We are staying in the North Country longer this year. It is late September and we have had two heavy frosts. The fall foliage is at its peak now. Here is a view of the frozen marsh that lies just in front of our camp.
Here are two more views of the marsh in its fall clothing. The marsh always expresses the time of year. In the Spring it is pea green with the newness of life. As summer wears on it begins to take a golden hue, then to a deep red in parts as Autumn approaches.
Here is a view of the marsh out our window.
The drive from Long Lake to Tupper Lake is spectacular. Here are some photos taken from the shore of Tupper Lake.
Its time for one last guideboat row. The Frances C. is 23 years old this summer. She still looks great, not showing much wear and tear. Since she’s made of Atlantic white cedar she will never rot so she will way out live me.
I have the lake all to myself now (except for a few canoe-campers heading north). The character of the lake has changed since summer. Once buoyant and sparkly she can display a brooding mood.
Another view out the stern shows how the lake surface can take on a “hard, even metallic” look.
I spot three boaters coming north. They are quite aways away, down by Moose island when they first come into view. There are two kayaks and a two man canoe. As they draw near I hail one of them “Where are you headed”, I ask. “Tupper Lake. Are there campsites nearby? ” “There are a few on the east side of the lake about 3 to 4 miles ahead. But the best sites are at north end at Turtle Beach.”, I reply. “Do you think we can make it there this afternoon?” “Well, you have a gentle following breeze and about 4 hours of daylight left”. They have a impromptu discussion and resume paddling.
With some sadness I return back to our dock, haul Francesout of the lake and contemplate a return next Spring.
Today Endion looks much different than when the hotel was operating. The hotel and barn are gone replaced by numerous sheds and out-buildings.
In addition to those buildings there are three Adirondack lean-to’s on the property. Lean-to’s were the only shelters allowed on state land by the Adirondack Park Agency. They were considered temporary structures since they were open on one side. Any permanent structure on state land within the Park were destined to ” return to the earth” or were burned down. Here is a lean-to at Endion.
Tom is very fond of earth moving and other machinery. He owns two bulldozers, one he calls (tongue-in-cheek) a wetland’s model.
There is also a power shovel.
What has always puzzled me is what appears to be a WWII 4 X truck. I have never seen it in operation but it still must be in running condition since it is moved to a different location from time to time.
Inscribed on the door is “Bissell Farms”. More on that later.
Tom takes extraordinary care of his lands. Especially annoying to him are the needles shed by the huge white pines. These he scoops into piles using a leaf blower and then hauls them away. He uses a lawn tractor “to keep nature back” as he puts it.
When we first moved to Endion 30 years ago there were some unusual animals wandering about; a horse, a donkey, and a Vietnamese pig . They could be encountered day or night. Sometimes you would wake up in the middle of the night to hear pounding hooves go by your window.
A funny story was told about one encounter. Owl’s Head mountain is an attraction sought out by hikers. It has a restored fire tower that gives a panoramic view of Long Lake and Blue Mountain. The trail head is right off Endion road.
Sometime a while ago a hiker set off on a fall afternoon to catch the fall foliage. He climbed the tower and took in a magnificent view of a “forest on fire” with fall colors. He stayed too long though and by the time he started back it was getting dark. Now the Adirondack Pack is the darkest place on the East Coast. We call night up here in the North Country “Adirondack Dark”. It is absolutely pitch black.
Now, at the same time that the hiker was heading down from Owl’s Head, Tom’s donkey was heading out along Endion Road for a stroll. He came to the trail head and thought “Hmm, I haven’t been here for awhile, I think I’ll check it out.”
In the meantime the hiker was getting panicky. He could no longer see the path and had to look up to follow the break in the trees to stay on the trail.
Meanwhile, the donkey heard some commotion on trail above him; someone or thing was stumbling along and cursing. The donkey became curious and decided to stand his ground. Suddenly “BAM” the hiker hit a soft, but unyielding object on the path. He sprawled backward onto the ground, his hair standing on end, and gave out a horrendous yell. The donkey turned and meandered back down the path and home.
Fran and I decide to visit Tom Bissell. Tom has lived at Endion all his life, although he was not born in Long Lake. This rankles him since native Long Lakers deny that he is a true native Long Laker because he wasn’t born in the town. Everyone in town knows Tom. He was once Town Supervisor and was known for his amusing periodic updates on town affairs. He is a very bright fellow having been educated at private schools and graduated Cornell University. Tom doesn’t “suffer fools” as the saying goes. Fran and I always find him gracious and full of knowledge about the town.
On a warm summer day we check in on him. He has reached the venerable ripe old age of 92.
Tom is the one who encouraged me to build my first guideboat. When he found I was interested in building this uniquely Adirondack wooden row boat he invited me to learn from him all that he knew. He had taken a course on building guideboats from Carl Hathaway of Saranac Lake and had built several of them. I sat next to him while he went through a scrap book he had made on building guideboats. It was of immeasurable help when I confronted the task of building my own. The “how to” of building these boats was always passed down from father to son or uncle to nephew. Adirondackers weren’t much for writing things down. So this was an extremely rare opportunity to learn this generations-old craft.
Tom showed us one of his miniature guideboats that he had built.
This miniature guideboat is about 3 feet long. Tom has built two of them. Everything is to scale including the tacks and other hardware. This was a monumental undertaking. Building a full-size guideboat is difficult enough; building a miniature one seems next to impossible to me.
Tom told us that Senator Platt of Connecticut was one of the first to own a camp on Long Lake. This would have been in the mid-1800’s. When his camp was sold there was an auction of some of the contents. Tom bought a guideboat for $60. He believes it is one of the first built by Caleb Chase of Newcomb. Tom restored it and named it Kenneth Durant after the author of the classic book The Adirondack Guideboat co-authored with his wife Helen. Here is a photo of it.
Tom served for a year in the army artillery during the Korean War. He claimed that it caused him some deafness. There was a particularly large artillery piece that could send a projectile 18 miles. When it was fired the noise was ear splitting. It was that gun that he said rendered him deaf.
Getting back to Endion, Tom said that the hotel didn’t open until July 1st because of the black flies. Black flies are indeed a scourge in the North Country. They are relentless in their attacks and their bite raises a welt that can last for a week.
The hotel was three stories tall but quite narrow. Guests were also encouraged to stay in cottages that were built in a large field adjacent to the hotel. They were served three meals a day and were left to find things to do on their own.
A barn housed six cows that supplied milk for the kitchen. A extensive garden provided vegetables for the complex.
Tom told us a sad story. His mother always attended mass every Sunday. One Sunday in mid-February Tom’s father, Talbot, planned to drive his mother to church. Endion road was somewhat improved from earlier days but still nearly impassable in winter time. There is one particularly long hill on the road as one begins the journey into town. At that time there was a large mound in the middle of the hill that had to be negotiated. Snow was falling and the road became too slippery to climb without chains. Tom’s father backed down from where he had begun to lose traction so that he could put the chains on. At that point he collapsed. Tom’s mother ran over a mile back to get Tom’s help. Tom ran back to the car from the house only to find that his father had expired. A week later Tom was enrolled in a private school in New York City through the generosity of a benefactor.
It was a drizzly, cold fourth of July weekend. We were camped at Forked Lake campground in the Adirondacks. Our boys had gone off fishing. Fran and I decided to paddle down the lake to our car. There we could at least warm up. One thing led to another, and we decided to drive into Long Lake, the nearest town. There we happened upon a sign saying “Waterfront lots for Sale.” Fran said, “Let’s check that out.” I was hesitant, but decided to go along with it. We followed Endion Road to a rather large house on the lake.
There we met Tom Bissell, and learned that he had just finished developing some lots on a cove off the main lake. One lot was especially appealing. It had a view of a marsh, and yet it had boat access to the main lake.
It seemed very inexpensive for such a lot. We told Tom we would get back to him before the weekend was over. After checking out other properties, we decided that his lot was just right for us. We returned to meet with Tom a day or two later. He and his wife Jane welcomed us into their home, and we chatted for well over an hour about our families and this place Endion. There was no mention of a sale. Finally I told Tom we would like to purchase the lot he had shown us. I told him we could do a down payment, but couldn’t pay for the whole sum at this time. “Would you take a mortgage on the property?” “Certainly,” he said, to our amazement, since that is never done on just a lot. I then asked if he would like us to sign some sort of agreement on this purchase. He said “No, that’s not necessary. I’ll just have my attorney send you papers in the mail,” Apparently that is the way transactions are done, in the North Country, by a handshake. Sure enough, papers arrived promptly, and we signed a five-year mortgage.
We learned that the name “Endion” came from an encounter that the American artist, Frederic Remington, had with Native Americans in the late 1800’s. Remington was paddling along on the shore of the St. Lawrence River when He came upon a group of Native Americans. He asked them “What is the name of this place?” They said, “Endion,” which he later learned was “home” in their native tongue.
Tom’s grandmother, Alice, started a hotel in 1887, and upon hearing this story, named her hotel “Endion.” The hotel had seven rooms, and she built a number of cottages to rent. It also had a recreation building, and some other outbuildings. Endion Road, at that time, was a nightmare, and practically impassable. It was a corduroy road in places, and a rock strewn, muddy path in others. The best way to get to Endion was a hand-drawn ferry. It would crisscross the lake from the opposite side. One would ring a bell on the far side of the lake to summon someone who would pull on a rope, hand over hand, to bring the ferry across from the Endion side.
The Endion hotel was quite a going concern in its day. A large garden was necessary to supply produce for the chef to prepare his meals. College women were hired for the summer as waitresses. It was one of these women, Jane, that would eventually become Tom’s wife.
The hotel is long since gone and the cottages were all sold to private owners. One remaining structure is the recreation hall. It is now filled with all sorts of memorabilia from the hotel that is a fascinating step back in time.
Tom built a log cabin which he rents during the summer months.
The view up the lake on a clear day from Endion is a beautiful site any time of year. Here is a view taken this summer.
The Endion boat house is a permanent reminder of this special place.
Finally the day arrives for launching my latest guideboat. It is a day that I sometimes thought would never happen. This boat was a struggle especially down the stretch of planking and the decks. It took me three years to build her what with a move and all. But she did turn out to be a beauty and I can now put the birthing pangs behind me.
Now for a name. I suggested Jezebel to Fran but she thought that was silly and I should give her a more Adirondack-based name. We live in a place called Endion in Long Lake. It was named that by the Bissells. Tom Bissell’s grandmother Alice started a hotel in 1837 on the property he still owns. Tom is now 92 years old and very much the patriarch. Fran and I will interview him about his family history and let you what we find out. In the meantime, here is the name chosen for my boat.
I have asked two of my guideboat buddies to join me in the launching, John Homer and Jon Vermilea. Lucky for me John brought his wife Deneen and Jon brought his wife Ashley and his three girls; Johanna, Charley and Emerson. These two families added a festive air to the day.
After retiring from the US Army John has started his own business, Adirondack Rowboat Paddle and Oar. This past Saturday he launched a raider guideboat. John is specializing in casting the bronze hardware for guideboats and other small craft. He now has his own foundry to do this precision work.
The plan was to assemble down on our beach for the launching. John, Jon and Ashley are very familiar with our beach since it is the starting point for the second day of the 90 miler Canoe Classic. They have participated in that race more than once in some crazy weather.
Before I even thought to ask, John and Jon had brought the Endion Runner down from its trailer on to the beach.
The guys help me into her.
Off we go!
I can breathe more easily since the boat seems watertight.
Now it is time for John and Jon to take her out.
After the launch we retire back to our house for lemonade and cookies. The Vermilyea family brings back many happy memories of our kids. We had four of our own, and they provided much hilarity and fun as these girls do. Johanna, Charley and Emerson remind me that kids are almost a different species, certainly different from stuffy adults. There is no veneer about them, they love simple pleasures like water, grasshoppers (that spit tobacco juice), they love to run (often without watching where they are going), they are curious and inquisitive about everything. What fun they brought to a happy day.
It is finally time to pack up and head north for the summer. Our son Robert has agreed to come down from Massachusetts and pack up the boat and our other “stuff” and drive us to Long Lake.
Fran is apprehensive of this plan because she never likes anything on top of our Suburban. Her concern is warranted since a tent flew off on the NY Thruway and my lightweight canoes have sometimes taken on the behavior of ultralight flying machines. No mater how hard I try to reassure her it doesn’t work. Then too it is a 400 mile trip from Delaware to Long Lake. Anyway here is Robert tying her down.
Here she is on top of the van.
Fortunately I take a spin around the block before we leave. At about 30 mph there is a dreadful thrumming from the straps. This will never do. That sort of noise drives Fran nuts. I’m sure I couldn’t stand it for eight hours either. What to do? I decide that tying the straps together should stop the racket. First I think of string but I don’t have any. So I go with duct tape. Duct tape has many uses so why not for dampening strap vibration. I try it and it works.
We arrive safely without mishap. Long Lake presents a great opportunity for taking photos of the boat. Here are some of my latest guideboat. First, looking head-on from the stern.
A view looking toward the stern.
Now the bow deck. It is made of bird’s eye maple and Spanish cedar with a cap of Spanish cedar.
The oars are particularly interesting. They are made of flame or quilted cherry.
I need to decide on a name for this beauty. I propose a couple of names but they are rejected by Fran as being not Adirondack enough. Next time we will have a name and the boat will be officially launched on her maiden voyage.
When you are finally getting to making the decks you know you are nearly done. There is a clever display at the Adirondack Museum that speaks to the decks. It is next to the boat shop where Allison creates her marvelous guideboat renditions. It is a full size guideboat that is cutaway to show its different parts. A narration goes along with it. Every time a visitor pushes a button the boat rotates and the narration begins. I have heard it hundreds of times. One part stresses the importance of the guideboat’s decks to the builder. The narrations goes something like this ” Guideboats are remarkably similar in design. Guideboat builders used the decks to display their individuality”.
The decks were used to hide the hand holds for lifting and carrying the craft. Decks consist of three parts, the deck bridge, the deck itself, and the deck cap. Here is the deck bridge.
The bridge consists of the carlin, the curved piece, and a straight member. They are made of ash.
In order for the deck to fit flush with the gunwale I have to cut away some of the planking to make a rabbet.
Builder Caleb Chase employed an uncommon twist to the decks he built. They have a crown made by making the bridge higher in the center than on the edges. The crown is only about 1/2″ higher than the edges but, in my opinion, it has a dramatic effect on the appearance of the boat. It is a subtlety but conveys a sense of “motion” to a stationary boat.
I made my decks of a central panel of bird’s eye maple flanked by pieces of Spanish cedar. Jumping ahead, here is the finished bow deck.
The crown doesn’t cause any consternation with assembling the deck but it sure does with the deck cap. That is because the deck is only about an 1/8″ thick while the cap is 3/8″ thick. I struggled with how to get the caps to conform to the crown. My wife happened by while I was stymied and said why don’t you use your old trick, water? So I did. I took a water soaked rag and draped it over the cap.
After a few hours of soaking the cap conformed nicely. But as soon as it dries out it will go right back to its original shape. To prevent that from happening I clamp it down.
Here the cap has dried after being clamped. It fits quite nicely.
The decks are fastened with #8 oval head brass screws. The oval heads give it a classy look.
Here is the stern deck after varnishing.
Note the feed thru on the bow deck in the photo above. It was originally used to hold a candle lantern when “floating” for deer in times gone by.
Next time we head north to Long Lake for a photo op and launching.
It never occurred to me until now. A nascent guideboat does not start to exist until she comes off the builder’s jig. So today will be the day she is born.
So, what about launch day? What would you call that? I would liken that to a debutante at her coming out party.
Let’s have another look at her on the builder’s jig.
The reason that releasing the hull from the jig is so important to me is that I have never seen the inside of the hull. I have been fretting over this moment. How have I done on the inside? Will I be disappointed?Well here is my wife Fran standing next to her after pulling her off the jig.
A cursory inspection reveals that all is well. Not a bad job at all.
At the Adirondack Museum, Carl Hathaway narrates a video of Willard Hanmer building a guideboat. Having been a docent in the boat shop while Allison builds guideboats for many years, I have heard Carl’s narration a hundred times if not more. When Willard takes his boat off the jig, Carl intones”the boat is about half done”. Really, I think. I have spent what seems to be an eternity in getting this far only to learn I am only half done. But, you know, I think he is right.
So let’s get after it. The first thing is to cut of the rib ends that are so conspicuous. I use a Japanese flush cut saw for that duty.
The next task is to clean up the planking to rid it off bedding compound and to make sure the planking feather edge is finished off. I use a cabinet scraper with a curved profile to do that. There is also work to be done along the shear line. The shear plank does not always line up with the gunwale. In fact, I purposely left the planking just even or slightly above the gunwale.
Here are the tools to render the planking flush with the gunwale.
Now there are about 2500 brass screws in a guideboat and 4000 copper tacks. It is time now to add more tacks. We need to drive tacks from inside the hull and clinch them to help seal the feather edge joinery of the planking. Here are the tools for doing that.
The awl is used to set a pilot hole for each tack. The tacks must be “stuck” in each hole. This is a tedious task and one not meant for someone with large fingers like mine.
When I was a docent in the boat shop at the Adirondack Museum I used to tell this story to the kids who cane to watch Allison build a guideboat. I would say “Suppose you lived in the Adirondacks in the 1870’s and your father was a guideboat builder. He would pay you to stick tacks in the holes he had punched for them with his awl. He would pay you a nickel for each round of planking. Now, there are eight rounds of planking so how much would you make?”
I got help sticking tacks when building my second guideboat from my granddaughter Haley. Her photo sticking tacks is on the title page of my book Tale of an Historic Guideboat and How to Build One.
Here is a line of stuck tacks.
Finally it is time for varnishing the inside of the hull. This is where Epifanes Woodfinish Gloss marine spar varnish saves tons of work. If you apply subsequent coats of this varnish within 72 hours you need not sand between coats. You can image sanding each space between ribs (or bay). That is a awful lot of tedious work that this varnish eliminates. Here I’m applying varnish with a foam brush.
Next time we turn our attention to the decks. They are a signature that each builder can incorporate in his boat.
It is almost time for the hull to come off of the builder’s jig. I can’t wait to see what the inside of the hull looks like. It is almost like seeing a newborn baby for the first time.
Before that event, there is some work to do. The hull needs to be “preened” as I call it. The bedding compound does not always stay were it belongs. It extrudes out of the seams sometimes and must be removed before varnishing. I have found that a clever scraper designed by my friend John Homer comes in handy, Here it is:
Note that there is some bedding compound just to the left of the scraper blade.
Another way of removing excess bedding compound is to use sandpaper like I am doing below.
So here we are about to apply the first coat of varnish.
The varnishes I like to use are made by Epifanes, an import from Holland. They supply two excellent marine spar varnishes. I order them from Jamestown Distributors in Rhode Island. Here they are:
I normally use Epifanes woodfinish gloss. It is extremely durable, goes on easily and is not prone to runs. Its main attribute is that there is no need to sand between coats to get adhesion of subsequent coats. However, this time I slipped up and bought their clear varnish instead. I found it had the same outstanding qualities but needed to be sanded between coats. Here we are sanding between coats.
So, after four coats of varnish the exterior hull is finished.
Next time, the great unveiling; we see the interior of the hull for the first time. It is sort of like a birthing.
This week I got an email with photos from my friend Jon. Jon bought my third guideboat, the Thankful, three years ago. Thankful was named after Caleb Chase’s wife, whose maiden name was Thankful Preston. I thought it was an unusual name, but an appropriate one. Caleb was the builder of the Queen Anne, the guideboat I have reproduced now four times. It is a classic design. You can read all about the Queen Anne in my book Tale of an Historic Guideboat and How to Build One.
When I advertised that I had a guideboat for sale, I had no idea who would be interested. I couldn’t have asked for a better suitor for Thankful. It was apparent from the very start of our conversation that Jon understood the effort that had gone into the creation of Thankful. He promised to take careful attention to her. One reason he wanted Thankful was so that his children would experience the Adirondacks as he had growing up.
Here is the message that he sent with photos of Thankful. “Here are a few pictures of her on the water and in use over Memorial Day weekend this year. We live on a channel off the main Seneca river, along the path Hiawatha would have used to get from Onondaga to Cross Lake, the reputed site of his original village.
She never fails to turn heads and my daughters love the way she rides the waves of passing motor craft. I love the way she pulls and the quiet way she holds a line.
I’ve made no modifications or changes to the way she was built but am having a yoke carved now so that I may be able to traverse the Adk carries . I’m looking forward to entering her in the 90 miler and am hopeful that this year will be her year.”
Jon and his family also have a home on Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks so Thankful gets plenty of exercise.
Jon, thanks for telling me all about how my offspring is behaving. I couldn’t have found a better suitor for her.