Sunday, February 1, 2009

Low Tech Canoeing X - Restoration of the Old Town Otca

The restoration of the 1921 Old Town Otca:
At some point while my son Jim was growing up I unilaterally decided that the restoration of the family's Old Town canoe would make a good father-son project so we drove down to Watervliet from our home in Lansing, loaded the canoe on our  car top carrier (tied down very securely) and hauled it back to Lansing where we hung it up in the carport. (Wife Elaine didn't think it was particularly decorative hanging there in full view from the street.)
So father and son had at it. After removing the gunwhales and keel and carefully saving all the brass screws etc we stripped off the old damaged canvas and undid my brothers' repairs. Thus made naked, we were able to examine the hull and determine what repairs and replacements were necessary. We ordered replacement ribs and planking etc. through a local Old Town dealer but the prices quoted were too much for me to justify given the state of my young family's finances and my son's rapidly diminishing interest in the whole idea. I now know that the prices quoted by Old Town were really quite reasonable.
Discouraged, I finally hauled the hull to Watervliet and hung it up in the old family barn and put the  stuff we had removed up in my attic. The years went by, the son grew up, I lost one brother and the other became incapacitated, so we decided to give the pieces of the Otca to someone who would fix it up and find it a good home.
I first met Scott Barkdoll of Skywoods Canoe Company at a Quiet Water Symposium at Michigan State University. He makes a business out of building, restoring, buying and selling wood and canvas canoes. He used to be at Honor, Michigan, but now he is located in Vermont. I told him the story of the old Otca and offered it to him for free if he would restore it and find it a good home. So he and a helper went to Watervliet and got the hull out of the barn and I gave him the parts I had in the attic.
Eventually I got a message from him:
"Hi James: I have been terribly delinquent in letting you know that just before we left Michigan the 18-foot Otca sold to a very nice woman with a cottage in Hessel. It was fully restored for her last year and painted white with a blue Greek spiral and is a stunning canoe which will be loved and used--and will stay in Michigan. She would probably love to talk to you...I suspect she will love the stories that go with that canoe."
That "very nice woman" turned out to be from an "Old Money" Indianapolis family with a fancy summer home in the Upper Peninsula's Les Cheneaux Islands in Lake Huron where the boathouses are bigger than the cottages most other places. She subsequently gave the Octa to another "Old Money" Les Cheneaux summer home owner only from Virginia. I contacted her to be sure she had the canoe's history and asked for a photo of it in its new home. She thanked me for the story of the canoe but I have yet to get a picture. Nevertheless I am content.
This is the end of the Low-Tech Canoeing series. If you have enjoyed reading them a fraction as much as I did writing them, I am doubly content.

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