Missouri, land of fireworks,
Mark Twain, President Harry S. Truman, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and
don't forget more fireworks. You can't buy fireworks, legally, in Minnesota
so we went nuts buying every kind of explosive that you could imagine.
Remember we carried up to 140 gallons of gas on board. Well, we didn't
blow up the raft but we did almost blow up each other.
Chapter 11 The river has taken on a dramatic change. The bluffs were gone and the towns were fewer. The barges were bigger and the wing dams were visible and the current was fast and strong. We were now into the South and the people and customs and scenery were all new to us. Spanish moss was hanging from the trees and we swung from vines, like Tarzan, in the woods when we camped. We were referred to as Yanks as much as we were called Huck Finns. Back home we called Coke and root beer, pop, down here they call it soda. We said beer was on tap and they, on draught. And of course the ever famous "you all".
As I have mentioned we had some experimental tasks to perform on board. One of them involved the engines that had been given to us. We were using an oil mixture of 40:1. The usual mix was about 10:1. We each learned how clean and gap sparkplugs. We also kept a log of the amount of time that was on each motor. Today most outboard motors use the 40:1 or better mixture and I like to think we had a part in the development of this way to save on fuel. However this was the beginning of this mix and I believe that it took its toll on the motors, that and the pitch of the props.
In St Louis we changed props as I said, but later I learned that these new props were of a different pitch to give us more power. That is why they were so expensive. They did not do the trick and soon one of the motors froze. That means it was broken beyond repair. The company sent us a new one and had it in stalled as soon as we hit the next town. We also learned how to file the damaged props back into useable condition.
The first place we pulled into to make camp we were hauling the raft ashore and it got away from us. There were two boys and one staff on board and they went into action immediately. The staff lowered the motors into the water and the boys pulled in the lines. They had to act fast because if they hit a wing dam on this part of the river the raft would break into pieces. The motors were started and they swung the raft around and into the current. They had to continue down stream for a while to gain control and we on shore had a few moments of anxiety as they got out of sight. About five minutes later they returned, a little pale and shaken but in one piece, they received three cheers. From then on there would be no more swimming in the river.
One really neat phenomenon was the wing dams. Up river, as I said they were underwater, here they were made out of telephone poles and rose twenty to thirty feet above the surface of the river. If you lit a firecracker the echo from the wing dam sounded like someone dragging a stick along a picket fence. It was fun to listen to and we used up most of our fireworks just to hear this sound.
Cape Girardeau, Mo. A large city and we got off and goofed around for about ½ day. One of the boys found a wounded pigeon and brought it back to the raft. Our staff told us it would probably die but we pleaded to keep it and they gave in. Well the thing lived and we named him Girardeau, in honor of that city. Girardeau not only lived he stayed with us for some time and he was never confined to a cage. I believe he was waiting to mend completely and knowing we meant him no harm he stayed. He would fly around us on the river and gave us something else to think about rather than just ourselves.
Cairo, IL, and the mouth of the Ohio River. Half way. There was an eight-mile stretch of straight channel ahead and Jack ordered the engines to be shut down. We all gathered in the center of our bowed ship and Jack delivered a speech I will never forget. He told us that this was the half way point and that if we didn't make it one more mile the entire trip was a success and that none of us were failures. He told us how proud he was of each and every one of us. He complemented each one of us on our growth and team effort. For some of these boys it was the first time in their lives they had ever been successful at anything. We felt good about ourselves and were ready to continue.
I really feel that Jack didn't think we were going to make it to New Orleans, he knew something that we didn't. Whatever it was he never let on. It could have been a number of things and even some things he may not have known. Like our 55gal drums were taking on water, yes they were leaking and I don't think any of us realized it. In other words the Unsinkable was sinking.
The motors were started and we were again under way. Hickman and other towns, then Memphis, TN. What a magnificent city. My best memory of this place was the wall or dike that guarded the town from river. It was 20-30 feet high and about two feet wide at the top. I had such great sea legs it was tough to walk on land, but I did walk the entire length of that wall. How crazy I was then. I would never allow my kids to climb that wall let alone walk on it.
Back on the raft and Greenville, Ms. then the Arkansas River joined the Mississippi and we were 129 miles from Louisiana. We were behind schedule. A group meeting was called and we decided to make an all night run. Volunteers for the steering and look out shifts were asked to sign up on the all night roster. The others were told to find a spot and dig in for the night. We did not have lights like the ones on your car. A small red light for the port (left) side and a green for the starboard (right) side. There was also a white light on top. These were not for us to see with, but for others to see us.
To see the channel we used a large spotlight. When the spotlight hit a red buoy it would reflect and it looked like a cigar sticking out of the water. The black buoys would reflect flat on top. For me it was easier to see the buoys at night because I am very colorblind. We also used the blinking lights on the markers. If you let your eyes get accustomed to the dark you would be surprised how much you can see.
We picked a great night for this run and the river is completely different in the dark. As I took my turn as lookout I couldn't believe the beauty and might of the river. It was also a great time to just plain talk with each other about home, the river, school, our hopes, and fears, and our futures. It was great to just sit and watch the world from a position that not many people have had the opportunity to be in. I would love to do it again.
Dean Felsing Crew
Member of the Unsinkable.
for Global Environmental Education