Monday, February 9, 2009

Canoes and Romance III - What kind of canoe did Ed and Ike rent?

Continuing from my article in the February 2001 issue of "Wooden Canoe".
The place where the Eisenhowers rented the canoe had to be the Huron River Boat Livery on Argo Pond, a backwater behind a low dam on the Huron River located within walking distance of the University of Michigan campus. There is still a popular canoe livery at this spot, but both the building and the canoes are made of metal.
What kind of canoe did the Eisenhowers paddle that June night so many decades ago? It is intriguing to speculate. The probability is that it was an 18-foot Old Town. Why an 18-footer? It doesn't seem that two grown young men and their coed dates plus a Victrola could have fit comfortably and safely in anything smaller.
Why an Old Town? If Old Town did not dominate the rental market in those days, would the composers have titled their song, "Out in my Old Town Canoe"?
In an attempt to obtain additional evidence to support my theory that the canoe was an Old Town, I sent an inquiry to Sue Audette, author of Old Town Canoe Company, Our First Hundred Years. She referred me to Benson Gray who has been heading up the  effort to build an electronic archives of Old Town Canoe Company construction records. Many thousands of the "build cards" have been scanned to create a database containing specific details on each canoe built such as serial number, model, length, grade, color, date shipped, destination etc.
In response to my questions, he did a statistical analysis of the records of canoes shipped from Old Town to Michigan prior to June 1911. From his analysis he concludes that the dark green Charles River model was the most popular eighteen-foot canoe in Michigan at the time of Ike's visit. Thus it is not unlikely that is what Edgar rented. He also pointed out that the presence of the large model Old Town canoes on top of the player piano at the canoe livery as shown in the Kemnitz drawings (Illustrations of the article) confirms that a large number of Old towns had been shipped there. The models were generally awarded as incentives for the purchase of two complete railroad cars full of canoes.
(Charlie Parmelee camped near the canoe livery one cold night last year during his Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge).
I had also directed an inquiry to Old town. In response, Joe England in Customer Service related that there nothing in their archives to show direct sales of canoes either to the University of Michigan or to the Huron River Boat Livery, but there were numerous shipments to Michigan to a Mr. Marks and a Mr. Crosier.
In 1981 the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association reprinted the 1910 Old town catalog. Comparing the illustration of the Charles River model in that catalog with photographs of canoes in University of Michigan yearbooks of that era leads me to believe I may be seeing pictorial proof of the presence of Charles River models in Ann Arbor. 
The catalog says: "As indicated by the name, this model is designed for use on rivers. Its flat floor gives the minimum draft and great steadiness". This sounds like just the canoe for rental on a Michigan river. The 1910 catalog goes on, "Through its beauty of outline, steadiness and speed this model earns its place as the most popular canoe on the market".
Gil Cramer of the Wooden Canoe Shop in Bryan, Ohio, thinks the Eisenhower brothers could have been paddling a Morris canoe. He says the only fifteen-foot Morris he has ever seen was purchased from an Ann Arbor canoe livery. That canoe had a Morris decal and closed gunwales, which indicated is was probably built before the Morris factory burned in 1920. He also notes that in 1911 a Mr. C.J.Molitor advertised that he was the sole Morris retailer in Detroit. This seems to provide evidence that Morris canoes were well known in southeastern Michigan at the time.

I confess to having more than a passing interest in canoe-assisted romances. Exactly ten years after Ike's evening on the Huron, my parents were canoeing while honeymooning at a cottage on a Michigan lake.(Paw Paw Lake in Berrien County).
(I once speculated to my father that I might have been conceived in that canoe, but he assured me that that wasn't where I happened. Too bad......).
NEXT: The Honeymoon Canoe still exists.

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