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On the River




Port Byron Globe

January 31, 1935

 By J. D. Barnes


Writer’s Experience as a Riverman



J. D. Barnes

    The following was taken from the Globe Files of Feb. 1, 1895.  The presence in Stillwater of the little rafter Le Claire caused no small amount of commotion among the old floaters of that locality, as quite a number of them came aboard and were shown around the boat, but they looked upon the enterprise with doubts and suspicious and openly declared it a vagary. The fact was they were not quite ready at that day and age for so radical a change in rafting. However, in less than three years from that time those same men either had boats or were looking for them. It was the same old story. There has never yet in the history of the world been a new enterprise started without the opposition of the majority of the people. They have opposed it but they have done all in their power to defeat it, yet it would advance little by little, and of course, in time it would become prevalent, then those same people would wonder why they were ever opposed to it.

   After remaining in Stillwater a few hours we pulled out for a run thru the Dells of the St. Croix. I had often heard of this wonderful little river and now to actually behold its beautiful scenery was an opportunity of a life time. It is a very crooked stream with high perpendicular banks overhanging with cedar boughs and other shrubbery, and the river itself has the appearance of being chiseled out of the solid rock.

   There was one little incident that happened on our way up the lake that I came very near forgetting. When near the little town of Osage, we passed an old German with a flatboat loaded with cordwood. He hollored to us to take him in tow. Tromley asked him where he wanted to go, and he replied up the lake. We hooked onto him and again started up the lake, but had not proceeded far before the flat boat was under water and the wood floating in all directions. Tromley saw but one way out of the scrape, so he gave orders to cut her loose and send her adrift, and the last we saw of the old Dutchman he was shaking both his fists at us, and yelling something that we could not understand.

  Arriving at Taylor Falls we discovered our cargo of corn had then dropped the best down near a new mill for some stabs for fuel for the boat, and right here we came very near having a very serious accident, tho it was only intended for a joke.  It was in this wise; the slabs were loading were up on a high bank and had to be run down to the boat on a car, and it was quite a steep grade.  Dave Carr, Ira Thompson and the writer were detailed to load the car at the top of the bank while the remainder of the crew would unload and carry them aboard the boat.  Everything worked very nicely until the last load, which we three loaders proposed to ride down on.  It was the last car and it would be so romantic-in the meantime, Jim Davenport, for a joke, had knocked out the butting block at the foot of the track, which left nothing between us and the icy waters of the St. Croix.  However, as we neared the foot of the track, Tom Doughty saw and realized our peril.  He rushed out with uplifted hands and cried out: “For god’s Sake jump or you will go into the lake.” Before he had time to repeat his words we were off the car, and on she went at a lightning speed, cars, slabs and all pell mell into the lake.  As soon as Tromley realized what had happened hi says: “boys, we had better get out of here before that man comes what owns that railroad car.”  So we pulled on for Stillwater.  Davenport on being taken to task for what he had done, claimed that he was innocent, that he had no idea that we would be so foolhardy as to attempt it. Yet he would have laughed if we had gone into the lake.  He was worse scared than Doughty when he saw us on the car.  He told Doughty, who was standing half way up the track to give us warning that the butting block was out and that they merely intended it for fun of seeing the car and its cargo plunge into the lake.

   Though the writer had just made a narrow escape from a cold bath and probably drowning in the lake he seemed doomed to pass thru a part of that ordeal, for on the following day, while attempting to make a landing over on the east side of the lake Dave Carr and I were sent out with the line.  The wind was blowing quite hard off the shore and as Dave had some experience in the business he told me to take the line up the bank.  In the mean time the boat began to swing out when the mate hollered out to hold onto the line and they would pay it out, but they could not check the boat and the line was all gone.  Like the boy that stood on the burning deck and would not go I clung to the line, when I went casouse (?) and they pulled me on board.  At the same time Carr was ordered in with the small boat and the project was abandoned.  When they had landed me on board the boat dripping with icy water.  Billy Dodd had the audacity to ask me whether or not it was cold.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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