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Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part XL

One look at the swift Tanana River and Violet wished they had not thought they could get boats up against the treacherous current, but there was no turning back. After several failed attempts, son Wesley finally breached the Nenana Bridge and they camped three miles above it. It was on a Sunday, August 17th, when they left the campsite, all went well and just before dark they pulled the barge to the bank, tied up for the night and cooked a meal over an open fire. The older boys slept aboard the troller and Violet and the two younger children in the barge on top of the one hundred pound sacks of flour, sugar and potatoes.

The next two days they encountered no great obstacles and the weather was warm and sunny. Just after two PM of the fourth day, they were approaching a spot where an adjoining river branched into the Tanana, she later learned it was the Wood River. Usually, Orrah Jr. or Violet would sit on the bow of the barge feeling out the depths of the water by swinging a pike pole and making motions left or right, stop or slow down. They stopped to refuel and no one watched from the bow and the boats came to a sudden stop. The barge was resting on a sandbar at the forks of the two rivers as though it was on a shelf. Further investigation showed that while the barge was stuck the Troller was afloat. According to Violet, Wesley suddenly had a brilliant idea, he commenced to dig a channel under the barge with the outboard motor propeller, he raced the skiff up and down along the side of the barge, it worked, after an hour the barge tilted over and swung loose, happy again they headed upstream.

As per Violets declaration the Tanana River is so full of silt that it is moving with the current and no one has swam across and lived because their clothes get heavy and it takes them down. Old Timers, as described by Violet, had told them that the farther upstream they traveled the stronger the current becomes and that they could only move forward in such places by edging in close to the bank hoping to catch the back-eddies. This too was dangerous as the undercut banks would have what Violet called sweepers lying out across the water, trees that could easily snap or break off their propellers. All went well until late in the day when they were approaching another dangerous rapids, they were moving smoothly up the calmer waters to the left, a little too far left and it seemed a little too calm to Violet. Orrah Jr. motioned to Wesley, but it was too late and the troller stuck fast on a sandbar and the barge swiftly swung around downstream. Wes took his place in the skiff, the outboard motor handle firmly in his hand, and skillfully maneuvered it towards the shore angling downstream but also heading nearer to the bank when the barge swung viciously this way and that way downstream. Orrah jumped with rope in hand and wrapped it around a sturdy poplar tree, the barge came to an abrupt halt as the rope tightened. Violet later opined that boys perhaps thought that the “dig-a-channel method” used on the barge wouldn’t work on the troller. At first they tried to swing an anchor out into the fast flowing current with the skiff intending to use Wesley’s winch and cable to haul the bow of the troller to the anchor in deeper water. Suddenly the winch let loose from its fastenings nearly breaking Orrah’s arm and swung past him almost entangling Wesley’s leg in the cable, Violet thought it would have pulled him to a certain death. They then decided to use the “dig-a-channel method” and it worked. There were shouts of thanks.

Soon after, they headed up a wide expanse of river still following what they thought was the main channel, it looked good so Violet thought Wesley must have thought that he was on a smooth lake when suddenly the channel swung and again the troller hung on a sandbar, this time getting loose was easier as they knew how to do it, they also found out the sandbar extended down the center of the river. It was almost evening when they went ashore, while Wesley took the troller engine and the outboard motor apart to clean the sand out of them Orrah Jr. and Violet prepared the evening meal.

Next up the boys investigated the channel and discovered Mr. Titus’s fish camp.

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