The Adirondack Guideboat-The BookCase Boat

I have always been fascinated by the Book Case Boat.  I first saw a photo of it in Kenneth and Helen Durant’s The Adirondack Guideboat.  Here it is minus books:

The Book Case Boat. It resides in the Brandreth Park Camp Good-Enougth.

It is obviously a very old boat and I would claim that it is one the the very first Adirondack  guideboats. Evidence that it is a guideboat is plain to see; an elliptical flat bottom board, roots form the ribs, it is rowed using thole pins, and it was carried using a yoke.

I became obsessed with learning all I could about this ancient craft.  Who made it? Where was it used and how?  At one point Hallie Bond, former Curator at the Museum, and I planned a trip to Brandreth Park to view the boat.  I hoped to obtain as much information as I could including some critical measurements that would allow it to be reproduced.  Our visit was cancelled at the last minute.  So my quest to learn all I could about the Book Case boat was stymied, for the moment.  But my interest in the book case boat only grew stronger.  It became a family joke.  When ever I mentioned the boat, which was quite often, my wife Fran would laugh and say “Are you on that book case boat thing again?”

Fortunately, two recent publications have shed new light on the book Case Boat.  Stephen Sulavik’s book, page 44 reads, ” A very old boat, possibly built by William Austin, was discovered, its stern submerged in  mud on the shore of Brandreth Lake, west of Long Lake.  The name B. Brandreth is stamped inside on a plank near the bow.  At a much later date the year “1848” was painted on its bow deck, not unlikely by the artist Paulene Brandreth.  The stern has long since been removed and the upright boat fitted with shelves for books.  It is obvious that the boat was carried by one person: There are rounded notches on the tops of both gunwales, worn down by the ends of a carrying yoke.  The boat was relatively short, 12 to 14 feet in length, and estimated to weigh about 120 pounds.  It was rowed using thole pins rather than metal oarlocks. (editor’s note- there are two rowing stations just as in later guideboats).  Its most striking feature is that its construction-a flat elliptical bottom board with ribs sawn from  natural crooks-is similar to that of the Adirondack guideboat”

The caption on figure 1-11 of Sulavik’s book (the figure is a photo of the bookcase boat), reads, “The hull is made of four strakes on each side.  There is a prominent stem post, a straight deck, placed between the sheer planks, a clapboard-lapstrake outer hull, a smooth lapstrake inner hull, and a flat elliptical bottom board made from two lengthwise pieces.

And from Brandreth, written by D. and O. Potter, page 252 reads, “In the early days at Brandreth, large guideboats-wide and heavily built freighters-were loaded with people and baggage and rowed up the full length of the lake.  One of these, the oldest boat at Brandreth Lake ( and perhaps one of the oldest in the Adirondacks) has been pressed into service as a book case at Camp Good Enough. ”

So what do we now know about the book case boat?  Surely it was obtained by Benjamin Brandreth at the very opening of Brandreth Park to shuttle family and visitors up and down Brandreth Lake from the point of entry to the various camps.  It was one of the Brandreth family’s “freighter” guideboats.  I assume this from Sulavik’s description of the boat (B. Brandreth stamped on a plank, and that the boat was found at Brandreth Lake).   That would put the boat at the same age as the camp, about 170 years.

Well, who built the book case boat?  A clue comes from the unlikely partnership of guide Honest John Plumley and James Blandford, business associate of Benjamin Brandreth.  If you read my last post you would remember that the the two were sent by Benjamin to scout out Adirondack lands for sale by the State of New York.   Brandreth had heard of these and wished to obtain some portion of them.  Plumley and Blandford apparently found Township 39 that enclosed Brandreth Lake quite appealing and decided to recommend its purchase to Benjamin.

While on the site of Township 39 discussions between Plumley and Blandford probably included where to site camps (living quarters).  That would lead to how to transport people and goods up and down the lake.  The discussions may have gone as follows; James- “So Benjamin will need some sort of watercraft in order to make these lands habitable?”  John- “Indeed, small wooden row boats are indispensable for getting around up here. There are no roads worthy of the term.  Every settler has a boat and we often share them.  We sometimes borrow boats by dropping  off our boat at one end of a carry (portage) and pick up a neighbor’s boat at the other end.”  James- “So where do these boats come from?”  John- “Some settlers know how to build boats and the make their own.”  James-“Are there any boat builders who might build several for a new camp? John- “William Austin is a neighbor of mine on Long Lake.  He builds sturdy rowboats that are well made and last  long time.  He builds about one boat every two weeks and sells them for $50.”  James-“Good!  How many of these boats would be needed to run the new camp?”  John- “I would start with about a half dozen.”  James- “All right, if Benjamin agrees to purchase Township 39 we will have Austin build six of his boats for us.”

So now the book case boat, spared from rotting away because it became a piece of furniture, resides in Camp Good Enough in Brandreth Park.  The boat represents a sort of time capsule,  It was built by an early settler who arrived from Vermont and found his talents as a boat builder to be in demand.  His talent, as well as guides Reuben Cary and John Plumley  were crucial to the building of the Adirondack Great Camps.  There was no culture clash been the native Adirondackers and the very wealthy.  In fact the life style of guides and other settlers was envied by the “city folk”. They represented a kind of free spirit not to be found in the crowded and polluted cities.

So what is to become of the book case boat?  Of course it can continue to reside at Camp Good Enough at Brandreth Park.  There are two main reasons for not continuing housing it there; safety and its status as an artifact of immense value to lovers of the Adirondacks. The first point, safety, is quite obvious, the danger of fire.  Other physical threats like vandalism are not as likely.

The second point, that the book case boat has great worth as a cultural icon is more important.  It represents the entrepreneurial spirit of the Adirondack people that has survived to this day.  They are hands-on people who, confronted with a problem, jump in to solve it.

This may e something of a stretch but I see the book case boat in a similar light as the Wright Brother’s plane or Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.  Shouldn’t the book case boat be on display in a museum for all to admire?  I certainly think so.

The Adirondack Guideboat-Where did it come from?

In part II of Where the guideboat came from? we will look into the contribution of William Austin of Long Lake.  According to Stephen Sulavik we still have an artifact of one of his early guideboats.  Before I get to that I need to give you some background.

Traveling southwest in the Adirondack Park just past Raquette  Lake we come to Brandreth Park.  The history of this oldest family enclave in the Park was recently documented in a book Brandreth, authored by Orlando Potter III and Donald Potter.  It all started when Benjamin Brendreth immigrated to the New World in 1835 from London.

Benjamin Brandreth, from Brandreth, by O. B. Potter and D. B. Potter, page 1.

He brought with him to New York his grandfather’s formulas for Vegetable Universal Pills.  Through a massive advertising effort and acquisition of Allcocks Porous Plasters, he soon outgrew his New York manufacturing capabilities and moved to Ossining, N. Y. (previously know as Sing Sing)  By then he had grown extremely wealthy off his pill and plaster business as shown by his construction of a 30 room mansion with 10 bathrooms there.

Ad for Allcocks Porous Plasters, from Brandreth, page 3, by O. B. Potter and D. B. Potter

He was asked to run and won  election to the NY State Senate in 1849.  There he became aware  that entire Townships were for sale by New York State in the Adirondacks.  These lands fell into the hands of the State as a result of their loss by England as a result of the Revolutionary War.

He sent his trusted employee, James Blandford to scout out these lands to determine their potential.  Blandford, in turn, hired “Honest John” Plumley of Long Lake to guided him.  Honest John appears later in Adirondack Murray’s book Adventures in the Wilderness.  Honest John was highly respected as a guided and woodsman.  Here they are together in a photo.

John Blandford and guide Honest John Plumley.  From Brandreth, by O. B. Potter and D. B. Potter, page 4.

They are posing with the last wolf in the Adirondacks shot by Reuben Cary.  Incidentally, wolves have returned to the Adirondacks (I have seen one).  They are Coy-wolves, a hybrid of western coyotes and Canadian red wolves.

Blandford and Honest John scouted several townships being sold.  They recommended that Township 39 be purchased.  The purchase was recorded on March 21, 1851.  Purchase price was $3605.70 or about 15 cents an acre.

Old map of Township 39. From Brandreth by O. B. Potter and D. B. Potter, page 5.

The prominent body of water is Brandreth Lake.

I have known for some time that guideboats held a special place in the hearts of the Brandreth clan. I was told that only guideboats are allowed on the enclave waters (powerboats only in emergencies).  The Potter brothers go on in Brandreth to say:

“It is with quiet pride that Brandreth owners extol their principal means of locomotion on all the water bodies of the Park: the Adirondack guideboat.  This enduring aspect of our inheritance has its roots in the very first days of ownership, and persists over one hundred and fifty years later.”  In the early days of the enclave so called freighter guideboats were used to haul the family’s possessions up the lake.

I was told that even today only guideboats are allowed on the enclave waters (power boats only in emergencies).  As of the year 2008 there were 41 wooden guideboats in Brandreth Park. They represented craft built by many of the major guideboat builders of the 1800’s; John Blanchard, the Grant brothers, Reuben Cary, Wallace Emerson, and the Parson brothers.

The brothers also give a rather profound statement about the virtues of the Adirondack guideboat that reflects the love of the craft.

“The Adirondack guideboat is like a magnificent piece of furniture, painstakingly crafted by patient and skillful workers who spend months building a single boat.  The keel bottom board is straight-grain pine, the thin ribs are spruce laboriously cut from the roots of a giant stump. The planking on the sides is white pine or white cedar, three inches wide and three sixteenths inch thick, each plank beveled at top and bottom, so as to overlap its neighbor to which it is fastened with copper tacks.  Flathead wood screws hold the siding to the ribs, each of which is precisely beveled as to determine not only the beam of the boat but the shape of her sides.  Viewed from above, the sides converge gracefully to the thin spruce stems at bow and stern.

When completed, the guideboat is a sleek double-ender, whose end-on profile, unlike the oval profile of a canoe, is more like that of a delicate teacup: from the narrow flat keel, sides rise straight up at the bow and stern.  Before flaring out and continuing upward in a broad, gentle curve to the gunnels.  The brass oarlock pins on the long oars, fit precisely into oarlock socket straps on the gunnels, making her very efficient to row from either the middle or bow seat, and some energetic crews have been known to row from both positions at the same time.  Importantly, the caned seats, unlike those in a common rowboat, are set low so that the rower’s legs and knees do not interfere with the oar handles.  The Adirondack guideboat is light in weight, tipping the scales between fifty and seventy pounds, and is readily carried by one person using a handcrafted wooden yoke.”

Brandreth Park holds an Adirondack treasure of inestimable value, the Book Case boat.  I’ll talk about that next time.

The Adirondack Guideboat-Mother Wherry

In the last post we talked about how two boat builders immigrated to the Adirondacks from Vermont around 1850.  They brought with them a wooden boat design that could be adapted to guiding.  The style was known as a wherry.  Wherries were quite popular in the colonies because they could assume many roles from hauling freight (coal) and passengers, to fishing for cod and salmon.

So why do I suspect that a wherry was the mom of the guideboat?  Well, both have flat bottom boards, both were lapstrake or clinker planked, and both are the about the same length, 14-16 feet.  And both used natural crooks, or roots for ribs, stems, and the transom.  The beam of colonial wherries was wider than that of a guideboat.   The reason for the guideboat’s narrower beam was that guideboats were carried over one’s head using a yoke.  The boat was steadied by placing your hands on the yoke cleats on each side of the hull.

Here is the old Adirondack Museum’s logo showing how the guideboat was carried. (I wish they had kept the old logo.  Everyone has mountains, but only the Adirondacks has guideboats).

The old logo for the Adirondack Museum. It shows how guideboats were carried.

Here I am demonstrating the optimum width of a guideboat as to how far apart my arms can comfortably spread to steady the boat while carrying it with a yoke.  It is about a yard apart.  The beam on the Chase boat I am reproducing is 38″.

Demonstrating that the maximum beam of a guideboat depends on how far apart one can comfortably spread your arms. I have a yard stick in my hands,

John Gardner points out that wherries were built by “amateurs” or fellows who made their living doing other things than building boats, like farming and fishing.

In his book, Building Classic Small Craft, he describes how clever the “amateurs” were in putting together a wherry.  It was done in someone’s barn or wherever there was shelter.  No elaborate strong back for them.  A couple of saw horses did just fine.  The bottom board was gotten out and stem and transom fastened to it.  The rocker was put in and this first stage was braced and shored.   Next, a “shadow” or mold was placed amidships.  Once everything was judged “plumb and level”, planking began starting with the garboard plank.  Planks were bent around the shadow and allowed to take their natural curvature as they went around to the stem and transom.  Since there was no talk of scarfing, the planking stock must have been long enough to go from stem to transom.  These builders relied very much on their “eye” to ensure that the hull shape came out true.  The planking stock, cedar, was lapped to butt tightly to its neighbor.  Planks were bound together with copper rivets to render the seams water tight.  This provided a very rugged hull that would last 50+ years of hard use.

The getting out of the transom is of special note.  Gardner refers to Reuben Cary’s guideboat at the Adirondack Museum although not by name.  Transom stock was carefully selected from cedar or spruce stumps,  It required four roots all orthogonal (right angles) to one another.  One opposing pair formed the transom itself.  Of the remaining opposing pair, one formed the stern knee that attached it to the bottom board, and the other formed the  curved stern post.

Here is the stern of Cary’s guideboat built sometime around 1870.

View of the elaborate stern on Reuben Cary’s guideboat. The transom was gotten out of a single spruce stump by careful axe work.

Gardner says ” these had to be hewed out of a single stump requiring much skillful and patient axe work.” He says as the specialized boat shops came on the scene in the nineteenth century they could not afford the time necessary to make such a handsome, functional and integral part of the boat.

Here is another sketch of the early guideboats at the Raquette River Falls carry.

Early guideboats at the Raquette River Carry.

Next time we talk about boatbuilder William Austin and the “bookcase boat”.


Thw Adirondack Guideboat-Where did it come from?

The origin of the Adirondack guideboat has intrigued me ever since I became fascinated by this lovely craft.  Did it truly originate within the bounds of the Adirondack Park or was it imported by someone from outside of the Park?  It is such a creative masterpiece that I  found it difficult to grasp that  someone living in the vast Adirondack wilderness conceived and bore this object of worldwide acclaim.

As I came to know the native Adirondackers it became clear that, indeed, it could be a product of their creativity and hands-on talent.  People of the Adirondacks today share the same natural abilities as their ancestors; they are practical problem solvers.  Back in the mid 1800’s sportsmen started to trickle into the Adirondacks looking to enjoy the nearly limitless opportunities to hunt and fish.  They needed a guide; someone to lead them in this wilderness that only few knew how to navigate.  In turn the guides needed a boat, the only practical way to penetrate the maze of lakes and ponds.  The boat had to satisfy contradictory requirements.  It had to be light enough for the guide alone to carry between lakes and ponds.  But it had to hold enough duffel for two men to exist in the wilderness for at least a week.

Suddenly, something I read Dr. Stephen Sulavik’s book The Origin of the Adirondack Guideboat connected the dots for me.  Two builders he cited as being crucial to the development of the Adirondack guideboat had something in common.  One of them, William Austin, lived at the northern end of Long Lake.  The other, William McLenathen, began building boats for a hotel owner on the Saranac Lakes.  Both began building boats around 1850.  So what was the coincidence about them that stopped me dead in my tracks in my search for the origin of the Adirondack guideboat?  They both immigrated to the Adirondacks from Vermont.  So what, you say,  that’s the land of milk and honey and maple syrup.  But there is a very large lake there, Lake Champlain.  Lake Champlain was a very important waterway during the Revolutionary War.  If the Colonists held it they could threaten the British forces in Canada.  Likewise, if the British held the Champlain waterway they could threaten New York City.

So Lake Champlain was humming with boat traffic during the Revolutionary War period.  A major naval battle was fought there at Valcour Island in October, 1776.  No doubt many smaller craft were employed to service the U. S. Navy during that time.

John Gardener’s book, Building Classic Small Craft,  is a great resource for imagining the role row boats played in colonial America.  Although he cites boating activity in Boston and Maine, I am sure the same conditions held true for Lake Champlain.  John has an amazing sense of how small craft builders went about building boats in colonial and later times.

He is especially fond of the wherry, a flat bottomed (plank keeled) boat.  It was rowed cross-handed (hmm, same as the guideboat).  Their ribs were made of natural crooks or steam bent oak.  Wherries were about 14 feet long and had a beam of about 4 feet.  They originated in Old World England.

Gardner says they were built in the colonies by “amateurs”, or men not working regularly at building small craft.  The term “amateurs” was not meant as a slur  but only to designate that they built boats in their spare time.  They were largely farmers and fishermen.

Gardner says that in Colonial New England (I am going to include the Champlain Valley here, as well) nearly everyone lived within sight of the water.  Travel was generally easier by water than by land.  Hitching up the horse and buggy took much more time than pushing off in your wherry.  Gardner says” the small boat occupied the same place in the economic and social life as the auto does today”.

So what is known about the early days of boat building in the Adirondacks.  You have heard me speak of Bunny Austin, of Long Lake, whose family of boat builders reaches back 5 generations.  William Austin, Bunny’s great grandfather came to Long lake from Ferrisburgh, Vermont around 1850 and began building boats for sale and hire.  (Ferrisburgh is at the southern end of Lake Champlain.)  It is said that he built boats during the winter months and could build one a week.  William had an excellent reputation as a boat builder and his boats sold  for around $15.  In a succeeding post we will talk about one of his boats that survives to this day.

Another builder, William McLenathen began building boats in the Lake Placid area about the same time.  He worked in a boat shop that was part of a hotel owned by William Martin.  Martin needed a constant supply of boats to satisfy the needs of his clientele.  According to Sulavik’s guideboat book, McLenathen was the father of the Adirondack guideboat.  His boats had a narrow square stern and provided a model for all succeeding guideboats.  Here is a sketch of one of his boats.

From Dr. Sulavikic’s The Adirondack Guideboat, Fig. 1-14.  “A pencil sketch dated September 13, 1853, by T. Addison Richards of Harvey Moody’s Polly Ann.  It is the same basic construction as the original boat, built by William McLenathen for W. F. Martin in 1851.  The hull is rounded of clapboard-lapstrake construction, though not particularly slender, and the upright position indicates a flat bottom.  Note the slight sheer, the yoke cleat, oarlocks pinned to the boards and the board seat.  This sketch appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine,  August 1859.  (Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum).”

So my suspicion that the guideboat originated with the bounds of the Adirondack Park was not the case.  The basic design, a wherry, was brought to the Adirondacks by outsiders from Vermont who adapted it to the needs of the guides there.

In the next post we will talk more about how wherries were built by the colonists.


Scribe Ribs-What are they?

There are two pairs of scribe ribs on the Chase guideboat I am reproducing.  Scribe ribs, sometimes called stitched ribs, have no feet.  The reason they have no feet is that they go way forward and aft in the boat.  The bottom board is so narrow there that there is no room for rib feet.  They are called scribe after the geometric technique used to precisely define their shape.  Here is one ready for mounting,

A scribe rib.

When I wrote my book Tale of an Adirondack Guideboat and How to Build One I expected builders would pick up something amiss in the book about my instructions.  After all, building a guideboat is not at all straightforward.  But so far, after 13 years of being in print and a number of boats built using my book, there have been no complaints.

I did have one fellow say to me “I only had one problem using your book.”  On no, I thought, what did I miss? He said, “Oh, it was my omission.  You know when you say to install the scribe rib as soon as the garboard strake is hung?  Well, I waited too long and it was a devil to install it later on when I had nearly finished planking.

Well this time around I was at round 5 of planking when I suddenly remembered the scribe, or stitched, ribs.  So I failed to take my own advice.  Fortunately I installed them without much trouble.  Here they are after installation.

Scribe ribs installed. They are the ones closest to the Pony clamp.

So what’s the use of scribe ribs anyway?  Not all guideboats have them.  One reason, I believe, is to shape the hull nearest the stems to present a more a graceful appearance.  They are also useful in providing a support for the seat cleats.

By the way, I did finish planking the 5th round.  Here it is after round five:

Hull after the fifth round of planking.

Phew! Onward.

Dr. Sulavik’s book on the Adirondack Guideboat

After a perilous journey Dr. Stephen Sulavik’s book on the Adirondack GuideBoat, its Origins, its Builder’s, and their boats is in our hands.  And it is a masterpiece! It hits me with a sense of wonder; wonder at how did he pull it off.  Every thread of guideboat lore is brought together here.  His research is meticulous.  Make no mistake; almost a lifetime of devotion to the Adirondack guideboat by Dr. Stephen has gone into producing this remarkable work.

The manuscript was nearly lost forever.  Stephen was such an ardent  researcher that the prospect of gathering just one more guideboat to his data trove was irresistible.  It kept him from calling a halt to research and pulling everything together in a book.  When he died suddenly in April, 2015, it looked like all was lost.  But two gentlemen stepped forward to give their very best to finish what Stephen had started.  They are Edward Comstock, Jr. and Christopher H. Woodward.  I think Stephen would be awfully proud of their’s and others hard work.

Dr. Stephen Sulavik’s book on the Adirondack guide boat.

Dr. Sulavik was an extraordinary fellow by any measure.  His son Andrew remembers him as “having an intense desire to teach, an acute mind, an infallible memory, and an effervescent intellectual curiosity.”

Here is the reason the book was written, in Dr. Sulavik’s own words;

“This book has been written not only to tell the story of this unique and admirable boat, but also to recognize and celebrate the inventiveness of its original builders and the singular culture of their time and place.”

I remember once meeting Dr. Stephen at the Adirondack Museum.  I was, and still am, a docent in the Museum’s boat shop.  He was busy searching files for use in the book.  We chatted briefly but he was intent on his search.  I had learned from Hallie Bond, then the curator of the museum’s marvelous boat collection, that Stephen wanted to enable anyone with an antique guide boat to determine its builder.  That was then a very tall order and next to impossible before Sulavik’s book. The short anecdote below illustrated the challenge facing Dr. Stephen.

Many years ago Dr. Sulavik visited Chris Woodward’s guideboat shop.  He told Chris and his workers how he had undertaken a project to identify every major guideboat builder and their boats.  According to Chris, the boys in the shop”politely” laughed and wished him good luck”.  They as much as said “If the boat doesn’t have a name tag calling out the builder you can forget about it.”

Indeed his book succeeds in all the author wished for it.  In the first part, The History of the Adirondack Guideboat, guideboat evolution is told in great detail.  This is blended with photos and artist’s renderings of the Adirondacks back then.  This section alone justifies having a copy of this book.

In the second part, Guideboats and their Builders, a biographical sketch of each of the major builders is given.  This is followed by the characteristics of their boats all richly illustrated by color photos. Here are pages from the Billings biography.

First page from Billings bio.
Second page from Billings bio.

The final part, entitled Guideboat Identification-Who built that Guideboat?, addresses the reason the book was written.  An elaborate photographic decision tree presented.  Each characteristic of a guideboat is presented and how builders modified it to imprint their own style upon the boat.  For example, let’s take the decks.  We start with the number of pieces, one or two, then the deck inward shape, straight or deep arc, then the deck cap shape. The builder adopting the particular version is cited.

The book is published by Bauhan Publishing and is 383 pages.  It costs under $40.  It is a gem and well worth having even if you just love Adirondack history.

Planking Round 5-Yikes!!

Planking an Adirondack guide boat is a challenge that can bring you to your knees.  Planks on a guide boat follow a sinuous 3-D shape.  Each new plank must fit precisely to the one that went before it.  You can’t fake it.  Many times I thought that I could just force one end or the other of a plank  into fitting its mate and it would be OK.  No dice.  Its like 3-D wall paper.  If you push one end of the plank to make it fit it causes a bulge somewhere else.

So I have now moved into my new shop and the new boat I am building is ready for the 5th round of planking (there are 8 rounds of planks on my boat).  The 5th round is where things really get complicated.  Just as the planks that went before number 5, this one must match up to the free edge of the preceding plank.  But now we have arrived at the curve of the bilge.  That is where the hull transitions from being roughly horizontal to being nearly vertical.  The ribs are more curved here to accommodate that transition.  The new plank must be shaped to fit the curvature of the ribs around the bilge.

Turn of the bilge.

The old timers (and some new timers) got around this problem by hollowing out, or as they termed it backing out, the inward facing surface of planks in the bilge region.  This requires a special plane with a convex sole.  They started with a somewhat thicker plank to allow for the amount they would remove.  To add to the complexity, the amount of the bilge curvature changes as one moves from midships to the stems.

Since I feel very challenged to try backing out a plank the old way,  I use a method I call flash molding.  It is used by instrument makers to shape the sides of the sound box of a guitar, for example.  Flash molding involves wetting down the wood being bent, wrapping it in aluminum foil, heating it to around 300 degrees F, and clamping it to the shape you want it to take on.  Heating is done using a thermal blanket.  During the heating cycle the wood becomes very pliable and will take practically any shape you desire.  The new shape remains permanent upon cool-down.

Here is the flash molding set-up used to shape a plank in the turn of the bilge region.

Thermal blanket in place  and the top edge of the plank is clamped down. Once the wood reaches a temperature of around 300 degrees the downward edge of the plank will be clamped down. Upon cooling, the plank now has taken the shape of the turn of the bilge.

Flash molding worked great on one side of the hull.  Those two planks picked up a nice shape that fit their mating ribs exactly.  Not so on the other side.  One plank just did not respond to flash molding.  I even tried flash molding again.  No luck.  What was going on?

I remembered that flash molding works best when  the plank is quarter sawn.  When quarter sawn, the grain is parallel to the plank’s side edge edge.  Quarter sawn planks bend more easily in a radial bend than in a longitudinal bend.  This bend response is just the opposite of  flat sawn planks where the grain is more or less parallel to the top and bottom surfaces of the plank.

I hated to give up on this plank.  I had put a lot on work into it.  I had shaped it to fit the previous plank (I thought) and cut the bevels on both edges.  The final straw was when it just would not fit to plank #4.  In fact it was nearly 1/2″ off on one end.  See below:

Plank that would not fit on top of new plank stock. Edge closest to viewer is off by about 1/2′.

This reminded me of a tale Keith Austin told me about a guide boat he was building.  Now Keith is the nephew of Bunny Austin.  The Austins have been building wooden boats since the 1830’s.   The Austin patriarch, William, lived on the north shore of Long Lake and would build about one boat a week and sell them for $15.

While building a guide boat Keith found that one of the planks he recently hung had cracked.  He called Uncle Bunny to commiserate.  Bunny could emphasize with Keith having experienced these sorts of setbacks more than once.  Bunny told him “What you need son is a crying chair.  You sit in the crying chair and gather yourself up to go back and try again”.  Here is Bunny in his shop in Long Lake.

Bunny Austin in his shop in Long Lake.

I learned that Bunny is quite a guy.  He was a Marine Corp. pilot during the Cuban missile crisis and flew reconnaissance missions over the island of Cuba during that desperate time.  I’m certain he wasn’t always sure he would be coming back from some of those flights, especially the low altitude ones.  Bunny is an unsung hero in my mind!

Now I don’t have a crying chair but here I am crying over a plank that just didn’t make it.

Me crying over a plank that I just could not make fit.

So after that set back I thought I would never finish round #5 of planking.  Then I discovered I hadn’t installed the stitched ribs.  More about that next time.


Virginia and John Gardner

One of the most famous guideboats ever built was the Virginia.  She was built by Lewis and Floyd Grant in 1903 in Boonville , NY.  Here she is:

The guideboat Virginia.

Hallie Bond gives further background on Virginia in her book Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks.  Hallie writes:

“Virginia was the first Adirondack guideboat to have her lines published.  Small-craft Historian John Gardner measured and drew her in the summer of 1993 and his subsequent articles in Outdoor Maine brought the guideboat to the attention of an international audience.”  Here is John drawing Virginia’s lines.

John Gardner at the Adirondack Museum drawing the lines to Virginia.

Hallie goes on to say:

“The articles revealed the variation in planking thickness from the 1/4″ garboard to the 3/16″ sheer plank and a 1/2” bottom board.

Virginia has a typical Grant stem profile.   Grant learned to build the slightly tumblehome Long Lake stem profile (curved inward towards the midships), but around 1894 he tipped the top of the stem slightly outward, creating the distinctive Brown’s Tract profile.  This was done to eliminate the “podgy” look which resulted from increasing the beam in the ends for more buoyancy.  It also made bending the sheer plank easier because it eliminated a tight spot near the ends of the boat.  Other Grant characteristics include the drain hole in the deck, used when the boat was turned upside down, and the  construction of the seats.  The steam-bent seat back is lighter than a mortised one, and the stretchers for the  seats themselves have been molded to eliminate excess wood.

Virginia was built as a pleasure boat rather than a guide’s boat, the third guideboat from the Grant shop in 1905.  She was rarely carried and used mostly on Big Moose Lake.  She was always painted in the colors of the University of Virginia , the alma mater of the young man for whom she was built.  His monogram appears on the stern.”

John Gardner was acknowledged the “Dean of small craft”.  His book Building Classic Small Craft Volume I and More Building Classic Small Craft will always set the highest bar for any work on building small boats.

John Gardner’s book, Building Classic Small Craft

John had a sweet spot in his heart for the Adirondack guide boat for he wrote “Light, tough and durable, the guide boat is the finest woodsman’s boat ever built…..a work boat with the finish of a violin and the delicacy of a watch….unexcelled by any small craft anywhere” Outdoor Maine, August, 1960,





Nessmuck- A quite-by-chance finding

George Washington Sears, pen name Nessmuk.

I wrote a post not long ago about the Sairy Gamp, Nessmuk’s famous lightweight wooden canoe built by Rushton.  Nessmuk was George Washington Sear’s pen name and  it means wood duck in Native American parlance.  Sears was an outdoor’s journalist during the 1860’s and 70’s.  His fame became intimately tied to the Sairy Gamp because he used that tiny vessel to paddle all over the Adirondack lakes and ponds and report back on his many adventures.

Not long ago my friend Jon sent me a “look what I found” email.  Here is a photo of an original note handwritten by Sears in 1886.  It tumbled out of a book Jon was reading entitled Forest Runes.  As Jon writes “I am truly amazed that this hidden gem was locked away in the pages of  seemingly unread copy of Forest Runes.  Was it Reynold’s copy?  How did it end up in the city where I live?  And even more amazing that I lucked upon it.  It could have so easily ended up in the trash, someone not realizing what it was…”

Letter written by George Washington Sears in 1886.

Here is what is written in that letter:

“Friend Reynolds, yours of 13th is before me.  The two numbers of Porter’s Spirit which you mention, contain articles from my pen, which were printed in the spring and summer  of ’60, commencing Apr. 21st.  A serial story entitled “Life Notes of An Old Hunter.”  The “Hemlock Sketches” were published previously, and I thought them much better.  I still think so.  They were written from the shoulder, loose elbow, set trigger, and no hip nest.  But I have lost them.  If you can pick them up and like them, and they…”

The letter ends here, unfortunately, the other part was lost.

Jon continues, ” I wonder who Reynolds was?  The illustrator from Woodcraft I think was named Reynolds but I am not certain…Either way he is talking about a very early part of his writing career (1860) and he was writing for Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a sporting journal of the era.  Interesting that he compares two separate pieces of work and his preference of one over the other and why.  Fascinating! I must track down the articles themselves.

Jon does some further research about the publications Nessmuk was referencing.

“He contributed to Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a leading journal, published in New York City.  I love the title of this old magazine–“Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a Chronicle of of the Turf , Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, and inside the paper, heading the editorials–Porter’s Spirit of the Times, the American Gentleman’s Newspaper.

It has been my privilege to see a bound copy of these papers for the year 1860.  They contain a series of articles by Nessmuk called “Hemlock Sketches”.  They are very interesting, being descriptive of the country and stories of camping, fishing and hunting trips, told as only Nessmuk could tell them..  I simply  must quote from one–

“We come to what looks like a thick brake of low laurel ; it is not, however, but a thick border of laurel encircling an immense rock.  I part the laurel and stepping through, bid my companion to follow and admire.  We are on ‘Painter Rock’ the most enchanting spot in all the region round about, and, as a specimen of landscape planting, not excelled by anything I have ever seen, at least on so small a scale.  The rock is an irregular oblong square about 100 feet in length by 80 feet in breadth, has a gentle descent to the southwest, and is very slightly oval; it is surrounded on every side by a thick mass of laurel, is nearly covered with moss and lichens and would without further addition be exceeding interesting, and even romantic.  It happens, however, that the whole surface is divided into little squares and compartments by dense hedges of dwarf hemlock, appearing at first glance, to have no other root than the surface of the rock.  On close examination these beautiful little pyramidal evergreens are found to be firmly rooted in fissures and cracks, which cross and intersect each other with considerable regularity, giving an air of romantic beauty”.  This rock is on the steep hillside in the vicinity of Texas (Lycoming County).  But the growth of hemlocks, laurel, and mosses that made it so interesting has probably greatly changed in the last 82 years.  Even so, I wish I could visit the spot.

The Spirit of the Times also printed this same year, a serial story by Nessmuk entitled “Life Notes of an Old Hunter”.  Many of Nessmuk’s friends thought this was his own life history , but he says it is the story of an old forest ranger, as he told it to Nessmuk during a long winter hunt in the North.  Personally, I do not think it as interesting a the”Hemlock Sketches”.  Nessmuk also wrote articles for “Forest and Stream”, “Outing”, “American Angler”, and other sporting journals.

Many thanks Jon, for this window into the past and a sense of just who Nessmuk was.


Traversing the Marion River Carry-Part II

Alright, now I have a proper vessel to take the day’s journey looping around by water from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake.  Here I am with my ultra-light canoe.

My ultra-light canoe on Long Lake. My guideboat is in the background and the Seward Range is up the lake.

If you read my previous blog you might suspect that these boats are vulnerable to a tear in the Dacron fabric covering.  I have never had such a problem but once I lent one to a friend and he somehow found  a sharp object that tore a hole in the hull.  He quickly sank.

To avoid such a mishap I always carry a roll of duct tape with me when in one of these small wonders.  When you are in the middle of a lake in an ultra-light you have the unsettling feeling that you are being levitated and could find yourself swimming for shore at any moment.  These craft are very flexible which adds to that sensation but also gives them an extra degree of resilience.

My plan to paddle from Blue to Long Lake was to leave the public beach at Blue Mountain Lake at about 8:00 am, paddle west through the Ectford Chain, take the Marion River Carry to the Marion River, then into Raquette Lake, then head northeast through Raquette Lake to the carry into Forked Lake (pronounced Fork -ed with emphasis on the ed).  Then go generally east on the southern arm of Forked until it ends at the campground beach,  Now begins a half mile carry and a paddle along the North Point Road.  The Raquette River has a stretch of rapids just after the campground beach, necessitating the carry, but there is a quiet, beautiful paddle down to Buttermilk Falls.   You mustcarry around Buttermilk Falls and down a stretch avoiding the Raquette River rapids.  The carry takes the North Point Road to the put-in at Long Lake.  Now you are essentially home with a paddle of about 3 miles ahead of you.

The Ice Age has determined my route today.  One of the receding glaciers dumped a moraine of gravel and sand just south of Blue Mountain Lake.  This “dam” stopped any flow of water coming down from the north from reaching the Hudson River.  So the Raquette River flows north until it reaches the St. Lawrence River.

Here is my route on a map of the lakes.

Racqette and Eckford
Route of my paddle from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake. The black dot on the right is the starting point and the one at upper middle is the pull-out at the Forked Lake campground beach.
Forked into LL
The end of the journey from Forked Lake to our Camp on Long Lake..

I had one concern when planning this trip.  A strong weather front would come through and cause dangerously high waves.  Both Raquette and Blue are situated such that a strong westerly wind blowing across them can raise some impressively high waves.  Fortunately, that was not the case on the day I chose for my adventure.  The wind was out of the northwest but not overly strong.  I was counting on it to stay out of the northwest.  I would have to paddle against it for the first leg of my trip but then it should be off my stern quarter for most of the trip.

So I set off on a beautiful summer day to make the loop from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake.  I tell my Fran and my Mom that I will return home at 6 pm.  I have no idea where I got that prediction but it came very close to reality.  I pack a lunch, water. duct tape, and a rain jacket just in case.

Here is a photo of Blue Mountain Lake taken from the Adirondack Museum.  The opening into Eagle Lake is in the far distance and in line with the middle of the large island in the foreground.

Blue Mt. Lake

I leave the town beach at Blue Mountain Lake and paddle west to the small opening into Eagle Lake.  I pass the place where the grandiose Prospect House once stood and the still very much alive Hedges, a Great Camp still in operation.

Here I am underway.

Cruise with lightweight
Underway in my ultralight canoe.  Notice how the sunlight “splashes'” off the waves and onto the translucent boat covering,

I pass under a bridge into Eagle Lake, the first of the Eckford Chain.  There is a large airplane hangar on the north shore.  That seems a bit incongruous.  But I remind myself that this area has always been moneyed.

On into Utowana Lake.  The western end has what I would call a dead swamp.  There are dead trees and vegetation at that end.  After my research on the Durants I realize that this is the result of William Durant’s scheme that raised the water level of these two lakes to accommodate steam boat traffic.  This evidence of vegetation drowned over 100 years ago is still here.

I pull out at the western end of Utowana which is at the eastern end of the Marion River Carry.  I hadn’t expected to see any evidence of its former use.  But just under water I see the remains of what was once  the steam boat landing.

My light weight canoe is easy to carry.  I throw it over my shoulder and grab a hold of the forward thwart.  I carry the paddle in my other hand and my other stuff in a day pack.

Traversing the Marion River carry doesn’t take long and I am soon in the Marion River headed towards Raquette Lake.  At first the River is full of twists and turns but then it straightens out.  It seems to take much paddling but finally I reach St. Hubert’s Lake, part of Raquette Lake.

W. H. H. Murray (Adirondack Murray) spent many days in Raquette Lake.  It was a favorite of his.  Any of his favorite lakes he called a “beautiful sheet of water”, quite a poetic term.  Indeed Raquette Lake is a beautiful sheet of water in the truest sense.  It is very irregular in shape with many bays that contribute to over ninety miles of shoreline.

I go between Woods Point and Osprey Island.  Adirondack Murray spent many summer days on Osprey Island.

The wind has changed direction and is now out of the northeast.  So my wish that it would stay out of the west and “push” me home was not to be.

I didn’t take a map with me so I am going by “dead reckoning”.  I will head north until I reach North Bay.  Then I’ll head northeast into North Bay and continue to bear northeast until I reach the carry to Forked Lake.

Raquette Lake has few camps with road access so there is lots of boat traffic taking people to their water access only camps..  I’ll need to watch out for them.  I pass Tioga Point.  My son and his new bride camped there soon after they tied the knot.  They each took a lightweight canoe that I had built.  The canoes easily took them and all their gear.  They were expecting a wilderness experience but soon after dark the motor vessel  William Durantwith Dean Pohl in command came into view.  They had a band on board who wanted everyone within miles to hear their music.  So much for wilderness experience!

Why is it that things look so different from a canoe than from you think they should from reading a map? You really have to trust your instincts about your heading sometimes.  After almost 5 miles of paddling I reach the pull-out for the carry to Forked Lake.  The carry is not long and I am soon headed to the pull-out at the Forked Lake campground.

We spent many summer vacations at the Forked Lake campground so it is like an old pal to me.  Wildlife takes no heed to humans at the campground and black bears roam freely after dark.  Fran and I had just set up our tent and climbed into our sleeping bags one late twilight evening when there was a noise quite close by.  We had a large triangular window in the tent that was facing out onto the lake which was lit up by the long North Country twilight.  Suddenly the silhouette of a large black bear appeared in the window and slowly ambled away.  Fran levitated over me to get as far away from the bear as possible and commanded that I do something.  Thankfully there was nothing to be done, the bear was only interested in food .and was off to the next campsite.

There are many loons on Forked.  I have found loons to be curious creatures who like to check us out.  One day  I was out on Forked rowing my guideboat toward the campground.   Because I was rowing I was only vaguely aware of what was in front me.  Suddenly a loon, only a few yards away, passed by.  Apparently I was more surprised than he since he could easily have avoided me.  He was just checking me out.

I pull out at the campground and begin a carry around rapids that continue for about a  half mile.  I then put in to the Raquette River  It is a beautiful stretch of smooth water  but that will soon change.  The Raquette River began as it flowed out of Raquette Lake near where the canoed carry is.

The next stop is Buttermilk Falls.  Indeed you had better stop here or its all over but the shout’n.  As you can see Buttermilk Falls is quite impressive.

Buttermilk Falls from bottom
Buttermilk Falls

The pull-out is quite near where the falls begins.  Don’t go exploring here, the consequence could be fatal.  Just pull-out.  Here is what the River at the top of the Falls looks like.

Racquette River above Buttermilk Falls
The Raquette River just above Buttermilk Falls.

The carry around the rapids below Buttermilk Falls is about a half mile long.  You walk along North Point Road and it mostly downhill so it is not so bad as carries go.

I reach the carry into Long Lake and put-in.  Almost home now, only about 3 miles to go.  Here is our dock.  It is is off a bay from the main lake and is about two miles from Town.

our dock view from house
Our dock at Long Lake.

I pull in at about 6 pm, just as promised.  I calculate that I have paddled for 12 miles and carried for about 1 1/2 miles.