The Adirondack Guideboat-More on Raiders

Last time I promised to share with you the most exquisitely built guideboat I have yet seen.  It is a so-called Raider, a guideboat class that is shorter than the common guideboat length of 15 to 16 feet long.   Raiders where supposedly built to make “raids” on remote ponds and lakes where the fishing was worth the trip.

Willard Hanmer pointed out one of the major drawbacks of these smaller boats.   Here is what he had to say about them in 1961:

“Sixteen (feet) was the standard length (for a guideboat) and that seemed to be the ideal boat for racing or carrying a load or anything else.  Speed you never could gain over sixteen feet, and you would drop off sharply on anything under sixteen feet.  For instance, the twelve, thirteen, and fourteen foot models I build today are nice, light boats to get back where the trout are supposed to be, but you can’t make speed in them.  People aren’t looking for that.  Nobody rows any distance anymore.”

Let’s look at some examples of Raiders.  Here is one built by John Blanchard of Raquette Lake in 1935.

A Raider guideboat built by John Blanchard of Raquette lake in 1935
A Raider guideboat built by John Blanchard of Raquette lake in 1935

Blanchard’s boat, a beauty, hangs in the guideboat hall of the Adirondack Museum.  It is 13′ 6″ long, has a beam of 38″, and weighs 53 lbs.

Here is another Raider, this one built by Ira and Ben Parsons of Old forge in 1905.

A guideboat Raider built by Ira and Ben Parsons in 1905.
A guideboat Raider built by Ira and Ben Parsons in 1905.

It is 14′ 3″ long, has a beam of 39 1/2″, and weighs 57 lbs.  It is distinguished by partial ribs fore and aft that do not extend to the bottom board.

If you have been paying attention to the vital statistics of these boats you will have noticed an anomaly, or at least something odd.  They both weigh about the same as a guideboat of the most common length of fifteen to sixteen feet.  These boats generally weigh between 55 and 60 lbs.

So what is their advantage over their longer cousins since they are slower and weigh about the same?  I have no answer to that question.

Finally the guideboat that wins my vote for the best I have ever encountered.  I came across it during a visit to Blue Line Hardwoods in Long Lake this past summer.  Keith Austin had just about finished restoring it.

Keith Austin with Raider guideboat he is restoring.
Keith Austin with Raider guideboat he is restoring.

So what is so riveting about this particular boat.  Let’s look at the inside of the hull.

View towards bow of Raider being restored.
View towards bow of Raider being restored.

This, to me, is an extraordinary sight.  Here the ribs are accommodating a severe reverse curve in the hull. They start out with a mild upward slope, then turn away abruptly, only to come back inward again.  The planking, of course, has to follow suite.  This means that one must back out (hollow out) a plank on one side and then the other depending on its position along the hull.  That is quite a feat!  Only a very few builders would attempt to do that and fewer still could pull it off.  This sort of artistry in boat building is why some call the Adirondack guideboat the Stradivarius of wooden boats.

The stern end of the Raider being restored showing what may be the original seat.
The stern end of the Raider being restored showing what may be the original seat.

Here is the stern end of the Raider being restored.  Note the plank seat which may have been the original or a copy of the original.

Keith told my that this boat was built around 1900 by the Grant shop.  Its length is 12′ 6″ with a beam of 39 1/2″.  The forward rake of the stem certainly is characteristic of a Grant boat.

Bow of Grant-built Raider guideboat.
Bow of Grant-built Raider guideboat.

Keith also had to remake a set of oars for the boat.  One of the originals had snapped in two while in use.

Oars for Grant-built Raider guideboat.
Oars for Grant-built Raider guideboat.

The two oars on the left are those made by Keith while the one on the right is the original.  These oars struck me as being particularly slender, almost dainty.  They reminded me of a thoroughbred horse’s legs, built to provide maximum speed with the very least weight.

Next time: back to Seneca Ray Stoddard.

The Adirondack Guideboat-Raiders

Although the preferred length of a guideboat built in the 1800’s was 15 to 16 feet, guideboats of other sizes were built to the customer’s preference.  Quite a few guideboats were built with a length overall of 12 to 14 feet.  These boats were commonly called “Raiders”.  Lewis Grant, son of Dwight Grant, told Kenneth Durant that his “Father called all guideboats with bottom boards twelve feet or less Raiders, as they were used mostly by one or two men to make a raid on a distant, hard-to-get-to lake…or river spring hole and get some real fishing.”

Here is a Stoddard photo taken of the famous guide Alvah Dunning in what looks to be a Raider guideboat.

Guide Alvah Dunning in his Raider guideboat.
Guide Alvah Dunning in his Raider guideboat.  Photo was taken by Seneca Ray Stoddard about 1890l

Now Alvah was distinctly Adirondack.  His life was spent entirely in the Adirondack wilderness.  He was highly sought after as a guide and sustained himself by hunting and trapping.  By the time he was an old man in the 1890’s he had become quite a legend.

Abbie kindly sent me Alvah Dunning’s obituary which is quite revealing of his personality. It was published in The Syracuse Journal, March 12, 1902.  It reads as follows:

Famous Guide is Asphyxiated

Alvah J. Dunning inhaled illuminating gas


Often visited his sister in Syracuse, and is well known here—In the woods all his life

Alvah J. Dunning, the famous Adirondack guide and recluse, died from asphyxiation by inhaling illuminating gas at the Dudley house, Utica, Monday night.  The deceased was well known in Syracuse, where he often visited his sister.

The circumstances which surround his death give color to it being purely accidental.  He retired shortly after 8 o’clock Monday night and when the hotel clerk tried to arouse him yesterday morning escaping gas was discovered.  A half closed jet in Dunning’s room told the story.

Dunning was the last of the race of moose hunters of the Great North Woods.  There are now living Mitchell Sabbatis of Long lake, Sam Dunnigan of Fourth Lake, Fulton Chain, and “Old Mountain Phelps” of Keene Valley, the latter made famous by Charles Dudley Warner.

He was born near Piseco Lake, Hamilton County, about 86 years ago.  His birth was only four years after the first civilized person had ventured into the great wilderness to live.  He has lived in the woods ever since.

At the close of the war of 1812 Scout Dunning removed with his wife from the valley of the Mohawk into Lake Pleasant and Piseco lake country and there became famous as a trapper and hunter as he had been an Indian fighter.  He showed the stock he came from by starting in with his father as a hunter and trapper at the age of six years, so that for 80 years he followed such a life, a record that seems to be without a parallel.  It is said of him that he guided the first party of white hunters that ever sought the Raquette lake region for sport, although his was only 11 years old at the time and the region was then virtually unexplored.

Dunning remained in the vicinity of Piseco lake for many years and through that long term of struggle between Indians and native hunters which first characterized the development of the Fulton Chain country.

His first home on Raquette Lake was on Osprey Island, at present the magnificent summer home of J. H. Ladew of New York.  Later he removed to a log hut at the south shore of Raquette Lake, and there lived the characteristic life of a woodsman.

The authorities of the State of New York found him an aggressive squatter, who made game laws of his own and kept them as he saw fit.  To a certain extent Dunning was an outlaw, yet his violations were never prosecuted.  He had trouble with other hunters and trappers of the region who alleged that he stole from their traps.

Dunning sold his squatter’s rights to railroad officials for a handsome sum and his hut where he had entertained former President Grover Cleveland and other noted men, is now the site of a railroad station.

He then started on a long trail to the Rockies, thinking he could find solitude in the far west. In his eighty-fourth year he turned his back on the Adirondack mountains and set out for parts unknown.

The scout went to the Dakotas, where he found many wild and beautiful places.  After a time he became discontented and returned to the Adirondacks.  The venerable guide lost much of his vigor and it was predicted that he would die of a broken heart.

When he returned from the West he located on Golden beach on the northwest shore of Raquette Lake and had another hut on Silver Beach.  He fished and hunted and did a few little errands about the cabins of Collis P. Huntington, William West Durant, Lieutenant Governor Woodruff, J. Pierpont Morgan, and some of the others.  In the summer he made enough to maintain him throughout the winter.  But the winters were no long passed at Raquette Lake.  He devoted much time to travel.

Dunning was kind, steady and faithful and a pleasant companion, for he had an endless fund of stories.

Next time, more on Raiders and the most exquisite guideboat I have yet seen.