Bringing up the rear

In the past I have written a couple stories about the Connecticut River Log Drives. Recently, I discovered the photo you see with this article. I recognized it as being a photo from one of the log drives. In Bill Gove’s book, titled “Log Drives on the Connecticut River,” I learned the story behind the photo.

logs
CVL logs being retrieved between Windsor and Springfield. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding.

 

First you’ll notice many full-length logs lying in a field or meadow. When the logs were floated down the river in high water, many logs went astray. Some got hung up on ledges, sand bars, or in this case when the river overflowed its banks, the logs ended up on private land.

I count about 12 horses and numerous men. In Gove’s book, he devotes a chapter to the river men who came along retrieving the stranded logs. This was rugged work that required up to 150 men and 75 horses.

Huge log rafts were built to float the horses down the river. Gove’s book shows photos of as many as 16 horses on one raft. It seems the horses had learned to ride the rafts without much fear. There were times though, when horses were swept into the river, some drowned.

This photo has a note that it was taken between Windsor and Springfield, probably about 1907. In the right foreground you’ll see evidence of standing water. This presented a couple problems. First, the errant logs were chained so the horses could drag them back to the river. Standing water in fertile fields created mud. The men struggled in knee deep or deeper mud, as did the horses.

Another problem was the farmer’s field was gouged out deep by the horses dragging the logs to the river. This really made a mess of the farmer’s field. Farmers became angry and tried to collect damages from the Connecticut Valley Log Company, but in those days few collected a penny.

These errant logs were now on private property and according to laws of the day, belonged to the property owners. Claiming the logs came with more problems. The river men were paid to retrieve the logs, and a little thing like the law wouldn’t get in the way.

Gove mentions one such incident in his book. It was near Groveton, N.H. when a large number of logs were deposited in a Mr. Craggie’s field. As the river men began retrieving the logs, Mr. Craggie showed up with the sheriff. When the men stopped working to see what was going to happen, Mr. Van Dyke, owner of the CVL, barked at his men to keep moving the logs into the river and said, “If Craggie or the sheriff said anything, they should roll them into the river too.” The logs were moved into the river without incident.

There were numerous places along the river where logs became lodged on ledges. When the water receded, the logs were left high and dry. Working on wet and slippery ledges with hobnail boots was dangerous work.

There were men who were killed. You can imagine running along the thousands of floating logs that someone would slip and fall into the icy water. Some drowned and others were crushed between logs. Those who died were quickly buried, and the river men continued on.

Before I wrote this story, I was talking to Danny Clemons about it. Danny told me his father, Bill, took Danny to a site on the river up north when Danny was a young boy. Danny’s father Bill showed him a spot on the river where there were rapids and a narrowing of the river when Bill was a kid.

Bill was born in 1919, so it was probably about 1930 that Bill made his observation. When young Bill visited the site, he noticed a pair of boots nailed to a tree. This is how the river men marked a grave in those days.

Many years ago, I met one or two old men who had worked the log drives in their youth. I remember one man in particular. He was a wiry little fellow. He had lots of photos of log drives, his hobnail boots, and a log caliper. I sat and listened to this old guy for a long time. There is no better way to learn than by listening.

  This week’s old saying is a question. Without using a calendar and starting with January and then February and using the first letter in each month, which five months in sequence will spell a man’s name?

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