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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
July 16, 2004
‘River hogs’ set sail on authentic log
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
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
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
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
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
- The sound of the bell on the Montour County
courthouse was an
unusual sound yesterday-in fact most locals said they forgot the
even had a bell. The seldom-rung bell welcomed a historic reenactment
It was a
genuine log raft, piloted by local historian Van Wagner. He then
on board with victory 'whoops' when it finally stopped in Danville, albeit
three and a half hours
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
Heritage Festival, which runs through this weekend. He was reenacting
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
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.
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
signals success of authentic log raft
- A lot of hard work, a lot of research, and finally a successful trip
Susquehanna River. Event organizer,
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
rafts arrival. Nearly 200 proud area residents cheered on the crew as
the way towards their victory. Wagner says his group learned from the
of others who attempted such a trip. The Iron Heritage Festival
through the weekend (Sara Lauver)
July 30, 2004
High water causes problems at marina
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
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
the Susquehanna River to Danville.
Van Wagner, one of the raftsman, said taking the
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
A crew of five men dismantled the raft Sunday.
around 8 a.m., the crew worked until about 3:30 p.m. before the logs
raft were taken apart and stacked neatly on the shoreline. The logs
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
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
variety of products which the FFA can sell to raise money for its
portion of the money will also go to the Iron Heritage Festival."
A crane from Shoemaker Industries of
donated to the work crew to help dismantle the raft. It was used to
logs from the river to the shore, Wagner said.
The raft was assembled in July to be part of the
Heritage Festival. Logs from land owned by Charles Lewis, Bill Shultz,
Welsh, Rob Baylor and others were used in the raft.
Wagner applauded the assistance of area landowners
helping with the raft project.
An 1860-style flag made by Sherri Oberdorf was
used on the
"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
navigated the Susquehanna in the 1860s, moving lumber, food and
It was floated to Danville
from a farm upriver just before the start of the Iron Heritage Festival.