It’s been a lot of years since I first told this story. Now staying close to home, I’m not doing much fishing between the weather and the coronavirus.
I’m doing what I can to stay in one place. Might as well — there aren’t any paper products or food or dairy left. My big gripe is we all need to wear masks when we are out in a crowd but there are none to be had. Every store you ask says they can’t get them.
I have resorted to wearing my summer sun fishing screen neck, head and nose cover. Some, but most, other shoppers don’t wear anything and are too busy grabbing what they can get before it’s gone. Out here around the lake traffic is just as high as ever.
Here is how this story started. I wanted to float the Red River from below the Dam to the Carpenter Bluff Bridge. I started rounding up Sherman Fire Dept. members for the trip. I can sell an icebox to an Eskimo in 20-below weather. I’m good at convincing people they want to buy what I’m selling at the many tackle shows I have worked over time.
I painted a trip about how much fun it would be — just drifting along, drinking beer, fishing and swimming. After such glowing vistas of how nice it would be as we floated along, I got seven members from the Fire Dept and my boss from my part-time job at Sears to sign up. I’ll only use first names to protect the survivors.
We met early the morning of the float on the sand bank on the Oklahoma side and told our wives and friends to come and pick us up when we called them. Being outdoor types we all were in shorts or swim suits. We had two boats with little motors, a canoe, 1-2 man boat and a John Boat. We had divided our coolers up, trusting the big beer cooler to Earl and Pinky in the canoe. The rest of us had smaller coolers with some water, soft drinks and food. Being the leader of this band of merry warriors I had them all in a good mood.
After my rah-rah speech as we were launching, I saw a cooler up on the bank and no one was around so I grabbed Mike and we opened it. It had sandwiches, water and other goodies. Looking around and not seeing anyone, Mike and I picked up the cooler and headed back to our fleet. Some would call it stealing but we considered it emergency rations.
Bucky asked why we were carrying his cooler; busted! Mike and I turned it over to him. There is a big rock not far off from where we launched. I told everyone about where it was because the water coming out of the generators covered it up. We pushed off. Roy was driving one of the boats with a motor and he promptly ran over the rock and that left us with one Motor and paddles for the four other boats.
For some reason known only to God, Bucky got his motor hung in a hard-left turn and couldn’t get it out. Here we were, experienced outdoors men floating down the river with a boat going in circles, one trailing oil and the rest of us paddling.
I’m not sure but as we passed a few people on the bank I think they were shaking their heads. Now we had planned on starting early but we left late. It was going to be one of those scorching Texas July days. Not long after going under the Highway 75 bridges, someone noticed the water dropping. They had stopped generating. That’s when most people would have turned around and we should have. It still seemed like the water was going to last. All at once we were sitting on wet sand. While getting out and standing around drinking beer in a dry river, we voted to go on.
Now an event you will never see in the Olympics is John Boat dragging. We stopped and ate to lighten the loads. We found enough water to float the Canoe now and then but the rest of us trudged along. That’s when I began to notice that they were looking at limbs hanging out over the river and looking at me.
One was holding a rope tied to the John boat and I began to feel like I was to be the swinger. We trudged on and tempers were getting short. I did some of my best selling, telling them there was a long hole we could float in around the next bend. We turned the bend and nothing but sand faced us. Now Donnie was turning red.
We began to get worried about him as he looked like he was a heat stroke away from being buried in the river bottom. The beer and some water were holding out and we gave it to him. He really had us concerned: he resembled a boiled two-legged lobster dragging a boat. Give him credit: he kept on moving.
Around another bend we found a long cool pool of water. This probably saved him. After a time in the water we got in the boats and paddled for a while. Near as I could figure we were only about a mile away from the bridge. We floated, paddled and just enjoyed not having to walk.
This hole of water played out for us so we got out and began pulling again. Somehow our beer keepers, who had been tasting it the whole trip, found another hole of deeper water and turned the canoe over. We got a rest while we dived for beer. We recovered most of it and a little later we could see the bridge. All this time the man in the two-man boat, Moiling, had bought some beer of his own and helped us drink ours. We were about a ¼ mile from the bridge and Moiling fell out of his little boat.
We helped him back in, he fell out again we put him back in. He fell out for the third time and we didn’t go help him. He got mad and looked like one of those dolphins at Sea World — he would go under the water and come out and dive under again as we neared the bridge. We made it.
I forgot to tell them where we would have to get out — we would scale a cliff while dragging our boats. Tempers were shorter and we almost got to see a fight as Moiling, for some reason, started for Pinky. Earl put a stop to that as no one wanted to tangle with him. We finally got to the top and called for pickup. This is still referred to today as the trip down the River of Hell.
Of those seven men who made that trip, there are four of us left. Earl passed away not long ago and that made me think of this adventure. It’s all true but what I have told is just the tip of the iceberg. Donnie worked his way up to Battalion Chief in Sherman and went to work as Pottsboro Fire Chief when he retired. Part of that red lobster look that day was caused by sunburn.
There was a lot more happened on this adventure but I would have you reading all night.