By Scott Wilcox, Mountainview Woodies Classic Boat Club

A Little History…

In the early part of the last century canoe manufacturing as an industry began to develop. Many backwoods craftsmen became entrepreneurs. Among them were the Chestnut brothers, Henry and William, of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Several manufacturers tried to develop a motorized version of their respective canoes. Chestnut as well as several others, used their freighter class, sponson equipped canoes as a base for the new product.

What follows is the story of an early 1908 Chestnut motorized canoe and how it has been reborn.

The original Putt Putt.

Our Canoe Story…

Somewhere around 1926, Samuel McKnight and three other sportsmen of Milltown, Maine purchased a 1908 Chestnut motorized canoe. This canoe has remained in the extended McKnight family ever since. Most of its life has been on Big Lake in Princeton, Maine. Irving Wilcox, a grandson of Sam’s, was the custodian and caretaker for the canoe up until 1999.

Samuel McKnight late 1960’s

In 1998, a great grandson of Sam’s, Fred Wookey Jr. wanted to build a copy of the original that my family fondly called the Putt Putt. So, the Putt Putt was transported to Pottstown Pa. to serve as a model. The craftsmen at the Chesapeake Bay Wooden Boat Building School were recruited to ‘loft’ the canoe and create a pattern. Following the lofting, on August 9, 1999, the barn where the Putt Putt was being stored was burned to the ground in a horrific fire. The engine from the Putt Putt and a few other parts of the canoe were salvaged from the debris. Tragically the Putt Putt was gone but the story doesn’t end.

Chamcook Boat & Canoe to the Rescue…

In late 1999, Irv and Fred retained Chamcook Boat & Canoe of Chamcook, New Brunswick, Canada to recreate the original 1908 Chestnut motorized canoe. David Needler, the owner, had previously restored a similar E.M White motorized canoe owned by David Townsend of Calais, Maine. David Townsend also loaned another similar hull to Chamcook Boat & Canoe to serve as a model. The lofting’s from our Putt Putt as well as the loaned hull provided an excellent roadmap for David Needler to follow.

David Townsend, a Mechanic’s Mechanic…

Our original engine, a 1.5hp Palmer Q1 which was salvaged from the fire was mostly intact however, most all of the brass components had been pulverized. David Townsend is a collector and restorer of antique marine engines. David systematically produced all the missing parts in his machine shop including the water pump, magneto ignition, driveshaft couplings, etc. David also recreated the skeg, rudder post, steering mechanism and restored most of the hull fittings.

Original Palmer Q1 after restoration

The Putt Putt Reborn!…

After two plus years of making a mold from scratch and then building the copy of our beloved Putt Putt, the engine and canoe were reunited and put on display at the Portland, Maine Wooden Boat Show in 2001. A few final touches were needed before its maiden voyage.

Exhibitor at Portland, Maine Wooden Boat Show

Fast forward to Today…

After passing away in September 2003, Irving’s love of the Putt Putt lives on as I navigate the fresh waters of Maine and New Hampshire telling my story and sharing memories of growing up in Maine and of this unique canoe. Over the years I have taken it to many boat shows and once won the Participant’s Choice Award in 2005 at the 10th annual Wolfeboro Rendezvous sponsored by The New England Chapter of ACBS. At that show I met the artist Peter Ferber who is known for his beautiful watercolors of wooden boats. I asked him if he would create one for me. He said he was booked several years out but eleven years later, I received an email asking if I was still interested in having it done. Here is the result based off of a photo from Big Lake Campground, Princeton, Maine where my great grandfather Samuel McKnight docked the original.

Samuel McKnight late 1960’s

Watercolor of replica by Peter Ferber 2019

Full Circle…

It has been almost 100 years since my great grandfather purchased the original 1908 Chestnut canoe and for the last 20 years I have been the caretaker of the resurrected replica and have enjoyed countless hours maintaining and launching this beautifully crafted historic canoe. It is my passion moving forward to share my story with like- minded enthusiasts and others and maybe one of these days in the near future you’ll see me at a boat show where I’ll take you for a ride you’ll not soon forget.

Scott Wilcox is a member of the Mountainview Woodies Classic Boat Club chapter of ACBS.


  1. Great story and love the elegant lines of this boat. Glad the design didn’t perish along with the original boat and the PUT PUT was able to be recreated and shared, along with her story, for future generations.

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