This section is from the book "The Boy Mechanic Vol. 2 1000 Things for Boys to Do", by Popular Mechanics Co.. Also available from Amazon: The Boy Mechanic, Vol2: 1000 Things for Boys to Do.
To the inventive mind of the North American Indian we owe the snowshoe, and its conception was doubtless brought about through that prolific source of invention - necessity. The first models were crude web-footed affairs, but improvements in model and manner of tilling the frames were gradually added until the perfected and graceful shoe of the present was finally reached. The first snowshoes were made by the Indians, and the Indians of Maine and Canada continue to fashion the finest models today.
The snowshoe is a necessity for the sportsman and trapper whose pleasure or business leads him out in the open during the winter season, when roads and trails are heavily blanketed by a deep fall of powdery snow. But the use of the web shoe is by no means confined to the dweller in the wilderness, since the charm of wintry wood and plain beckons many lovers of the outdoors to participate in this invigorating sport, and snowshoe tramps are fast growing in popularity in and about our cities and towns.
All the modern snowshoes are constructed upon practically the same general lines, although the types of frames differ considerably in size as well as in shape, and the filling of hide is often woven in many varied and intricate patterns. The frame or bow - usually made of ash in order to get strength with light weight - is bent in many shapes, but the one shown in the diagram is a typical general-purpose shoe, and may be called standard. The frame is held in shape by means of two wooden cross braces, neatly mortised into the frame. These braces are spaced some 15 or 16 in. apart, and so divide the shoe into three sections, known as the toe, center, and heel. The filling is woven into a lanyard, which is a light strip of hide firmly laced to the frame through a double row of holes drilled in the wood. The center filling is woven of heavy strands of rawhide, in a fairly coarse mesh, because this part of the shoe must bear the weight of the body and the brunt of wear. The end fillers for toe and heel are woven of lighter strands of hide, and the mesh is, of course, smaller.
As may be noted by referring to the drawing, a center opening or "toe hole" is provided, and as the greater strain on the filling lies directly under the ball of the foot, the shoe is reinforced at this point by the "toe cord" running across, and the "toe-cord stays," which are tied in on each side of the toe hole - one end being fastened to the toe cord and the other lashed over the wooden cross bar of the frame. These reinforcing cords are formed of several strands of hide, the stays being again wound with finer strands.
To prevent slipping and to secure a good foothold while walking, the manner of attaching the foot to the shoe is of importance, and this is done by making use of a toe strap, which will allow the toe to push down through the toe opening as the heel of the foot is lifted in the act of walking. A second strap, or thong, leading from the top around the foot, above the curve of the heel, is needed to lend additional support in lifting the snowshoe, to effect the easy shambling stride characteristic of the snowshoer.
There are, of course, a great number of models or styles, some one style being popular in one locality, while an altogether different style is preferred in another part of the country. The most representative types are well shown in the illustrations, and a brief description will point out their practical advantages, because each model possesses certain merits - one model being designed for fast traveling in the open, another better adapted for brush travel, while others are more convenient for use in a hilly country where much climbing is done, and so on.
Style A is regarded by snowshoe experts as an extreme style, for it is long and narrow. It is designed for fast traveling over smooth and level country, and over loose, powdery snow. This style is much used by the Cree Indians, and is usually made 12 in. wide by 60 in. long, with a deeply up-curved toe. It is a good shoe for cross-country work, but is somewhat difficult to manage on broken trails, when the snow is packed, and also affords rather slippery footing when crossing ice. Owing to the stout construction of the frame and reinforcement needed to retain the high, curved toe, style A is more difficult to manage than the more conservative models, and its stiffness of frame makes it more fatiguing to wear, while its use is a decided handicap in mountainous districts, because a curved toe always makes hill climbing more difficult.
Style B may be considered the ordinary eastern model, and a common style best adapted for all-around use. It is a neat and gracefully designed frame, about 12 in. wide and 42 in. long, and is usually made with a slightly upcurving toe, about 2 in. turn at the toe being correct. When made by the Indians of Maine, this model is fashioned with a rather heavy heel, which is an advantage for fast walking, while it increases the difficulty in quick turning.
Style C is a favorite model among the hunters and woodsmen of New England. This is a splendid style for general purposes in this section of the country, since the full, round toe keeps the toe up near the surface, and lets the heel cut down more than the narrow-toe models. Style C is an easy shoe to wear, and while not so fast as the long, narrow frame, its full shape is more convenient for use in the woods. It is usually made with about 1 to l1/2-in. turn at the toe.
Style D is the familiar "bear's paw," a model originating with the northeastern trapper. This model is well adapted for short tramps in the brush, and having a flat toe, is likewise a good shoe for mountain climbing. For tramping about in thick brush, a short, full shoe enables one to take a shorter stride and turn more quickly, but it is a slow shoe for straight-ahead traveling.
When purchasing a pair of snow-shoes, some few important considerations should be kept in mind, and the size and model will depend upon the man to some extent, since a large, heavy man will require a larger snow-shoe than would suffice for a person of lighter weight. Height also enters into the choice, and while a small person can travel faster and with less fatigue when equipped with a proportionately small shoe, a tall man will naturally pick out a larger-sized snow-shoe for his use. For a country where deep snows prevail, larger sizes are best, but in localities where the snow packs solidly and there is considerable ice, and in mountainous districts, or for rough-country traveling, the smaller sizes will give more satisfaction and prove more durable also. For a wet-snow locality, the center filling should be strung in rather coarse mesh, while for soft, powdery snow, a finer mesh will be the logical choice.
There are snowshoes and snow-shoes, and while there are fine models regularly stocked by a few of the better sporting - goods firms, there is likewise a deal of poorly made snowshoes on the market. It is well to pay a fair price and secure a dependable handmade article, for the cheaper snowshoes - often filled w i t h seine twine and t h e cheapest hide (commonly known in the trade as "gut") - will warp and twist in the frame, and the shoddy filling will soon become loosened up and "bag" after a little use. The best snowshoes that the writer is acquainted with are made by the Indians, and the filling is ordinarily made of neat's hide; cowhide for the center filling, and calfskin for the toe and heel. A first-class pair of snow-shoes may be had for about $6 to $7.50, and when possible to do so, it is best to have them made to order. This plan is, of course, necessary in case one wishes to incorporate any little wrinkles of his own into their making, or desires a flatter toe, lighter heel, or a different mesh from the usual stock models.
Where but one pair of snowshoes is purchased, style B will probably prove the best selection, and should be ordered with the flat toe, or a turn not greater than 1 in. The frame may be in either one or two pieces, depending upon the size of the shoe and the ideas of the Indian maker, but it is well to specify white ash for the frames in the order. No Indian maker would be guilty of using screws or other metal fastenings, but many of the cheap and poorly fashioned snowshoes are fastened at the heel with screws, thus making this a decidedly weak
Ill: The Frame of a Snowshoe in Its Usual Construction, Showing the
Crosspieces with Their Laced Fillings of Hide and the Different Parts Named, for a Ready Reference
point, since the wood is quite certain to split after a little rough service. In contrast to the poor workmanship of these low-priced snowshoes, the Indian-made article is fashioned from sound and properly seasoned wood; the cross bars are snugly fitted by mortising to the frame; the filling is tightly woven, and the heel is properly fastened by lacing with a rawhide thong. However, Indian makers are likely to make the toe small and leave the wood to form a rather heavy heel. Some few woodsmen and sportsmen may prefer this model, but the majority favor a fuller toe and a lighter heel for general use, because the regulation Indian model, cutting down at toe and heel equally deep, increases the difficulty of easy traveling over soft snow, although it is a good shoe when used over broken trails.
Ill: Snowshoe Experts Regard This as an Extreme Style for It is Long and Narrow
When buying snow-shoes at the store, see that the frames are stoutly and well made, and for all-around use, it is a good idea to select a filling of good heavy weight and with a firmly woven and open mesh, say, about 3/4in. The toe and heel sections will, of course, be of finer-cut hide and smaller mesh, and it is wise to avoid those shoes employing seine twine for the end filling. Some factory-made snowshoes are given a coat or two of varnish, but this, while serving to make them partly waterproof, makes them rather slippery when crossing logs and ice. Most woodsmen prefer to leave both frame and filling in their natural condition.
The Indian-made snowshoe is always provided with a generously large toe hole, so that ample foot covering may be used. This point is generally overlooked in the machine-made product, and the toe cords are also frequently roughly formed, thus chafing the feet and making them sore. These details may or may not prove a handicap for short tramps near town, but for long trips through the woods, they are important considerations. The Indian manner of tying the snowshoe to the foot by means of a single twisted and knotted thong is a good method of attachment, in that, if the thong is properly adjusted to the requisite snugness in the first place, the shoes may be quickly removed by a simple twist of the ankle. A better fastening is secured by using a fairly wide (3/4 in.) toe strap and a long thong. The toe strap is placed over the toes, immediately over the ball of the foot, and secured against slipping by weaving the ends in and out between the meshes of the filling until it reaches the frame on either side. This grips the toe strap firmly and does away with the necessity of tying a knot. A narrow thong, about 4 ft. long, is now doubled, the center placed just above the heel of the foot, and the ends passed under the toe cord, just outside of the toe-cord stays on each side. The thong is then brought up and across the toes, one end passing over and the other under the toe strap. Each end of the thong is now looped around the crossed thong, on either side, and then carried back over the back of the heel and knotted with a common square or reef knot. Calfskin makes a good flexible foot binding, or a suitable strip of folded cloth or canvas may be used.
Ill: This Snowshoe is Considered the Ordinary Eastern Model and One Best Adapted for All-Around Use
Ill: This is the Familiar "Bear's- Paw" Model, Originated by the Northeastern Trapper for Use on Short Tramps and in Brush
Ill: The Style Illustrated Here is Splendid for General Purposes and is a Favorite among Hunters and Woodsmen
The regulation snowshoe harness, consisting of a leather stirrup for the toe and an instep and heel strap, will be found more comfortable than the thong, and when once adjusted snugly to the foot, the shoes may be quickly taken off and put on again by pushing the heel strap down, when the foot may be slipped out of the toe stirrup.
The use of heavy leather shoes is of course undesirable, and the only correct footwear for snowshoeing is a pair of high-cut moccasins, cut roomy enough to allow one or more pairs of heavy woolen stockings to be worn. The heavy and long German socks, extending halfway to the knee, drawn on over the trouser legs, are by far the most comfortable for cold-weather wear. The feet, thus shod, will not only be warm in the coldest weather, but the free use of the toes is not interfered with. Leather shoes are cold and stiff, and the heavy soles and heels, chafing against the snowshoes, will soon ruin the filline.