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Shell Lake Boat Company

Discussion in 'Wood Canoe Manufacturers' started by Dan Miller, Dec 20, 2012.

  1. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    [H=1]Shell Lake Boat Company[/H]

    The Shell Lake Boat Company of Shell Lake, Wisconsin, was first incorporated in December 1904. In addition to canoes, the company also built a variety of outboard rowboats and hunting skiffs. Shell Lake ceased building canoes by 1957.

    The company changed several times throughout its existence, being sold in 1910, 1912, 1929, 1933, 1944 and 1959. Lund Boats of Minnesota purchased Shell Lake Boats in the 1960s, and Lund shut them down permanently circa 1980.

    The [manufacturers]Peterson Brothers Boat Company[/manufacturers] was formed by Shell Lake Boat Company employees who left the firm when it was sold in 1929.

    [H=2]Canoe Identification[/H]

    Shell Lake canoes look very much like [manufacturers]Thompson Brothers Boat Manufacturing Company[/manufacturers] canoes, enough to suggest that Shell Lake "borrowed" the design from Thompson. The similarity is seen in the unique way the canoes are planked (so the planks appear to run parallel to the keel when viewed from the side). This peculiar feature is common to both Thompsons and Shell Lakes. Also, some Shell Lake Deluxe models will have stringers covering the ends of the half ribs, again similar to Thompson. Unlike Thompson canoes, Shell Lake canoes usually have carrying thwarts.

    [H=2]Serial Numbers[/H]

    The Shell Lake serial number is a pair of numbers each 3 or 4 digits long. The first number is the model number, the second apparently sequential. For example, 116 123 would be model 116 - the 16' Deluxe. The number will be found stamped in the wood or on a brass tag. The Washburn County Historical Society Museum has the serial number records for Shell Lake canoes.

    [H=2]Canoe Models Offered[/H]

    Shell Lake built one model of canoe in three lengths; 16’, 17’ and 18’, as well as a square ended canoe. The Deluxe (Model Numbers 1116, 1117, and 1118) and Guide canoes (Model Numbers 116, 117, and 118) were the same model, but differed in that the Deluxe has half-ribs. By 1940, they had added the small Hunter and Trapper canoe to the line.


    Speltz, Bob. 1982. The Real Runabouts IV: Outboard Edition. Stoyles Graphic Services, Lake Mills, Iowa.

    Speltz, Bob. 1991. A Real Runabouts Review of Canoes: Cedar Planked & Canvas Covered. Stoyles Graphic Services, Lake Mills, Iowa.

    Stouffer, A.L. 1961. The Story of Shell Lake. Washburn County Historical Society.

    Andreas Rhude contributed information used in this article.

    A number of Shell Lake catalogs in digital format are available on the The Historic Wood Canoe and Boat Company Catalog Collection from the WCHA Online Store.
  2. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Serial numbers for Shell Lake Canoes

    Washburn County Historical Society Museum has the serial number records for Shell Lake Canoes and was able to get a copy of the record of my Shell Lake Canoe from Mr. Ripley there.
  3. OP
    Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Thanks for reminding about that, Dave. I've updated the section.

    BTW - feel free to edit articles yourself... just click on the "edit" tab.
  4. johnmetts

    johnmetts Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    I'm looking at buying a Shell Lake to restore. I haven't seen it in person yet, but would like to get an idea of what they are worth when restored. This is my first foray into the restoring a canoe.

    Thanks for any info/help/ideas.

  5. Treewater

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Welcome. I've a Shell Lake rowboat but haven't restored it. There's a standard comment on "What's my boat worth." It was just linked yesterday. One of the board members will chime in I hope. Otherwise, it's there. Welcome to the fun.
  6. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Tree and John,
    Even though, Mike singles out Thompson and Shell Lake watercraft as undesirable and not worth restoring in the "What is it worth" forum, that is HIS opinion.
    As has been stated several times, in general, the restoration cost in time and money will exceed the market value of the craft.
    If this is your first restoration, and it looks doable,....go for it.
    Here are some Shell Lake craft.... you decide.
    IMG_1541.jpg IMG_0460.jpg 100_1830.jpg IMG_0219.jpg
  7. Treewater

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Good looking boats. Didn't know there was an undesirable wood boat. Maybe aluminum. :)
  8. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Hmmm...guilty as charged....
    The giant bolt under the deck on a Shell Lake has always been a major turnoff for me but as with any wooden canoe, one that is nicely restored can be a very enjoyable boat to own...
    I actually do like Thompson canoes although there are a few build quirks that I am not super keen about...I will say that the build quality and materials used are very good... they just don't command the same value as other builders boats might.
    My Thompson Car Topper is a fabulous little boat, very well made with an abundance of nice mahogany and beautiful redwood seats...I'd buy another if I could find one in as good condition...over a Penn Yan, any day!

    Regional tastes do influence desirability....

  9. johnmetts

    johnmetts Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks for the info. Unfortunately it sold before I could look at it. Back to my search!

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