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J R Robertson 16’3”x 34” wood canvas canoe

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I recently received an message from Kim Gass (yellowcanoe) asking if I was interested in a wc canoe she had. I have 4 already, all Chestnuts and I just wasn’t looking for any more. I asked around and couldn’t find anyone interested who didn’t already have many unfinished projects.
Kim and her husband Jim had already stripped the interior of varnish, which came out very nice. She mentioned that the hull was in good shape with only one rib needing attention.
(Jim stripping the hull)
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So after a week or so of going back and forth with myself, I picked the canoe up New Years Eve day. It was nice seeing Kim and Jim again and the canoe was as good as Kim had described, if not better.
While there are no records for Robertson canoes serial numbers, Kim’s research puts it around 1911, 1938 was the last year they where built. It’s a “closed gunnel” canoe, meaning they installed a cap over the gunnels to make for a very neat appearance. It also has only one thwart which is offset from the center of the canoe, a good indicator that this was a courting canoe used on the Charles River, Boston area, possible in a livery. Maybe that can explain the nice smooth planking on the hull, easy living, unlike every beat up Chestnut I have ever worked on.
So now I have a new winter project. Unlike my Chestnuts, this canoe will never be a work horse, it needs to be historically correct, I hope I’m up to the task.

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Anyone who has any history of Robertsons please chime in.. All the dates I found are guesstimates.. Robin did you find the L5 woodburned in? I would guess so.

This canoe went from a house across the lake to one of their relatives a block away to the neighbor next door ( who was going to merely strip the canvas and epoxy the bare hull and try to take it on the lake we live on.. He was quite willing for a bit of cash for us to adopt it; we convinced him his plan was going under. We were going to work with Tom MacKenzie on rehabbing as we have no idea what we were doing. Well Tom up and died soon after we did the stripping and sanding ( in South Carolina outside in the winter) and we lost interest. I am really glad Robin wanted to take this project on as he knows more about rehabbing canoes now than I will ( or my hubby) ever have.

I did find an old WCHA thread from a former friend of mine who unbeknown to me ( he also had a selection of FreeStyle canoes) had a Robertson.. So this thread is from 2005 I can't ask Jeff as he up and died too suddenly two years ago.. Oh the pitfalls of being old.

 
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Yes, me too! The first thing I noticed in the picture of the stripping process is the planking pattern. It's unlike any I have seen previously. I think it's more common for the planks to follow the shape of the canoe in parallel courses which are carried through to the stems, with 'filler courses' added at the widest girth of the canoe. These filler courses typically end with tapered ends (often in 3 courses) equalling the width of one course of planking typically near what would be the location of quarter thwarts. You may be able to see what I'm describing in this photo of my 15' Willow canoe:

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This same unusual planking feature is evident in the photos from Fitz (above) within the link Yellowcanoe provided from the WCHA.org site.

Robin, I hope you'll take lots of pictures and share the restoration with us!
 
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Looking forward to seeing this project blossom & come to fruition. Wish I lived closer, so I could walk over, lean on my shovel and be the sidewalk superintendent. I would also enjoy a cup of tea with Robin at the union required coffee breaks.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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It also has only one thwart which is offset from the center of the canoe, a good indicator that this was a courting canoe used on the Charles River, Boston area

Never knew of this connection, but it could explain this mystery verse from the CTN poet laureate, Willy Shakebeer:

A Boston canoeist left port
with a canoe having one offset thwart.
He pulled out a quart,
gave his girlfriend a snort,
and the sport settled down to a court.
 
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I spent some time working on the canoe today, glued toothpicks into all the old tack holes in the stems. I also spent some time going over the canoe and 2 things I noticed was that for a canoe this old (90-110 years old) there is very little rot (one stem tip) and the ribs and planks are in excellent condition. The ends of the thwart and seats also show no sign of ever having been varnished yet no rot at all.
I think this canoe was well cared for and had an easy life.
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That is a rare beauty. Makes my tremblay look like a dirty bathtub. I must admit you are giving me the fever, I've got to start looking for an old hull.
 
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I removed two cracked ribs from the canoe and removed those toothpicks in the stems.
Looking thru my pile of cedar I found two replacement ribs that have the right width so I’m going to install them when I get my steam bag outfit together.

This canoe has closed gunnels, which I have never worked with. Installing ribs on a close gunnel canoe involves a little more work and understanding but I’m pretty sure I can get it done.

After moving some lumber, I was able to lift my 14’ 44 lb Fox to the top rack and fit the Robertson underneath. This is not good, if this canoe comes out as lightweight and good looking as it should, it will be hard to sell now that it has a space on the rack.



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An interesting boat. I was reading about how popular canoes were in the early 1900s for courting. Apparently it was one of the few places a couple could go without a chaperone.

I'm sure it will be beautiful when you've finished with it.
 
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This is not good, if this canoe comes out as lightweight and good looking as it should, it will be hard to sell now that it has a space on the rack.

This made me smile. It is indeed hard to move things out that have a place 😁
 
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