The Willits Brothers and Their Canoes

Wooden Boat Craftsmen in Washington State, 1908–1967


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SKU: 9780786425730 Categories: , ,

About the Book

For half a century Earl and Floyd Willits built some of the world’s finest canoes, first near Artondale, Washington, then on Day Island, right off of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Turning out approximately twenty canoes a year, carefully logging and numbering each one, the brothers emphasized quality and design rather than volume. Willits Brothers Canoe Company earned a reputation that enabled the tiny company to compete successfully with businesses much larger, leaving a name and legacy which is still admired by canoe aficionados today.
Carefully researched and documented, this combination biography and company history tells the story of Earl and Floyd Willits and their unique canoe company. Beginning with their family’s westward migration from Illinois, it follows the brothers as they set about starting the business that would become their lifelong work. Close attention is given to the Willitses’ business management and construction techniques as well as their personal lives. Interviews with surviving contemporaries and family members add a personal dimension to the Willitses’ story. Appendices include a detailed company logbook, instructions from the Willits brothers on various areas of canoe use and maintenance, a price list of canoes from 1928 to 1964 and a list of serial numbers and dates of manufacture. In addition, a price comparison with the Old Town Canoe Company, a listing of museums exhibiting a Willits Brothers canoe, two Willits Brothers Canoe company catalogs and various plans of Willits canoes are provided. Contemporary photographs from the Willits family collection are also included.

About the Author(s)

Patrick F. Chapman is a professional fish biologist for Washington State and the proprietor of McFarland Lake Canoe Company where he restores Willits Brothers canoes. He lives in Olympia, Washington.

Bibliographic Details

Patrick F. Chapman
Foreword by Jerry Stelmok
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 272
Bibliographic Info: 100 photos, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2573-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1333-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii

Foreword by Jerry Stelmok      1

Preface      3

I. The Brothers      7

1. Childhood and Family Matters      7

2. Early Washington Years      21

3. A Canoe Company Is Born      29

4. Serious Business and the Business of War      37

5. Second to None: The Day Island Years      55

6. Marriages      84

7. End of an Era      94

8. Lost Opportunities      102

II. The Canoes      112

9. The Sincerest of Flattery      112

10. Hand Made, or Machine Made? Manufacturing Methods and Canoe Details      125

11. People Prefer Willits Canoes to All Others      155

12. Willits Canoes Today: Availability, Repairs, Restoration      174

Appendices      185

1. Willits Brothers Canoe Company Logbook      185

2. Instructions for Refinishing Canoe      187

3. Instructions for Sailing Accessories      190

4. Instructions for Portaging Yoke      192

5. Instructions for Repairing Planking      194

6. Prices of Willits Brothers Canoe Company Canoes and Accessories,

1928–1964      197

7. Price Comparison of Willits Brothers Canoe with Old Town Canoe Company OTCA, 17 Foot, AA Grade or Equivalent Canoe, 1915–1964      199

8. Willits Brothers Canoe Serial Numbers and Year of Manufacture      200

9. Serial Number Codes Stamped on Inside Stem of Willits Brothers Canoes, 1934–1963      201

10. Museums with Willits Canoes in Their Collection      202

11. Plans of Willits Brothers Canoes      203

12. 1926–1928 Catalog of the Willits Brothers Canoe Company      208

13. 1951 Catalog of the Willits Brothers Canoe Company      222

Notes      233

Bibliography      245

Index      255

Book Reviews & Awards

“great…reading…well researched”—; “engaging book”—Wooden Canoe; “much to recommend…engaging…fascinating”—WoodenBoat.