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. The below story was written by J.A. Sharrow of North Pinegrove, PA.
I will tell a few of my experiences while running on the Clarion and Allegheny Rivers. My first trip was in the spring of 1877 and my last trip was during the summer of 1912, thus making thirty-five years of river work.
At the time of my first trip I was but nine years old. My father, George Sharrow, was jobbing for Win Wilson. The rafting was done at Porter’s Landing. My father had a shanty raft and I was supposed to be the cook. If you can, by stretching your imagination, just vision a boy of nine years of age cooking for a crew of raftsmen. Dave Allison was along and I shall never forget him or that trip. He would tell me stories to keep me laughing and if I slept he would awaken me to tell another one.
Then my father took a contract of rafting and running lumber from Porter’s for Charles Leeper. John Sampson, J.B. Patterson, James Lamb, and a lot of others ran for him. Father took me for his second and taught me the leads of the water, where the rocks were, and how to run different places.
From Porters, my father and James Patterson moved to Slater’s Landing, taking the contract of rafting and running Buzard, Ritts, and Company’s lumber. Here John Sampson, James Lamb, Billy Dixon, Bird Carson, William Dolby, and a lot of others worked for them. Most of them have passed on to a better land.
I was there until my father died, and I had to hunt another job somewhere. I worked for Miles Custer on the boat scaffold at Hemlock Island. Later I went to work for Frankie Magee at Troutman.
One day Mr. Magee was counting his pilots while he and I were making oars, and I asked him if he would give me one to run. He did not say he would but told his son, Steven, that he was going to let me run one. I was just sixteen and you can imagine how big I felt when I made my first trip as pilot.
From Troutman I went to the mouth of Wyncoop Run to work for Peter Hefren, “Uncle Pete,” and Clint Fitzgerald. I helped build the boat scaffold and the mill dam. I worked on the boat scaffold in the summer and helped to take out timber in the winter. There was considerable hemlock timber there, which Fitzgerald handled, while Hefren took care of the pine and oak.
Two small rafts of pine had been built and I asked for one to run. They gave it to me and I got to Miller’s Eddy O. K. Then they let me have one of the oak rafts to run. This was a larger and heavier one and it got the best of me at Wilson’s. I tore off three sticks, then I landed the raft in the hospital for repairs and was ready to go out the next morning.
The other pine raft carried the shanty and Hefren and Fitzgerald were both on it. Blair Porter was the man who ran it. Harmon Knight and James Henry were the crew and they were both pilots.
The water had fallen and Clint suggested that it would be better to let one of the older pilots run my raft out to the mouth.
Pete said, “No, let him run it on out.”
They untied my line and I just ran around the point at Turnip Hole. I ran too far to the right and stuck. The shanty passed and landed at Sassafras and all came back to help me get off. We cut the lash pole on the side of a rock, pried the stick up, and we were off again. I had no more trouble and ran to Miller’s Eddy.
Robert McLoskey was at the eddy with timber and asked Pete if he did not have a raft torn up. Pete said he had. The next question concerned who was running it. When Pete pointed to me, McLoskey said, “Dang good for you, letting a kid like that run it.”
Pete then said, “If I had another one to run, I would give it to him.”
From that time on I ranked with the pilots. I ran board rafts, pile and timber rafts, loaded boats, and empty boats.
Harry Katz and I ran a pair of empty boats and were two days getting from Wyncoop to the mouth of the Clarion River. The first afternoon we only got as far as Troutman and the next day we got to Sassafras Point.
The following day at noon we landed in front of Jake Elders at the mouth of the Clarion River, making two long days – about the last of April or the first of May. That was the longest time I ever took to make that trip with no bad luck.
This low water trip was for Hefren and Fitzgerald. Ross Kerr was my hand and Sharp Watson was with Harry Katz.
On another trip that Ross Kerr and I made with Clint Fitzgerald, we caught up with James Patterson at Fish Dam. We overlapped his raft on the lift side and pulled all the way from Fish Dam, just keeping off the left shore, until just above Steel Trap, where Clint called to me to take out the line.
I jumped ashore and took a hitch. Clint roped the post and took the line from me. When the end of the line came around the tree it struck me and knocked me into the water, and the raft went through between the Trap and the shore. I had to crawl out through brush and over the side hill to the mouth of Millcreek where Clint landed.
William Crow was running the hotel there at that time and I had to go down to the bridge and back up to the hotel where they helped me with some dry clothing. There Clint hired another man as he had hurt his back and could not pull an oar.
This running to the left of Steeltrap may sound fishy but I can prove it by Clint’s son, Ed Fitzgerald, now a traveling man located at Kane, PA. He is the only man besides myself that is living of that crew.
The raft Patterson was running was owned by Billie and John McLaughlin. The were on the raft with Cop. Thompson and William McDonald. This crew and Patter are all dead. This trip was the hardest one I ever made, to the best of my recollection.
Next I worked on the scaffold at Hemlock Island for the Simpson Bros. where Les Carson used to slip me extra spikes when we were playing “freeze-out.”
From there I ran one empty boat and one loaded one that I remember. J.W. Barlett was on the loaded boat and he was afraid of my running. He started my men to pull off the point at Thompson’s cross-cut. They dipped the oars and pulled one stroke right. I halted them and pulled two strokes left. I was a little mad at that time and called them down.
At the Blyson Point above Steel Trap, J.W. stopped my men when they were pulling. He thought they were getting too close to the point. I called them to pull tow more strokes, and then told them that if they were going to run the boat I would get off at Millcreek. No one said anything more until we were near Licking and Wilson.
Just above the bridge J.W. walked back and said, “if we were only around Licking and Wilson, we would be all right.” He then told me to run the point close.
I said, “Oh, H____! I have switched the pier and gotten around all right.”
You should have seen how excited he was. Luck was with me there. I only pulled one stroke on Licking and one stroke on Wilson on the front end. J.W. was so surprised he told me the men on the forward end that that beat anything he had ever seen. When we landed at the mouth he came and told me that anytime he had anything to run he would give it to me. That was the only time in all my running loaded boats that I got around Licking and Wilson with so little pulling.
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.