PEKIN, Ill. — A handcrafted canoe may have been what saved David Hupke’s life.

Hupke, 53, of Pekin, was heavily involved in Boy Scouts as a youth. In the early ’80s he was a wilderness instructor in Minnesota. While there, a wooden canoe caught his attention. It was one that he wanted to build with his dad, Horst Hupke, someday.

“He came home and said, ‘Dad, we have to build one,'” Horst said.

Life got in the way and plans to build the canoe were delayed for decades. Then David got gravely ill.

In 1993 David was diagnosed with an intestine disorder. In 2009, he became very ill and was hospitalized for a month, receiving eight surgeries, including muscle reconstruction.

“My intestinal walls were so thin that the fluid was seeping into my system and I was being poisoned from the inside out,” David said. “My knees and ankles were swollen and I could barely walk.”

Doctors had to cut the bad section of intestines out and David got a medical pouch put on the outside of his body.

“They thought I was going to be 6 feet under within days that I got in,” David said.

During the critical time in the hospital, doctors told Horst to do whatever he could to give his son, who was not conscious, a will to live.

“On the seventh day the doctor came to me and said, ‘This is all we can do for him. The doctor said, ‘Do whatever you can think of to make him think that he has to fight.’ The thing that I had always remembered was that canoe. … I went back to the room and talked with him. I said, ‘David, you have to get with it. We have to build that canoe,'” Horst said.

David did pull through and building the canoe provided him with physical therapy he needed.

It took nine months to build the canoe between 2014-15. David ordered some plans for the canoe online so he and his father had a template to work with. Cedar, cypress and birch were purchased at a cost of $600 as well as fiberglass cloth, epoxy and imitation whicker.

“Imitation whicker is better for canoe seats. It won’t stretch, absorb water like natural whicker does,” David said.

David learned how to weave the whicker himself from watching videos on You Tube and spent five days putting the chairs together.

“I figured it would be fairly simple but I was wrong,” he said.

The duo worked on the canoe for about eight hours a day. They painstakingly cut strips of wood and formed them to build the canoe without using any nails. They used duct tape and clamps to hold the glued wood together. Fiberglass resin was placed on the inside and outside.

“Every 2 feet, the canoe takes a different shape. Every 2 feet you have a template (piece of cedar wood to adhere the wooden strips to),” Horst said.

Using the thin strips of wood — 78 pieces in all — allowed the Hupke’s to bend it without steaming, adding strength to the construction of the 16-foot canoe.

Spending extra time and effort to cut the strips to fit together allowed the Hupke’s to avoid using filler and glue in cracks on their canoe.

The fact that David’s father is a pattern maker definitely helped in the way the canoe turned out.

Horst, 84, worked as an apprentice at a pattern shop in Germany at the age of 16. After moving to the U.S. after World War II, he worked at Pekin Patterns for 18 years until it closed. He then worked at Caterpillar Inc. for eight years before opening Performance Patterns in Peoria with two friends. He is now retired.

All of their hard work paid off. The canoe has been featured in a magazine and was used in two canoe races in which a first-place award was earned.

“It was a 13-mile race, the Lincoln Heritage, Abe’s River Race down in Petersburg,” David said.

David and a friend, Andy Look of Bartonville, participated in the wooden boat category and won first place both years.

The canoe, which features a Native American design, appeared in two magazines: Adventure Sports Outdoors and a small national boat magazine. It was also featured at the Galesburg Civic Art Center.

The Hupkes are not sure if they want to take on another project of their canoe’s magnitude anytime soon.

“We’ll see,” David said.

“It’s so much cheaper to buy a fiberglass canoe and it lasts forever,” Horst said with a laugh.


Source: Pekin Daily Times, http://bit.ly/2bjX8Ig


Information from: Pekin Daily Times, http://www.pekintimes.com

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the Pekin Daily Times.

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