Searching for info on Forest Service Canoe

John Anderson

Curious about Wooden Canoes
We own an 18' wood and canvas canoe stamped with the serial number USFS 115804. We've owned this mint condition canoe since 1981 and know that it was bought from the USFS and was used for Boy Scout training from (at least) the early 1960s in the Brainerd, MN, area, since I was one of those Scouts. I would estimate that it was built in the 1930s or 1940s, but am not absolutely certain that it is an Old Town. Maybe a Shell Lake? It's red, and we are wondering if it was originally green since it was owned by the USFS. I'm new to the arena of research, and would appreciate any information and/or paperwork, including additional resources, available on this canoe.

Many thanks,
John E. Anderson
A good source of information, when trying to determine the builder of a canoe, is the canoe ID section of the website. Go to the website, find the canoe ID page, and various builders are listed on the left. Click on "Old Town" or "Shell Lake" or "Thompson", or whichever builder you suspect your canoe may be, and compare to your boat. Different builders often have a distinctive short deck or other identifying factor.

Posting pictures here allows us to join in the chase! If you have pictures in your computer, scroll below to "manage attachments"--- click on that to get a browse box.

USFS Canoe Mystery Continued


Thanks so much for your willingness to help. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until we get more info and a photo of the canoe to procede since it's in MN and we're in CO during most of the winter months. We did visit the Dragonfly site, but still need more info. If we know that there aren't any spaces between the numbers in the serial number it seems we can narrow the builders down since Thompson doesn't have them and Shell Lake has spaces in their serial numbers. Is that a realistic conclusion to make? If we suspect it's an Old Town can we pull the build sheet using the serial number and see if it seems to be a match (ex: shipped to the USFS), or is it better to wait until we have more info because it's just not that simple?

Thanks again, I appreciate your help.
Hi John-- Old Town 115804 is an 18 foot GS (guide special) grade, Guide model canoe, finished between April and December of 1935. It has red Western cedar planking, open spruce gunwales, oak decks, thwarts, and seats and a keel. It was painted (what else) *guide special* green and shipped to Duluth, MN on June 6, 1936.

This canoe appears to fit what one would expect to see in a Forest Service canoe, and the shipping location seems right also. If the other details-- the wood species, length, deck shape, model, etc., fit as well, then this should be the correct record.

The scan of this record is attached below-- click on it to get a larger image. This scan and several hundred thousand others were created with substantial grants from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (WCHA) and others. A description of the project to preserve these records is available at if you want more details. I hope that you will join or renew your membership to the WCHA so that services like this can continue. See to learn more about the WCHA and to renew.

It is also possible that you could have another number or manufacturer if this description don't match your canoe. Feel free to reply here if you have any other questions.

When you get pictures or any other confirming data, please share with us!



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USFS Canoe Mystery May Be Solved...Tune in in May for Conclusion!


Very exciting to get this information, and we'll definitely post photos to share what details we find when we get to MN for the summer in mid to late May!

Can't thank you enough for your time and effort.