True Tales of the Clarion River: Taking Out a Raft in the Dark

| March 11, 2019

In celebration of the Clarion River’s status as Pennsylvania’s 2019 River of the Year, the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau will share one excerpt each month this year from the book “True Tales of Clarion River,” published in 1933 by George P. Sheffer and the Northwestern Pennsylvania Raftsmen’s Association. 

(Photo by Jeff London)

The below story was written by Elwood J. Meddock of St. Louis, Michigan:

I was born on the banks of the Clarion River at a place called Bear Creek Eddy, in a house that father built out of lumber he caught, which was being carried away by the high water.

Before telling one of my experiences on the old Clarion river, I will say that I hope the old timers all have a good time at their picnic at Cook’s Forest. Some of the finest lumber that ever went down the Clarion river was run by the A. Cook Sons.

I will tell of the hardest trip that I ever made down the river. We started from up at Spring Creek or Hallton early in the forenoon. We had not gone far until we saw that we had a heavy load. The raft had a lot of drift wood under it.

We got along fairly well until we came to Coleman’s Dam, where the raft tore in two. I looked back and saw that the rear end was staying on the dam while the part I was on had gone over. As the line was laying lengthwise of the raft, I tied my end fast. The pilot did the same at the other end and the raft came over. We landed at Maze’s Gap and fixed things up, then went on.

When we got to Millcreek it was raining and when we got to the Clarion bridge it was getting dark. There the pilot said to me, “I will now take the front end and you go back to the rear oar.” He said, “When I holler ‘right behind’, or ‘left behind’, you answer so I will know that you are pulling.

As we went under the lower bridge it was so dark I could only see that there was a bridge there. The pilot did not see it at all for he hollered back to me, “It seems a long ways to the Lower Bridge.”

It was now raining so hard and was so dark that one could not see anything. The pilot kept calling, “right behind,” and “left behind,” until my right arm played out and I could hardly dip the oar any longer. So, I just thought that if we did not know where we were, what was the use of pulling. Just then he yelled, “right behind,” and I yelled back, “right behind,” but stood still there in the rain. Well she floated right into Piney Eddy O. K.

We soon landed up and got in for the night. I remember that at the supper table I tried to take a drink of coffee and my right arm would not lift the cup, so I drank my coffee and ate my supper with my left hand.

The next morning we finished the run to the mouth of the river in time to take the train for home. When we got on the train my pilot sat down in a seat, filled his pipe, took two or three puffs and said, “I tell you, if we hadn’t stuck right to our job last night and pulled just at the right time, that raft would not be tied up where it is now.” I replied, “Yes, I don’t think you hollered at me any time last night that I did not answer you.”

My wife just now came in and said that she had made a trip down the river at one time. She is the girl who baked the bread and peeled the potatoes in the cook shanty for the A. Cook Sons crew.

Well, the years have come and gone since those old days, and a great many of the pilots have gone on to the better land. As for me, I wish that my last vision on this earth might be that I am going up the Clarion river, away up to the head waters, up to where I first saw the light of day, and when I get there I wish that might see all of those old pilots on the other side of the river and that Some One might come to meet me and say, “The timber is all run and sold. I have bought it all. I am the Great Carpenter; I am the Christ, and with the timber I have built a place for all of the old pilots. Come on, we will cross over The River together.”

Learn more about the Clarion River and find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling 814-849-5197.

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