Harry Peterson
Submitted by B. Vance


Riffle Work on the Crooked River, BC
As told by Harry Peterson (1916-1988)

A riffle is caused by what might be like a sandbar laying in a tilted
fashion across the river bottom. The banks of the river are not any
narrower; therefore only a thin layer of water goes over this underwater
sandbar at a faster rate. There can be outcropping of rock on the riffle
floor, creating more trouble.

So the reason you have frog is that the water is so shallow that the boat
will not float down in the normal bow first manner. So then you must frog
down. During the season, you have set aside floatable cargo, such as gas
in 20 gallon drums, oil and kerosene in 10 gallon drums for the last loads
in the fall when the water is low and frogging is necessary.

You then come down the river to and into a riffle as slow as possible,
lift your motor out as soon as it becomes too shallow to operate. Then
float down as far as you can until you drag bottom and stop. The man in
the bow (that was me) jumps out and holds the boat bow against the
current. The motor man begins dumping the floatable cargo overboard until
the boat shows signs of freeing, he then jumps overboard, holds the side
of the boat against the current, the water builds up on the upper side of
the boat. When you can no longer hold, the bowman lets go of the rope
first, the motor man scrambles in or hangs on, the boat then floats down
on the build of water either to the end of the riffle or until you get
stuck again. The motor man is left alone in charge of the boat, hopefully
he is in it by the he gets to deeper water otherwise it could take some
time retrieving the boat and freeing it from whatever mess it might get
into. Meanwhile, while the motor man has gone out of sight and out of
mind downstream, the bowman is wading down looking for and freeing any
cargo and herding it down the river until everything comes together and
reloading begins. Being in the fall of the year, this becomes cold, wet,
hard work and not as enjoyable and refreshing as on a hot summers day.
After a long day of frogging on the river you were so tired that you just
climbed into your sleeping bag fully clothed and still soaking we. Your
body heat would dry you a little overnight but then of course the next day
you would only be wet all day again, so it didn’t really matter.

Coming back home over these areas?

The boat is now empty and floating higher which means we might be lucky
enough to pole up without jumping in on perhaps this snowy day. But if
lining is required the bowman get out with some 50 feet of rope, put the
end over his shoulder then a couple of wraps around his waist and begins
pulling upstream. The motor man poles and guides the boat. At times he
too may jump out and pull with a short rope or pry the boat off a rock
with his pole. While the bowman (remember, that’s me!) is still leaning
hard on his rope and hoping you don’t lose your footing and lose the
footage you’ve worked so hard to get.

Home again! The river freighting season is over and you say, “Never
again!” But after a long cold winter you begin to dream of those
beautiful spring days, fresh green willows overhanging and standing in a
river. The country is alive with trappers and Natives coming out from
their trap lines. You dream of high water, smooth and deep and leaning
back on a load of mail, four, sugar, some fresh vegetables and fruit and
it only taking 8 to 9 hours to run down the river that took 2 to 3 days to
run down last fall. Several trips could be made to Fort McLeod before the
larger rivers, the Parsnip and Finlay, opened up (became free of ice)
further north so we could reach Ft. Graham and Ft. Ware. You are eager to
go again!

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My Dad, Harry Peterson, worked for Carl Davidson who had the contract with
the Hudson Bay Co. about 1932. Dad was paid 25 cents per day.

Barbara asks, “Any funny experiences while you worked on the river freight
boats, Dad?”

My Dad’s face lights up with one of his infectious big smiles and says, “I
went to a dance in my underwear!”

I encouraged Dad to tell us more as this story sounded intriguing to say
the least!
So he continues:

“It had been a long 200 mile trip to Fort Graham from Summit Lake, River
freighting was never easy at anytime but I dreaded low water on the
Crooked River the most as it meant hours of tedious frogging around the
riffles in the river. It was at least faster traveling after we left
McLeod Lake and down the short but fast Pack River. The Pack was a
devilish river – full of rapids but a great river for fly fishing the
Artic Grayling. Then into and down the steady Parnsip River to Finlay
Forks then up the Finlay River to Fort Graham.

“After unloading our cargo of canned goods and gasoline, I was really
looking forward to hitting the sack!”

“That night the local Indians were in the mood for a party. I refused
their offers of a potent’home brew’; that stuff was just about poison.
Being made from the summers accumulation of orange peelings, potato
peelings and wild fruits with a little sugar now and then to keep it
bubbling and it was all thrown into one big barrel and let ferment. I
wanted no part of their ‘brewing’ party either and quickly made my way to
our tent. I stripped to my long underwear and crawled into my bedroll.
“Hope the natives keep the noise down as I’m not budging until morning!” I
muttered to Carl, my companion, as sleep quickly enveloped my tired
body…….

“Teach us to dance your square dance!” they hollered as the entered our
tent. Two of the Chief’s big (and I mean BIG) daughters bodily grabbed me
– one on each side and lifted me out of the sack and escorted me (attired
only in my long underwear) to the dance. They were serious about teaching
them to square dance! No matter what scratchy music they put on the hand
crank gramaphone, whether waltz or fox trot, we square danced! Who dare
argue with the Chief’s daughters? I was only 17 years old at the time and
wanted no confrontation with the Old Chief. So dawn came with me still
dancing in my underwear instead of sleeping in a comfortable bedroll.”