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some Willits info

Discussion in 'Traditional All-Wood Construction' started by mccloud, Jan 20, 2010.

  1. mccloud

    mccloud "Tiger Rag" back on the tidal Potomac In Memoriam

    I've been reading a book titled 'Cruise of the Blue Flujin' by Ken C. Wise (ISBN 0-9611596-6-9), which recounts a trip by 4 young men in 2 Willets canoes, paddling up the inside passage from Seattle to Skagway, Alaska, in1936. There are several photos of the canoes in this book, though in b&w, and reproduction is not so great. From reading posts and seeing photos in this group, I've learned that the Willets is highly regarded. Ken Wise spells the name as both Willits and Willets and I don't know which is correct. So here are a few excerpts about the Willets from Ken Wise's book - perhaps of interest because 'he was there' :

    1. "...they had looked all over the Seattle area for a canoe, but couldn't find one suitable for 3 people. Finally they had found the Willits Brothers canoe factory at Day Island in Tacoma . The brothers had one canoe available and would have another ready in 5 days. Although the Willits canoe was only a two-man canoe, its grace of lines and beauty of finish made it very desirable. Struck by love at first sight, both Wil and Gene ordered a canoe."

    These are the two canoes, purchased in summer 1936, that were paddled to Alaska.

    2. "The two brothers made only two canoes a week regardless of how great the demand. They hired no help nor would they enlarge their factory. I (Ken Wise) bought a canoe from them in 1949 which I had ordered more than a year before. My canoe was number 764, but they made many more before they both died. The Willets canoe is 17' long and 34" wide in the middle. The depth amidships is only 12 1/2" and during some of the rough weather encountered on our trip, I had wished that the canoes' sides had extended up a couple more inches. The planking is 5/16" thick and the canoes weight is 75 pounds. A keel one inch deep extends the full length."

    Tom McCloud
  2. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Thanks for posting this.

    Pat Chapman wrote a comprehensive book, "The Willits Brothers and Their Canoes: Wooden Boat Craftsmen in Washington State, 1908-1967"

    There is a Willits Canoes facebook page. I don't know if one needs to be a facebook member to see this, so am sorry if the link doesn't work for some.

  3. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I wonder if Ken C. Wise is still around - I believe I saw his birth year as being 1913. "Kitamaat", my example, was built next in line after Ken's - number 765.

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  4. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Well, I managed to find out (thanks Pat) that Ken Wise is indeed still with us.

    He's 97 now, and I was able to track him down by looking at old Google caches of a defunct website about his parents' Idaho wilderness cabin. Anyhow, we talked on the phone this afternoon for a half hour and I heard all kinds of wonderful stories; from his years working for the Forestry Service, to his over one hundred oil paintings he's done through the years.

    From the story of him and a buddy pulling a rickshaw with the famous stripper Sally Rand at the '33 World's Fair in Chicago, to using the tips from that job to fund a canoe trip down the Mississippi. And of course his cherished 1949 Willits.

    On this last point, he told me the Willits is still in his family. Earl and Floyd outfitted it for sailing since it went to Alaska and back, though he mentioned the keel not being up to snuff for his needs (and thus discarded partway through the trip). He also had exterior outriggers, which I imagine are pictured in the 'Blue Flujin' photos - I don't know if that was a Willits piece or designed by someone else. He mentioned other items that were immediately tossed, including the life vests, which he said became essentially dead weight once they became wet.

    He also mentioned going up to the 2nd floor of the Day Island factory... seeing a partially finished canoe on the huge, concrete form which was sheathed in metal to act as a huge clenching iron.

    He's an incredibly nice guy. I'll be looking for a copy of Flujin so I can find out about the rest of the adventure.
  5. Mark Adams

    Mark Adams all wood nut

    Hi Brad,

    It is a interesting book. I got mine from eBay for about 15 bucks. Amazon has 2 listed for 18 bucks right now.

    How is your canoe? I hear from Peter that you have it, but are having Paul do some work on it?

    I'd love to see a closeup photo of the name plate.
  6. Denis M. Kallery

    Denis M. Kallery Passed Away July 3, 2012 In Memoriam

    Wouldn't it be great if someone could do an interview on video with Mr. Wise. Maybe do an article for the Journal too.
  7. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Denis, that'd be wonderful. Mr. Wise has led an incredible life and it's a shame that probably won't happen. I could certainly visit him at his family's 1800's cabin and film an incredible documentary about him. If anybody would like to fund a project like that, feel free to PM me. :)
  8. Denis M. Kallery

    Denis M. Kallery Passed Away July 3, 2012 In Memoriam

    I had the same situation with an older gent from Mass., that owns [owned] a Morris. I listened for about an hour and a half as he told me about growing up on the Charles River. He told me about his first date with a girl and how he rented a canoe for 25 cents. It was fascinating. I couldn't get a word in edgewise. He may have passed by now. He was in his eighties then. Just couldn't afford to do it on my own. :(
  9. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Thanks for the heads up, I may just do that!

    I finally got to spend a few minutes with it during Canoecopia last week - really exciting. Paul will try to massage some of the bumps and dings out, reverse salt water staining around the hardware, reproduce a missing seat slat and replace the bow coaming (which had been splintered but is now completely severed). My plan is to help where it's beneficial.

    The decks have hairline cracks as well, but my goal isn't to erase the history here - I love a good patina. The most important part is that it's time for its first ever re-varnish to restore the seaworthiness. It may be rare, but that won't discourage me from paddling it often.

    Mark, here are close-ups of the name plate. As you can see, it desperately needs to be retired - so if anybody here has reproduced this version of the badge, please let me know.

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    Last edited: Mar 20, 2010
  10. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    You'd think there would be $5K or $10K sitting around in one of these museum's coffers to fund an oral history project... it wouldn't take much every year to add a few new videos to a collection. Many of these people now passing away were around during the end of the wood canoe's last big renaissance, so to speak. The stories you and I heard from these men deserve to be shared. Books, magazines and the boats themselves are wonderful, but nothing is quite the same as hearing these stories recounted in the voices of the people themselves... and more of those voices are being silenced by time every day.
  11. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    As I sit inside on this snowy first day of Spring... I took a few other detail photos of the original accessories that came with Willits no.765, including the car-top carrier and paddles. Images of the motor mount forthcoming.

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  12. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    I wonder how one would go about approaching the Smithsonian, or some such outfit, RE: recording these oral histories? Ralph Frese would be another good candidate.
  13. rakwetpaddle

    rakwetpaddle paddle dipper

    How about some money from WCHA fund. That interview sounds like something THAT money is raised to accomplish. Jim Altemus is the board contact for a request for funds.
  14. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Since the subject line of this thread is aptly vague, I thought I'd post a couple photos I came across (without permission, but giving credit to the photographers.)

    The first was taken by Ken Lambert for an archived Seattle Times article called Inside the Glass Empire. It's Dale Chihuly's "Studio 1" in Tacoma, which is different than his studio on Seattle's Lake Union.

    Along with model speedboats, vintage televisions and a few huge neon signs - you can see three of his rumored 5 or 6 Willitses.

    Another one from his collection was at the Willits Rendezvous at the Foss Waterway Seaport in 2006 (where our own Pat Chapman gave a lecture). It was exquisitely draped with old fishing nets and Japanese glass floats - which are found along the Pacific Northwest coastline during storms. Rendezvous photos by Jan Adams.

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    Last edited: May 21, 2010
  15. Mark Adams

    Mark Adams all wood nut

    Was just surfing this old thread, and noticed something interesting. Take a look at the 2nd sailing Willits in the photo of Chihuly's studio. It appears to show something completely different in terms of the sail rig than what was standard. I'd love to get a close look at that one!
  16. pat chapman

    pat chapman Willits biographer

    I visited that studio when I was doing the research for my book, and it contains an incredible collection of the various things that Chihuly treasures. Besides 5 Willits canoes, he has his renowned collection of Pendleton blankets.

    I looked at all his canoes, and they were all typical examples of Willits. The sail that Mark points out is simply one in which the spars are fastened to the opposite side of the sail as the example next to it.
  17. Mark Adams

    Mark Adams all wood nut

    Pat, it wasn't so much the absence of the spars,but rather, the shape of the luff. ( I think that's the term, the rear edge of the sail) It doesn't appear to have the "point" that you see on the first canoe's sail. I guess it might just be the angle the sail is at in relation to the camera.

    I'd love to see his collection sometime!
  18. pat chapman

    pat chapman Willits biographer

    Yeah, I think it's an optical effect. The canoes are tilted a little bit and the sail isn't hauled all the way up, either, so it doesn't hang normally.

    If you can talk your way into the studio, it's worth the visit even beyond seeing his canoes!
  19. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I just bought an original circa 1940 Willits Bros. catalog. It may be similar to the one reproduced in Pat's book... or perhaps the version which was given out during the 80's at a now-defunct Tacoma seafood restaurant.

    Regardless, I'll post some scans of the interior when it arrives, if it's of interest to anyone.

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  20. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Thanks, Brad--- looking forward to it!

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