Then and Now: Tom Larsen

Tom Larsen at Rabble in Arms, 2001 (photo by Kris Jarrett)
Tom Larsen at Rabble in Arms, 2001 (photo: Kris Jarrett)

Tom came to the museum as a volunteer at the tender age of 13. Despite starting with the mind numbing task of painting trim, he stuck with it and managed to get time in the blacksmith shop, as well as learning the art of interpreting on a large scale replica.

Tom was hired on as a seasonal interpreter in 2005.  This was right as the Lois McClure was headed out on its Grand Journey, and the staff was stretched thin on the museum grounds.  He spent most of his time on the Philadelphia II, learning more about how to present history in an engaging way to the public.

Tom in the Grey Oocher, 2008
Tom in the Grey Oocher, 2008 (photo: Kathleen Carney)

Throughout his time at Hartwick College (getting a degree in Information Science), Tom continued as a seasonal employee of the museum, joining the crew of the Lois McClure in 2007 for the Grand Canal Journey.  He started as a regular deckhand, though specifically part of the crew in the small inflatable (the Grey Oocher) used for tight maneuvering and docking.  As the tours continued, his role became more involved in the logistics of getting the boat from place to place and all the little details needed to make that work smoothly (though he still is in the inflatable whenever the Lois comes in to dock).

In the last two years, as the museum’s online presence has expanded, Tom has become the coordinator of all the social media content put out by the museum. Facebook (fan page and profile), YouTube, Flickr, and this blog are the main channels used, but he’s always open to new ideas for sharing the latest and greatest happenings at LCMM.  Comments? Feedback? Suggestions? Feel free to comment here, or contact him directly at toml@lcmm.org

Regional Rowing Teams travel to “Snow Row”

Rowing boats are lined up on the beach at Windmill Point, Hull, Massachusetts at the 2011 “Snow Row”
Rowing boats are lined up on the beach at Windmill Point, Hull, Massachusetts at the 2011 “Snow Row” (photo: John Weber)

On Saturday March 12th, four youth teams, two from Vergennes Middle and High School, one from Mount Abraham Union Middle and High School and one from Burlington High School traveled to Hull, Massachusetts as part of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Champlain Longboats program to participate in the Snow Row, a 3 ½ mile rowing race sponsored by the Hull Lifesaving Museum. Thirty eight rowing gigs from around New England participated on this blustery late winter day. Winds were out of the northwest at 15-20 knots.

With coxswain Emily Weber of Ferrisburgh steering, the Vergennes rowing team drives towards the finish line at the “Snow Row “ 2011
With coxswain Emily Weber of Ferrisburgh steering, the Vergennes rowing team drives towards the finish line (photo: John Weber)

Vergennes, rowing Harvest Moon, placed 1st with a time of 41 minutes 44 seconds in the youth pro six-oared division and were the fourth boat over the finish line. The second crew from Vergennes, rowing Osprey, finished 3rd in the youth amateur six-oared division with a time of 1 hour and 3 seconds.

Vergennes High School (third boat from front) powers to the finish line at the “Snow Row” 2011
Vergennes High School (third boat from front) powers to the finish line (photo: John Weber)

Burlington High School rowing Windrose, finished 1st in the mixed youth/adult six-oared division (they had to replace a rower at the last minute with an adult) with a time of 46 minutes and 38 seconds.

Mt Abraham Union Middle and High School, rowing American Shad, finished 4th in the youth amateur four-oared division with a time of 1 hour and 19 minutes.

This was a challenging and demanding race. All of the Vermont teams deserve accolades for rowing so well.

Nick Patch
For more information about rowing opportunities, feel free to contact Nick at nickp@lcmm.org

Troop 624 Visits LCMM

by Alex Lehning

As a Conservation Technician with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, I spend the majority of my time doing research, preserving artifacts, and documenting our archeological collections. Each day in the Conservation Lab I have the opportunity to literally hold history in my hands, and there is nothing I enjoy more than to be able to share part of that experience with our guests at the museum.

This past month, LCMM was proud to host Boy Scout Troop 624 from Essex Junction, VT here in our lab as they began work on their Archeology Merit Badge. Each Scout was in the process of completing a series of diverse requirements that provided them with both a scholarly and practical understanding of archeological methods and their place in uncovering our local history. The Archeology Merit Badge was established fairly recently, in 1997, and earning it is not a simple task. A Scout working towards this award is asked to research several historically significant excavations located both in the United States and abroad, study local colonial and/or Native American history, and spend professionally supervised time either in the field at an archeological site or in a conservation laboratory.

Alex shows the types of materials that are able to be conserved in the lab.
Alex shows the types of materials that are able to be conserved in the lab. (photo: Tom Larsen)

Our afternoon together began with a discussion of archeology, and its place alongside other disciplines such as anthropology, history, and geology. As a group, we debated about what it meant to be an archeologist, as well as our role in protecting precious cultural resources. The Museum views the responsibility of sharing our knowledge of the past with the public as a critical part of our mission. I then explained the process of examining an underwater archeological site, from initial discovery and survey, to documentation, excavation, and analysis. Many of the same techniques and ideas that are used on land can be applied underwater as well. Artifacts from various locations on Lake Champlain, including naval battles and shipwrecks, are brought to the Conservation Lab for analysis and treatment. The Scouts also shared how their “Leave No Trace” training would apply to any newly discovered artifacts they might encounter.

Alex shows how to determine the amount of PEG (polyethelyne glycol) in a piece of wood undergoing conservation
Alex shows how to determine the amount of PEG (polyethelyne glycol) in a piece of wood undergoing conservation. (photo: Tom Larsen)
Paul Gates talks about careers and schooling for archeology
Paul Gates talks about careers and schooling for archeology. (photo: Tom Larsen)

We also spent some time reviewing the various treatments that are performed here on LCMM’s campus throughout the year. The Conservation Laboratory is equipped to preserve wooden, metal, organic, and composite artifacts. The highlight of their visit was a chance to do some actual “hands-on” archeology. Each Scout mechanically cleaned a piece of canister shot that dated to the War of 1812 and the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay. Using dental picks and wire brushes, the Troop worked carefully and diligently to remove rust before documenting their efforts.  Finally, along with my fellow Conservation Technician Paul Gates, we discussed career options and educational pathways in archeology. I encouraged the Scouts to study chemistry, biology, and mathematics in addition to the social sciences to broaden their opportunities as future archeologists.

The visit with Troop 624 was a great success and an enriching experience for all, and I look forward to working further with them and other local Scouts on the Archeology Merit Badge this spring.

Alex Lehning
Alex  works as a Conservation Technician with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and in his free time volunteers as a Merit Badge Counselor with the Green Mountain Council/Boy Scouts of America.

Keeping Things Hot in the Dead of Winter

by Erick Tichonuk

If I had a dollar for every person who says to me, “So, with the museum closed for the winter it must be pretty slow down there,” our economic worries would be fewer.  I need to correct their assumption, because in many ways it’s more hectic.  The winter is spent planning for the next season.  How do we tackle marketing?  What are our special events going to be like?  What are this year’s courses and workshops?  Where’s Lois McClure going this year?  And perhaps most important, how are we going to pay for all the programming?  After a winter’s worth of planning, the “open” season is implementing everything you’ve put in motion – something we’re getting better at every year, but never take for granted.

Warren Rinehart working on a piece
Warren Rinehart working on a piece (photo: Tom Larsen)

Another thing we tackle in winter is facilities repairs and improvements.  Some of our infrastructure hit its twenty-fifth year and it’s starting to show.  Maintenance is becoming more important and regular.  We’re really fortunate to have some great friends that empower us to keep things going.  One of our best friends is Warren Rinehart.  Warren befriended the museum a number of years ago.  As an avid blacksmith he was looking for a place to set up shop.  He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse; let him build his shop on our site and we could have half the building for our student courses and workshops.  The Rinehart Blacksmithing Arts Center became a reality in 2008 and LCMM now boasts one of the premier blacksmithing facilities in the region.

Erick Tichonuk hanging plywood on the ceiling
Erick Tichonuk hanging plywood on the ceiling of the blacksmith shop (photo: Tom Larsen)

As great as the building is now, there are a few finishing touches for the interior of the student side of the shop; an estimated $8,000 worth of work remains.  This past fall Warren once again empowered us to make improvements by gifting half of the money. Already this winter we’ve finished much of the interior, but more work is on the docket and we’d like your help to match Warren’s gift.  All the new excitement and enthusiasm for blacksmithing at LCMM has prompted us to add a page to our web site to provide updates on activities surrounding the shop.  Check it out and help us keep the momentum of Warren’s initiative by striking while the iron is hot!  Make a donation today.

Erick Tichonuk
Deputy Director, LCMM

Looking for a Big Stick

by Erick Tichonuk

I’ve always felt wooden boats have a lot of character.  Like people with strong character, wooden boats often have idiosyncrasies that require some attention.  Our schooner is a lovely creature, and as time goes on she gets more and more character.  In the fall of 2009 the crew of Lois McClure discovered a “soft spot” at the top of the foremast.  Museum boat builder Rob Thompson determined the extent of the rot and with masterful skill made a repair by scarfing in a new section.  Unfortunately the rot ran deeper than any of us anticipated and last fall we discovered more rot rearing its ugly head.  Fearing another repair may only be temporary; the decision was made to make a new mast.

I ran down to the local lumberyard and picked up the 42-foot long 10-inch diameter flawless piece of white spruce right off the rack.  No, that’s a lie.  In fact it just isn’t that easy to find a “good stick” these days.  The search was on.  I went back to the original source of Lois’s spars, Currier Forest Products.  I remember seeing pictures of Burlington Schooner Project coordinators Don Dewees and Mike LaVecchia out hugging amazing spruces in the woods and figured if Currier had done it once, maybe they could do it again.

When I called the sawyer I knew right away why Don and Mike had elected to use them back in 2000.  Joel Currier has an easy way about him and after a few minutes of talking it became evident that he knew his business very well, and to top it off he had just gotten a few logs in the yard that were good candidates.  I put him and Rob in direct communication so Rob could give him the specs and they could “talk shop.”  Rob felt confident we had the right guy and Joel had the right tree.

John chips away ice (foreground) while Joel debarks
John chips away ice (foreground) while Joel debarks (photo: Erick Tichonuk)

I’m not an expert on wood, but I’ve been around enough boats, shipyards, saw mills, and shipwrights to get a good feel and healthy respect for trees and those who make their living with them.  I used the excuse of “inspecting” to be present when Joel and his business partner John starting milling the magnificent spruce at their mill in Danville, Vermont.  The vibes over the phone were right on.  Both Joel and John are down to earth and know their trade.

When my daughter Emily and I arrived John was busy debarking.  The selected spruce was a freak of nature.  At forty-four feet I could only see a half dozen knots at one end.  The tree had forgotten to grow branches!  We all hoped that when the cut was made the trend would continue, but as Joel said, generally surprises in the mill are unpleasant.  Fortunately the surprise this day would be a good one.  All indications of a clear tree, free of rot and bad knots, held true as Joel and John cut the log square.

The freshly debarked log being brought into the mill
The freshly debarked log being brought into the mill (photo: Erick Tichonuk)

The log will be shipped to the former Burlington Shipyard at LCT’s King St. ferry dock where Lois was originally built.  This spring Rob will continue to shape her into a copy of our original foremast, minus the rot.  It’s wonderful to know we’ve got such great foresters and sawyers like Currier Forest Products, whose sustainable forestry practices will keep us supplied for generations to come.

 “the best spruce tree I’ve ever had the privilege to mill.”
Joel makes a pass with the band saw mill revealing “the best spruce tree I’ve ever had the privilege to mill.” (photo: Erick Tichonuk)

Erick Tichonuk
Deputy Director, LCMM