Thursday 26 December 2013

Chestnut Cruiser

A while back, I wrote briefly about a 16' Chestnut Cruiser slated for restoration. This model of paddling canoe is one of my favorites. I finished the restoration of this cruiser in the early summer of 2013 and had a chance to take it out for a test paddle one early morning. What a treat this canoe is to paddle! 

Chestnut Cruiser the 16' Kruger model, after restoration.

The initial offering in the Chestnut Canoe Company's first catalog from 1905 wasn't large. The company offered only three models; the pleasure model, the cruiser model and the guide special model. Each of them in three lengths; 16 ft., 17 ft. and 18 ft. 

The Cruiser and Guide Special were always built on the same form. In the early years both models had a flat bottom, very slim bow and stern and high ends. In the mid 1910's the building form changed to produce a rounder bottom and changed again after the devastating fire in 1921. 

                             Restoration of the Chestnut Cruiser

The customer did not know who had built it or when, only that the canoe had been around their cottage for a very long time and had spent at least the last 10 years on the ground under the cottage. After cleaning off the worst of the accumulated grime, I found a faint outline and a small remnant of a Chestnut Canoe Co. decal on the bow deck. The canoe's measurements, the very narrow decks and the slightly rounded hull bottom definitely identified it as a Chestnut Cruiser the Kruger model. 

Initially I estimated the building date to be mid 1950's. However, a closer look showed a number of building details that point to an earlier building date of 1930's or perhaps even earlier. The canoe has no serial number, it has vertical grain planking and ribs, seats were bolted directly to the gunnels without the use of spacers, the thwarts have the typical earlier well rounded shape with tapered ends, and the decks are slightly crowned and nicely undercut.

Charlie chem. stripping the Chestnut Cruiser

This canoe had been worked on several times before. There was signs that the bow and stern height had been cut down a tad. The canoe's last canvas covering, was a Verolite canvas, and oh man what a mess and stink when I started to remove the covering. There was hardly any canvas left, just the outer vinyl skin, the rest mildewed and rotted away. When last re-canvased the hull exterior had also been made smooth with the help of drywall mud. It came off in large chunks. The hull interior was chemically stripped of its varnish and washed with several applications of bleach to remove most of the black stains.

16' Chestnut Cruiser the "Kruger" model 
 Chestnut Cruiser with the damaged and rotted planking removed 

The rot had spread to both inner and outer gunnels, the two top rows of planking and a good number of ribs and rib tips, resulting in the need to replace the gunnels, 9 ribs and splice in fresh wood to 18 rib tips and the stem ends.

The Chestnut Cruiser with new gunnels and planking.

With the wood work taken care of the canoe was well sanded inside and out. To blend all this new wood to the old, the interior received a wash of stain and was topped with four coats of varnish. The hull exterior was sanded smooth and treated with an application of tung oil followed by a coat of varnish.  

Chestnut Cruiser ready for new canvas

Charlie rubbing in filler

A couple of weeks later the canvas was installed. The canvas was as usual treated with a zink-naphthenate mildewcide after installation.  A smelly but absolutely necessary job if the canvas covering is going to last. Use of respirator and gloves is essential, and leaving the canoe outside to dry. You don't want to breathe in the fumes from it. In the old times of lead based fillers this step wasn't necessary as the lead in the filler was a very effective mildewcide. 

Chestnut Cruiser 16 ft. Kruger model.
The filler needed only a light sanding to prepare it for painting. Three coats of a fire red marine enamel was applied with light sanding between coats. When the paint was dry the outside gunnels were installed. The seats had long ago lost its caning and the framework was severely cracked, so new seats were made patterned from the old ones. 

Friday 13 September 2013

The restoration of a classic J.B. O'Dette Trapper canoe.

A couple of years ago an acquaintance dropped in to my shop with a little 13’ wood canvas canoe in need of lots of TLC. I could have it for free if I made sure that it was properly restored and later went to a good home.

It wasn't hard to identify it as a trapper canoe built by the Peterborough firm, O’Dette and Sons, from the mid 1930’s. The O’Dette trapper is a 13’ canoe equipped with three keels; a regular keel and two bilge keels. All three keels in turn protected with full length bang irons. Canoes so equipped were commonly called "winter canoes" or "trapping canoes" if you will and used by local trappers and hunters. The keels protected the hull bottom when the canoe was pushed over beaver dams and ice in early spring.

ca. 1938 catalog
The boat building enterprise J.B. O’Dette was established 1926; however John Baptiste O’Dette was not a newcomer to canoe building. "Bat", as he often was called, learned the business of canoe building working for the firm Wm. English Canoe Co, starting in 1877 only fourteen year old. He left Wm. English Canoe Co in 1895 to work for the Peterborough Canoe Co. He rose to the position of foreman, a position he held until 1925 when he left to start J. B. O’Dette Canoe. In 1930 his son George joined him and a couple of years later his oldest son Vernon also joined the family business. The company produced canoes, skiffs, motor boats as well as oars and paddles. The company became well known for their high quality canoes and boats and was the go-to place for trapper canoes. The O’Dette’s also run a successful boat & canoe rental business; “Peterborough Boat Livery” with two locations along Otonabee River.

Restoration of the O'Dette Trapper canoe.

Despite its condition and some heavy handed repairs over the years; the quality of the original materials’ and workmanship used, shone through. The canoe had had the canvas replaced in the 1970's and the shear-line lowered in the bow and stern. After stripping the canoe of its old varnish the real condition of the hull could be observed. The canoe had suffered the usual discolorations, blemishes and scars from hard use and old age.

Stem repaired and a new cant rib installed.                       New ribs being installed and repairs to rib ends.

The outer gunnels were beyond repair and the inner needed repairs in the ends. The stems needed fresh wood spliced in. Twenty eight ribs were broken and worn from heavy work boots and a visit by a hungry porcupine, and had to be replaced. Four new cant ribs were installed and thirty rib tips received extensions spliced in to return the shear-line to its original position. 

Bill installing canvas
The old seats had long ago lost its caning     and the framework was severely cracked, so  new seats were made with the old as a pattern.  The decks had at an earlier time been replaced with a pair, crudely made from pine.  A new set of decks and a pair of lift handles were made from white oak and installed. 

About thirty feet of cracked planking were also replaced. To blend all this new wood to the old, the interior received two washes of stain and was topped with four coats of varnish.

The O'Dette trapper canoe with new canvas covering.
    The hull exterior was sanded smooth and    
     treated with an application of tung oil 
     followed by a coat of varnish.  

     The canoe’s new owner wanted to help out        with the canvas work, so with two extra               hands the work was quickly finished.
     A few days later the canvas was treated   
     with a zink-naphtenate mildewcide. A  
     smelly but absolutely necessary job if the   
     new canvas covering is going to last.
     After drying for a few days, the canvas 
     received an oil based silica filler. 

J. B. O'Dette trapper canoe.
The cold spring this year extended the filler's drying time with a couple of weeks. However, in the late May it was finally time to move the canoe outside for sanding of the filler.

Four coats of shop mixed grey/blue paint
and the canoe was ready for the final details. Two new outwales and two new outside wood stems were made and installed. The center keel was re-installed
and the two bilge keels were saved, but left off, as the canoe now will see much lighter use then in its earlier life.

The new owners picked up the restored O'Dette trapper canoe in June and ensured me it will be well treated and used as it deserves.

The new owners and the restored O'Dette Trapper canoe.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Calvin Rutstrum and an ingenious canoe portage arrangement!

I recently started re-reading Calvin Rutstrum’s books, one of my favorite authors of my youth.  I had almost completely forgotten how much I liked his writings. As the jacket presentation on one of his books say; “if you ever go to the woods… or even just dream about it, you want Calvin Rutstrum as your guide”!

Illustration by Gary Jones 

Here is a snippet on how to portage your canoe!

“As we were making a portage around a rapid, we met two Indian youngsters dragging a birchbark canoe over the portage. A girl and a boy; they could not have been more than ten to twelve years old. One on each side of the canoe's bow, handling it with a cross pole fastened to the gunwales, dragging the stern along the trail. What was ingenious about the arrangement was that the canoe’s stern was suspended in the crotch of an alder sapling elevating the canoe's stern above the rough trail. The stem of the sapling sliding on the trail also served as a spring to take the ground undulations and incidental bumps. It was a method I had never seen used before, something these youngsters had learned from their elders”.

Rutstrum, Calvin. Chips from a wilderness log. New York: Stein and Day, 1978

Here is a list of Calvin Rutstrum's books, many still available in libraries or on the internet:

Way of the Wilderness (1946),
Memoranda for Canoe Country (1953)
The New Way of the Wilderness (1958)
The Wilderness Cabin (1961)
North American Canoe Country (1964)
Wilderness Route Finder (1967)
Paradise Below Zero (1968)
Challenge of the Wilderness (1970)
Once Upon a Wilderness (1973)
The Wilderness Life (1975)
Chips from a Wilderness Log (1978)
A Wilderness Autobiography (1979)
Hiking Back to Health (1980)
A Columnist Looks at Life, Here's Cal Rutstrum (1981)
Backcountry (1981)