John MacIvers Stuff Site

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My Antique Canoes

I have three old canoes that I brought out to Missouri from Rhode Island that have bee sitting in my barns for about 25 years. The top one below is a 1923 Oldtown. Below that is a 1908 Morris, and  below that is a late 50s or early 60 Goodyear synthetic. The two top ones are wood and canvas.


The above canoe is a 1923 Oldtown that I purchased for $35in Rhode Island back in the late 1980s. I did a little work on it at the time and put a layer of fiberglass resin (no cloth) on the outside only at that time to stiffen it up. When I pulled the canoes down from the barn last year, I started stripping the inside of the old varnish and about four fifths of that job has been done. However, when I learned that the canoe is quite rare, I decided to work on the Goodyear canoe as a training project.
       The above Old-town canoe with the serial # 78967 is a 17 foot long CS (common sense or middle grade), HW (Heavy Water) model with red Western cedar planking, open spruce gunwales, birch decks, birch thwarts, birch seats, and a keel. It was built between June and July, 1923. The original color was yellow with an ebony border stripe and a half inch orange border stripe with turned down ends. This may have been similar to the design shown at  which was later known as their design number 16. There was also a letter "W" to  be four inches high in black upon the orange stripe on the right bow and left stern. It shipped on July 18th to Brattleboro, Vermont for its new owner G.L Watts. I have a scan of the building but Have not been able to get it onto this site.
       According to Benson, an authority with the WCHA, the back if the card describes a very unusual situation. The canoe was returned to the factory on September 24th, 1923 for storage based on a letter from Abraham & Straus dated August 29th, 1923. The freight charges were $12,57. It was then shipped to Abraham & Straus at Brooklyn, New York on May 5th, 1924 in a railroad carload of new canoes. There is no mention of any repairs done at the factory over the winter. It is not clear why it was shipped from Vermont to Main for storage rather than just sending it directly to Brooklyn.
It appears that the canoe was in Watts possession for only two months, so I wonder what happened there. Here I a canoe that he sounds he could easily afford that he even has his initial placed on the boat and than suddenly sent it back. I might have to look back in Brattleboro  VT history to find out if he died or something.. The shipping from Vermont to Maine could indicate that the wife sent it back to the factory and that they removed the "W" before shipping it to Abraham & Straus. The winter in main could have been when the front seat sailing seat was installed.



       The above is my B.N. Morris serial # 5298. There is very little information available on this canoe other than the serial number indicates that it is probably a circa 1908 model. This old Morris and another Old-Town I found on a rubbish burn pile about 35 years ago in New Jersey and bought them both for about $20 dollars. I no longer have that Old-Town, but kept the Morris because it was in better shape, but I did not know the maker until last year. It has some cracked frames and way back I fiber glassed her to make her usable. She is otherwise complete except for the gunnels. My winter project was to repair the seats of the Morris And Old-Town, build new seats for the Goodyear, and cane them all, which I have done. 


Although I have done a great deal of boat repair and construction, I have done little on canoes, so I decided to work on the Goodyear first to get into the canoe refurbishing mode. The new mahogany seats are finished and caned and installed. You can see the difference between the before picture below and the above finished look. Not seen in this picture are the finished cane seats. 
 you can reach me on my email at

The 1923 Old town and the 1908 Morris are waiting for me to get up to speed on canoes. Although I have done a lot of work on old craft, I have done very little on canoes. So in order to get up to speed on canoes I have concentrated so far mostly on the late 1950 or early 1960 Goodyear Synthetic. This canoe was built as an experiment by the Goodyear company using a type of mold and induction to fold a sandwich of exterior skin over a central foam core shape of a canoe. I do not know what level of success that they had, but the example that I have was deemed a “second” due to noticeable folding flaws in the interior and exterior of the finished hull. I bought the canoe from a friend on Cape Cod named Fred Sands in Orleans Cape Cod Mass in 1972. His dad, I think who was also named Fred, purchased the “second” from Goodyear and built oak gunnels, keel and thwarts, with mahogany breast hooks and seats. These were basically slab arrangements but allowed the canoe to be used for fifty years by me and the kids. Over time the keel was lost and damage sustained periodical by normal use as well as the kids inadvertent dropping her out of the back of a pickup at speed on a road to Carbuncle Pond or a river in North Kingstown RI. After bringing the canoe with the others to Stover Mo in 1994, and after finishing the other boat projects that I brought out here, It was time to look at the Canoes. The 1923 Old Time that I purchased in RI and started restoring there and the 1908 Morris that I purchased with another Old Town that I found on a burn pile in New Jersey ( I no longer have that Old Town) were pulled down out of the barn with the Goodyear Synthetic. When I learned that I had a couple of relatively rare canoes, I decided to look at the Goodyear as a training course on canoe repair.

It turned out that the gunnels of the Goodyear were in need of replacement and the thwarts seats and breast hooks were slab sided and could use an upgrade. All or the wood was removed. I have an old early 1900s barn made of oak beams with 1” oak siding. Many of the excess oak boards used in the siding were laid down as a unsecured flooring on the hay loft. Some of these 100 plus year old planks were edge grained clear planks a foot or more wide around 14' or more in length. The canoe is 16.5” long, but a scarf utilizing this excellent lumber was utilized. I found that a 1/16” or so of the gray exposed boards removed by sanding and plainer revealed excellent wood for the gunnels and keel. There is no real curve up at the bow and stern of this canoe, so no steaming was required of this old wood. But with an internal and external cut out bevel to accommodate the thickness of the Goodyear hull material, I could work with an excellent wood with nice tone for the gunnels. The breast hooks and seats were made of Philippine Mahogany, the wood was fine enough for use as new breast hooks. Originally the breast hooks were just square slab units below the thwarts like the seats, but with the gunnels in place I could remove the bad surface wood and give them a nice heart cut inner edge and fit them flush with the new gunnels.


The seats and thwarts needed complete replacement. Fortunately I have excellent templates from the 1923 Old Town, which I used. The Old town was sold with a sailing rig, and since I originally added a sailing rig to the Goodyear, the Old Town examples would be much better than my jury rig design when I fitted it up back when I didn't know any better. The Old-town seats and thwarts are ash (I think) but the Morris seats and thwarts are Mahogany. Since the breast hooks are Mahogany on the Goodyear canoe, I chose to use Philippine mahogany for the seats and thwarts. Some of the boat part that I carried out here from Rhode Island were from a 25' 1948 cabin cruiser named Nassau II out of Newport RI. The flat head V8 went to a fellow in Florida building a Mahogany speedboat, but the wheel console of Philippine Mahogany was upstairs in the barn. So it was re cycled into thwarts and seats using the Old-town parts as templates. When all that was done and varnished, I ordered and received the cane for the seats, and the Goodyear seats built and the Morris and Old town seats are restored and all three canoes have new caning in place...


I have just finished the Oldtown canvasing and filling, and while it cures for the winter, I am starting on the Morris. I had fiber-glassed it back in the 1980s when I found it on a burn pile in New Jersey just to get it usable and not knowing its rarity. I refurbished and re caned the seats on all three canoes last winter. While the Oldtown canvas cures the Morris has been moved over to the work area. I thought that the fiberglass removal would be very difficult, but surprisingly it came off easily in strips leaving only areas of resin behind. If the hull was oiled prior to canvasing, that would explain the fiberglass not soaking into the wood very much. Four hours sanding removed the resin, and the planking is mostly pretty good.


The 1923 Oldtown with new canvas November 2019. Almost one hundred years old, but young at that...You have to fudge around a bit with it but it is not hard to get a nice covering as long as your hull prep work has been good...

Below is a picture of the wrinkles that come and go depending on the weather. The upper one shows the canoe after canvas and sealing. Still trying to figure out what to do about it....

Picture here


The 1923 with sealed filler all smoothed out. It was a bit of work to judge the consistency of the filler for rubbing smooth, but not too bad. I had a temperature in the shop around 60 degrees, but I had a few warm days before we slip into the cold of winter here in Missouri. It had about two weeks of reasonable temperature and has set up well so far. I moved her over to the side and moved the Morris to the work side of the shop.


Here is a shot of the 1908 Morris after removal of the fiberglass and the remaining resin sanded off. The planking is generally in pretty good shape, but of course some work on the planking will be required. Work on some cracked and broken frames and about 7' of the port inwhale comes next. Resin needs to be removed from the gaps between the planking, but at least the resin does not appear to go very deep. I have learned about a few excellent ideas on frame repair, and am already making plans for that project.


Here is a shot of the cracked frames. I have been given excellent information on repair techniques by folks at the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association. What a great group of knowledgeable and helpful crafts folks.


Here is a shot of the stem band bent in about one half inch above the deck. I am curious what was between the band and deck, and I have gotten no new ideas on that. I have learned that the stem bands were riveted not screwed to the stem. That may make it easier to remove the bands for canvasing. One interesting note, the remains of canvas found appear to show that the canoe may have been originally a light green, if that cloth is original.


I can be reached for any questions at my email at 

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