We were a camping family (I'm the guy in the striped shirt). After the war, when such products became available for civilian use, Dad bought a tent. He got it at Sears, but from the OD color I figure it was war surplus or made from surplus military canvas. It was waterproofed with something I assume from the feel of it was oil-based. It had a very distinctive smell. It was not linseed oil. I wonder if anybody here knows what was used for waterproofing canvas in those days.
I don't know what was used Steve, but I know exactly the feel and smell you're talking about. We had one of those tents too. It was a "cabin" tent, maybe about 8' X 10'. The heavy canvas was supported by metal tipped wood poles. It was quite a contraption and a bugger to put up.
Look in an old Boy Scout manual. They usually contain instructions on how to waterproof a canvas tent by melting paraffin wax in warm turpentine.
I found this online. I'm not sure if it is the same as what you're asking about, but it's interesting:
Since World War I, Army tentage had been made of 15.5-ounce duck, colored to a khaki shade with mineral-based colors and then treated with aluminum acetate, soap and wax for water repellancy. On the eave of World War II, the QMC adopted standard OD shade number 3 for all personal and organizational equipment that used duck and webbing. Later to conceal military equipment and material more effectively, dark green OD shade number 7 was adopted because it was less visible from the air.
The Quartermaster Crops also decided to treat army canvas with a fire-resistant finish to protect against incendiary weapons. The finish known as "746" had been developed during the 1930's through the efforts of private industry, the Agriculture Department and the Corps. The downside of the finish was that it increased the weight of the fabric by nearly 50 percent. In response, the QMC substituted a 12.9 ounce duck, making the weight gain more tolerable.
I remember many years ago reading an article written for teens on how to make your own canvas wall tent. The waterproofing process involved soaking the finished tent in a solution that contained something called "sugar-of-lead." I have no idea what that actually was/is, but I do well remember the warning about its toxicity.
Waterproof Cotton Duck:
Maybe some of this might help?
Henry, your comment about the poles made me smile. When Dad got the tent the poles weren't available yet, so he used pieces of half-inch pipe screwed together with fittings. If you think the wooden poles were a bugger (yes, they were), those pipes were absolute murder to assemble. Fortunately it wasn't too many months before Sears came up with the poles.
Sugar of lead is lead acetate.
(For some reason the link above doesn't work by clicking on it so you'll have to copy and paste it into your browser.)
I have a 1911 Boy Scout manual that has two recipes.
One recipe involves soaking the tent in alum and water solution for a day, slightly wringing it out, and then soaking it for five or six hours in a sugar of lead and water solution.
The "sure cure" is the paraffin and turpentine recipe mentioned earlier.
I saw something on TV about a circus tent treated with paraffin and gasoline (I think), that went up like dry tinder killing several folks. While I crank right handed and pay little attention to a lot of other things that are supposed to be for our own good, I would probably shy away from the paraffin/aromatic solvent concoction.
Try this one
We have oilskin coats for use outdoors. They have become a fashion item for the trendy types who like to think they are the outdoors type. But they don't like the stains left on the cloth seats of their Beemers!
That said, we can purchase ready made product to re-proof garments used as they should be. Perhaps a saddlery would be the place to start.
Hope this helps.
Allan from down under.
Found this DIY waterproofing: