Almost 25 years ago I spent a week in Bangor on business. It was difficult business with very high stakes involved. The outcome, although a favorable result for my client, required a fair amount of professional soul-searching. At the conclusion of my obligations I drove to Old Town and found the factory store of the Old Town Canoe Company in the basement of the manufacturing plant. A short time later I was driving back to western Maine with a red, 17-foot, Old Town Tripper, factory-second canoe strapped to the top of my truck. The canoe has been a fixture in my life since its purchase in 1991. It pre-dates my marriage, and my kids — it has outlasted two houses, two jobs, several trucks and a faithful bird dog. I have paddled it in Class IV rapids, saltwater bays and tiny trout ponds. I have slept in it and underneath it. I have portaged it, poled it, rowed it, motored it, lined it,
dragged it, dropped it from barn lofts, lost it from roof racks of moving vehicles and scraped the hull over innumerable rocks and ledges. The Tripper model is famous for this type of versatility and ability to withstand abuse. Since its debut in the medium of a space-age plastic known as Royalex™ (in the late 1970’s) this boat has been the wilderness workhorse. Guides and outfitters across North America rely on it to carry mammoth loads, slide over mid-stream obstructions and make novice clients look like pros. But this year, the Tripper, and other wilderness tripping models like it, have disappeared from the catalogs of canoe makers across America. The culprit is the lack of the wonder-plastic Royalex™. Originally made by the Uniroyal Corporation and then by a succession of others — this sheet material is no longer being manufactured. Heavier, less durable sheet material, used in family -style canoes is still available. But all of the manufacturers relied on Royalex™ for their premier tripping and expedition boats. I suspect that this class of boats has also fallen in popularity and sales in recent years as kayaks and silly stand-up paddle boards have taken on increasingly large segments of the recreational market. The internet is abuzz with the hope that some new company will acquire the manufacturing rights to Royalex, or that some new wonder-material is in the works. But the reality is that the Tripper and other Royalex™ boats are in danger of simply fading away into history.
Thanks to Chris Dalton who contacted me with some corrections on the history of Royalex.