Connecticut River log rafting

Local History BY RON PATCH

A division of rafts 180 feet long. Photo Provided
A division of rafts 180 feet long.
Photo Provided

 

Boat path in Bellows Falls for boats too large for the canal.  Photo Provided
Boat path in Bellows Falls for boats too large for the canal.
Photo Provided

 

Close up of a single raft.  Photo Provided
Close up of a single raft.
Photo Provided

 

A single raft.  Photo Provided
A single raft.
Photo Provided

 

 

Below is an interview Lyman Hayes did with an old man about log rafting. The photos are from Bill Gove’s book “Log Drives on the Connecticut River.”

“The lumber was round logs cut sixty feet long. They were fastened together by two-inch planks at each end and in the middle of each log. Through these planks a wooden pin was driven into each log, making a solid mass about twelve feet wide and sixty long, which was called, in the river parlance, a ‘box.’ From the end of the planks, at each corner of the box, a stout hard wood pin stuck up fifteen inches or more, against which were braced oars for propelling and guiding the box, and over which could be placed short planks with holes in them, thus yoking the boxes securely together. Two boxes, side by side, and three in length, six in all, constituted a ‘raft’ or ‘division,’ and it was in this for that the trip down the river was made, except when it was necessary to ‘break up the rafts’ into boxes in order to pass through the different canals.

“There were eighteen rafts in our lot and we had eighteen men. It took two men to navigate each raft with rough oars at opposite corners, and so the practice was for the men to take nine rafts as far down river as possible and make connections with a north bound passenger train; then go back and bring the other nine down. A rough board shanty nearly covered one box. One end was used as dining room and kitchen, the other for sleeping purposes. An old elevated-oven stove was used for cooking. In the sleeping end, a liberal quantity of straw was thrown loosely on the logs, which is where the men slept with their clothes on. They lay in two rows with heads towards the sides of the raft and feet in the middle. I bought at different points white bread, and I made brown bread, cooked potatoes, beans, tea, and coffee. These constituted the whole bill of fare. The men were sure to reach the raft on which was the shanty at mealtime and at night. The rafts that were left at night, or at other times, were tied to trees on the shore.

“The lumber in the raft on which I shipped, was owned by an old man named Richardson from Orford, N.H. who accompanied us by train, coming aboard frequently. It came from much farther north than Orford and was to go to Holyoke, but not making a sale of it there, it was taken along to Middletown, Connecticut. I joined the party at the locks at what is now Wilder, just north of White River Junction, and left it at Holyoke, having hired out only to go this distance, and having become tired of it. It was three weeks and four days between these points. My pay was $1 per day while the regular men had $1.50. One ‘pilot’ was among the men, who knew the channel of the river at all points, and he earned $3 per day. An additional pilot was taken on at two different points, one called ‘Geese’ and the other ‘The Tunnel,’ on account of the swiftness of the water and the dangerous rocks at both places. The pilots, or ‘swift-water men,’ at each place knew the rocks perfectly, and they took the head of the first raft, guiding that, the rest following in exactly the same course.

“When the rafts reached Bellows Falls, it took the men three days to break them up and get the one hundred and eight boxes through the locks and put them together again. One of these days was Sunday, but the river-men always had to work on Sunday, the same as on other days. That day, I think there were at least five hundred people on the banks of the river and the canal watching our work.

“After getting out of the lower locks at Bellows Falls, I remember seeing a number of small dwellings near the locks on the Vermont side. From one of these an old Irishman’s cow had wandered down over the broad beach into water in which she stood up to her body. The woman yelled to her ‘old man’ to come and drive the cow out. ‘The divil a bit will I do it,’ says he, and after soundly berating him for his neglect, she calmly gathered her skirts about her high enough to keep them from getting wet, and walked in, driving the cow home herself.”

The Chester Historical Society is asking you for donations for our yard sale coming later this September. We’ll accept most anything of value and come and pick your donations up. Call me at 802-374-0119.

This week’s old saying is from my friend Fitzie. He referred to his wife as “She who must be obeyed.”

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