Tales from the Tail End River Clearing Expedition on the Black
- Things I have learned about river clearing:
Never bring a butter knife to a chainsaw fight.
You can never have too many people on a river clearing trip.
You can never have too many chainsaws on a river clearing trip.
You can never bring too much gas on a river clearing trip.
Don't be the youngest, strongest and dumbest member of the crew.
Seven members of the Friends of Sampson County Waterways met Saturday morning at Mossy Log on the Black River with the purpose of clearing out blockages. I thought that we were going to clear the seven miles of river that would be run the following day by Sampson County Parks and Recreation, but trip leader Danny Baldwin had a much more ambitious trip planned. We would do 16 miles of river from Mossy Log to Ivanhoe.
Now, when I am canoe clearing, 3 to 4 miles of river is generally more than enough. But this was a different crew and a different River. We used power boats and chainsaws big enough to butcher cattle, chainsaws that needed wheels to get them down to the boats, saws with chains that had teeth so big it made grown alligators run crying for their mommas.
Danny Baldwin and Cecil Hall took off in Danny's little johnboat, the SS Full Speed Ahead. I (Mitch Lloyd) and Richard Sykes took off in his aluminum fishing boat, a luxury vessel by comparison. Then there was the redneck boat, a johnboat borrowed from Cleon, skippered by Cebron Fussell and crewed by Jason McLamb and Ralph Hamilton. Ralph was sporting his padded Chinese coolie hat and his white knee high athletic socks below Bermuda shorts, a fashion statement par extraordinaire. I see the possibility of a club uniform here.
It is a manly, testosterone filled thing to have a huge chainsaw with a sharp new chain and a river full of trees to gnaw on. We began logging within the first two miles with three and sometimes four saws working and others pulling limbs and cuts from the river to be piled on the shore. Where possible, one boat and crew would stop to open a spot while the others leapfrogged to the next blockage. Where the blockage was complete and the tree was really big all three crews would join together for the effort.
The highlight of our day came at about noon. A tree that may have exceeded 100 feet was across the river. There were limbs that were 25 feet long after we cut them off. There were limbs that would have been trees in their own right staring at us. There was a sandbar on river right that had trapped a lot of extra stuff and the water dropped off quickly. We jumped on the limbs and the treetop and the extra stuff that had jammed up on the sandbar, then tackled the main trunk. I cut through a main section while standing chest deep in water. Ralph then did a boat dance with a chainsaw. He stood in the johnboat while we pushed him out into the river. Together we positioned him in front of the tree and he began to cut the main trunk. He almost made it through before the tree shifted and pinched the saw in the cut. Now we had a trapped saw that we had to get out.
At about the same time, another saw broke, the rope starting mechanism failed. Within minutes, another saw developed an attitude; it would run wide open but wouldn't idle, so we had to give up on it as well, too dangerous.
Meanwhile, back at the tree, Ralph was using the remaining saw to cut into the tree, trying to free the trapped saw. You guessed it, that saw got hung as well. Now we had a tree in the middle of the river that looked like a catalog for Stihl. Remember what I said about not being the youngest, strongest and dumbest member in the crew? It was determined that we might be able to free things up if we drove a wedge into the cut I made earlier in the main trunk and convinced the tree to separate and relieve the strain. Jason McLamb got tapped to stand in chest deep water and swing a 4 pound steel mallet to drive a large splitting wedge all the way through the cut. The wedge went so deep that his mallet had to swing between the two ends of the cut. When he finally drove the wedge through and the tree shifted, it wedged the mallet in the cut. However, this proved to be successful, he pulled the mallet free, the tree moved, the strain was released and both saws were freed. In fact, both saws fell from the tree and dropped into the river, but Ralph had enough foresight to have both saws and the wedge tied to the boat so that they wouldn't be lost. We spent well over an hour working this spot.
We continued to work our way down, getting more selective about where we wanted to apply our efforts. By about 4 PM, we were about 4 ½ miles below Sam Burgess' landing, at the site of the old railroad crossing when we decided to return home. At about 12 miles on the return trip, Cebron's boat ran out of gas and they filled the tank with the gas/oil mixture used by the chainsaws. At the same time, Richard said "Hey! We're about out of gas too!" and so he put the last of our chainsaw gas into our tank. It seems that nobody bothered to fill up the gas tanks on the boats prior to starting the trip, a minor detail that probably needs more attention in the future. Just north of the NC 41 bridge and a half mile short of the boat ramp, Cebron and crew ran out of gas again, Danny had to deliver some fuel via golf cart to the bank.
6 PM, 8 ½ hours on the river, man was I glad to see my car!