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Seeking History Of Old Town 120181 - 17

Discussion in 'Serial Number Search' started by Sphinxie, Jul 1, 2018.

  1. Sphinxie

    Sphinxie Curious about Wooden Canoes

    An acquaintance of my sister's posted a couple of days ago that they were moving and their HOA wouldn't let them keep watercraft outside on the property. Not having room to keep it in the garage, they were getting rid of their canoe and its trailer. If I could come and get it before midnight Saturday, it was all mine, with no transaction required. The canoe and it's very solid trailer would be mine, free of charge. She told me she thought it was aluminum.

    When I arrived to pick it up, it was inverted, wrapped in a tarp cocoon, up on sawhorses. Apparently it's been there a while. Much to my surprise there was no aluminum to be found. It's a wooden canoe with a fiberglass (?) shell and sea-worthy as far as she knew, if a little rough. I've dreamed of finding something like this but never believed that I would. I did a little research and that research led me here.

    She has the diamond bolts. She has what I assume is the older model rear deck as it's not a match to the one in the video that led me here. It's a 17 footer, according to the serial number, which is on both stems, but there are no diamonds for seat placement and the open gunwales are fairly low so I assume it never had them.

    I'd like to restore her and get her back in the water, so she's my winter project. I'm going to shoot for either the first day of Spring or May Day. But if it takes longer, that's okay. Anything worth doing is worth doing, is worth doing correctly. And the best place to start the process is to find out her origins. Can someone please locate the history of that serial number please? 120181 - 17.

    Thanks so much.

    Attached Files:

  2. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Welcome and congratulations, the Old Town canoe with serial number 120181 is a 17 foot long, CS (common sense or middle) grade, HW (heavy water) model with red western cedar planking, open spruce gunwales, oak decks, oak thwarts, oak thwarts in place of seats, and a keel. It was built between January and June, 1937. The original exterior paint color was dark green. It shipped on June 12th, 1937 to Los Angeles, Calif. A scan of this build record can be found by following the link at the attached thumbnail image below.


    This scan and several hundred thousand others were created with substantial grants from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (WCHA) and others. A description of the project to preserve these records is available at if you want more details. I hope that you will join or renew your membership to the WCHA so that services like this can continue. See to learn more about the WCHA and to join.

    It is possible that you could have another number or manufacturer if this description doesn't match your canoe. Feel free to reply here if you have any other questions. Good luck with the restoration,

  3. OP

    Sphinxie Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Thank you, Benson. That's certainly my girl. Much appreciated. I see dark green as the exterior color and can find no trace of it, but I haven't begun to smooth the paint and the canvas yet so it'll probably show up then. The interior, however, has a number of traces of an interior application of dark green, mostly complete in the bow and stern cavities. Were these ever painted internally?

    As for joining the WCHA, I signed up for an account yesterday and I've put a membership into the budget for later on this month. This looks like a valuable resource and I'll be supporting it. Thanks again for your help.
  4. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    If you are new to canoe repair/restoration, when considering any restoration work, whether you plan to do it yourself or to hire a professional, there are three good sources of information about canoe restoration that you would do well to get, or at least look at, before making any decision about how to repair or restore your canoe:

    The Wood and Canvas Canoe: A Complete Guide to its History, Construction, Restoration, and Maintenance by Rollin Thurlow and Jerry Stelmok

    Building the Maine Guide Canoe by Jerry Stelmok

    This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe, by Mike Elliott

    The first is often called the "bible" of canoe repair, restoration, and maintenance; the second is an excellent study of the wooden/canvas canoe and its construction. The third is the most recently published and has been well received.

    Of course, you can always ask questions here on the forums. There is a good deal of information here on removing fiberglass.

    You might also want to look at The Old Town Canoe Company by Susan Audette and David Baker, a great history of the Old Town company and its canoes.

    These books are all available from the WCHA store, are often on eBay, or from Amazon.

    Old Town did not paint the interior of its canoes, but it regularly did custom paint work at a purchaser's request, and I presume it would have painted an interior on special order -- though such custom work would have been reflected on the work order. But I have never seen a work order showing painting of the interior. The green paint inside your canoe was probably done by a previous owner.

    The factory installed thwarts instead of seats in your canoe, as noted at the bottom of the build record -- a common arrangement for canoes used by scout and other camps, but a modification that could be had by anyone who believed that kneeling was the only appropriate position for paddling. Most folks are not such die-hards about kneeling.

    Looks like you got a pretty nice canoe at a great price!

    Feel free to reply here if you have any other questions.

  5. OP

    Sphinxie Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks, Greg, for the prompt reply. I'll research those books and start my reading before I dig into the old girl. I want to get it right.

    She's a light grey now so the original paint is nowhere near intact. I'll probably take her back to her original color. And I'll leave traces of the interior green in place, just for nostalgia, before I varnish over them.. And I'll leave her as a kneeler, but I'm not a young man anymore so there's going to be some serious padding designed to keep me from screaming with every paddle-stroke.

    And yeah, it was a great price. I paid about $50 for the U-Haul, insurance, gas, tax, and mileage, and that was it. I'll never see a deal like this again so I want to make this one count. Although I'm sure that, after I'm done with this one, there'll be others. I've enjoyed canoes since I was a kid and I couldn't have asked for a better one to start with.
  6. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    I have two suggestions to minimize your screaming.

    First, invest in a removable seat, something like Tom Seavey of Azland Traditions makes --

    I use one of Tom's seats when paddling solo -- it is fine for sitting, but it is also good for leaning against while kneeling.

    Second, learn a different style of paddling than the one you now use; for example, if you regularly use the J stroke, try the Northwoods stroke, and switch from one style to another from time to time as you go along. One stroke is not necessarily better than the other, but each stroke uses muscles differently, something that can lower the volume of the pain.

    My chief problem with kneeling is my decrepit knees -- I kneel when I have to (high wind, rough water), and try to remember to bring a kneeling pad along.

  7. OP

    Sphinxie Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks for the information and the picture. I'm actually an old leather-worker, I've even made all the leather pieces for my armor, made my own shoes, and rebuilt replicas of Roman lorica for a local group. I could make something like that pretty easily. I never would have thought of it first though. Great idea.

    I measured my draft this afternoon, while I was sanding the paddles, and from the inside of the center plank at amidships to the gunwale top is 13 inches. At 6'2". I'll be kneeling to avoid hunching over. She's narrow and shallow and should go like the wind when I get her back in the water.

    She's been re-canvassed at least once and while the paint is peeling in spots, and not as smooth a job as I would like, it pretty solid still so I'm going to do the interior this winter and probably the exterior in a year or two, after a light sanding and a fresh prime-and-paint this year to see us through. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. Yet.

    She came with a couple of paddles, both painted bright yellow, but I'm sanding them down and thinning the edges a little. I'll oil them and use them until I can build my own. They're beaver-tails and as a solo, I kinda prefer a narrower otter-tail. The way I learned to paddle solo when I was a scout still works for me. A little bit of J and a little bit of alternate side. I'll learn the northwoods to compliment them and I should be okay.

    I've got This Old Canoe already and have read it about halfway. The Wood and Canvas Canoe should be here next week. And I have a book on crafting paddles on the way as well. Completely unrelated, I have Paddle Your Own Canoe on the way too, but that's just because I enjoy Nick Offerman and has nothing to do with boats.

    And finally, I'll be joining the WCHA later on this month. I put it in the budget. Just gotta wait for it to roll around.

    Thanks for the warm welcome. I'll be documenting my steps and I'll share the process as I go. Hopefully, one day I get into the same water as some of you. There don't seem to be too many of these old girls in local waters but I like to travel, so that's no hardship.
  8. OP

    Sphinxie Curious about Wooden Canoes

    And I do have a question. I see no sign of there having been painter rings or stem bands on this particular boat and neither thing is mentioned on the build sheet. Is there any hard-and-fast rule that says I can or can't, should or shouldn't, add them? They're both very functional items, I like the look of them, and they, the covers at least, might extend the life of the boat and the restoration. Being new to this, I'm not sure if there's an etiquette or a common opinion on changing the original configuration. I'm restoring for me and not for sale so I'm not worried about value. Just the aesthetics.
  9. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Stem bands on a wood & canvas boat are standard fare; it protects the canvas assembly on the stems.

    As for painter rings, well, it's your boat, do what you want! Painter rings could have been added by the dealer, or an owner, anywehre along the way. You're part of this canoe's history...
  10. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    With respect to most canoes, most folks figure, as Paul says above, "well, it's your boat, do what you want!" The exception to this sentiment would be the unusual canoe that has some special significance -- a very rare or unique example, or one with a connection to an important or historical person or event.

    Your 17' Old Town HW, while a very nice canoe, doesn't fall into the category of canoes that cry out for restoration to exact original condition, although you could certainly do that if you wished. But you should feel free to paint it any color you want and otherwise modify so it best serves you -- certainly no problem with adding painter rings.

    Your canoe would have had stem bands (aka bang plates) at both bow and stern -- they were standard equipment on Old Town canoes (and virtually every other commercially-built canoe) and therefore were not noted on the build record. On some canoes with keels, the bang plate was installed to run the full length of the keel for extra protection (and extra weight) -- something that was an extra option, and so would be noted on the build record.

    I find that short carry thwarts are handy, not just for carrying the canoe, but also as tie-on points for painters -- easily made and installed alternatives to painter rings.
  11. OP

    Sphinxie Curious about Wooden Canoes

    That was kinda what I was hoping was the case. There is, according to the story I was told when she was given to me, a notable person in her background but thus far there's been no provenance shown, I wrote the museum to check, and if that doesn't happen soon, I'll happily move on without it and make her my own. She already been changed from her original configuration, and there's no way to know by whom. So notable person or not, if change is acceptable, change there shall be.

    I like the original color, dark green, and she'll probably go back to that. But she'd also look good in a canary and white or even a sea-foam, if I wanted to go more modern. I'd like to add a few of the add-ons. She has the mount drilled for a burgee pole, so I'm going to design my own pennant and make a pole. And I have an idea for painted bow trim to accent the name I'll add to the stern. A reproduction stern tag is a definite. And the bang plates (I really like that name), now that I know she had them to begin with. She's been recovered and the fore and aft are solid and thick enough that they may be under there. If not, the holes will be and that'll tell me which ones I had. That'll make it easy to figure the trim. I know the keel's been replaced, or at the very least, been off the boat, you can see the grommets that were added to the mounting fasteners on the inside if you look closely at the picture. I'll do away with those when I do the exterior and fasten it the way it was originally. Gotta have a keel.

    I really like the idea of carry thwarts. More than I like the painter rings. Thank you for that. Hadn't crossed my radar yet but now that it has, it's firmly in place. My thwarts are all three original and oak and it wouldn't take much to make carries of the same wood and similar design and mount them with diamond bolts to match. And you're right, they'd make a great anchor for a painter, among other things. More functional than a painter ring.

    I'm glad to know there's a culture of adding your own history to the boat instead of freezing it in place. These beauties, being made of wood and canvas, have been alive, and I'd like mine to look like she could breath on her own if she wanted to. She can't do that if I slap a coat of varnish on her and say that she should never have changed. According to Marcus Aurelius, the universe is transformation. My boat is a part of that universe. Time for a little transformation.

    Thanks, by the way, for the advice and opinions. When I get her work started, I'll begin a page here on the forum and share what I discover as we go along. I'd like to have her done by next summer. There's a little town in Kansas, 300 people, where I lived once-upon-a-time, that has a lake on the edge of town and they celebrate July 4th there. My goal is to trailer her out to the prairie from here on the edge of the mountains to have her in the water for the party.
  12. OP

    Sphinxie Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Aaaaaaaaaand, I'm now a member! Thanks again for everything!

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