Log Raft News Articles

Here's a sampling of some of the media coverage that we received concerning the Log Raft.  The Log Raft was featured in the Daily Item, the Danville News, the Press Enterprise, WNEP-16 Television, and several other media outlets.

June 18, 2004

Team re-creating historic logging journey

By G. Wayne Laepple

The Daily Item DANVILLE — "A hundred and fifty years ago, this river was the Interstate 80 of its day," said Van Wagner as he gazed out at the placid Susquehanna River.

Wagner, 27, singer, songwriter, teacher and history buff, is leading a group of volunteers who will recreate river commerce, at least for a few days, during Danville’s Iron Heritage Festival in July.

Over the next month, these folks plan to take 30 huge logs and lash them together into a raft to duplicate the log rafts which once floated down the river by the hundreds every spring.

The modern-day rafters will float down the river from Cooper Township to Danville and tie up at the foot of Mill Street during Danville’s Iron Heritage Days July 16-18. After the festivities, they plan to continue downstream to a farm below Riverside, where the raft will be disassembled and the logs will go to a sawmill.

Using nothing except the current of the river, pioneer lumbermen floated thousands of logs fastened together into huge rafts down river to market.

Many of the rafts that were floated down the North Branch of the Susquehanna were made of white pine, a strong, straight-grained, lightweight wood that was used for masts and spars of sailing ships. White pine and other trees were used to build houses and barns in southeastern Pennsylvania.

As early as the 1790s, logs and lumber were floated down the Susquehanna to the Chesapeake Bay, some traveling as far as Norfolk, Va., according to old accounts.

The Danville Intelligencer, an early newspaper, in 1833 reported that 2,688 arks and 3,480 rafts passed Danville between May 18 and 23. That’s more than 6,100 in five days, or over 1,200 per day. In other words, more than 50 rafts per hour, 24 hours a day, floated past Danville.

No wonder that someone once claimed that it was almost possible to walk across the river on the rafts!

In the old days, Wagner said, there were four types of rafts that plied the river. "Spar rafts" were the round logs, while "timber rafts" were logs sawed square. "Lumber rafts" were made of various types of sawed timber fastened together and floated downstream to market. "Arks" were made of sawed timber, with flat bottoms and bulwarks to carry coal or other products.

Rafts floated downstream to the Marietta-Columbia area or even all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. At the end of the trip, the rafts or arks were sold for lumber, and the crews walked back to northeastern Pennsylvania. Some crews made as many as three voyages in a season.

"The raft we’ll make will be pretty small," Wagner said, as he surveyed the logs currently on the riverbank at Bill Shultz’s farm in Cooper Township. Historically, the rafts were as long as 200 feet and 60 or 70 feet wide, he said.

Wagner, who has worked as a logger, said the logs, each 20- to 30-feet long, will be rolled into the river one at a time and fastened together. The resulting raft will be 30 feet wide and 70 feet long.

A plan for a log raft was found in the archives of the Muncy Historical Society, he said, which gave dimensions for some of the critical components. and showed how the logs were fastened together.

That was accomplished with a "lash pole" laid parallel to the logs. Each log had a hole bored in it on either side of the lash pole. A thin wooden strip was bent in a U shape over the lash pole, with each end in the hole. Then a wooden pin was driven in to hold the strip tight.

The resulting bent wooden strip fastener was not unlike a staple.

The rafts were assembled completely from wood, Wagner said. No metal or rope was used.

Some rafts had a cookshack with a potbelly stove in it built on deck, while others were just a bare floating platform, Wagner said.

Clambering over the logs, he demonstrated three tools essential to work with large logs.

The cant hook is a long wooden handle with a large hook hinged near one end. Wagner showed how, using this tool, one man could easily roll a log on the ground.

The pike is a slim, 6-foot long wooden handle with a sharp tip at one end, as well as a protruding hook, and was used to push or pull logs floating in the water.

The cross-cut saw was used by two men to cut the trees down and trim off branches.

Wagner’s friend, Ken Kremser of Rush Township, helped him demonstrate the saw, sawing the end off a log. After just a few moments of effort to saw through the 15-inch diameter log, the two were soaked with sweat on the humid morning.

"Imagine doing that all day long," Kremser said.

Recently returned from military service in Iraq, Kremser said he and Wagner had been in high school together.

"We had lost track of each other, and this is a great way for us to reconnect," Kremser said.

The logs are white pine, Wagner said, which are quite buoyant. Most of the logs were "loaned" to the project by Kuhns Brothers Sawmill near Lewisburg, and they will be used to make log house components after they float down river. Other logs were donated by Lori Sandahl of Elysburg.

The raft will be steered with two long oars, or "sweeps," one at each end of the raft. They were 30-40 feet long, Wagner said.

The sweeps could be used to steer the raft as well as to move it from side to side in the water. The rafts were not very maneuverable and were hard to control.

In fact, as bridges were built across the river at many locations, it became more and more difficult for raftsmen to navigate the river.

Once the railroads were completed in the area in the 1860s, lumber was transported by train instead. Railroads were an all-weather, all-season transportation mode, not dependent on the weather as the river was.

"There have only been four rafts in the river in the past 100 years," Wagner said. "This is probably the only time in our lifetime that people will see this."

The other rafts traveled down the West Branch of the Susquehanna. The last one — known as The Last Raft — was in the 1938 and met disaster when it struck a railroad bridge near Montgomery. Several people on the raft drowned in that incident.

"Many people died over the years in accidents with rafts," Wagner noted. "They were going downriver during high water in March or April, and if they fell in, they drowned or died of hypothermia."

There were many navigation hazards on the Susquehanna, from rapids and hidden rocks to submerged trees, any of which could overturn or tear apart a raft, especially when the river was swollen with spring runoff and snow melt and the current was swift.

"We’re going in July, when the river will be warmer and lower," he said.

While most of the raft project is well in hand, Wagner said, they are still seeking an 1860s-style American flag to fly on the voyage. Also needed is about 200 feet of heavy rope to tie the raft to the riverbank in Danville.

July 16, 2004

‘River hogs’ set sail on authentic log raft

By G. Wayne Laepple

The Daily Item DANVILLE — It was a merry band of "river hogs" who set sail down the North Branch of the Susquehanna on Thursday morning, bound on their log raft for Danville.

They didn’t count on the current of the river being unable to move the ponderous raft very fast, though.

Around 12:30 p.m. the bell at the Montour County Courthouse started ringing, announcing the approach of the raft toward the Danville-Riverside Bridge. The raft passed underneath at 1 p.m.

The five raftsmen and assorted hangers-on had downed a hearty breakfast at the Pappas restaurant before they arrived at the Cooper Township farm of Bill Shultz, where the raft had taken shape over the past few weeks.

Before the crew arrived, two motorboats came upriver from Danville, and as they hovered next to the raft, Francie Moyer, a passenger on one boat, bellowed, "Where’s the captain?"

The small crowd on the river bank wondered the same thing, and while everyone waited for Van Wagner and his crew to arrive, they chatted about the prospects, whether there was enough water in the river to float the raft to Danville, how much rain had fallen upriver in New York, how many boats would accompany the raft.

The crew finally arrived at 8:15 and began final preparations.

Wagner unlimbered a battery-powered drill and made two holes in a flagpole, on which was raised a hand-stitched flag made by Sherry Oberdorf of Riverside.

Other members of the crew carried armloads of tools and supplies to the raft, wading into the river waist-deep to place the goods aboard.

A number of people carried kayaks and canoes down to the bank and launched them.

Rich Pawling, of Reading, a fixture at Iron Heritage Days festivities, wore a T-shirt emblazoned "River Hog 2004." He also wore a cap with a huge catfish head and tail.

"That’s what they called them," he told all who would listen, in a thick Pennsylvania Dutch accent. Pawling launched a canoe, offering a seat to anyone who wanted to travel along.

Wagner’s wife, Tamara, also accompanied the raft in a canoe.

Finally, all was in readiness. A bugle blared, the flag was raised to cheers, and Wagner fired a salute from a muzzleloader rifle.

Wagner, Ken Kremser and other members of the raft crew worked the long sweeps at each end, pushing the raft toward the center of the river.

Surrounding the raft were five kayaks, three canoes and four motorboats.

The raft swung slowly, ponderously away from the bank and out into the current.

Earlier, Wagner said he and the crew had floated downriver in canoes on Monday, and it took them two hours to float the four miles to the Danville-Riverside Bridge.

The canoes were considerably lighter than the estimated 15 tons of logs in the raft, and by 10:30 the raft had not yet arrived at the boat ramp near Danville State Hospital, barely two miles from the launch point.

"At this rate, I estimate they’ll make it to the bridge by about 1:30," chuckled one man waiting at the ramp.

"C’mon," he said to a friend. "I’ll take you downtown so you can get a haircut, and then we’ll come back."

July 16, 2004

Newsradio 1070 WKOK

Raft project has familiar ring

(Danville) - The sound of the bell on the Montour County courthouse was an unusual sound yesterday-in fact most locals said they forgot the courthouse even had a bell. The seldom-rung bell welcomed a historic reenactment to Danville. It was a genuine log raft, piloted by local historian Van Wagner. He then responded from on board with victory 'whoops' when it finally stopped in Danville, albeit three and a half hours behind schedule.

Onlookers didn't seem to mind and welcomed the five men onboard the 100-foot long raft. Wagner's four-mile sojourn was done to kick off Danville's Iron Heritage Festival, which runs through this weekend. He was reenacting the practice of 'floating' lumber to downstream markets and mills, along the Susquehanna River. Recent storms provided more than sufficient river water for the raft. The bell ringing reenacted the practice of notifying the town when a canal boat or raft had arrived. (Sara Lauver)

July 17, 2004

Go with the flow

The peeling of a historic bell announced the arrival of a historic event in Danville Thursday.

A sonic signal rarely heard since the introduction of telephones rang out from the cupola on Montour County’s courthouse as a log raft passed under the Danville-Riverside bridge early in the afternoon. The raft’s journey of the day began a few hours earlier, four miles up the river.

But the real journey began months ago in the mind of Danville native Van Wagner, who, in addition to being a teacher and well-known local musician, is also something of a history buff. Wagner sought to re-create a mostly forgotten part of the region’s past as part of Danville’s annual Iron Heritage Festival — which continues this weekend.

Wagner and a group of friends worked for weeks to re-create a log raft similar to those that once plied the Susquehanna River by the thousands. Back in the days when timber was the top industry of the upper branches of the Susquehanna River, such rafts would carry the harvest of white pine from the Central Pennsylvania "wilderness" to the relative civilization of the Chesapeake Bay area.

The advent of other transportation routes — canals, railways and highways — changed the shape and pace of the timber industry, and the rafts and the men who guided them drifted into history.

Until now.

The voyage of Wagner and company attracted hundreds of spectators and dozens of media outlets. Helicopters, cameras and cell phones almost seemed out of place as a raft that could have floated right out of the 19th century slowly floated down a short stretch of river.

So what was it about this collection of logs that drew so many to the banks of the Susquehanna? Perhaps it was the Huck Finn aspect of a barefoot adventure on a river raft. Or a reconnection with the past. Or a way of honoring the back-breaking work of ancestors and one band of modern- day re-enactors. Or a longing for a simpler (but obviously not easier) way of life that the raft represented.

The appeal probably springs from a combination of all these factors.

As the so-called "river hogs" of Danville showed, sometimes it is best just to go with the flow.

July 17, 2004

Newsradio 1070 WKOK

Bell signals success of authentic log raft

(Danville) - A lot of hard work, a lot of research, and finally a successful trip down the Susquehanna River. Event organizer, Van Wagner, led a crew dressed in Civil War apparel down the north branch of the Susquehanna River yesterday. The authentic log raft was constructed to be part of the Iron Heritage Festival in Danville, and although it's unknown for sure, may have been the first trip down the north branch in nearly a century.

After slow currents slowed the anticipated arrival, the raft finally made a successful trip to their destination. Montour County Commissioner, Trevor Finn, even rang the bell in the courthouse to signal the rafts arrival. Nearly 200 proud area residents cheered on the crew as they made the way towards their victory. Wagner says his group learned from the mistakes of others who attempted such a trip. The Iron Heritage Festival continues through the weekend (Sara Lauver)

July 30, 2004

High water causes problems at marina (excerpt)
By G. Wayne Laepple
The Daily Item

A large tree floating downriver Wednesday struck the Danville log raft and tore it loose from its moorings in Rush Township. The unoccupied raft was carried downstream toward Sunbury.

Sunbury River Rescue was called out to try to secure the 100-foot long, 15-ton raft, and two pontoon boats and a rescue boat got lines on it and attempted to slow its progress.

According to Gary Troup, Sunbury fire chief, after 40 minutes and additional help from other boaters, they were finally able to get the raft close to the bank and tied off near the Sunbury Social Club.

Van Wagner and Ken Kremser, who helped build the log raft, had been considering a trip downstream to Sunbury for display during the Sunbury River Festival next month.

River raft becomes logs again

By: CARL BOYER, The Danville News August 09, 2004


Aaron Myers, left, and Van Wagner watch as the last log is lifted out of the Susquehanna River after taking it apart on Sunday. Photo by Cory Poticher/The Danville News.

DANVILLE - Workers Sunday dismantled a river raft built for the Iron Heritage Festival and floated down the Susquehanna River to Danville.

Van Wagner, one of the raftsman, said taking the raft apart was almost as difficult as building it.

"This was the first time any of us had done it," he said. "A lot of research is available on how to build a raft but there's nothing on how to take one apart. We came up with a process that worked for us."

A crew of five men dismantled the raft Sunday. Starting around 8 a.m., the crew worked until about 3:30 p.m. before the logs from the raft were taken apart and stacked neatly on the shoreline. The logs will be hauled to a sawmill this week where they'll be made into lumber.

"We don't have any official approval yet from the school but we'd like to donate the lumber from the raft to the Danville High School FFA program," said Wagner. "Each piece of lumber will be stamped to show it was part of the raft. The lumber will be used to make a variety of products which the FFA can sell to raise money for its programs. A portion of the money will also go to the Iron Heritage Festival."

A crane from Shoemaker Industries of Northumberland was donated to the work crew to help dismantle the raft. It was used to lift the logs from the river to the shore, Wagner said.

The raft was assembled in July to be part of the Iron Heritage Festival. Logs from land owned by Charles Lewis, Bill Shultz, Steve Welsh, Rob Baylor and others were used in the raft.

Wagner applauded the assistance of area landowners for helping with the raft project.

An 1860-style flag made by Sherri Oberdorf was used on the raft.

"The flag made the raft," said Wagner. "It was nothing but a bunch of logs until we raised the flag."

The raft was built in the style of the river rafts that navigated the Susquehanna in the 1860s, moving lumber, food and supplies.

It was floated to Danville from a farm upriver just before the start of the Iron Heritage Festival.