Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 10, 2012

Man brings restored canoe home

Haskell brand was made in Ludington

LUDINGTON (AP) — Tom McCloud recently brought a piece of Ludington history home. McCloud, who lives in Frederick, Md., visits the area annually for salmon fishing, but this year he brought a little something extra — a restored 1920s Haskell canoe made in Ludington.

The plywood canoes were built in a factory on Rowe Street after World War I using a patented process for creating waterproof plywood.

Calling McCloud a "canoe guy" is like calling John Madden a "football guy" or the Pope a "religious guy."

He rattles off facts about antique Haskells and Old Towns faster than a raging river roaring through a rocky gorge.

Next to his Haskell on top of his truck camper is a restored orange Old Town wood-and-canvas canoe painted in Princeton colors.

At one time, both were state-of-the art technology in canoes, although the Haskell canoe improved on the canvas canoes by reducing weight — McCloud's 17-foot Haskell weighs about 65 pounds in its restored form. "They were at least 20 pounds lighter than a comparable wood and canvas canoe," McCloud said.

The construction process of Haskell canoes involved creating marine plywood with a patented glue called "blood albumen." That glue and the wood manufactured by Haskell Boat Company was in high demand for aircraft construction during World War I. After the war, the company focused on canoes.

"It was the first truly waterproof plywood," McCloud said of the product the company called "Ser-o-ply."

McCloud said the Haskell plywood has redwood in the center with birch on both sides. Redwood is a very rot-resistant wood, McCloud said. Literature from the time shows the canoe bodies are cut from single sheets of the plywood, which are bent up and held in place with mahogany gunnels and brass hardware.

The result was a high-sided canoe that had a lot of capacity for hauling around camping, hunting or fishing gear.

"It's sort of an all-purpose sort of touring canoe," Mc-Cloud said. "I'm sure a lot of people around here used them for hunting or fishing," McCloud said.

The story of how McCloud got his hands on a piece of Ludington history is almost unbelievable. McCloud has 40 years of whitewater canoeing experience and his friends knew that. He was working at Purdue University when a co-worker came across a couple people having trouble with the canoe. They were sputtering and cursing and just dragged the craft up on shore and left it, McCloud said. Mc-Cloud's co-worker asked if they were just going to leave the canoe and they said they were. So he took it to McCloud, who took note of its condition and put it away for a future project.

The canoe had been stored improperly and patched with copper in places. The tips of the gunnels were pretty much gone, as was one whole side of the gunnel. The hull had a hole near the bow where a stick or piece of metal rod had punctured it and the decks were gone.

"It was a mess," McCloud said.

That said, almost everything was still original, which appealed to McCloud. "The brass stems were broken into pieces," McCloud said. "I took them and had them brazed back together."

The canoe had been painted blue and McCloud couldn't find a chemical to remove the paint thoroughly so he was left to sand it. The sandwich construction of the birch-redwood-birch plywood meant that was touchy work. Each birch layer on the plywood was just a sixteenth of an inch thick for a total thickness of three sixteenths of an inch on the plywood hull.

Some of the birch veneer was in rough shape, so he found the closest matching birch veneer he could and started patching and repairing. Unfortunately, today's veneer is thinner than what they used back then so he had to use several layers. With wood so thin, sanding and matching was a painstaking process.

What was the cost?

In dollars, not so much, but the time and effort?

"It was at least 300 hours," McCloud said.

McCloud put two layers of shellac on the restored canoe, then went to work adding tinting to his patches so they would match the original finish.

"Then there were six layers of marine varnish," McCloud said.

One final touch was a reproduction of the Haskell logo decal that graced the bow of the boat. He got a friend to draw one out and put it on the canoe.

McCloud recently took the time to demonstrate the remarkably light canoe in the Pere Marquette River. He's able to remove it from his truck camper top and carry it down to the water himself. It handles well, he said, although the high tips catch some wind on open water.

McCloud also stopped at Historic White Pine Village and copied any information he could find on the Haskell company and Haskell family.

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