Haul a ton on lashed canoes?

Usually in April I go out with a few CPA-ers for the Pax river cleanup. We boat down a few miles of the river and load canoes to the gunwales with cans, bottle, light bulbs, tires, and any other trash we come across that we can fit in a boat. One year I even towed a freezer out. It’s just a cosmetic token, but we do it and have a fun day on the water.

About a mile from our launch point we pass this dump area on river left. A gravel mine used to back up to the steep bank there, and sometime in the past somebody or a group of somebodies must have just backed up and tossed over stuff like stoves, water heaters, metal cabinets, and there are even a few old cars. It always makes me feel feeble to be picking up soda cans, feeling like I’m doing a nice job of clean up, and then pass that dump. Every year I say, “someday, someday, I’m gonna come for that stuff.”

It was gonna happen last year. I had it set up to partner with Maryland Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE), who were gonna come out with their off road vehicles, equipped with winches. Somebody from the Riverkeeper organization, a guy from MORE, and I went out there and walked in from the road. Remains of the road the trash came in on ran along the top of the bank, so with a little chain saw work there was a way to get back in there. The County was going to position some big, end-loader dumpsters out by Sands Road, where we’d deposit the trash we recovered. We took GPS coordinates and the Riverkeeper rep went to the County land records to find out who owned the property so we could get access. Turns out the County controls the property, so I thought we had it made. Wrong!

Word came back through the Riverkeeper that the land was “a reclaimed gravel mine with a thin clay cap” and in order that the cap not be disturbed there was a rule prohibiting wheeled vehicles from the site. We canceled the project.

The MORE guy called a while back and said they’d still like to do it, so I started a month ago to try to identify somebody high enough in the County chain of command that they could think this through and give us the okay for this one-time, managed project by responsible folks that want to enhance the reputation of off-roaders. These are not the guys that are going to be chewing up roads and spinning donuts.

The most recent guy I dealt with at the County Rec and Parks Dept. is enthusiastic about the project, but he talked to one of his rangers who said vehicles can’t access the dump (that’s right, but they can get on the ridge above). But yes, the County would like to get the trash out. He suggested doing it by water, floating the trash downriver a mile or so to a spot where there is vehicle access. He even volunteered to bring out the R&P’s 18’ jon boat. Even bureaucrats like the idea of a day messing around in boats.

There are a number of impediments to getting the trash down the river. It’s shallow and shoally at normal levels. Then the County is as broke as everybody else these days, so no overtime, meaning they’d have to do it on a weekday, a non starter for the rest of the volunteers. Then there is the logistics of moving the larger objects from the site to the boats without tractive power from the MORE folks. The cars are wheel less and embedded. They’d have to be cut apart. But even if the cars remained, it be an improvement to get the rest of the stuff out, stuff that could presumably be moved by manpower.

So, after a big background digression, I’m posting because I seek advice on the practicality of lash boards across 2, 3, or 4 canoes to make a platform for hauling heavy trash. Anybody have ideas or experience?

I’m still hoping to get the okay to get the MORE guys and their vehicles back there, but it has already taken me a month to even find this guy to talk to. I’m not optimistic that he’ll suddenly see the light.

Thoughts and comments are welcomed.


How ‘bout . . .
. . . usin’ 55 gallon barrels instead?

No river obstacles?
I have no experience in the matter, but it seems do-able. Especially with a couple of experienced polers to operate the craft. Maybe include a litter for group-carry of the heavier objects?

It’s been done

– Last Updated: Jan-28-09 9:56 PM EST –

Two examples come to mind. First, a long time ago, resort owners in the Adirondacks used to build a platform to rest on two guide-boats or two canoes, and haul all sorts of loads of building supplies for making cabins.

Second, on a dammed-up lake near here about 40 years ago, a guy wanted permission to drive a small farm tractor across someone else's land to get it to his property on the end of a peninsula. Permission to do so was denied, so early one morning when the lake was calm, he and some buddies figured out a way to perch the tractor on a pair of large rowboats, and they towed it across the water with a third boat. The interesting side-point to this story, is that when the landowner who'd denied them permission to cross saw the tractor going across the water that morning, he felt so guilty about what he'd caused those guys to do that he told them that in the future they could cross his land any time (I wasn't there, but heard about this when a guy from the company I work for was talking to landowners there. I thought it a good story, and I'm sure it will live on for as long as those properties stay with the respective families).

Regarding those scrap cars - you say there's access to the top of the slope. Is there any chance you can recruit someone with a heavy-duty recovery truck? Our county actually owns a former military tow truck, but I suspect that's a rare thing for a county. Anyway, that seems to be the method making the most sense, if I understand the layout. Aside from the obvious sources (a towing company), utility contractors who specialize in overhead electric installations usually own such trucks. Maybe you can talk someone into doing a little public service work.

I heard lore about a Piano being transported into the Maine wilderness back in the day. Can’t recall where I heard that one, but do not recall the story including multiple canoes. Of course, they used some big canoes back in the day, maybe had the capacity.

I wonder if a special frame would be needed to distribute weight over the gunwales, and at some point you’d think the strength of the sidewalls of the canoe could be overcome. I suspect there is no “book” solution on this, but probably wrong…seems like there’s book on everything.


National Guard
Here in Alabama a few years back, the National Guard used a Cable on a Heavy Lift Helo to raise junked cars out of the trees below a bluff in a state park…for much the same reasons as you are doing the river…

Team up with the County, ask the County to contact the state National Guard about a state supported training mission for a Helo Crew…they can lift the items and drop them where you can deal with them…(Might just lower them right into a junkyard and save a few steps…).

most they could say is No.

There could be a book, “Carrying Pianos and Other Heavy Objects In the Maine Wilderness by Canoe for Dummies”.

Post Pictures if this works out…
Or, even if it doesn’t work out… That is something I would like to see, a raft of canoes transporting old cars down a river…

It seems like it could be done. Rather than resting the framework on the gunnels, perhaps it would be better to have the weight resting directly on the bottom of the canoe so that the water holds it up. I’ve never done anything like this, but it seems that the weight would be better off distributed over the floor of the canoe rather than on the gunnels… Maybe plywood with supports going up to the cargo framework would work… Just idle thoughts…

Good luck!!!

nice project

If you are really talking about carrying 2000 lbs or more, I’d be afraid that having all of the weight located on boards across the gunwales might damage the canoes structurally. However, if you could load the canoes from the bottom up and then put boards across the top of the material in the bottoms, I think they could bear the weight fine. And since a big canoe can easily have a 750-lb capacity, 4 of them would add up to 3000 lbs.

The material in the bottoms could be something like foam blocks (the type used to float boat-houses and piers), or maybe some of the trash that you want to get out anyway. Stacked firewood might work too, but would be heavier in itself and so would reduce your carrying capacity for the trash.

Still, even if that would work, I think you’re better off borrowing a jon boat or two somewhere. If necessary, I think you could do the board thing with two jon boats and have a real platform to work with. Note: they make some nice little winches for ATVs that could be mounted in a jon boat, but you would need a place to tie off the boat securely. Also, keep in mind that when moving stuff that’s submerged in water, it’s effective weight is reduced by the amount of water it displaces, at 62 lbs per cubic foot. However, if you’re dragging it through mud, the mud resistance is far greater than the weight so you pretty much lose this advantage.

Do you know any bass fishermen? They tend to care about trash removal too, and one of them might have a work boat he could contribute to the effort.

Something else to consider is maybe splitting your work over two or more weather-related days. Go in on a low-water day to collect the stuff, and all you have to do that day is get it loose from the mud and broken down into pieces small enough to lift and carry in the jon boats. Maybe move some of the stuff to higher ground or tie ropes to it and rig the loose ends into nearby tree branches. Then go back on a high water day to haul the stuff out in a work boat.

Whatever you do, take pictures and report back. Also be sure to send pics and reports to your local media. That kind of stuff tends to be contagious. You’re all heroes, best of luck to you.

We actually did

– Last Updated: Jan-29-09 4:49 PM EST –

what you are thinking of on a cleanup by taking two canoes. some 8' 2x4's and a couple of sheets of plywood.

We took the 2 canoes and set them up so that outside gunwhales were about 6' apart. We then lashed an 8' 2x4 to the center thwart using nylon ratchet straps. We also ran studs across the yoke and over the center of the seats. All the while making sure that the bow and stern of the canoes were kept the same distance apart. We then attached 2 4X8 sheets of plywood legnthwise and one sheet cross ways with screws into the 2x4's creating an 8ft wide deck 12' long. WE slid a few extra studs between the plywood and the gunwhales unlashed to firm up the deck and screwed them to the plywood. We mounted a OT motor mount on the right canoe and put a Johnson 4 hp outboard in between the two hulls. It was quite a sight, but it did work and did not damage the canoes at all.

I have a picture that I took while were testing it before we put on all the decking.

Some good story and great advice
National Guard chopper! I love that one and will definitely discuss it with the County guy.

Good points about bearing weight on the bottom of the boat vs. the gunwales.

Paddlinpals, what did you carry on that platform rig? How heavy? Put a tent and lawn chairs on it and you have a cabin cruiser.

Funny tractor story. I can just imagine looking out on a lake and seeing a tractor making its way across the water.


Chip , you got any pictures of this …

– Last Updated: Jan-30-09 12:01 AM EST –

..... non-authorized county controlled rubbish dump site ?? Any pics. showing the elevation either up or down from the road to the rubbish landing ??

How far from the top (road or edge) where you can access the drop zone to the bottom where the garbage has landed ??

I'm thinking portable wench and cable to drag it up as opposed to carrying away in canoes ... any good strong trees up top ??

Maybe offer some pics. of the mess to some local news papers for a human interest story ... budget my a$$$$$ , words don't go very far in general , paper doc. trails , letters and pictures get attention though , because once on record that way , someones a$$$$ is usually put on the line .

The old saying still applies today ... the hinge that squeeks the most , gets oiled the most (or something like that) .

Riverkeeper has pics
Lauren Webster from Patuxent Riverkeeper took some pictures when we walked the site last year. Contact her at the riverkeeper’s office, 301-249-8200 ext 6. I’m sure she’d be happy to email you the pics. I have them somewhere and can maybe dig them up, but she has them for sure. Also, if you’d like, invite yourself along for the meeting Lauren is trying to set up to walk the site with the County guys, me, and the guy from Capital Off Road Enthusiasts (CORE, previously and erroneously identified by me as MORE).


Mr. SuperTroll, pls help
I did a quick google search for info on the chopper lift but didn’t turn up anything. If you can provide specifics, I’d like to provide to the County guy when I suggest. If I can show the guy it has previously worked at another location, I feel like he’ll be more willing to run with it. If you have info, please PM or post, your preference.


We originally built it
to use as a platform to trim over hanging trees and get plastic bags and limb lines that we could not quite reach standing in a canoe before our race. As it turned out it ended up becoming a garbage scow, hauling back about 50 full bags of trash, a bunch of tires and a bunch of assorted river junk. We had about 450 lbs in passengers, the rig itself was probably about 100 lbs and easily 1000lbs in assorted trash and we could have held more. On flat water, I’m thinking it could have handled a ton easily, provided you could distribute it evenly.

one from cali
Here’s a report from 2000 in California where they used a helicopter to airlift 19 junk cars out of Topanga Canyon.


what are GPS co-ord?
Can you give us the GPS co-ords, or show us the location on a map? I’d like to see how the site looks on Google Earth. If it’s one of the many areas where they have high-res photos, you can see individual car-sized objects.

As I think more about it, I think pilotwingz suggestion for removing the cars may be the most practical - to use portable winches to drag them to the nearby ridge. However, it all depends on the lay of the land overall.

Even if you get access to a helicopter, you probably still will need to be able to break them free. I’m picturing the discarding cars as stuck in the mud, in some cases partially submerged in the swamp. Is that right?

Love cleanups
It is too bad that our rivers/lakes have become dumping grounds. The last cleanup I was involved in we removed over 100 tires in a 9 mile stretch. We had a 16ft Jon boat, no motor, as our heavy hauler. The river was shallow, 1 to 2ft in most places. 2 people either pulled or paddled the jon boat the entire 9 mile stretch of river. It hauled what 2-3 canoes could haul easy. If you hooked up 2 jons with plywood that would haul a large load. The lack of water also helps because you can walk the load downriver instead of trying to paddle in the current with a compromised and loaded craft.


Map and 2 pics
I dug up an email from the Riverkeeper’s organization that had a map with coordinates and two grainy pictures.

I put 'em here, hoping to add some more:


You may be better to take a cutting
torch in and remove anything above ground and let nature take it’s course on the rest. Never cut into a tank regardless how long it’s been empty, and grass fires can be a problem, take buckets & shovels.

One of the educational channels had a show recently on Guard helicopters moving a historic railroad bridge 20+ miles to a park they will do projects like that since they make real world training for their crews… and it’s more fun than lifting concrete blocks ;o)>

Good Luck