River Drive

1994 David Calder

 

The woods ballads from NY state to New Brunswick are some of the finest in our language, documenting the whole range of that industry. Dave Calder, with his father, joined the drive on the Kennebec River in 1966 and worked it through its last year when environmental concerns closed that particular, unique and highly skilled part of the industry, or at least traded it for methods of equally questionable environmental value.

This ballad is unique because it speaks clearly and eloquently about the death of a way of living that affected most of the people along that whole river. In the lyrics following I've put verse # 2 where Dave sings it. I usually lay it in second to last.

 

Gordon nylon 6-string guitar

 

I'd like to tell you the story boys, about taking down the drive'

My foreman's name is Buster, boys, and he also does reside

Near the banks of this river, boys, in Skowhegan, Maine

But when the rear gets in this year we'll never drive again.

 

We've been driving this old river, boys, for two centuries and a half'

Just to get that wood down to the mill, it almost makes me laugh

Some educated fools from God knows where, well they figured it should end

So that outfit down to Augusta says we can never drive again.

 

Now this mighty Kennebec she's something to be seen

From her Headwaters and Moosehead down to Merrymeeting and the Sea

With islands, back channels, white water and dead

Great eddies and great remedies for a river driver's head.

 

We hang the booms in springtime, we sluice in summertime

They're rafting wood across the lakes, five thousand cord to a time

And when the fall is coming on, it's time to take the rear

Better head up to that cutoff and get old McLollen's butt in gear.

 

There's Buster and Gerry Bigelow, them Sanipass boys and me

George Waters and my father rave about days that used to be

The Messer boys are hung over, they're praying for a head wind

So we can hitch her up at noontime, and they can start right in again.

 

From Indian Pond down to the Forks it's white water most of the way

Riding them leaky bateaux, I don't think it's worth the pay

From the Forks down through Carratunk we're over the Wyman Dam

By the first week in September we're headed for the Solon Dam.

 

From Solon down through Libby Country and down into North Anson

That oxbow it don't slow us up and we're down into Madison

We take those three dams, we're always on the run

She's a flying rear through Norridgewock and down to Skowhegan.

 

We send Dennis up to the Green Front and head for Shawmut Shores

There's two weeks of hard picking, but then there'll only be two or three more

And now it is November, God Damn, it's getting cold

Best be careful where you step; there's no place to take hold.

 

Finally we do get her in, we're all feeling good

We'll have us a little gathering to forget the God damn wood

With some liquor and some smoking, some bullshitting all around

But everyone of us knows this is the last time we'll take her down oh

Everybody knows this is the last time we'll take her down.

 

 

River Drive is recorded on the album In the Kind Land