Sunday, June 22, 2008

The old swimmin' hole.




“We said there warn't no home like a raft… Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”—Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn



"gb05." Told a great story in the “How do you know if you belong” post, about the old swimming hole in his home town back east.

When we were kids in Laytonville and Garberville we didn't have television or computer games, and our great summer sport was swimming. We would spend all day at the river in the hot summer sun. Diving and jumping of rocks and bridges. Even on the hottest day the water would eventually chill us out and we would have to lay on the hot sandy beaches like lizards until we were warm again. I remember that my hair that was normally brown would bleach out to almost blond in the sun.

The River was a great place to socialize back then. There was a diving board under the “Moody Bridge” as it was called back then. Just up stream of Shine Sherburns sawmill, on the road to the Garberville airport. The kids would play in the river all day and in the evening the old folks and parents would come down and have a picnic on the beach.

The Rotary club, or the Chamber of Commerce, or somebody else would build a big raft out of old oil drums and sawmill scrap lumber. It also had a diving board. If you got enough people on the diving board you could almost tip the raft over. That would make all the girls squeal. That was always a big goal for the boys, to make the girls squeal.

The girls liked to sunbath on the raft so they could talk “girl talk”. The boys would dive of the rocks and swim under water and silently come up under the raft, like we were members of a spy group or something. We would listen to the girls talk for clues as to who might be the girls latest heart-throb. It never seemed to be any of us. Sometimes I think that they knew we were listening.

There was a lot of driftwood back then, and scrap lumber was plentiful all you had to do to get free lumber was throw it off of the burner chain, or gather it off the end of the green chain, because it was useless lumber and the didn’t have other uses for it back then like we do now. So the kids always had plenty of building material for forts or rafts. There were sawmills every where. There were about fifty mills in the So. Hum. School district. We would build a raft just to play “Huck Finn” and float down the river. Then we would abandon the raft and walk home. Usually you could find a raft that some other kid had built and abandoned and use it until you got tired of it and left it for the next group of kids.

The whole area was like one big family, everybody knew most everyone else, and it wasn’t uncommon to ask other people who they worked for, or what they did for a living. It was a lot easier to get to know people back then, because for the most part we only had each other for entertainment. Baseball and touch football was popular with the kids back then. Most every activity that we engaged in was with other people.

21 comments:

Kym said...

I remember one of our favorite pastimes were the con camp baseball games. Does anyone else remember how locals would put together a team against the cons at the Dean Cr. camp? We always had so much fun and the guys there made a great fuss over us kids. Seems like we went every couple weeks for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Yes Kym, I do remember. Frank Hardin, the barber and a bunch of us would play softball there and the inmates loved us. We took beer in 7-UP bottles and we shared.

Oregon

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, Kym. Another story. Ken Stevens was the area comander of that camp and he and I would take his plane and do stalls over the camp. Great fun. That was a cessna 175, a true 4 place aircraft. Like a 172 but with a gear reduction on the prop so you could run the engine at a higher RPM. That plane belonged to Ken Stevens and Ed Williams.

Oregon

Ernie Branscomb said...

About the time that you guys were out there playing softball, I was busy building walk-in coolers out at the con camp. They wanted a cooler that would maintain fifty degrees. I thought that maybe they were going to use it as a wine cellar, but no, it was to store flour so bugs wouldn't bother it.

Before that, when I was working on the refrigeration at the camp, while it was first being built, The crew in the kitchen had a batch of “pruno” fermenting up inside the hood assembly. It started boiling over and leaking down onto the stove. They were desperate to fix it before the guards caught them. One of they guys came over and asked me if I would keep what they were doing a secret. I told him that all I saw was a group of people cleaning the hood. After that they thought that I was a real great guy and asked me to bring them some Playboy magazines. Of course I told them “nope I like going to my own home at night, and these bunk beds up there didn’t appeal to me.

Joe Blow said...

Hey Ernie, you're making me feel old...

We had our own special Eel River Hole -- sadly no girls. Well, except my sisters, but you know, they didn't count.

My father had a special diving board he'd put up every year. We all got to practice our Olympic diving skills.

By the way, that was how my Dad took a bath every night after spending the day in the woods. We would be all ready for him when he got home. We'd all jump in the old Jeep 4x4, grease, chokers and all and he didn't even stop to get out. Great times!

Anonymous said...

During the summers I lived in Redway as a pre-teen in the early 60‘s, my family would often swim in the Eel near the bridge next to Whitmore Grove (between Redway & Briceland). The tip of a huge cylindrical tank protruded from the river bed and it could be climbed onto when the current was low. During one of my swimming adventures, I recall talking to an older man who was sitting among the beachgoers. He was there a lot. (My mom said he had a nearby summer home and that his “real” home was in Eureka.) I asked him once what the metal tank was doing stuck in the middle of the river bed. Had it fallen off a truck that was crossing the bridge? I remember he said he thought it had floated downstream from the Union 76 distribution plant during the ‘55 flood. My memory is hazy after so many years but I recall the old Union 76 plant between Redway & Garberville. My dad used to say that the ‘55 flood was a hundred-year flood and ‘64’s was a thousand-year flood, but I had a hard time imagining as a kid that the Eel could be so high & swift that ANY flood could’ve floated a huge tank that far. I still wonder if the old man on the beach was right.
Also, and more importantly to me, I would like to know more of the history of that Union 76 plant if anyone has memories or information that could help. I collect photos and memorabilia of gasoline companies from the 50’s & 60’s (Union 76, Texaco, Richfield, etc.)
Thank you.

Ernie Branscomb said...

If you had seen the '55 or the '64 flood you would not have had any trouble visualizing how the water could have moved a huge tank. The water was over the deck of that bridge that you talked about. I don’t have any photos of the 76 plant, but it is still there.

The tank could have belonged to a mill or something also.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Robin I saw your posts back there. I just wanted to let you know that I've been reading them. I got the photo of "Elmer" off of the internet. Same with Al Franken. I thought that they were the same people until I looked them up!

My Mothers name is "Elsie", she used to get upset that they named a cow after her. She said that it wasn't fair because she had the name first.

Carol said...

In Humboldt County I remember warming ourselves on the rocks overlooking the Van Duzen River at Swimmer's Delight before it was developed. There was a great swimming hole off to the left as you drive into the park. The access road has long been blocked-off.

Growing up on Cape Cod we would swim in the bay and ocean, but the best swimmming was in Kettle Ponds, ponds made by melted glacers in the granite from the last ice age. These ponds were fed by many cold springs. my grandparents lived near one and we would swim in the Great Sand Lakes of Harwich.

Eel River Ernie said...

I guess I grew up somewhat privileged in that I had my own private swimming and fishing hole. Just above our house on Little East Weaver Creek northeast of Weaverville we had a reservoir which was about a hundred by hundred or so feet and could be filled to about ten feet at the deepest. According to Jake Jackson, a local Trinity County historian of note, the reservoir was used at one time to make ice during the winter. The process was to partially fill the reservoir and during cold spells flood the existing ice over by a couple inches and repeat this process until the ice was thick enough to harvest. The ice was then put in a sawdust house which abutted the reservoir and stored for use in the summer months. There were still remnants of the sawdust house when we lived there.

Anyway, as a youngster I learned to fill the reservoir just deep enough for me to stand up with my head out of the water in the deepest part. I also quickly learned that the ditch that supplied water for the reservoir, our pastures and drinking water for the house contained trout which would wash into the reservoir and take up residency. I then learned that I could supplement the supply with trout from the creek and have my own private swimming and fishing hole for the summer (Eko, this is where I also learned to fly fish, also where I learned to hate Kingfishers).

As I got into high school we started going to the Trinity River, which was a warm water river before the dam(n), to swim in such exotic places as the Power House hole, Steel Bridge hole, Helena, Slattery pond and miscellaneous (gold) dredge ponds. These were the same places we fished every fall and winter.

Carol said...

Such vivid descriptions, Eel River Ernie. Thank you.

Robin Shelley said...

Ernie,
You thought Al & Elmer were the same people - ha, ha! Or did you mean Al & Tim Stoen?
Elsie was the Borden cow, right? I loved their milk cartons when I was a kid & also the delivery truck that used to come to my grandmother's store on Branscomb Rd. A man named Ralph drove that truck & I remember that he was a nice guy to a little girl like me. Seem to remember that he wore all white except for a black or blue belt & shoes.
Anyway, Elsie was a happy & good-looking cow so I don't know why your mother was offended. (:

Ernie Branscomb said...

Robin, maybe they are all three the same person!

Actually Stoen is in a class by himself. Do you know that he also worked as a "Special Prosecuter" in Humboldt county?

Frank said...

The Alderpoint swimmin' hole is one of the best in Humboldt County. I understand there was a great one at Noonan Creek but I've never been there & now that the Matole is so depleted I don't know it it's still swimmable. In the 70s & 80s I spent nearly every summer afternoon with kindred spirits at the Alderpoint swimmin' hole. I'd work at building my house in the morning & head for the river once it got hot in the afternoon. It was originally "clothing optional" which really meant "skinny dippin'" but there was always someone too embarrassed to shed the swim suit. One old timer who called himself a "Christian Nudist" (and yes, you could hear the capital letters when he spoke) would berate anyone who kept their clothes on. He'd say, "This is a FREE beach. You know what that means? It means NO CLOTHES ALLOWED!" These days it's rare to find someone exposing his or her buns to the sun--or so I'm told.

I have not been able to get to the river for a few years now but I gather it's in sad shape. The water level is low & full of dead bugs. Scummy moss already developing as though it were the beginning of August. I'm glad I caught it in its prime.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Frank, Did you ever see any of the large sturgeon that used to frequent those holes in the summer?

Frank said...

Yes, Ernie. Some time ago while rafting down the Eel we stopped at a deep hole to swim. A large creature, maybe six feet long, brushed up against me. Scared the bejeesus out of me. I thought it was a shark. Someone identified it as a sturgeon.

Robin Shelley said...

Yes, Ernie, I do know that Stoen worked for Humboldt Co.

dave said...

I spent many summers swimming in the Eel River along the Redway Beach. I especially remember the cliffs that you could dive from. Right down the river from Redway was YMCA Camp Ravencliff. Camp Ravencliff had one of the nicest swimming holes ever. They had a cliff at the camp that you could climb up to about 35 feet to dive from. I understand that the water level on the river has been so low lately that diving from the Redway or Ravencliff cliffs is almost impossible if not dangerous. Anyway, I want to ge back to the area soon and check it out. My fonsest childhood memories revolve around the Eel River and the many joyous days I spent swimming in her tranquil watera...Dave

Ernie Branscomb said...

Dave one of the problems with the river is that the '64 flood filled it with sediment. I don't know how long ago that you remember being here, but there are a few good swimming holes left.

dave said...

Ernie: I've been back to Redway many times since leaving in 1962. I remember there used to be these little frogs all over the beach. I even remember seeing turtles once in awhile. Everytime I've gone back to visit ( 1972, 1986, 92, 99, 2001), i have not seen any of the little frogs or turtles. There used to be a rock, in the middle of the river, halfway between Redway beach and the YMCA camp, that was home to lots of turtles. The rock was partly submerged and these turtles used to swim around the rock and sit on top of it to sun themselves. Things have sue changed around the river. I remember spots in the river that used to be 20 feet deep can be walked across now.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Dave, A lot of things have changed since 1962. The '64 flood did a real number of things to the river. Other influences have changed it also. Some day when I get my head wrapped around it I'm going to do a post on what's happened to the river.