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Yesterday we wandered around the tale of “Nessmuk and the Sairy Gamp.” Because I spent all that time talking about the Sairy Gamp it is probably the best time to discuss the work of Rushton. But first let us close out the facts about Nessmuk, aka George Washington Sears, and his canoes.
Of course there was his favorite, the Sairy Gamp. Although he loved her the most, it did not keep him from having a few others on the side. Nessmuk could be fickle.
Nessmuk’s first Adirondack trip was in 1880. His love at that time was his namesake; Nessmuk #1. It weighed almost eighteen pounds; quite a weight for a 110 pound asthmatic with consumption to be portaging between lakes. He gave it the nickname Wood Drake.
In 1881 Nessmuk used a canoe that was a little longer yet a little lighter; sixteen pounds. He named that one the “Susan Nipper.” That was another Dickens’ Character in “Dombey and Sons.”
Rushton outdid himself in building Nessmuk’s next canoe, the Sairy Gamp. Without fear of beating a dead horse let me simply state that it was only nine feet long and weighed a total of only ten and one-half pounds. Nessmuk used this for his 1883 trip in the Adirondacks.
Nessmuk moved his operations to Pennsylvania and Florida streams. In 1884 he used “Bucktail” which weighed a hefty twenty-two pounds. In 1885 he moved back to the lightweight Nessmuk #2, aka “Rushton-Fairbanks” which was only eight and one-half feet long and weighed nine pounds a fifteen ounces.
During a fall lull I took a two day hike to Canton. My goal was the corner of State and Water streets. That was where Rushton had his shop.
It was a large building three stories tall. The long side had eight evenly spaced windows and the short side had four evenly spaced windows. It was the largest building I had ever seen. Someone said it was eighty feet long and forty feet wide. The bottom floor was at least twelve feet from floor to ceiling. It was cornered on each side by four tall elm trees.
I went inside to search for Rushton. He was busy training a boy on how to plane cedar strips. He was a good man that Rushton. He was taking his time and patience to show the lad how to measure the thickness.
“Now young man” he was saying, “this is the gauge you will use today. It measures three-sixteenths of an inch. The whole strip has to pass through this three-sixteenths slot. No more and no less. If you see the strip is a bit less than that you should call me and I will look.”
He watched the boy work for a few minutes before he turned around and saw me standing there.
“Tahauwas, you old fool! What are you doing out of the woods?” he asked.
I responded “Well I came to see how you build those famous canoes that you sell.”
Rushton said “That is good. Maybe you can learn how to repair them in the field. The lodges send them back here but I don’t have the time for repairs. I am too busy building new ones.”
So he took me around the bottom floor. The place smelled wonderful. The cedar being worked had an aroma that was rich and pungent. There were shavings all over the floor and the walls were stacked with strips waiting to be planed. Seven or eight canoes were at different stages of assembly.
The second floor was being used as a drying room. There were stacks of cedar lumber that were all crisscrossed so that the air could travel between and around each piece. Rushton did not take me to the third floor. “Same thing upstairs” he said.
We had a cup of tea in the office area and then went to the assembly area. Rushton showed me how the cedar strips went on in lap strake fashion, each new one overlapping the previous one. The work started at the keel and found its way up to the gunwale. Each strip was attached to the previous strip by tiny copper rivets.
Rushton had made a tool that allowed the sharp end of the rivet to be hammered flat without damaging the wood. It was a simple peace of steel with a dimple in it. The tool was put over the head of the rivet and the flat faced hammer was used to gently beat the soft copper flat. Once the work was complete you could not tell one side of the rivet from the other.
The whole canoe was assembled over a series of cross sections that made up the mold.
He assigned me to a master canoe builder and went back to see how the boy was doing on his cedar planning and measuring.
I stayed for a week and went back into the woods for a winter of canoe repair.