In January I put an ad in the local newspaper reading; Wanted: Canoe or Kayak.
Being a single dad with two teens at home, my thought was that with a canoe and a kayak, the three of us could go paddling together, sharing the outdoors as well as each others company. The strategy was to buy one of those sturdy, aluminum canoes along with a sleek little light-weight kayak. I reasoned that the little used canoes littering hundreds of family’s barns and garages would be gladly exchanged for some unexpected income, especially in the middle of winter. What middle class family can’t use a few found dollars right after Christmas and before the taxes are due? Hopefully thoughts of paddling would seem so far away as we negotiated price.
As the calls mounted, I heard all kinds of offers. Eventually, a gentleman called me with what sounded like a really good deal. Jim introduced himself as the manufacturer’s representative that sold and distributed Old Town boats to regional dealers. Old Town is a fine maker of canoes and kayaks and has been in the business since 1859. He had a kayak that was sporting a manufacturing blemish and Old Town did not want it sold via their traditional sales route, so he offered it at a significant savings. I agreed to meet him at his home. My son and I arrived there early the next evening after supper. The kayak was just what I had been hoping for and the price was so reasonable so I accepted without haggling.
The next day, I received a call from a man with a Grumman aluminum canoe, exactly what I had been waiting for. After getting directions I arranged to meet Doug at his home late in the afternoon. I arrived at his modest trailer park just before dark. I knocked on the door of his seventies vintage single wide trailer and Doug quickly ushered me out to the back yard as he pulled on his hunting coat. We struggled to unfreeze the canoe from the ground as we turned it over and swept away snow covering ice covering leaves forming a stiff carpet of the bottom of the canoe. Obviously anxious to make the sale, Doug talked up what a good boat it had been and how his kids had lost interest after he bought the “big boat”, which he proudly gestured toward. “I’ll throw in the paddles and I’ll even deliver it”, he said. “As a matter of fact, I’ve got another canoe, and old wooden one, that I’ll throw in, no extra charge!” I was happy to take just the aluminum canoe and I told Doug that I was not interested in the other. He said, “Come on, just look at it,” as we started to walk towards a broken down shed. As we swept away even more debris that we did on the first canoe, I saw the words Old Town on a brass placard. “I just want to get rid of it.” Doug said. “I’ll deliver them both for free.” We shock hands as I gave Doug directions to my house.
Doug dutifully arrived at my house, on time, with both canoes precariously perched on the roof of his old pickup, pointing up and over the windshield, the whole family crammed in the cab. As I helped him pull the boats out of the truck and into my yard, I paid him the $100 promised and he happily accepted. I dragged the aluminum canoe behind my house and tipped it on its side, against the fence. I went back and looked more closely at the decrepit old wooden canoe. The seats were woven cane, badly damaged with more holes than seat. The frame work was basically all there but many of the small wooden parts were chipped or broken. I took digital images of the boat and the brass placard and called Jim, the Old Town representative. After exchanging email addresses, I sent Jim the images of the old canoe. My phone rang later that evening and Jim was excited. Old Town keeps very good records it seems as Jim was able to tell me when the canoe was built, what the customer had ordered that was special, who the dealer was, when it was delivered and what it cost. The canoe was custom ordered in 1961 and was hand-built by Old Town. In 1961, that canoe sold for just over $800.00! Jim told me that without doing a thing, a collector might pay $500.00, maybe more.
The next morning, I placed a personal ad in the Boating Section of the newspaper. My phone sprang to life with calls from collectors. The following day, the high bidder loaded the canoe from the exact spot it was delivered to me not a week earlier and I was $600.00 richer.
I had paid $200.00 for the kayak and $100.00 for the aluminum canoe, both terrific deals. I thought about Doug, his trailer, his family and his old truck as I drove towards Doug’s home. One of the kids opened the door and I asked for Doug. His wife recognized me and asked if something was wrong or if I was looking for a refund. I assured her no and at the same time, Doug appeared from another room. I explained to Doug the gist of what had happened and then I gave him $300.00, reasoning that I had everything I wanted at no cost. It only seemed fair. Doug and his family were on the verge of tears as Doug hurried me into the kitchen. He said, “You won’t believe what I was doing when you knocked on the door.” Doug showed me a notebook. The pencil entry was entitled, Wish List. In columns were items Doug explained were for the “big boat” that he knew he couldn’t really afford, but was wistfully hoping for. Doug told me that he didn’t think there were people “like that” anymore. I told Doug I was only doing what was right. As I was about to leave, Doug’s wife asked me if I were a Christian. I told her yes. She said, “I thought so.” As I trudged towards the car, through the crunchy snow, it troubled me to think that doing what is right is now sadly relegated to only Christians. Is that what we have become in this country? I sure hope not.