Building an Adirondack Guideboat-The bottom board

This is the first time I have built a guideboat where I have had long enough stock so that I can cut the bottom board out of a single plank.  Always before I have had to scarf two planks together to get the required length.  Problems always occur when you go to glue the scarfed planks together.  They always want to slide apart at the scarf.

So I obtained a 16 foot plank of quarter sawn white pine 10″ wide from Blue Line Hardwood in Long Lake.  It was just what I needed but a bit unwieldy.  I laid out the dimensions of the bottom board on the plank and then got my son to help me run it through my band saw to rough cut it.  Here we are doing the rough cutting.  We had to turn the saw 45 degrees and run the plank out the window to get enough room.

Rough cutting the bottom board plank
Rough cutting the bottom board plank

The next step is to trim the board with a bench plane to to bring it to its final shape.

Trimming the rough cut bottom board to its final shape.
Trimming the rough cut bottom board to its final shape.


The hard part comes next.  The board must be beveled so that the bevel exactly matches the angle of each rib between its foot and lower arm.  You start by laying out the distance from the edge of the bottom board inward to where the bevel ends.  You will end up with a rolling bevel, one that starts out amidships with a gradual slope but that becomes steeper as you move towards the stems.

To get the width of the bevel at each rib stations I went to my reference book, Tale of an Historic Adirondack Guideboat…, Table 4 .  Then I took my bench plane in hand again and started removing material until I got close to the final slope.  You have to be careful because if you take too much you will cut into the top of the bottom board and it will not be a pretty sight!  When I get close to the final shape I switch to a cabinet scraper.  It gives me more control of removal and eliminates any rounding that comes about when I use a plane.

Using a cabinet scraper to finish off the bottom board bevel.
Using a cabinet scraper to finish off the bottom board bevel.

I always check my work by putting a rib at its station to see if the angle of the rib matches the bevel.  I do this before I get too close to the final slope.   The bevel at each rib station was off by enough to make a difference.  I was really puzzled by this.

So I went back to the drawing board and to a method I use to lay out the bevel that is fail safe. It relies on the geometry of right angles.  Here it is below.

Obtaining the proper bottom board bevel.
Obtaining the proper bottom board bevel.

What you do is to clamp at its station.  Back the rib away from the board so that a straight piece of stock held against the lower arm of the rib just touches the top of the board.  This forms a right triangle with hypotenuse formed by the stock, the distance Y is the bottom board thickness, and X is the distance you are looking for.  It is the distance back from the edge of the bottom board to the back edge of the bevel.  If you use this distance for each rib you can’t go wrong.   I did this for each rib station and these are the half-widths for the bottom of the bottom board.

 Station Number      Half-width, inches

0                         2  11/16

1                           2  11/16

2                           2  9/16

3                           2   7/16

4                           2   1/16

5                            1    13/16

6                            1    11/16

7                             1     3/8

8                             1    5/16

9                              1   1/4

10                             1   1/8

11                               15/16

12                               13/16

Here I am checking the slope against a rib to make sure we are now OK.

Checking the slope of the bottom board bevel using a rib and straight edge.
Checking the slope of the bottom board bevel using a rib and straight edge.

That hurdle passed, we now lay out the holes for the screws that will fasten the ribs to the bottom board.   I wanted to make sure that the holes were perpendicular to the plane of the bottom board since any deviation off perpendicular one way or another could cause a problem.  The ribs are not very thick and we don’t want screws coming out the sides of them.

There are such things a screw centering devices so I ordered one.  It cost about $12 and was very nice.  The problem was that it would not take a screw as small as a #6.  So I made one of my own from a small block of cherry.  I drilled a hole in it with my drill press so I knew any holes drilled using it would be square.  Here I am using it.

Using a squared-up hole in a cherry block to drill true holes for fastening the ribs.
Using a squared-up hole in a cherry block to drill true holes for fastening the ribs.

I would check to make sure the holes were true every once in awhile.

Checking for hole trueness.
Checking for hole trueness.

I put the drill bit in the hole and checked for perpendicularity with my small square.

So now the bottom board is ready for attaching the ribs.  We will tackle that next time.



The Adirondack Guideboat-90 Miler Guideboat Race-Brown’s Tract

Passage through Brown’s Tract occurs during the first day of the 90 Miler.  I’m told it is a nightmare for those in guideboats.  It is not only that it occurs later in a long day of racing when rowers and paddlers are near exhaustion.  It is mainly due to its crazy geography that inflicts hardship on guideboaters.  But more on that later.

Where did Brown’s Tract get is name? My friend Charlie at the Adirondack Museum has done extensive research on the history of the Central Adirondacks.  The result of his research of the Brown’s Tract is found under Brown Tract: The Hamilton-Burr Duel Connection.  Google it to get the full story.  In a nutshell John Brown was a merchant in Rhode Island who had a warehouse full of tea he had to unload.  This was in the late 1700’s when the wealthy were cash poor and often paid for things with land they owned.  New York State fanned the interest in owning Adirondack property by encouraging “speedy sale” of vast tracts of land left over from Native Americans and the English Crown after the Revolution.  One example of these sales was the purchase of over 3 million acres of land by Alexander Macomb who paid eight pence an acre for Adirondack land.

John Brown’s partner, John Francis went to New York city in the summer of 1795 to find a buyer for the 420,000 lbs of tea in the Rhode Island warehouse (Wow, that’s a lot of tea!).  He found a willing buyer, James Greenleaf, who agreed to pay $157,500 in three equal installments over a period of one year for the tea.  Perhaps suspicious of Greenleaf’s ability to honor the commitment, Francis took additional security in the form of mortgages on two properties.

Things went downhill from there.  Greenleaf was a deadbeat but was smart enough to hire, and involve, Aaron Burr to negotiate with his debtors.  After numerous ploys to defer payment by Greenleaf, Brown grew tired of the legal wrangling.   While still waiting for payment for his tea, decided to buy the tract he held as security.  He learned from Alexander Hamilton that the tract was being foreclosed.  If he wanted the tract he was to bring $30,000 (in a brown paper bag?) to the Court of Chancery for the auction of the property scheduled for November, 1798.  He went one better bringing $33,000 which gained him the deed to the tract.

John Brown’s travails were not yet over.  As Charlie writes” John Brown died on  September 20, 1803.  In February 1804, Brown’s 1798 deed was finally recorded in the Lewis County Clerk’s Office as Alexander Hamilton succeeded in having the NY Assembly approve Brown’s petition perfecting the tract’s title regardless of alien ownership or prior sales.  It was then truly the Brown’s Tract.

Reacting to Hamilton’s comments about him supposedly made at a social event, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel on July 11, 1804 resulting in Hamilton’s death one day later.”

So what is it about Brown’s Tract that makes it such a curse for guideboats.  I haven’t traversed Brown’s Tract in a guideboat but I have canoed the Oswegatchie Wild River in  the northern reaches of the Adirondack Park.  As rivers start into flow into flat areas they begin to follow a serpentine path.  I am told this is due to the Coriollis effect which, because of the curvature of the earth, causes weather systems in the northern hemisphere to rotate counterclockwise.  It also causes streams and rivers to try to deviate from a straight path.   My guide book on the Oswegtchie said that I would see the same stand of virgin white pines seven times while moving upstream or down.  Sure enough, the river was so serpentine that we indeed saw the same pines seven times.

There is a notable photo in the Adirondack Museum of 90 Milers in the Brown’s Tract.  It looks down the marshy area of the Tract for perhaps a half mile.  All that can be seen are the heads and shoulders of the racers, some going right to left, others going left to right.

Now throw some guideboats into Brown’s Tract serpentine and and add some eager kayakers and canoers to the mix.  A guideboat has a wing span of about 13 to 14 feet when taking into account its oars and beam.  Canoes and kayaks can squeeze though openings just slightly wider than their beam, about three feet.  So I imagine there is some clatter and banging as all three vessels negotiate the Tract, especially as the kayaks and canoes come upon a guideboat bottleneck.

Here is John Homer in Brown’s tract negotiating a turn in the river and a beaver dam.

John Homer negotiates a turn in Brown's tract
John Homer negotiates a turn in Brown’s Tract

What a relief when river spills into Racquette Lake and the end of the first day of racing is now in sight.

Racers leave Brown's Tract and enter Raquette Lake.
Racers leave Brown’s Tract and enter Raquette Lake.

Next time we return to guideboat building.