Sunday, December 21, 2008

Old Family Canoes XV

The restoration of the Old Town Otca
Sometime in the late 60's I brought the Old Town to Lansing with the intention of making its restoration a father-son project. Jim and I removed the gunwales and keel (carefully saving the brass screws) and stripped off the old, damaged canvas and John's makeshift repairs.. We inspected the bared canoe and determined that we needed several new ribs, some planking, something to repair the front stem and some copper tacks. We ordered the replacemnt parts from the Old Town factory through a local dealer but the quoted cost was too much for me to justify, given the state of my young family's finances. I now know that those prices were really very cheap. Anyway, I hauled the hull to Watervliet and hung it up upstairs in the barn and put the stuff we had removed up in our attic at Pleasant Grove Road, hoping one day to again take up the project. It never happened.
The years went by and the century turned and the son grew up and married and I aquired another wood and canvas canoe (a story to be told later) and my brother Dick became incapacitated so we decided to give the pieces of the Otca away to someone who would fix it up and find it a good home.
I first met Scott Barkdoll of the Skywoods Canoe Company at a Quiet Water Symposium at Michigan State University's Agricultural Pavillion, I forget what year. The QWS is an annual exhibition of canoes and kayaks and other non-motorized recreational equpment presented and attended by those who like their outdoors and wilderness experiences free from the sound of motors. I participate every year with a display of my map collection and the books I have written about canoes and Michigan's history. Scott was Phil Shane's tutor at the wood and canvas canoe restoration course at the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven when Phil started to restore the old Pratt family canoe. Scott makes a business out of building, restoring, buying and selling wood and canvas canoes. His shop used to be at Honor, Michigan, but he has moved it to Vermont where apparently he is doing quite well.
I told Scott the story of the old Woodruff family canoe and offered it to him for free if he woild restore it and find it a good home. He agreed and said if he sold it he would make a donation to the Au Sable River Center in Roscommon where Velen Kruger's* canoes are exhibited.  He and a helper went to Watervliet and got the hull out of the barn and I gave him all the parts I had in the attic at the next Quiet Water Symposium.
* The late Verlen Kruger, a Grand River neighbor and friend, was a famous long-distance canoeist who paddled over 100,000 miles on two continnents during his lifetime (and he didn't start canoeing until he was 41). He used Kevlar canoes that he built himself and which have evolved with experience to become the world standard for expedition canoes. Velen and I had a lot in common. We were both born in 1922, both WW II veterans and were in Korea at the same time, but while Velen was paddling up and down the river, in daylight or dark and in all kinds of weather, I was mostly sitting on the bank with a Coors beer in my hand cheering him on.
Next: The Old Old Town finds a new home.

Emailed August 22

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