A Perfect BoatA Perfect Boat Only a few wood boat builders exist. Their passion and tradition will leave a legacy of beauty that speaks for itself.
By Joe LaMance
I came to the farm in far north Texas in 1954 at the age of six months. We lived on a tree-shaded hill overlooking a little valley where train tracks ran beside clear waters of Cedar Creek. At one time this farm was a going concern with as many as 14 people living and working the land. Now it was an old couple of Indian lineage and one kid. We lived simply, as we always had. The farm supplied most of our money and food. We had no TV, indoor plumbing and many other things most people took for granted. I assumed everyone lived this way. It was several years before I knew any different.
But it was here, on this spread of north Texas farm, that I was taught respect for the land and all living things on it. There could be no better place to learn than the farm of my youth. It was a world fuller of adventure and possibility of any I've since known.
Not only was the old man a farmer, he was a moonshiner. He had two working stills hidden along the banks of Cedar Creek. Changing times and old age forced him to retire from one occupation. The man was spirited.
He was a good wood worker also, and had helped build a boat with another man who lived a few miles away. They cut the trees and milled the wood. The boat was completely made from scratch. It was a magnificent creation.
Every year or so, some of the men in that area took a week off hunting, fishing and camping in southwest Oklahoma. The boat always went with them, but I didn't. It wasn't until I was 12 or 13 that I was allowed to attend this most holy event.
The memories are vivid. Trot lines baited, then run with that boat at night. The boat went out, and always came back with catfish, cleaned by camp light. The aroma of Catfish Charlie stinkbait hung heavy in the air. I can still smell it, to this day. The sound of paddles striking the sides of the boat in the dark, a crackling fire, men laughing and telling lies and of course the distinctive sound of a beer can being opened with a church key. I was in heaven.
The years have passed away and so have the people I knew and loved in my youth, but I still reach out to them. Today I am blessed to be in business with a good friend and surrounded by many boats at our place near Lake Texoma. We have canoes made of different materials and shapes and are proud of them all, but wooden boats hold a place of honor above all else.
Their unique shape, graceful lines, every detail, separates these boats from their mass produced relatives. People who build wooden boats for a living could probably make more money by putting their skills into another endeavor with equal zeal. Most believe that a profit would result in building a perfect product in a pure way by craftsmanship. This may explain why only a few wood boat builders exist. But for some, passion and tradition are more important than profit; it's a noble quest that will leave a legacy of beauty that speaks for itself.
One of our suppliers of boats is the Old Town Canoe Company. They still build wooden boats, and out of over 26,000 boats made at their factory in Old Town, Maine, each year only 50-60 are wooden. The president of the company recently proclaimed that as long as Old Town exists, he will build wooden boats whether he made money or not.
They are a great investment in fun. A lot of the pleasure in owning one is the fact that it is made by hand.
No matter who you are these boats are a joy to behold. For some though, looking is not enough; they won't be satisfied until they can own and paddle one. For some of us it's about owning a piece of history that represents an attitude to life that has almost vanished. It creates a feeling that's hard to explain. It leads to the mysterious question - why do men create beautiful objects at all?
Today it seems impossible that these exquisite boats are used in the real world but they were and still are. Just seeing or paddling one of these works of art gives an opportunity to reflect on a time when good design, excellent engineering, craft, care, and bare-knuckled passion created unique vessels. If it sounds like I have a bias toward these boats, you would be right. They are the most beautiful ever built.
So now when I put in on the water alone, I am no longer of this earth, but above it. Transformed, suspended, free from all its laws. And in the half light of the evening sun, I drift to a place remembered.
Reprinted with permission from Pond Boss Magazine
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