Recently my son-in-law Matt expressed an interest in learning more about some of Alleghany’s history, specifically the barge.
Elizabeth and I have often wondered why we’ve never found or been given a written history of Alleghany. Most of what we have to go by is pictures (and alumni of course), and most of the pictures aren’t labeled. So we do a lot of guesswork.
We figure that we have no archived history because until today nothing formal has been written down. That will change. And I say why not let it start with me?
So here I begin with some of Alleghany’s history. Today’s edition, the barge.
The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne
The barge holds so much magic for staff and campers alike because they can feel the magic of crossing from one time and place, to another. From the busy world “out there” to the slower, more at ease pace of the world “in here,” at camp.
The first barge was wooden and probably built on site, unless the Totten family, from whom the first fifteen acres of Alleghany was purchased, had constructed one. My guess is they didn’t. I don’t know how many years the original one lasted, but there’s a black and white picture taken in the 50’s of a truck (the back of the picture says “laundry truck”) with it’s rear end in the middle of the river! I’d like to know how that was rescued.
The steel barge arrived in…well, I don’t actually know. But I’ve started a research project to find out. I’ve always been told that it was a part of a WWII pontoon ferry. How it was transported to Alleghany is a story I’m trying to find the answer to. It stands to reason that it probably came by train since there were tracks on what is now the Greenbrier River Trail.
Pull, pull, pull, pull
I learned to row a boat back in 1966 under the instruction of Delaware Clark. There was no Green Team in those days, and the girls were responsible for rowing in and out for time off at night.
Mr. Delaware – as he was affectionately called – was Carrie Lee Clark’s husband. Carrie Lee was the lady who was our baker from the late 50’s to late 90’s. That’s quite a run at Camp Alleghany!
Though his first job was taking care of the horses, Delaware had no problem handling either the boat or the barge by himself. I watched him row the boat many times. In those days it was a 17 foot skiff. He didn’t take full strokes like the boys do today. He got the boat going towards the opposite shore and took half strokes and kept the motion of the boat moving. He always landed upriver of the barge so the river current would keep the boat tight to the barge and make it easier for people to get in and out. I still man the boat like that forty years after I learned how.
Delaware always carried on a conversation if someone was in the boat and he rarely turned his head to look where he was going.
I asked him one day why he didn’t turn his head. He said “The cable, suh, the cable.” Then he pointed to the cable that the barge was connected to. It seems that Delaware always watched the amount of cable he saw that he had left behind. Experience and doing the job over and over taught him to know where he was on the river. And this while he was carrying on a conversation with his passenger!
Poling the barge
I learned how to find a spot that would hold a pole when I was at the barge. I learned that if a pole got stuck, I had to save the pole and get wet if needed. Never did that while poling a barge. I always picked a spot that would stick yet give when it needed to be removed.
As I mentioned, when I was a “Green Team” member, there was no formal green team. There were two of us boys in 1966, two in 1967 and five in 1968. My dad, Cooper Dawson Jr., paid the boys, but they reported to Glen Barron.
Glen was head of Maintenance at that time and held that position from the mid 50’s to the late 90’s. One of his favorite sayings was “You can’t beat education.” Only he wasn’t talking about book learning but rather common sense!
Sitting by the dock of the bay
The first summer I worked at Alleghany was 1966.
In those days the swim docks were not the skinny aluminum things that we have now. Back then they sat on empty oil barrels which had a wooden frame. There were eight barrels a dock, I think, and they had wooden decking on top.
The docks were still put together at the barge landing as we do now, but they were much bigger. There were three 4 x 4 beams that held the floats together before the decking was put on. The barge was brought across the river, the floats were out in the river, then the beams were brought down on the Jeep truck we had. ( I learned to drive a stick at camp but that’s another story.)
Anyway, I was on the downriver side of the barge as the crew grabbed one of the beams and swung it toward the floats. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the beam and jumped into the river to avoid getting hurt. I got wet, everyone laughed, and I never did that again.
Trucks in the river
In August, 1988, on the last day of the second term, I was dispatched with one guy to make a last run through camp to see if we had picked up all the bus duffles. I hit the barge to jump it into the river, was moving to the center of the barge when my foot slipped off the brake. In 10 seconds the green truck – which was also a stick, but on the column – went off the barge in a big splash, nose down.
The truck stopped the forward momentum of the barge, but there it sat.
After getting two 4×4 posts and some chain, we started to get the problem solved. We had a 4 wheel drive truck on the car side of the river. The two trucks were chained together. Then we had four Green team guys- 2 on each post – in the river. One post was placed under each side of the truck axle. I started up the truck – which I had turned off – and put it in reverse. The other truck pulled, the boys lifted, and I floored the truck in reverse. Everything worked, and the truck popped onto the barge. The chain was unhooked, the posts removed, and the truck was backed up onto the bank out of harm’s way. Phew! I was glad that was over.
Later that same summer – during Family Camp, Cooper was starting onto the barge when someone cut in front of him to get onto the barge. He stopped but the barge didn’t. So the front of the same truck was in the river again. At that time I was with my Boatwright cousins in the river. There’s a picture in the cottage that shows the truck in the river with Green Team member Will Tanner coming to get Cooper in the boat. Pattie Ames was the photographer – I think.
As I learn more anecdotes and history of the barge I’ll share them with you here. And stay tuned, because I have some other stories up my sleeve, too.
–Sam Dawson, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls