Old Town S/N 48121 seeking info

Charles Allin

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I have a 1917 16 ft. OCTA ,
(S/N 48121) handed down through my family from my father. I know when and where it was constructed and delivered. Trying to find out work order info. ie wood used for planks, deck, etc. for restoration. Any help would be appreciated.
The Old Town canoe with serial number 48121 is a 16 foot long, CS (Common Sense or middle) grade, Otca model with red Western cedar planking, open spruce gunwales, ash decks, ash trim, a keel, and outside stems. It was built between January and March, 1917. The exterior paint color was black with a gold stripe. This may have looked similar to the one shown at http://www.wcha.org/catalogs/old-town/designs/design42.gif which was later known as design number 42. It was shipped on April 21st, 1917 to Providence, Rhode Island.

These scans and several hundred thousand others were created with substantial grants from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (WCHA) and others as you probably know well. A description of the project to preserve these records is available at http://www.wcha.org/ot_records/ if you want more details. I hope that you will renew your membership to the WCHA so that services like this can continue. See http://www.wcha.org/wcha/ to learn more about the WCHA and http://www.wcha.org/join.php to renew.

It is also possible that you could have another number or manufacturer if this description doesn't match your canoe. The information at http://www.wcha.org/catalogs/old-town/specific.gif has some more detail about the woods that are likely to have been used in your canoe. Feel free to reply here if you have any other questions. Good luck with your restoration,



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History of Building records

Thank you for the complete info on this 16 ft. OT OTCA. One of my brothers had done some repairs to this canoe in the 1970s, by covering it with fiberglass, replacing the decks, gunwales and 5 ribs. I have been able to remove the fiberglass. I need to replace 21 ribs and approximately 64 feet of planking, decks, inner and outer gunwales and repairs to the stems, etc. The cedar planking in this canoe varies between 2 3/4 to 3 3/4 inches wide and is light in color. I thought it was white cedar. I was going to order 4 inch wide white cedar planking from Northwoods Canoe Company, Atkinson, ME to replace the damage planking because OT only carries 2 3/4 inch planking. Any suggestions? This is my first attempt at restoration. Thanks again for the info.
My suggestion would be to use two pieces of narrow red cedar planking instead of one wide piece of white cedar. The grain and color would match better while the structural differences would be minor.

All of the stems should probably be replaced if they don't look good to you. You can get Old Town to put your old serial number on the new stems or just slice off the top section with the numbers from the old stems and splice them on to the new stem tops to keep the old numbers.

The current 16 foot Otca form at Old Town is significantly different from the one that was used to build your canoe so I would encourage you to bend your own replacement ribs. The pre-bent ones from Old Town may not fit very well in this case.

S/N OT canoe

I contacted OT and their representative said that OT would not inscribe this canoe's S/N on a new replacement stem because it might falsify the origin of this canoe. Not sure if splicing a piece of the old stem into a new stem would maintain its authenticity?
Interesting response from Old Town.

When folks post a serial number here, we caution them to look closely at their boat and double-check the numbers on both stems, to be as certain as they can that the correct build record is attached to the canoe.

When someone contacts Old Town with a serial number, OT will give them the build record for that number-- and it doesn't matter if the canoe is actually a Chestnut or a Morris.

What if you sent them the piece of stem containing the s/n, and asked them to make a new one?

Original wood used in 1917 16 ft Otca

I contacted via phone an OT representative regarding the wood used in this canoe for planking. He informed me that OT used white cedar for planking and ribs prior to 1920. On those building records the planking was marked WC for white cedar. However, after 1920 OT continued to use the designation WC on the build orders even though they were using western red cedar for the planks. The planks in my canoe range from 2 3/4 inch to 3 3/4 inch wide and are available from several canoe companies in the eastern U.S. for a reasonable price per foot. However the planks are 4 inches wide and will need trimming.
I also asked again about marking new stems with the original S/N imprinted onto them or as suggested splicing that segment of the old stem with the S/N onto the new stem. He will ask someone in the construction dept and get back to me ASAP. The rep also mentioned that the pre-bent ribs that OT manufacture now may have problems if the old canoe lost some of its shape over time. He reported that customers he has sent ribs to have not complained about having troubles with fitting. Any one out there that has ordered pre-bent ribs from OT have any problems with fit, or did they have to make corrections to get them to fit properly? If a problem, how did you correct it to fit? Any response is greatly appreciated. Charles Allin
Sigh, I respectfully disagree with the "OT representative" who told you that Old Town changed the meaning of "WC" planking on their build records over time. My experience is that "WC" on the planking line of an Old Town build record always means red Western cedar. The records at http://forums.wcha.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=5015&d=1212510186 and http://forums.wcha.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=5016&d=1212510186 show Maine Cedar spelled out on the planking line. The records at http://forums.wcha.org/newreply.php?do=newreply&noquote=1&p=23387 and http://forums.wcha.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=5614&d=1217818815 show an abbreviated form. All of these are after 1920. I have Old Town canoes from 1907, 1914, and 1936 with the "WC" designation as shown in the build records attached below and they all have red Western cedar planking.

The 1917 Old Town catalog lists the width of the 16 foot Otca at 34.5 inches as shown below. The current Old Town catalog at http://www.oldtowncanoe.com/canoes/classic_wood/otca_16.html lists the same model's width at 36 inches. Many of the models have not changed but the 16 foot long Otca model did. This has been a problem for some people in the past. Your mileage may vary...



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OTCA repairs

Mr. Gray, Thank you for the interesting history lesson regarding the variations in building records of the OT canoes and the differences in the Otca model form widths (old and present). The building records you sent show that OT used western red cedar throughout its history along with the Maine white cedar. Did OT tend to use more Maine white cedar than western red cedar during its early existence? According to Stelmok and Thurlow in their publication "The Wood & Canvas Canoe" page 178 that OT had lumber crews harvesting local lumber and didn't begin to import western red cedar till the 1920s. This is the base to my confusion regarding the use of white cedar for planking. Again thank you for straightening out the matter.
Rollin Thurlow occasionally responds in this forum so I will let him provide an explanation or reference for the comments on pages 178 and 179 of his book. It was published in 1987 and a fair amount of new information has been uncovered since then. A portion of the Old Town Canoe Company inventory from September 30th, 1908 is attached below. It shows 42469 board feet of "Western Cedar on hand" at the bottom of the image with various amounts of local white cedar ribs, planks, and logs above it. This came from a company ledger that has entries for Western or red cedar from 1905 to 1932.

Old Town always tried to use white native cedar for their ribs and red Western cedar for the planking when available. Supplies would occasionally run short requiring them to use other woods. Old Town employed their own lumber crews so the supply of imported red Western cedar was usually exhausted before the locally available woods.

Let me know if this doesn't answer your question or you would like more details.



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I bought two stems last year. They were excellent. they fit and were stamped with the original s.n. I've always been please with Old Town materials. I also write on the planking prior to canvassing. My Name, date, work done.
Otca repairs

Dave, have you ordered any ribs and if so did you have any problems with them? Thanks for the reply. Charlie
I'm willing to bet...


I'm willing to bet if you can install ribs, you can bend them too. It is great fun.

You just need some sort of box to put steam into. (I have a simple pine box and a radiator hose attached to a metal gas can - used only for water. Some folks use a supported PVC pipe for a box -pvc can bend when hot) and I put in on my camp stove. Soak the ribs, maybe over night, and put them in your steam box for about 40 minutes. Use your canoe as a mold and bend the rib over the canoe next to the one your want to replace. Clamp the rib to the gunwale and let dry.

You can boil your ribs too if you can find a big enough pan or container.

Taa Dahh!!


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Something I learned from reading "Forums"...

Maybe someone has already mentioned that Old Town retired the Otca and Yankee forms in 1957, and began using the Yankee form for building the Otca at that point. So, the modern Otca is a Yankee... and, as the pre-1957 Otca isn't made anymore, probably its parts aren't either.

This, and other interesting historical information, I learned from reading the posts of Benson, Dan, and others here in Forums... *thanks* guys, for sharing... and thanks also to those who ask these interesting questions!

Kathryn Klos said:
Maybe someone has already mentioned that Old Town retired the Otca and Yankee forms in 1957, and began using the Yankee form for building the Otca at that point. So, the modern Otca is a Yankee... and, as the pre-1957 Otca isn't made anymore, probably its parts aren't either.

This is true, but only for the 16' version. The 17' and 18' Otca are the same as they always were (to paraphrase David Byrne).

I have not ordered ribs. It is much preferred to make my own and fit it myself. A store bought bent rib likely would not fit. Any of Fitz's methods work. In a pinch you can wrap the rib with a towel and pour boiling hot water on it until it is ready to bend. You can then bend it right in ---if you are lucky.
If you are nearby-I could provide the rib blank if you don't have the means to mill one. I've got a ten year supply of white cedar, at my rate. ALSO, there are lots of suppliers that can mail you a milled rib or two. Check out the suppliers list.

Thanks Dave. I live in Florida, not so close by. I've been reviewing the internet for supplies and recommended dealers noted by WCHF. I'm still going over exactly what I will need and reviewing the literature over and over. Every one has been very kind with their knowledge and I greatly appreciate their efforts. Thanks to all. Charlie Allin