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Schrag builds canoe by hand during COVID downtime

Fran Brownell
Pratt Tribune
Hayden Schrag takes a breather from his labors of building a 15-foot two-person canoe, a project he estimates will take him 400 man-hours of labor and love to complete. The Pratt High School Class of 2016 alum, holding a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University and master’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said he is looking forward to a 2020 launch.

Pratt native Hayden Schrag didn’t just sit around twiddling his thumbs during the last months of the COVID-19 shutdown this summer. 

Between working full-time for the City of Pratt Recreation Department and developing duties for an internship position he holds with Future Legends Sports Complext in Winsor, Colorado, the 2016 Pratt High School graduate launched a canoe-building adventure.

Schrag is also a May 2020 graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. earning a master’s degree in Professional Studies, with Summa Cum Laude honors and also with the satisfaction of graduating debt-free. He  earned his undergraduate degree in Sport Management from Wichita State University in the fall of 2018. He has also proven himself to be a skilled woodworking craftsman. 

Back at the family home in Pratt this summer with parents Amy and Brian Schrag because of coronavirus restrictions, Schrag said he spent most of his summer off-duty hours building his canoe. He talked his dad into letting him commandeer the family workshop in an outbuilding at their residence north of town, and “Prospector Ranger” was born.

Schrag said that he got his first dive into working with wood as a member of the Pratt Pioneers 4-H Club, when he was 12, making a baseball-cap holder with guidance and encouragement from 4-H leader Jay Sweet.

“It held about a dozen caps,” Schrag said.

That first success escalated into more advanced projects as Schrag progressed to high school where a favorite class was woodshop and cabinet-making, taught by Bryan Pixler, now retired.

“I quickly realized that the opportunities were endless and I was able to be creative in any way I wanted to be,” Schrag said.

“Also, my dad always advocated the ability to work with your own hands, so I think the ability to make anything with your own hands will always be in style – will always be cool,” Schrag said.

It was last year, while he was living in D.C. in cramped housing quarters with other students, that the idea of building a canoe engulfed his mind, Schrag said.

“I was inspired by other boat builders,” Schrag said. “I tracked their progress online. I couldn’t stop thinking about it at all.”

Schrag said he fed his fantasy by ordering the book “Canoe Craft.”

“It beautifully illustrates how to build such a boat in a few hundred pages,” Schrag said.

Once he had the book in his hands, Schrag said he couldn’t put it down.

“I just knew at that point that I’d done so much research that it would have been a shame if I didn’t at least try,” Schrag said.

Last December Schrag ordered a set of plans from a Canadian firm and, while he was home in Pratt with his family for Christmas, he built a long, thin table to serve as a stand for the project.

He didn’t realize at the time, that because of the coming coronavirus pandemic he would have more time to work on the project that he originally thought.

Schrag estimates he will have about 400 man-hours of labor and love invested in his two-person hand-crafted canoe when he finishes, which he said is about twice as long as it would generally take a skilled woodworker.

“I tend to work quite methodically and cautiously,” Schrag said.

Tasks that remain to be done before a projected 2020 launch: complete the sanding, fiberglass the canoe with epoxy to waterproof it, attach seats and trim and varnish both inside and out.

Schrag said materials and other canoe-related expenditures will ring the cash register at about $1,200 to $1,400.

“It's already been a project that's challenged me greatly and I look forward to progressing toward completion,” Schrag said.

“The most challenging aspect was jumping into the project and making the commitment – pushing myself to say YES,” Schrag said.

The most rewarding part will be canoe outings--on Kansas rivers and lakes for starts. 

“I can’t wait to get it on the water,” Schrag said. “It’s going to be awesome!”

Schrag said he has a line-up of family and friends waiting to join him in the passenger seat of the canoe.

“But the first ride is reserved for my girlfriend Ashtyn,” Hayden said.” We’ve been together for four years and she’s as excited as I am.”