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Pa. man paddling toward dream

March 16, 1999

Jack ClineBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




NOVA, Pa. - A boyhood memory of paddling sleek, quiet, wood and canvas canoes when he was a Boy Scout at Camp Sinoquipe has followed Jack Cline throughout his adult life and now, at 62, he's determined to relive those long-ago times.

A behemoth of an aging wood-canvas canoe, all 20 feet of it, takes up most of one side of the upstairs of Cline's two-car garage at his home in Nova, a village of about 50 homes lining both sides of Pa. 416 south of Welsh Run, Pa.

That canoe and one like it jammed under a lean-to in Cline's back yard are the vehicles that will carry him back to his boyhood. He bought them from a man in Island Falls in Aroostook County in northern Maine and hauled them home.

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The canoe in the garage is in slightly better condition than the one under the lean-to, so Cline is tackling that one first. It needs new gunwales, new decks and some ribs, plus a lot of sanding and paint to make it seaworthy again, but Cline vows to have in the Conococheague Creek by late spring.

"I'm getting anxious to get it into the water," he said.

He said he's been reading books written by canoe-building experts Jerry Stolmok and Rollin Thurlow. Both have shops in Maine.

Cline said he'll also do a "little experimenting," especially in the kinds of wood he'll use. Experts use northern white cedar because it's light, durable and, most important in canoe building, it bends easily. It also costs $1.80 a foot.

Cline said he can get native red cedar and ash for practically nothing, so he's going to try them first.

Once he restores the canoe, he's going to build a new one in his garage shop, a 19-footer, "to gain knowledge."

"What I'm really after here is the journey," he said.

His goal is to become adept at building the canoes by the time he retires in a couple of years. He plans to build a shop behind the garage large enough to build two canoes at a time. He'll sell them much as he did the 60 or so reproduction long rifles he's made from scratch over the years.

His wife, Mary Lou, attests to his talents. "When Jack works with wood, he reads all he can about it. He was building Lancaster County rifles long before anyone else. He's just skilled."

Cline also makes canoe paddles, usually from whatever wood is available, oak or poplar, pine or spruce.

He's been canoeing most of his life and for a long time saw the vessels as a tool for his trapping business. A native of Washington County, Cline grew up trapping on the big creeks of the region like the Antietam and Conococheague as well as on the Potomac River. Typical of the animals unfortunate enough to step into one of Cline's traps are raccoon, mink, muskrat, beaver and red fox.

He said he has probably hung up his traps for good after suffering through an unprofitable season last year.

His market is Russia.

"They buy a lot of furs, but their economy is so poor now that they can't afford them anymore," he said. "There's no sense trapping if you can't sell the furs."

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