Sunday, December 21, 2008

Old Family Canoes XIV

After the 1948 Canadian expedition we used the 18-foot Old Town on various Michigan Rivers. One of these trips I call "The Fiasco on the Paw Paw".  I sent this story to the Woodruffs last May. For the edification of the Pratts here is a modified version::
One nippy day In the fall of 1951 Dick and I put the Otca in the Paw Paw River behind the house at Watervliet for the purpose of drifting down the river to hunt ducks. Dick was in the stern steering while I sat in the bow, shotgun at the ready. After drifting down the river well beyond Coloma a wood duck jumped up and flew. I followed the duck's flight with my 12 gauge and fired (missing the duck). Unfortunately my gun was pointed at a ninety degree angle to the long axis of the canoe and in accordance with Newton's Third Law (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) the canoe promptly tilted the other way dumping Dick and his shotgun and paddle into the river. To my amazement Dick was able to swim to shore even with his hip boots full of water but his pet 16 gauge double was at the bottom of the river where it remains to this day. We managed to get to the tavern at Riverside* (Dick wearing his sweater on his legs as a substitute for his wet pants) and used their pay phone to call Dad for rescue. We couldn't reach him so I called my wife Elaine who was visiting her folks in St. Joe (our ultimate destination) and had her keep trying until she could reach Dad. When she finally did (he was busy with customers in the War Surpus store) he was annoyed and abrupt with her. She flared at this and told her new father-in-law in effect that so far as she was concerned his sons could stay on the river till they got hypothermia. She still stews every time she thinks of that call. He did take pity on us and came to Riverside in his pickup truck and rescued us.
Another trip was two days on the Manistee where Dick and I ended up sitting around a fire waiting for dawn because our GI surplus blanket sleeping bags were inadequate for the cold night.
One day Dick and John used the canoe for a goose hunting trip up at the Allegan State Forest. Unfortunately they didn't tie the canoe down properly for the return trip and it flew off the car going down US 31 about 50 miles per hour. Dick recalled looking in the rear view mirror in horror as the canoe was racing down the highway after them upside down. John spent a lot of time and effort trying to make the canoe useable again. He patched the bow and stern with bent copper sheet metal, an effective but ugly repair. I never quite forgave my brothers for not tying the canoe down properly that day.
* Riverside is the nearest community to the Hagar Township fruit farm. It is also close to William Bond Pratt's house where Wilmer was born and Wilmer's first house where Charlie, Burr, Joe and Helen were born. One of Wilmer's brothers drowned in the Paw Paw River as a kid.
Next: The resoration of the Old Town.

Emailed August 21

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