by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

In Canada, the canoes from the Chestnut Canoe Company set the standard by which all others are measured.  Now, thirty-nine years after the company went out of business, they are still held up as classic canoe icons.  So, how can you identify a canoe as a Chestnut and what makes a Prospector a Prospector?

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The Chestnut Canoe Company – William and Henry Chestnut started building wood-canvas canoes in 1897.  They bought a canoe in Maine (probably a Gerrish canoe) and made exact copies of it which they then sold out of their father’s furniture business in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  They incorporated the canoe business in 1905 which most historians view as the birth date of the company.  However, the 1972 Chestnut Canoe Company catalogue proudly celebrated 75 years in business.  It seems the company viewed its birth as 1897.  Be that as it may, the company grew into the largest canoe manufacturer in Canada and, at their height, were producing in excess of 3,000 canoes/year.  In 1923, Chestnut Canoe Company and Peterborough Canoe Company (and later Canadian Canoe Company) amalgomated under an umbrella group called Canadian Watercraft Limited.  As a result, the wood-canvas canoes for all three companies were built in Fredericton by Chestnut.  The Peterborough Canoe Company ceased operations in 1961 while the Chestnut Canoe Company continued until it closed in 1978.

Chestnut produced over 50 different canoes in a wide variety of models.  In this article, I will focus on the most common Chestnut canoes — Ogilvy, Cruiser, Bobs Special, Pal and Prospector.

The Chestnut Ogilvy – Although never as popular as the others, fishing guides on the salmon rivers of New Brunswick helped create a working canoe that is unmatched for its purpose.  They needed a river canoe they could stand up in all day long.  They were often poling the canoe upstream through shallow rapids in order to offer the prime fishing spots to their clients.  The canoe had to be stable and tough with a shallow draft so as to avoid many (but not all) of the rocks.  They come in six models that range in length from 16’ to 26’ – real, honest working canoes.

The 16’ model has a 36” beam and 13½” depth at the centre.  The ribs are 3” wide, 3/8” thick and have only ½” space between them.  This creates what amounts to a double-planked hull.  The rugged nature of the Ogilvy comes with a price in terms of weight.  The 16’ has an average weight of 84 pounds and a carrying capacity of 850 pounds.  It has a flat-bottomed hull, straight sides, full entry lines and modest rocker in the ends.  This makes for a canoe that is slow and steady – exactly what is needed when moving through shallow, rapid rivers.

The Chestnut Cruiser – This canoe was one of the first canoes that Chestnut developed.  It was influenced very heavily by (if not copied directly from) Gerrish canoes built in Maine in the late 1890’s.  The lines are sleek, narrow and graceful – designed to handle rivers with speed and efficiency.  This narrow canoe has an arched bottom, fine-entry lines and generous rocker at the ends.  Therefore, it was not for the novice paddler.  However, in the hands of someone who knows what to do, this canoe is a dream to paddle.

Three models are 16’ 17’ and 18’ long.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between the ribs.  The 16’ model has a 34” beam, is 13” deep and weighs 70 pounds.  They are also built with ribs 3” wide, 3/8” thick and ½” spaces between the ribs.  These heavy-duty models are called the Guide Special.  The 16’ model weighs 75 pounds.  Both 16’ models have a carrying capacity of 600 pounds.

The Chestnut Bobs Special – This 15′ canoe is one of two lightweight pleasure canoes built by Chestnut.  Before I talk about the canoe, I’d like to clarify the name.  According to Roger MacGregor in his book “When the Chestnut was in Flower”, Henry and Will Chestnut were real history buffs.  The telegraph code for the 15’ 50-Lb. Special was BOBS and made reference to Lord Roberts, a major figure during the Boer War in South Africa. Over the years, as this wide, light-weight canoe became more difficult to keep under the weight limit of 50 lbs (the average weight is 58 pounds while the carrying capacity is 700 pounds), they changed the name.  I have seen a variety of Chestnut catalogues call it “Bob’s Special”, “Bob Special” and “Bobs Special”.  So, feel free to take your pick.

Many outdoor enthusiasts were looking for a lightweight, stable canoe that would allow them to enjoy fly fishing or just a quiet paddle on the lake.  With a 37” beam and 12½” depth at the centre, the Bobs Special is very stable — ideal for those who find a regular canoe too ‘tippy’.  At the same time, it is surprisingly quick and maneuverable in the water.  This is due to the shallow-arch bottom combined with moderate rocker and fine entry lines in the ends.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide and ¼” thick with 1½” spaces between them.

The Chestnut Pleasure Canoes – It is no accident that Bill Mason used a 16′ Chestnut pleasure canoe in most of his films.  It is stable, yet quick; steady, yet agile.  It has a 36” beam, 12¾” depth at the centre, weight of 72 pounds and a carrying capacity of 700 pounds.  It is as close to being a perfect recreational canoe as you ever hope to get.  It had a variety of names over the years and was one of the Chestnut pleasure canoes which also came in 14’ and 15’ lengths.  Until 1958, the 16’ pleasure canoe (called the Ajax or Moonlight) had a 34” beam.  Then, the mould was widened.  The economy version of the 16’ pleasure canoe had been called the Pal for several years (from about 1954).  The pleasure canoes came in both narrow and wide versions until about 1960 when the wider versions were adopted exclusively.  Over the years, the ribs of the pleasure canoes came in two different sizes – either 1½” wide and 3/8” thick with 1½” spaces between ribs or 2-3/8” wide and 3/8” thick with 2” spaces.  The 16′ was called the Pal or the Deer, the 15′ was called the Chum or the Doe and the 14′ was called the Playmate or the Fox.

The bottom has a shallow-arch hull with tumblehome extending through the entire length of the canoe.  The fine entry lines and moderate rocker make it very easy to paddle.  In his film, “Path of the Paddle: Solo Whitewater”, Bill Mason demonstrated very well that the Pal (or Deer) was not designed for Class 3 rapids.  But, that didn’t stop him from trying.  The Pal (or Deer) is a great general-purpose canoe and was the canoe of choice for many generations of canoeists – even if many of them called it a Chestnut Prospector.

The Chestnut Prospector – This is the real deal – often copied, never matched.  A quick search on the internet produces at least ten modern canoe companies with a “Prospector” in its catalogue.  However, the Chestnut Canoe Company invented this winning combination.  With high sides, substantial arch in the bottom and lots of rocker in the full ends, it is designed to transport heavy loads quickly through rapid rivers and large, challenging lakes.  It is essentially a deeper, wider Cruiser and is still regarded as the ultimate wilderness tripping canoe.  Like the Cruiser, many people unfamiliar with these canoes find it a little “tippy”.  The round bottom of the Prospector makes for a “shaky” feel when you first get in.  However, it becomes much more stable as weigh is loaded into the canoe — making it perfect for extended trips.  It also settles into a stable position when heeled over to one side.  As a result, many people love it as a solo canoe.

They were made in five lengths from 14’ to 18’.  The 16’ model has a 36” beam and a 14½” depth at the centre.  The 16’ model weighs 76 pounds and carries 850 pounds.  Although there is good tumblehome at the centre, the hull flares about 4’ from the ends in order to throw water away from the canoe while hitting big waves in rapid rivers.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between them.

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All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

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by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

The blogs I do on the specifications of canoe components for various types of canvas-covered canoes seem to be quite popular.  Apparently, I am the only one out there taking the time to write about this stuff and share it with others on-line.  This time around, I am presenting a restorer’s guide to the Bobs Special from the Chestnut Canoe Company.

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This canoe was one of two lightweight pleasure canoes built by Chestnut (the other was an 11’ solo canoe called the Featherweight that weighed about 38 pounds).  Before I talk about the canoe, I’d like to clarify the name.  According to Roger MacGregor in his book When the Chestnut was in Flower, Henry and William Chestnut were real history buffs.  The telegraph code for the 15’ 50-Lb. Special was BOBS and made reference to Lord Roberts, a major figure during the Second Boer War in South Africa. Over the years, as this wide, light-weight canoe became more difficult to keep under the weight limit of 50 lbs. (the average weight was 58 pounds while the carrying capacity was 700 pounds), they changed the name.  I have seen a variety of Chestnut catalogues call it Bob’s Special, Bob Special and Bobs Special.  So, feel free to take your pick.

Grey Owl standing in a Bobs

If you happen to have a Bobs or have been lucky enough to come across one in need of some TLC, you will notice what a sweet little canoe this is.  It paddles like a dream which is surprising for a canoe that is 37” (94 cm) wide.  Its bottom has a shallow-arch that reduces the waterline width when paddled with a light load.  There is a fair amount of rocker in the ends which adds to its maneuverability.  At the same time, it is not difficult to stand up in a Bobs – making it ideal for fly-fishing or general recreational paddling for a less experienced paddler.

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One little note here: I am listing all of the dimensions in inches.  I apologize to all of you who are working in metric.  The canoes were built with imperial measurements originally, so I find it easier and more accurate to stick with this measurement scale.

Chestnut Bobs Special Inwale

 

Inwales –The inwale is a length of White Ash or Douglas Fir 15/16” high with the edge grain visible on the top surface.  It is fashioned to fit the tumblehome present on most Chestnut canoes.  Therefore, the top surface is 9/16” wide while the bottom width is 11/16”.  The last 18” or so at each end is tapered down to about ½” wide (top and bottom) along the sides of the decks.  All of the transverse components (centre thwart and seats) are attached to the inwales with 10-24 (3/16”) galvanized steel carriage bolts.  I replace these with 10-24 silicon-bronze carriage bolts.

prebent outwales

The gunwales (both inwales and outwales) are pre-bent about 18” from the ends.  If you are replacing these components, the wood will have to be soaked for 3 days, heated by pouring boiling water over them and bent onto custom-built forms in order to get a proper fit.

Chestnut Bobs Special Outwale

 

Outwales – The outwales are also made of White Ash or Douglas Fir.  Depending on when the canoe was built, the outwales may have a chamfered edge on the bottom of the outside surface.  Water often gets trapped under the outwales and results in rot on the inside surface of the originals because they assembled the canoe first and then applied paint and varnish.  Consequently, the inside surfaces of the outwales are bare wood.  Therefore, I usually end up replacing this component.  Prior to installation, I seal the wood on all surfaces with a couple of coats of spar varnish.  Unlike the original builders, I do all of the painting and varnishing first and then assemble the canoe.

Chestnut Bobs Special Deck

 

Decks – The decks the Bobs Special were made of hardwood – usually maple, white ash or white oak.  Sometimes, they used mahogany to help reduce the overall weight.  By the time you start restoring your canoe, the decks are often rotted along with the stem-tops and inwale-ends.  They are attached to the inwales with six 1¾” #8 bronze wood screws.  As with the outwales, I help prevent future rot by sealing the decks on all surfaces with a couple of coats of spar varnish.  The deck extends about 18” into the canoe from the end.

Chestnut Stem-Top

 

Stem-Top – You will rarely if ever have to replace the entire stem.  However, I rarely see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away.  Because the top 6” or so of the stem is straight, you can usually make the repair without having to pre-bend the wood to fit the original stem-profile.

Chestnut Bobs Special Keel

 

Keel – The Bob Special had a regular (tapered) keel installed.  Use a piece of hardwood (the original was ash) and taper each end to 3/8” wide.  The overall length is about 13’.  It will accept the brass stem-band which is 3/8” wide.

Chestnut Lightweight Rib

 

Ribs – The Bobs Special was constructed with so-called “regular” ribs (2-3/8” wide) that were ¼” thick instead of the normal 3/8”.  They create a light-weight canoe but are not as robust as the regular ribs.  You will probably encounter several broken ribs in your canoe restoration.

The edges of the ribs are chamfered in most Bobs Specials.  Replicate the angles found in your canoe.  Often, the edge closest to the centre of the canoe has tapered ends (11° chamfer) while the edge closest to one end of the canoe is chamfered about 25°.

Chestnut Canoe Planking

Planking – The planking in Chestnut Canoes was made of either Eastern White Cedar or Western Red Cedar.   Although the planks started out at 5/32” thick, you will probably be shaving replacement planks down to match the original planks.  Again, this results in a lighter, less robust canoe.  You will probably encounter many broken planks in your canoe.

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Seats – The seat frames are made of ¾” ash, oak or maple that is 1½” wide.  Both seats are suspended under the inwales with 10-24 carriage bolts and held in position with 5/8” hardwood dowel.  The rear stern seat dowels are 1¾” long while the front dowels are ¾” long.  All of the bow seat dowels are ¾” long.  The forward edge of the bow seat is about 51½” from the bow-end of the canoe while the forward edge of the stern seat is about 39½” from the stern-end of the canoe.

Chestnut Canoe Thwart

Centre Thwart – The thwart is made of ¾” ash that is 2½” wide.  It tapers from the centre to create handle grips on either side that are 2” wide.  They were attached directly under the inwales with galvanized steel 10-24 carriage bolts.  As with every component in the canoe, I seal the entire thwart with a couple of coats of spar varnish prior to installation and replace the original galvanized steel bolts with silicon bronze bolts.

mockup 02

All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.