We've heard of strange reasons for starting a company, but this one takes the cake. It concerns Atlantic Marina Services Corp., one of the fastest-growing companies in the wharf-building business. Chris Clark founded it back in 1982 -- to save an eigh- teenth-century Vermont farmhouse.

The house belonged to an ailing maple-sugar farmer named Theron Boyd, whom Clark and his wife, Karin, were taking care of. The Clarks lived in a tent on the farm, a beautiful spot described as "a pocket of eighteenth-century Thoreau-like simplicity" by National Geographic magazine. Hoping to preserve the place in its pristine state, the 82-year-old Boyd had signed it over to a neighbor for a dollar. Then, one day, the Clarks spied surveying equipment in the woods and became convinced their friend had been swindled.

"I had nightmares of shooting at people bulldozing the property," says Chris Clark. An alternative would be to buy out the new owners, but he had no money. "One morning, around five o'clock, I was starting a fire, crumpling up The Wall Street Journal," when he happened to notice an ad for concrete floating-dock franchises. Clark had grown up in a seaside town. "I just had a gut feeling that yeah, shoreline construction could be big.'

He responded to the ad, got some stationery, and started calling marinas on the East Coast. He also undertook a few small construction projects. Karin waitressed by night and kept the books by day. In 1983, Clark installed a model dock system in Newport, R.I., and began getting larger contracts. One thing led to another, and today Atlantic Marina has annual sales of $15 million. Among its current projects: a $6.2-million wharf for Trump Castle in Atlantic City.

Meanwhile, Theron Boyd has moved into a Woodstock, Vt., old-age home near the farm. Through a court settlement, he and the Ottaquechee Land Trust now own the deed to the house and land. And Chris Clark -- who talks about new joint ventures in superspeed water travel -- dreams of returning to Vermont someday.

-- Leslie Brokaw

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