, Who Helped Ease Boats Into Water, Dies at 97

His daughter-in-law Paula confirmed his death.

Before Mr. Johnson’s design, most boat trailers used boards covered in carpeting, called bunks, to support a vessel on the trailer’s metal frame. A bunk trailer must be submerged so that the boat can float free of it, and it requires a steep ramp into deep water, which risks getting the tow vehicle wet.

Some trailers used rubber rollers alongside the bunks to help a hull overcome friction. In the 1960s, Mr. Johnson came up with an all-roller design that allowed a single person to unload a boat from a ramp into shallow water.

“He wanted to get his boat launched without getting his feet wet,” said Rick Norman, sales manager for the company Mr. Johnson founded, EZ Loader Boat Trailers.

EZ Loader is now one of the largest manufacturers of both bunk and roller trailers in the world, selling up to 50,000 trailers a year at prices ranging from $700 to more than $15,000.

Lawrence Nels Johnson was born in Spokane on July 12, 1913. He repaired military vehicles for the Washington National Guard during World War II.

After the war he became a partner at a Spokane body shop. In the early 1950s a distributor for Evinrude, a motor manufacturer, asked him to fix some damaged boat trailers.

Mr. Johnson used spare parts from the repairs to build a trailer for his runabout. Friends who saw his trailer asked him to build one for their boats. Demand soon increased. He formed EZ Loader in 1953.

His wife, the former Doris Jane Bissel, died in 1991.

Mr. Johnson holds at least 12 patents, the last awarded when he was in his late 80s.

He is survived by two sons, Marc and Randy; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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