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New With An Early 20's Old Town

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by langsmer, Jun 25, 2018.

  1. langsmer

    langsmer New Member

    Hello all, I'm new here and new to wood and canvas canoes. My name is Luke. I grew up less than a mile from the Gunnison River in Colorado and spent many summers in our family canoe in the Colorado or Gunnison rivers. It was a modern (plastic) one, but I always found the wood and canvas kind we would occasionally see mesmerizing. For the last few years I have wanted to get back in a canoe and have casually watched for one I could afford to pop up.

    I found this one last week for only $50. I realize that it is in pretty terrible shape, but I figured $50 wasn't a huge gamble, plus the person next in line to buy it wanted to use it to hold beer at their wedding, which seemed like a crime. From what I gather from the serial number, it is a 1923. It measures out at 15' in length. I purchased it from the original owner's daughter. He was a trapper in Klamath Falls Oregon and apparently supported his family doing this work using this canoe. The canoe was in good shape until 15 or so years ago when the daughter's husband put the canoe outside to make more room in the garage. It was stored outdoors upside down on a rack, pressed against a fence.

    The Portland (Oregon) climate did not treat the old thing well. The side against the fence gathered leaves and caused some pretty nasty rot. A good portion of the planking will need to be replaced, a few of the ribs as well, as I think patching them more than a few inches down may not be ok. I am a descent woodworker and am pretty handy and determined, but this is all very new to me, and could use some opinions.

    1. Is this a folly? Is this boat too far gone to bring back?
    2. Any idea what model this is?
    2. Much of the planking has shrunk due to age and poor treatment, leaving gaps between the planks up to 1/8". Is this alright, or will all of these planks need replaced? Note in the pictures I have removed the most rotten planking that was against the fence as it was crumbling.
    3. Due to my location, air dried Western Red Ceder can be had, but short of mail ordering it, Northern White cannot (though I may order enough for the ribs if necessary). Port Orford Ceder is also available, but more expensive. Do you folks have any strong opinions about either? I know red is inferior to white, but I am on a budget, and it's what's available in my neck of the woods. Do you have any other opinions on wood for ribs and planking available in the Pacific North West?
    4. Do you folks recommend any organizations in my area that I should be in contact with involving traditional canoes?

    Thanks for any help!

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  2. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Welcome to the WCHA! Nice find!

    Look for the serial numbers on the stems, at both ends. That'll help establish its actual age and model name, although a 15' Old Town is a Fifty-Pound model, I believe.

    Posting pictures along with questions here will get many responses, often leaving you with options of different ways to approach each step of the repair work.

    There are two great books available in the WCHA store that will help a lot in restoring this canoe:
    A third book, Building The Maine Guide Canoe, doesn't seem to be listed in there, but it's also highly regarded; you might find it in a used book store, eBay, a local library, or Amazon.

    There is also our Builders And Suppliers Directory, here:
    and a Local Chapters directory, here:
    Having an experienced person actually look at it will help establish how much work this restoration will be.

    You're in the right place!
  3. OP

    langsmer New Member

    Thank you for your thoughts. I have Building The Maine Guide Canoe, and will look into the others. The serial is 71045, which looks like 1923-4? Ill look at the local chapters and suppliers as well. Thanks!
  4. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Not too far gone at all! With your woodworking skills and step-by-step patience you'll find this all very doable and almost certainly very enjoyable. The books Paul recommends above will be valuable, plus they're just great reads anyway. It sounds like you're in Oregon now, not Colorado. If so, the Northwest chapter of the WCHA is very active and has some great talent (there are great WCHA members in all regions). Their website is here:

    To your questions:
    1. Not folly at all. A challenge, but a good one with an excellent outcome at the end.
    2. As Paul said, Old Town 15/50, easy to transport and a good paddler solo or for two with care.
    2.(b) Sounds like your planking gaps will be fine. Many of these old canoes have small gaps like this.
    3. Some of the people in the Builders and Suppliers Directory (see above) will supply wood. You should also try to help locate lumber you may need. Don't limit yourself to local sources. You might be surprised that you can get lumber shipped from anywhere at reasonable rates if you just check around.
    4. JOIN THE WCHA! This is the single best organization anywhere related to wooden canoes. And when you join the WCHA, also join up with the WCHA's Northwest chapter. To join the WCHA, at a very reasonable cost for all the available resources and the beautiful and interesting bi-monthly Wooden Canoe magazine, go here:

    You're in for a lot of fun with this project!
  5. samb

    samb LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Question 3: In the UK, I can only get red cedar so that's what I use. It has happily repaired (ribs and planks) 7 canoes for me. I'm told that white is better, but for me that's only hearsay!

  6. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Can you post some pictures of the serial numbers and surrounding areas from each end (or identify which digit is the least clear). The information at may also be helpful. The seats and decal on the bow deck indicate that you have a canoe which was built after 1954. The Old Town build records for serial number 71045 for a 25 foot long war canoe model from 1922 and number 171045 for a 20 foot long guide model from 1961 aren't a good match for your canoe. Thanks,

  7. OP

    langsmer New Member

    Thanks for your thoughts folks.

    Benson, I will try to get some photos this week. Unfortunately the serial numbers are pretty darn hard to read, but I'll try to get a better grasp on those. I thought I had them down, but It may take some light sanding to bring them out. I'm thinking that I am missing a 1 at the beginning of the number perhaps. I suppose that throws off the story given to me by the original owners daughter. Oh well!

    Michael, I went ahead and joined. Thanks!
  8. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Sanding is generally not recommended because it is exceptionally easy to permanently remove the numbers this way. Some varnish/paint remover is usually a better solution (or a bright light at a low angle to create some shadows). Good luck,

  9. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Western red cedar has pretty much been the standard wood used for planking, even by eastern builders such as Old Town. Northern white cedar (also known as arborvitae, actually a type of cypress) and Atlantic white cedar have generally been the woods used for ribs, because they steam bend easier than the red cedar. But at various times white cedar has been used for planking, and less often, I believe, red cedar has been used for ribs. A number of the WCHA builder/suppliers will ship, and rib stock is short enough to ship at a reasonable cost.

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