The only way to answer that question was to paddle a log. Which log? First, I had to find dugouts ready to launch, not sitting in front of a museum. I have been in touch with representatives of three groups of dugout replica builders: Tom Ronk, of The Discovery Corps of St. Charles, Missouri; Walt Marten, of the Honor Guard of Great Falls, Montana; and Phil Johnston, of the Hog Heaven Muzzle Loaders of Orofino, Idaho. The names, in each case, are the principal canoe designers and builders for each group, with plenty of help from their members. Members of these three Lewis and Clark reenactment associations know their Lewis and Clark history and the journals very well, and I have had many helpful conversations with them.
There are no doubt other dugout associations in the country not associated with Lewis and Clark, and I would welcome contact with them, but in those bicentennial Lewis and Clark years we knew that every floatable replica dugout might be coming through Montana. After much visiting and talking and measuring, and much generous cooperation from the groups, I was able to gather three logs for a river test at Orofino on June 12, 2005, with 12 expert paddlers from Western Montana to explore what logs can do in extreme situations. These are the logs:
Walt Marten's 18-footer
1. "18-footer" – The Walt Marten "Scout Canoe."A relatively lightweight and finely carved cottonwood "scout" canoe by Walt Marten of Columbus, Montana, 18', 6" long, 800 pounds, 31" wide. The flat bottom is 22" wide, with a sharp side edge, about 55 degrees, up to slightly rounded sides, 14" high top to bottom. The gunwales are only one inch thick – unusually thin – and the floor is 3" thick, also comparatively thin among "replica" canoes. This canoe is distinguished by its light weight and fairly sharp entry line at the bow. It is stained red, and in the pictures it is distinguished by its color, high ends, and riding high in the water. This canoe seems almost halfway between a "primitive" dugout and a modern canoe, but of course it may be a completely authentic replica of the "small" or "scout" canoe, since we have no idea just what they carved. And remember: the Corps men were skilled with the axe and adze, and proud of it, while museums often want "primitive" looking replicas that suggest rough, hand-hewn pioneer work. The Borneo boats are well shaped and smooth as silk, with no better tools than Lewis and Clark had.
Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge-Cost Share Program.