Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Raft Race: Construction and ....

courtesy of the AJC
Even though I professed in one of my former blogs that I knew how we came to float down the Chattahoochee on that day in May of 1972, I really don’t remember all the details. There are many blanks, after all, it was the 70s. I think it was Robin Williams who once said, "if you remember the 70s, then you weren't really there." I actually think he said the "60s," but it works here too. Trust me.

What I do remember are some of the events that led up to that grainy photo in the AJC.

I know there were entry forms and a fee, size specifications for the raft, and rules laid down by the sponsors of the race, one of those sponsors being WQXI, a local radio station.

BTW: It was AM radio -- what can I say -- we were three years from FM.

One of the original members of our crew and a fellow senior at Sylvan, Frank, joined up to be a part of our excursion down the Chattahoochee River, and he designed and helped to build the raft. Good thing, because the rest of us didn’t have a clue where to begin, regardless of having read a fictional novel set in the 1840s. Frank, a smart kid, especially in mathematics, drew a plan for our raft with specifications for size [8 people] and weight [who knows -- it was before the crisis in obesity] and the possibilities for building materials.

Since we were money challenged high schoolers, who already had to cough up money for the entry fee, we wished to use scraps and salvage for materials as much as we could. We had to buy lumber for the platform, but we felt like that we could get the six barrels [used for flotation] from one of the industrial sites around our area, and we used pine trees that we tied together for the rest of the raft. We wrapped the outside with rubber [for bumping], and Jonathan, our artist, made a sign … the origination of its intent has faded from my memory. In retrospect, the name was quite silly even though we, I’m sure at the time, thought we were clever.
Jonathan holds the raft sign, "Up Your Satisfaction"

BTW:  For over twenty years, my mother kept a piece of that raft [a small chunk of sawed off pine] on a bookcase in her den as a souvenir. She must have found this particular shenanigan of her youngest daughter, the last of her brood,  -- memorable or maybe she kept it for the sentimentality. When we closed up my parents’ house in March of 1996, after their deaths, I came across that piece of the raft.


There are two excursions that I remember well  for [free] materials that make me laugh.

One was our search for barrels to be used as floatation devices.  Jonathan, one of the other fellow raftees, and I rode around a nearby industrial area on Murphy Avenue on the hunt for the barrels. We were like Ahab's mariners, singing out if we sighted a barrel.

We trolled businesses, approaching foremen and managers, and asked if we could have their old, used oil drums sitting unused or trashed on their property. Mostly met with an emphatic “no,” we finally found one guy who shrugged and said, “sure.”  So excited but also afraid that he might change his mind, we loaded those barrels, two at a time, in the trunk of my 1969 Chevrolet Belair and made three trips back and forth to that  business. The barrels, tied down in the trunk, leaked and oozed thick sludge into the trunk. 

Another time, a bunch of us raftees went to a section of woods, probably owned by someone but guarded by no one, and cut down several small pines to use as well. We made one trip, again in the trunk of my car, but a second trip we carried them lengthwise, where they jutted out the rear windows on either side. As we came up my street, the trees smacked, but did not break, the windshield of a parked car at the bottom of my street.
Darlene, shooting the peace sign, Jonathan in the hat, and Frank showing off his practically amputated finger...

Jonathan and I tie the base together as JaJoe guards the middle.
The thwacking sound reverberated loudly; I just knew that any minute, an enraged neighbor would emerge from her house waving a rolling pin and demanding to know what “it is that we think we are doing?“ Any moment I feared the blue light of the Atlanta police.

Frank works; I snip.

 Hurriedly, and with my uncontrollable laughter resounding from the car, I gassed it for the top of the hill with Jonathan and Frank running beside the car and lifting the trees over other parked cars. They screamed at me to “slow down” and “watch out’ all the way up the hill. With my heart in my throat, as it was night-time -- I worried about our clandestine and perhaps *cough, cough* felonious activity. We ended up safely at my house where we unloaded the trees and carried them to my backyard, the raft building site.

We must have been quite a sight as I backed up that car loaded with this and that and carried it to the backyard where we assembled the raft piece by piece under the supervision of Frank.

Frank sat up shop with the materials for the raft and directed the rest of us on what to do to help. My friend Jonathan and I, as well as my kitten JaJoe, were pretty much his most frequent assistants -- since I lived there and Jonathan around the corner. With Frank’s instruction, we held planks down to be sawed, wrapped thick rope around small pine trees, and somehow the raft came together.

Sometime during this period, [I don’t‘ remember when exactly], Frank cut his index finger to the bone. Because of the seriousness of the injury and the fact that the wound could not be immersed in water, Frank was off the raft crew and out of the race. Since Frank was not only our chief builder, he was also to be our pilot -- this setback worried us.

At the last minute, a friend’s brother subbed for Frank -  and as I recall, the sub's brawn saved us in some of the rough rapids on the Chattahoochee, but I’ll get to that later.

The next obstacle that we had to overcome was how to get the raft to the Chattahoochee River. What we realized too late was that the raft was heavy. Really heavy -- as in, we couldn’t lift it.

The rafts sits heavily and miserably on the trailer -- it doesn't look river worthy, does it?
Another view -- JaJoe inspects it for mice, who are notorious stowaways -- *tee hee*

Pam stands in the back of the truck and stares disconsolately at the size of the completed raft
The guys lift and shove it into the truck -- check out the second guy from the left -- don't you love his hair accessory?
It's on the truck -- two guys, Charlie and George fade away -- they look nervous???
Bill [number 5] will take Frank's place on the raft; Brad grins at the successful launch of the raft on the truck. LOL

So, Brad, a member of our rafting crew and the high school football team, convinced some of his fellow players to stop by my house and load it into a truck. Along with other friends of ours, we managed to get it loaded on a trailer only to discover that it was too large [see photo]. Frank, for all of his plans, well, didn‘t plan for the transportation of the raft.

We ended up renting a U-Haul truck to transport it to the river [don't know how we paid for that]. Once we got it to Morgan Falls, the dam at the top of the Chattahoochee and where the rafts were to be placed in the water, other rafters helped us take it down from the truck. The rest of the details of that have faded.

The Friday night before the race on Saturday, everyone of the raftees except two of us, Gloria and me, camped at Morgan Falls to guard the raft. My parents were behind us in this race, but not behind my camping out with boys un-chaperoned. Enough said.

Gloria and I would meet them early Saturday morning, really early, to get prepared for the race down the river.

I wondered what my neighbors thought of that activity that went on in my backyard. After all, it was 1972 -- and stranger things with young people were happening. Maybe they thought we were prophets, a type of Noah, listening to God and preparing for the end.

I am amazed now at my parents’ tolerance for all of this -- but I do know that their philosophy was -- better to have her being a fool at home where we can watch her than somewhere else.

*tee hee*

Later: part 2 -- the race ..

I apologize for the quality of the pictures as well as the lack of having a photo of the whole crew -- not pictured, Gloria and George. Who knows where they were? Studying?

How do you like my jeans? I think I made them myself. Ya think?


  1. I loved it! I'm waiting anxiously for the next part.

  2. This post was a blast to read. Like Ron, I'm eager to see what the next installment of the story is. BTW - I love the "Jonathan and I tie the base together as JaJoe guards the middle"

    Ghost of JaJoe: Excuze me. Cat totally hold up big raft while lazy humans tie silly string. Might add - holding with one paw. Review...Humans needed for string? 2; Cats needed for support? 1

  3. P.S. I like the spiffy new design of the blog.

  4. This was a blast from the past. Many years ago (P.K., or pre-kids), I was asked to join a weekend float trip down one of Missouri's scenic rivers. Everyone was all excited, including me, until I asked, "Where do we spend the night?" I got a bunch of blank looks. "We camp along the river," I was told. And I said, "We sleep outside?" Heads nodded. "But where do you take a shower?" I asked. More blank looks. "In the river," someone said. It might surprise you, but I decided not to go. I am not making this up.

  5. Gosh, I had forgotten what adventure this was... Those were the days... cannot believe you have these pictures...

  6. From Gary, the one who can't comment:

    The raft story was really kind of weird. Here's why:
    In 1980, as a Freshmen at Tennessee, I had a friend that was from Atlanta. He told us about the Raft Race. In the late spring we, decided to make a road trip and "Shoot the Hootch." There were about ten of us, from various parts of the U.S. such as, Buffalo N.Y, Philadelphia PA., Newark Delaware, and Gatlinburg Tn, that made the trip. My friend lived in Sandy Springs. (Years later, when I lived in Sandy Springs, I would drive by his house and wonder what happened to him and where he lived as an adult.)
    We had a great time and all survived, although I think we all suffered the next day.
    As the "Race" grew, it became much less innocent and much more about the party which surrounded it. . A few years later the race was stopped because drunken revelers would get out of the river and urinate in the yards of the folks who lived along the river. Others would make half-sober attempts to dive from rocks overhanging the river and several were paralyzed or killed. It is very sad to me that our society typically does this-takes something as innocent and fun as what Harriet experienced and ruins it by extreme, reckless behavior. (At least that is what I tell my kids.)
    After I graduated from Tennessee, I never saw many of that group again, although two of them remain close and live in Atlanta.
    A few weeks ago I met a buddy of mine to watch the Falcons game on a Sunday Night at a local restaurant. While I was standing there a man walked in about my age who looked very familiar. This was actually very near the Chattahoochee around Johnson's Ferry Road. The man ordered something to go and walked outside. I told my friend this guy looked familiar.
    When he came back we all started making comments about the Falcons and chatting. I finally said, "You look familiar? What is your name?" When he started to tell me I knew immediately who he was and he who I was.
    It was my old friend from Atlanta, that grew up in Sandy Springs, whom I haven't seen in twenty-five years. I live, maybe, eight miles from him. He now lives less than two miles from where he grew up in Sandy Springs, and his Dad still lives in the house.
    Small world.

  7. From Laura, a friend who can't comment:

    God, you captured all of the great stuff about growing up in the 70's. All along, I kept thinking how my parents would have NEVER allowed us to build this thing in our yard (although they let my brother build bombs, tanks, guns, etc. in the attic) and how Joe would have NEVER let the kids build this thing in our yard. Laughed out loud when you addressed your parents preferring you "act a fool" at home. ha ha. The jeans were another classic. I tore the outside seams out of jeans up to the hip then laced them up with leather strings, probably really long shoe laces. We were a good looking generation. I am thinking one of those boys probably "borrowed" that truck. The best is finding the piece of the raft after all of the years. Says a lot about your parents. :)