Jack Hazzard eased into the canoe, resting his back against one thwart and his feet against another, adjusted his hat with the Indian feather in it and shoved off into the C&O Canal.
A young man and his girlfriend stopped to watch. Realizing there was something unusual about the boat, the young man finally ventured a guess: It's a Louisiana pirogue, isn't it?" he asked, turning to a bystander for confirmation.
"No," came the reply, "it's a paper canoe." Insulted by such a seemingly silly answer the young man pulled his girlfriend hurriedly away and never learned the story of how an 87-year-old man came to build a canoe out of wrapping paper.
Jack Hazzard has been building canoes for most of his 87 years. He grew up near the Onodaga Indian reservation in the Finger Lakes region of upper New York state. "I had distant relatives on the reservation," he proclaims, "so you know where I went every chance I got."
His description of building the Missy Laneous , as he christened the 16-foot-long paper canoe, is interspersed with tales of Albert Cusick, the Indian who befriended him, with tips on paddling, and with a treasure house of anecdotes -- mostly on himself -- that set him to chuckling as he talks.
He was 10 when he built his first canoe. "It was a starved-dog canoe, made of barrel hoops nailed to a clothes pole and covered with canvas. Then we doped it with anything we could get hold of -- paint or tar, maybe. It didn't have much shape, and I had to wring a lot of Onondaga Creek water out of my britches because of it."
Later, he helped Cusick build a birch-bark canoe. "I wasn't much help, really," Jack recalls. "I got in the way about every way you could think of and got all plastered up with spruce gum.
About the paper canoe, Jack says, first thing, that it's not the first one ever made: "There was a man named Nathaniel Bishop who had one built in 1874.
"It was made by E. Waters Sons of Troy, New York. They made paper racing sculls, but Bishop got them to build him a canoe. He paddled it down the Hudson and the inland bays and rivers of the East Coast and across the top of Florida, about 2,500 miles in all. He wrote a book about it, called The Voyage of the Paper Canoe."
Jack hasn't read the book, but he read about the canoe elsewhere and, with the barest of details, set out to build one himself, just to see if he could.
A caller was invited over to the house one day to see how it was done. Jack likes to share with others: No one is too young, silly or insignificant to enter his world, and those who do leave feeling somehow more interesting. He's the kind of man you might wish had been your grandfather.
"If we don't pass on what we learn," he said, "it'll die out, until somebody digs it up again 300 years from now, if ever."
Jack has written two books and has a thick scrapbook full of how-to-do-it articles he's had published in handyman magazines, starting in the 1930s. They include instructions for making a child's drum from a cereal box and for making a toboggan of barrel staves.
The house is filled with books on canoes and sailing; with pictures of sailing and racing canoes; and with plaques and models, most of which Jack made. A roll of birch bark sits in a corner, to be turned into miniature Indian-style canoes for young visitors. An old wooden bow hangs over an archway, close to a tomahawk Jack crafted years ago. photo of Cusick in full Iroquois regalia is ensconced on his desk. (The Onondaga were one of the five nations of the Iroquois.)
Jack's workshop is crammed with tools and canoes, sails and masts and hand-carved paddles. "I used to carve double spoonblade paddles and sell them for $9," he said as he lifted the paper canoe from its resting place. In the workshop context of the man who built it, the missy no longer seemed a curiosity, but a logical step in a lifetime.
Sixteen feet long and 34 inches wide, it weighs about 35 pounds. It cost about $50, "mostly for the paper, glue and varnish."
The paper hull was laid up over the hull of a cedar canoe. Jack bought the cedar canoe in 1920, six years after coming to Washington, and raced it for several years. It looks as if it had never been used.
Jack's wife, Trudy, helped when he began building the paper canoe in 1976. "She never weighed more than 110 pounds, but she could paddle like a man," Jack said of her, wistfulness creeping into the edges of his voice.
They turned the cedar canoe upside down on sawhorses and waxed the hull with a combination of beeswax and paraffin. "The same stuff I used to put on it to race," Jack advised.
Strips of brown wrapping paper, five inches wide, were laid down, edge, diagonally across the hull. They worked from the center toward the ends. Then a coat of waterproof glue bought at the local hardware store, a thin film of cheesecloth and another layer of paper strips. Each layer of paper strips was put down at an angle to the one before.
"You've got to roll the paper down carefully to get rid of air bubbles," Jack cautions, "and you let each layer dry real good."
In all, Jack used seven layers of paper and five layers of cheesecloth, then added one layer of fiberglass on top for abrasion resistance.
Before the hull was quite finished, Trudy died. "I kind of lost interest then," Jack says, and he didn't work on the paper canoe again until mid-1980, when his son asked him to move it off the cedar canoe.
Once he began working again, it took about two months to complete the boat. "I didn't have much help except for my neighbor. All the wookwork and varnishing had to be done."
Jack laid in a keel of white oak and parallel wooden stringers, wedging them in place with pieces of wood and toothpicks until the glue dried.Gunwales and stempieces were carved and added and handcarved thwarts were secured to the hull with brass plates and screws.
"It took 29 clamps for each gunwale to hold it together while the glue set," he said. "I was borrowing clamps from everybody I knew."
The wooden pieces were made from miscellaneous pieces of wood Jack had collected over the years, which is how the boat got its name, the "Missy Lanious."
Two young boys came over to visit while Jack was describing how he made the paper canoe. He set them to work practicing wood-carving. They stayed close wherever Jack moved, though, so they could hear his stories.
It was their grandfather who had helped with the final stages of the canoe.
"Toward the end, I got kind of in a hurry to launch her, so I didn't so everything the way I should have," Jack explained, pointing out varnish stains on his front porch. "It needs some more sanding and varnishing yet."
The Missy Laneous was launched on the C&O canal near Chain Bridge on November 1, 1980. All of Jack's family -- son and daughter and grandchildren -- were present except for one granddaughter who was hiking in the Appalachians and could not be reached.
A few deficiencies were noted: The floorboard was too high and cramped the paddlers' knees; and the front sand a little too far down into the water. Over the winter, Jack made a new, removable floorbaord of clear pine stats and moved a thwart back to shift the centerpoint. On the first nich weekend of the spring, he was ready to try it again.
He was expecially interested in trying it with two paddlers aboard, something he'd not gotten to do in November. He recruited the 16-year-old son of a friend to go along.
The boy, used to the resistance of aluminum or plastic hulls, was cautious at first. The paper hull gives with the paddler's weight."You get the feeling you have to be real gentle with her," Jack said, "but you don't."
Soon the three of them -- man, boy and boat -- were skimming south toward Chain Bridge. When they returned, Jack was teaching the boy to paddle Indian style. Later, the boy would describe Jack as "the greatest man I've ever met."
Cusick taught Jack to paddle, and he remembers his first lesson. "After we finished the [birch bark] canoe, we took it to the creek. Cusick put it in and said, 'Mmm, floats. Get in.'
"So I got in and he put his foot on the bow and shoved it right out in the middle of the creek. There I was without a paddle or anything and he says, 'Now, you get back'. I finally figured out how to get down on my knees and use my hands for paddles."
The Missy was more stable with two aboard than with one, but water was slowly seeping in alon the keel. After some consideration, Jact decided he had breached the keel when he screwed in the latch for the new floorboards. A little epoxy would fix that, and Jack is thinking about trying the paper canoe on a two-day camping trip on Paw Paw Bends in July. He's also making plans to build another paper canoe.
"Next time, I'm going to use a 15-foot aluminum canoe for the form," he said.
"I might try using some real thin screening and fewer layers of paper, too, so it will be strong but still light."
He's located a canoe he can use, and says he has enough paper and wood on hand already. He's also had several offers of help, from folks of all ages.
"It's been a lot of fun," he says of the adventure, "and I'm going to have more fun before I'm through, because there are things I want to do with it still."