The Wabash 500
One of my most memorable and well-publicized trips came about when my friend, Dennis came to me with a unique idea. There was no record of anyone ever having traveled the entire length of the Wabash River in a powerboat. The reason is because the Wabash begins as a tiny stream and gains size on its five hundred-mile course to the Ohio River. The first one hundred or so miles are rocky, shallow, and narrow and are difficult to navigate, even in a canoe. An important piece of equipment for a journey would be the right boat. Dennis had already purchased a 17-foot flat-bottom aluminum bass boat, with an inboard jet drive. This would allow operation in very shallow waters. He then had a canvas cabin built on the boat for weather protection. We began serious planning of what we came to call the “Wabash 500.”
Dennis would be the pilot, and turned out to be very skillful at it. He had a knack for handling tricky maneuvers and had quick reflexes. Our next crewman was to be a fellow name Percy, our engineer. Percy is a Kentucky-born mountain man who once hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Being mechanically inclined, he was responsible for upkeep of the vessel and as it turned out, clever at figuring out how to solve other problems as well. Another member of the team was Rod. He was to follow our route in a truck and provide us with fuel and other necessities. He would camp with us each night (when he could find us), and we would keep in radio contact with him, when within range. My job was to be navigator. My responsibilities included using my own maps, along with highway maps, keep a journal, and generally I was supposed to know where we were. I was also to read the river ahead of the boat, watching for hazards, and to select rendezvous points to meet Rod.
The Wabash is a very remote river with no marinas. In some stretches it is 40 miles between bridges and many of those are in remote locations with nothing to offer in supplies. It was necessary to plan well for fuel, supplies, and locations to meet our chaser truck. Once the boat was completely outfitted we decided to make an overnight test run. We put her in the river and headed upstream, (always test upstream so you can float back in a breakdown). We loaded the boat with as much gear as we would take on the longer journey. The canvas cabin was small for three men, but sufficient. A local TV station heard about our plans and interviewed us before embarking on our test run. The boat handled remarkably well considering the load, but I could see that we were drawing somewhat more water than the few inches that we expected. At full throttle it would get up on plane and run much shallower. In shallow water the choice is to run slow and deep, with a greater chance of hitting submerged rocks, or to run fast and shallow with less chance of striking rocks. But if the latter happens the damage could be extensive. All seemed well after about 30 miles, then we made a mistake. How a boat with three experienced rivermen failed to see a gravel bar at the mouth of a tributary is a mystery, but it happened. The boat bottom scraped over the rocks, the engine seized up, and we came to an abrupt halt.
It was easy enough to free the boat since we were able to stand in the shallow water and push. When Dennis attempted to restart the engine he found it to be locked up. Not being sure what happened, our only choice was to drift downstream to the town of Montezuma, Indiana. Dennis called a friend to bring the trailer there, where we took the boat out and went home. Our shakedown cruise ended short of our expectations. We later discovered that rocks had shattered the jet drive intake shield located in the hull. A piece of the shield lodged in the impeller, which seized up.. Knowing that on the Wabash 500 trip we would likely hit more gravel bars and rocks, some alterations were needed. The solution was to have a stronger intake shield. A few days later Dennis installed a custom-made stainless steel shield. With that being the only serious problem we encountered, the boat was now ready for the trip. All we would need was high enough water near the headwaters of the river.
Prior to the trip I had scouted the river by automobile and hiked along the river from the tiny headwaters to Fort Recovery, since that section could not be done in any watercraft. Show at right is the very small Wabash River with a paddle in it for size reference. This mission was to determine where supplies could be found and to look for other difficulties. I found some serious log jams but that could be solved with an onboard chain saw. I also needed to find out about bridge clearances on the upper river. For the trip to be successful we needed enough water to float the boat but not too much, as we would not get under some of the low bridges. I met a man name Ernie in the little town of New Corydon, Indiana. The town is located in east-central Indiana near the Ohio border. Ernie lived near one of the low bridges and agreed to call me when the river level was just right. How would he know? I took measurements of the clearance and painted two marks on the bridge support. A water level between those marks would provide the right level to float the boat while enabling us to get under the bridge. Upon completing this mission we began the wait, as the beginning of our journey was now in Ernie's hands.
A few weeks later there had been a lot of rain in the northern part of the state and I was expecting a call from Ernie at any time. We finalized our plans and the call finally came. Ernie was out of town but indicated that the river had been much higher and was now going down, with the level right between the marks. Since the river was now falling we left the next morning for Fort Recovery, Ohio, which is near the headwaters of the Wabash. We wanted to get beyond the low bridges as soon as possible. At Fort Recovery there is no launching ramp so we backed the trailer down a little dirt road and into the river on some fairly solid ground. Upon having a short ceremony and placing a sign on the boat that read, "Ohio River or Bust", and then set off in what appeared to be deep water but it was only deep for about one hundred yards around the first bend (Photo at left is launching the boat.) There the river widened, then split into ribbon-like creeks meandering around sandbars. We ground to a halt in the low water. We could see deeper water ahead but had to get the 2,000-pound boat past the shallows. This required pulling, pushing, and winching from trees. That first obstacle took about two hours.
We were happy to get back aboard the boat and go on. We made a few hundred feet then the same thing happened again. This went on all day. The river had drained off much faster than we expected and was still falling. At the end of the first day I calculated our progress. We had gained only six miles that day. I figured at this rate that it would take eighty-three days to complete this trip, so it just had to get better. Most of the day had been spent walking and we were tired (Photo at right is of boat stuck in the shallows.) We could not make it to a bridge where Rod was to meet us, so he went to a motel in Ft. Recovery while we camped.
Early the next morning I checked a stick that I had placed at the water’s edge and found that the river had not dropped much and was nearly stationary. That was good news! We shoved off again and the water depth kept getting better. We celebrated as we went under the state line bridge into Indiana. As we approached New Corydon I could see my marks on the bridge. The level was nearly two feet below the bottom line. There would be no problem with clearance under the bridges. We continued to run aground and were never able to go faster than an idle. Just past New Corydon a huge log jam became our next obstacle. We broke out the chain saw and went to work, taking about three hours to cut a narrow path through it. The temperature had dropped that day and we spent most of it in the cold water. In this section the river has changed its course many times creating oxbows, or false rivers. The maze of waterways is confusing and several times we had to turn back and find the active channel, after running into a dead end. Approaching Bluffton, Indiana, things began to look better. The river was still shallow in many places and had a rocky bottom, but we were making much better time. We got a treat at Bluffton as a fast food restaurant was located right at the river’s edge. We considered staying there but wanted to push on with a few hours of daylight left. I knew a big obstacle was ahead and wanted to get close to the town of Markle, Indiana so we would encounter it in morning hours in case of trouble. That turned out to be a good decision. We made it to Markle and set up camp in the dark, having gained 60 miles that day.
The Army Corps of Engineers built a large levee at Markle, with a control gate. The gate would allow water to continue to flow past the town in controlled amounts. The overflow around the levy was a new channel that had been cut into the bedrock. This channel is the only way to get past Markle. At the point where the old river channel and new channel meet is a falls. This causes some serious rapids upstream and an extreme navigational challenge at the falls (shown at left.) I had been through these rapids before in a canoe but never in a heavy boat like we had. At the falls one could choose to take a chute or the cascading drop of about fifteen feet. The chute is the safest bet, assuming one can maneuver into that position. We set out thinking we would pull over to the bank near the chute before reaching the falls, and then plan our descent.
Percy advised Dennis that if he began to lose control, he should turn the boat around against the current, since jet drives do not have much thrust or steering in reverse. Anticipation was mounting as the water began to run faster. We could see many rocks ahead that must be steered around. Passing under the Highway Three Bridge was pretty much the point of no return. Dennis increased the throttle to stay faster than the current, which is necessary to maintain control. Suddenly the boat hit a submerged rock and careened sideways. Dennis tried to right the boat but the current was too strong and we were at its mercy. With no way to get to the chute our only option was the falls, but we needed get the boat turned into the falls. Going through sideways would mean certain capsizing. We all struggled with the oars, attempting to turn the boat, but it slammed into an immovable wall of submerged rocks on the starboard side, and came to a stop. The water swelled up on the port side, nearly swamping the boat. We struggled to keep the boat from flipping over, and then noticed that it had stabilized and was no longer bobbing like a cork. In fact it became motionless and we could walk about on it with no tipping. Then we discovered why. The rocks had knocked a hole in the bottom of the boat and it had sunk in the shallow waters. Sinking was probably the only thing that kept if from capsizing. The water had filled the hull under the sub-floor decking and the engine compartment. There we were sitting in the middle of rapids, against some rocks, with a hole in the boat and then it began raining. How were we going to get out of this mess? Being an optimist, I mentioned that those rocks and that hole in the boat may have saved our lives by keeping us from being swept into the falls broadside. Now all we had to do was come up with a way to get the boat out of the water. How hard could it be? Very hard!
First we had to get a line to shore, with was very difficult. Struggling against the current I slowly worked my way to shore with a rope attached to the boat. It was raining hard and the water was numbing cold. After getting a line to shore we attached a hand winch to a tree, hoping to drag the boat to shore and perhaps get the truck to that location. At the same time we were in radio contact with Rod, trying to tell him how to find us. All three of us were in the water, pulling and drawing the winch tighter. The tension was too much for the line and it snapped, hitting me across my chest and knocking me down. It really hurt but I was apparently not injured. We had plenty of rope so we doubled the line then stripped the gears on the winch, making it useless. The boat was stuck tight. We were all cold and exhausted. Dennis looked at me and said, "Are we going to get this boat out of here?" I said, "Sure Dennis, you are a smart guy and will think of something." I guess that must have inspired him because he came up with another plan. Rod finally located us by driving on the levee. He had some steel cables and chains in the truck. Knowing that the boat kevels would not be strong enough for the tension of dragging the boat with the truck, we wrapped a tow strap around the hull and hooked that to the cable and chains attached to the truck on the levee. With the strong currents, the only safe way we could make the crossings back and forth was to hang onto a rope still attached from the boat to a tree. With the rigging in place Rod moved the truck forward and down the other side of the levee, causing a huge amount of tension on the cable. We stood back! The powerful truck in four-wheel drive struggled, but the boat began to move toward shore with the aluminum hull grinding on the rocks. There was a deep channel near the shore which was where we needed to take the boat. It was finaly next to the bank. The boat was swamped, but the built-in floatation kept it from sinking further.
The next phase of the plan was to get the boat onto the trailer. The levee bank was too steep to back the truck and trailer down, much less pull a boat back up. Then Dennis had another idea. Drive the truck into the river so that we could push the boat onto the trailer. The water was only a couple of feet deep and had a rock bottom. Rod was apprehensive to try that but since the truck belonged to Dennis it was his call. We plugged up the hole as best we could and began bailing water out, to get it to float as much as possible. The truck traveled along the levee to a slope that would allow it to get into and out of the river. In a short while we saw the Chevy and trailer plowing down the river toward us. Rod turned a circle, yelling to hurry up while he kept the engine running fast to avoid flooding out. As soon as he backed up, we pushed the boat onto the trailer and quickly tied it down. Off he went back up the river with the boat in tow. We stood there so happy to see the boat being taken out of the rapids that we had forgotten to say where to meet, and the radio was in the boat. We started to walk upstream along the levee, then spotted the truck and trailer waiting for us. Now it was time for another plan. Do we quit and go home? Not yet! We discovered later that some onlookers had reported our dilemma and we were featured on the Fort Wayne evening news. The reporter had tried to catch up with us for an interview, but we wasted no time looking for a place to repair the boat.
The city of Huntington was not far away, so after finding that the hole in the hull wasn't all that bad we went in search of a welding shop. We found one in Huntington and they had our hull patched in just a few minutes. According to my maps there was a dirt road leading to the river just below the falls. We drove there and were pleased to find that the bank slope looked like it would permit a launching. We eased the boat back into the river and celebrated our victory. The journey wasn’t over yet, nor was the challenges. I knew of a spillway dam in the city of Huntington, which should have enough water flowing over and very little drop. If all went well the boat would clear the dam and drop down to the lower water level, but I was now getting concerned. Before reaching Huntington we would have to portage the boat around a large reservoir dam.
We went on as the water widened into the only reservoir on the river. Knowing we must take out, Rod met us at a launching ramp on the lake just above the dam. We pulled the boat out and put in at another ramp just below the dam. The lake gave us a false sense of security, being so deep and easy to navigate. Even with all the rain we had, the river below the dam was shallow and the Army Corp of Engineers was not letting much water through the dam. Again, I was thinking about that spillway (low head) dam at Huntington. Just above that dam is a diagonal shoal that runs across the river. We passed over it with no problem. As we approached the dam, it was difficult to determine how much the level dropped off below it. We pulled the boat over and walked to the dam wall and found a drop of about three feet. There was about eight inches of water flowing over the dam. We knew that the boat would draft about six inches on plane (full speed). This meant that if we ran too slowly, we were likely to hit the dam. We also knew that the boat must be going fast enough so as not to nose-dive into the lower level. There was no place nearby to take the boat out and around the dam without losing many miles of the river, which was something we were reluctant to do. After all, the point of this journey was to travel the entire river. It was Dennis' boat, so it was Dennis' decision!
A decision was made. We began to lighten the boat as much as possible by removing heavy items and putting them on shore. Percy and I would stay ashore while Dennis shot the dam. We would also have lines and station ourselves on each side of the dam in case a rescue was needed. The moment arrived. Dennis headed upstream to get a good run, and then punched the throttle wide open. I was below the dam and could only hear the sound of the boat coming until it got within a few yards of the dam. The boat sailed gracefully into the air an incredible distance before making touchdown on the water below. It was a hard but perfect landing, with all of us whooping it up. Dennis took a couple of victory laps on the river then headed for shore to pick us up, nearly crashing into a revetment in his excitement. Another obstacle was now behind us. We camped for the night just below Huntington. We had plenty to talk about that night. It stopped raining, at least for a while.
The river was getting noticeably wider as we continued the next morning. Large tributaries flow in from the many drainage basins. We were making much better time, but dared not become complacent. The river still had surprises in store for us. More shallows, rocks, and snags caused us keep a vigilant eye on the river ahead. Percy developed a good eye for reading the river and would often take the point position for me. We developed hand signals for the pilot to watch for and respond to. Each of us began to rotate positions so all of us took part in every aspect of the journey. Sometimes the jet drive intake would become clogged with corn stalks or other floating debris, so one of us had to get under the boat to pull the material out. Since Percy was the smallest, we hung him from the side of the boat upside down where he could reach the intake. It was nice to finally be able to ride in the boat without having to wade in cold water and push through the shallows. The sky looked threatening that morning and we expected to endure some storms by afternoon. But at least the boat was floating and we were getting some river miles behind us. After what we had been through, why worry about a little storm?
We passed Wabash, Indiana, namesake of the river and the first city in the world to have electric lights. There were no serious problems but the sky looked threatening and cold winds were pushing from the Northwest. Just past Peru, Indiana the storm hit, and not at the best place. The river splits into several islands and there is a location between two bridges called “the gauntlet” by the locals. The boat was fairly stable in the wind but the heavy rain made it very difficult to see which channel was best to take. It is hard to read the river when you can't see more than thirty feet in front of the boat. We looked for a place to hold up, but with all the lightning it wasn't safe to land along the tree-lined shore. We pushed on until the boat came to a sudden stop on a sandbar. We had run aground. I said, "This looks like a good place to sit out this storm.” So we sat and watched the lightning, trees swaying, and debris flowing down the river. I can't say that it was a relaxing break, but it was as safe a place as any. Lightning is dangerous but I would rather be in a metal boat than standing in the water trying to push it off. The chances of a hit are the same, but at least a metal boat would send the worst of the charge into the water and not through my body. When the worst of the storm had passed we got out and pushed the boat off the sandbar. At Logansport the river split again creating a large island in the middle of town. Picking the channel side was difficult and our choice was wrong. We hit a large rock hiding just below the surface and immediately watched for water to come into the boat. This time it just made a dent and we continued. We camped for the night at Georgetown.
The landing at Georgetown has a small ramp and picnic park. There was a sign that said no overnight camping. We were tired, hungry and another storm was coming in, so we set up camp. A highway runs right next to the landing and soon after setting up a man stopped by to see our curious-looking boat. He told us that the sheriff will run us off if he came by, pointing at the sign. We ignored the warning and that damn sign. At about the time we got everything set and were in the tent, a patrol car pulled in. I told the guys to let me handle this and walked toward the car. The deputy got out and said howdy as I returned the friendly greeting. He said "Hey, ain't you the guys I've been hearing about on the news, trying to run this whole river?" I admitted that we were the guilty party. He then said, "Well we are sure happy you stopped in Carroll County. Anything I can do fer yah?" I thanked him and said no, but as it turned out I should have asked him for shelter for the night. I went back to the tent and announced that it was OK, and that I had used my charm and diplomacy to get us out of this mess. My friends were impressed. To top off our evening another storm passed through. We slept through the storm fairly well until the large tent collapsed on us. The water was pouring from the road through the collapsed tent but it was still providing some shelter. When positioned just right we could locate a dry spot under the canvas and so that is how we spent the rest of the night. An alarmed motorist stopped the next morning to see what was going on. Four lumps shaped like bodies under a canvas would get someone's attention, I suppose.
After being awakened by the concerned citizen we discovered blue skies, warm sun, and a rising river. There were a lot of logs and other debris flowing down the river, but the higher water would help us get past the shallows below Georgetown. We packed up and headed out, finding the rapids very mild and deep with an occasional rock to dodge. Just downriver there was a public camp that I knew about, but we did not want to go through the rapids in the evening to get there the night before.
Most of our journey had been to the West, but approaching Delphi, Indiana, the river turns to the Southwest. As we passed Delphi I noted that we had traveled 176 miles. Just below Delphi is a remaining section of the old Wabash-Erie Canal, so we decided to take a little side trip up the canal as far as we could go. Just past the town of Americus we passed the mouth of the Tippecanoe River. This confluence is the site of the well-known Indian battle that made William Henry Harrison famous and become known as Old Tippy. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” became his presidential campaign slogan in 1840. Chief Tecumseh's village was located at this junction and named for his brother The Prophet. Prophetstown is no longer there, but a new state park has been constructed at the site. The Tippecanoe is a beautiful waterway and great for canoeing, but too shallow for most powerboats. We had gotten to the place where the Wabash is a big river, and we could run at cruising speed most of the time, which was about 25 miles per hour (Confluence of Wabash and Tippecanoe at left.)
Another landmark city we came to is Lafayette. The city has a very nice riverfront, lined with parks. West Lafayette is home to Purdue University and rowing teams can often be seen on the river (crew landed at Lafayette at right). Large islands are commonplace on the river as it widens. We stopped at Attica, Indiana, for supplies then went on down to Covington, where the river turns its course south toward the Ohio River. Covington is located at mile 241. On past Perrysville and Cayuga, we were thoroughly enjoying the pace and nice weather. We spotted several eagles in this section of river. Percy had told me that he had friends who had a cabin on the river near Newport and they might have a surprise for us. It was beginning to get late when we saw a huge blue tarp hanging between two trees along the riverbank. Written on the tarp was "Percy stop here", with an arrow. We pulled over to follow several signs to a nice cabin. On the door a sign said, "The place is yours for the night. Frig is full.” What a treat! Hot showers, food, beer, and all the creature comforts were to be enjoyed. After the previous nights of mud, storms, cold, and other discomforts, this was heaven.
The next morning we were all charged up and ready to put some miles under the hull. We soon passed the mouth of Sugar Creek. This is another popular and beautiful creek for canoeists. This was also the place where we hit the gravel bar on our test run, and chose to pass the mouth of the creek on the other side of the river. On past Montezuma and Clinton, we arrived at Terre Haute (shown at left). We did not intend to stay long but had been advised that local television stations would be at the dock at noon to interview us. We were a little early so we stayed upriver for a while so that we could make our grand entrance for the cameras and spectators. I was surprised by how many people turned out, being unaware of just how much publicity this trip had generated along the river towns. Terre Haute is the largest city on the Wabash River and my hometown. It has a very nice riverfront park, along with an excellent dock. There is a launching ramp and nice pier. I am always appreciative of river towns that have not forgotten their river heritage and make efforts to keep their riverfronts useful and well kept.
Still fairly refreshed from our night in the cabin, we had no need to go home for anything, so after visiting with friends and doing interviews, we shoved off for the final 200 miles of our journey. Neither low or high water was to be a problem now. The river stage was just right. We still had to dodge a lot of floating trees and snags, but the river and weather were finally cooperating with our plans. The Wabash has no buoys, charts, or other navigational aides so it is prudent to always be alert for hazards.
At mile 316 the river becomes the border between Indiana and Illinois. Originally the line was drawn in the center of the river but over the years the river has changed course by making cutoffs across bends. Where this has happened, the river may be entirely in Indiana or Illinois but the general accepted dividing line is still the center of the river. At Darwin, Illinois, we saw the Darwin Ferry (shown at right). This is the last operating ferry on the Wabash. It is cooperatively owned and operated by farmers who use it to take trucks and equipment across the river. It is propelled by an attached johnboat with a diesel inboard drive and steered by overhead steel cables crossing the river. Below Darwin we stopped at Hutsonville, Illinois, to take on fuel. Hutsonville reminds me of a small western town, with one street and storefronts. Then we traveled a few miles further to Merom. Merom is located on a 200-foot bluff on a large bend and offers a great view of the river for many miles. Sightings of other boaters became more common on the lower river. The farther downriver we went the more difficult it was to imagine that this is the same tiny river we were on a few days earlier. Huge islands and long beaches are constant. The riverbank is so remote that there is no sign of human intervention. How refreshing it is to view a river that probably looks the same as it did to explorers over two hundred years ago. We stopped at one of the beaches for a break. Dennis is a city boy and one of the challenges he had been facing was going to the bathroom (number two specifically). He would either use the porta-potty or wait until we stopped at a town. Percy and I had no problem running into the woods to take care of our business. It was at this island that Dennis made a big step toward becoming a wilderness man. He headed off into the woods determined to overcome his phobia. He was gone for a long time and we were beginning to wonder what happened to him, but then finally saw him return to the boat with a big grin on his face. We asked him to tell us all about it but he refused. We could see he was proud though and he did bring it up several times during the day. He had finally gone in the woods and become one with nature. I'm just happy that I was there to share in his triumphant moment.
We passed historic Vincennes, Indiana, and under the beautiful Jefferson Memorial Bridge. I have friends at the Vincennes Boat Club who had offered to let me spend the night there, but decided to get a few more miles in, so we continued on down the river. The weather appeared to be changing again with threatening clouds moving in from the west. We arrived at St. Francisville, Illinois. There is a dock and the park has a shelter with a tin roof. We decided to set up our tent in the shelter, hoping it wouldn’t be blown down this time. There is a shallow cave in the bluff behind the shelter, which got my interest. Rod had not found us yet, even though we described exactly where we were. He claimed to be just south of the same bridge we were by. We finally discovered that he was three river miles from us at another bridge, but only a half-mile by car. He eventually found us and we settled in. Rod spotted the cave and thought it would be fun to sleep in it, instead of the tent with the rest of us. He gathered his sleeping bag and went off to the cave. Later, the storm hit hard. I enjoyed listening to the rain hitting the tin roof of the shelter and we were staying nice and dry with upturned picnic tables shielding our tent from the wind. Then we remembered Rod in the cave and wondered how he was doing. After a brief discussion we came to the conclusion that if he wanted to come back to the tent he would do so. Morning came and the sky was clear again. I walked to the cave to see how Rod had done in the storm. He was curled up in fetal position in a very wet sleeping bag. The water coming down the bluff flowed into the cave roof to the wall, and then proceeded to flow across the floor to the outside, passing right under Rod's sleeping bag. He was just too stubborn to admit defeat and come into the dry tent. He never did admit that he had anything but a pleasant night’s sleep, but must have been pretty miserable.
The next morning we passed the mouth of the White River. The White is the largest tributary of the Wabash and increases its size considerably. The Wabash is a major river now (photo at left). Just above the mouth are rapids in low water, due to the remains of an 1831 lock and dam that washed out during flooding. Its ruins can still be seen and large chunks of rock and concrete create a serious hazard. However, the water was high enough to not cause a problem. The river develops sharp bends from this area to the Ohio, creating a much greater distance to travel than as the crow flies. At Grayville, Illinois, we passed the former channel of the river. Grayville used to be on the river until 1985. During flooding that year, the river cut across the bend and now the town is two miles from the river. The town has asked the Corp of Engineers to put the river back but have had no luck. The little café next to the river has changed its name to the Hard Times Café. The water was high enough that we could have taken the old backwater channel to the town but had no reason to go there.
The next town is the historic village of New Harmony, Indiana. At one time New Harmony was a socialistic society. It is a beautiful place and was our final stopover on the trip. A television station from Evansville had requested we stop there for an interview. The reported asked each of us a similar question, "What has been the high point of the journey for you?" Percy and I gave the standard answers about team effort, natural beauty, and such things. When the interviewer asked Dennis the question I interrupted and said, "Dennis, aren't you going to tell about your trip to the woods on that Island? Remember how proud you were?" Dennis refused but turned red and the interviewer insisted on knowing the secret. Since she was so persistent I just had to tell her. Even though the lady thought that was very impressive, she chose not to share the accomplishment with her viewers.
We moved on and entered the Grand Chain of Rocks at mile 460. This required some zigzagging and running a chute between islands, but we had no problem. We expected to see the beautiful Ohio River in a couple of hours. We became more quiet in thought while gliding along this huge river, knowing that the end of our journey was near. We rounded the huge bends, passed the beautiful sandy beaches and miles-long islands full of trees. We shut off the engine and drifted for a while just to listen to the sound of silence. At mile 491 we saw the point along the left bank. That point is the end of the Wabash River, where it pours into the Ohio (shown at right). We could see the Uniontown Lock in the distant east. We had a little ceremony as we left the brown waters of the Wabash and entered the green waters of the Ohio. This is still a very remote location with no place to take the boat out, so we had to go ten miles down the Ohio to Shawneetown, Illinois to a launching ramp to meet Rod.
As we approached the ram we saw many people there and wondered what was going on. Maybe some special event? In a way, I guess it was. The people of Shawneetown were there to greet us, having heard about the trip all the way down the Wabash via newspapers, radio, and TV. Rod had also arrived early and alerted folks at one of the local taverns of our ETA. We pulled up to the sight of cameras and an invitation to come to the Cabin for dinner. The Cabin is the nicest tavern in New Shawneetown. We were also offered rooms for the night at the Shawnee Chief Motel, which we accepted. That night at the Cabin we celebrated and partied with the locals who viewed us as celebrity river rats. We had a great time. What a wonderful way to end the journey. Shown at left celebrating: Front Row..Dennis & Rod. Back Row..Percy & myself.
The next morning we all climbed into the truck and headed home. The trip was a success. The Wabash River is one of Indiana's best-kept secrets. Most people only notice it when it floods. Other times it is something that passes under bridges without being appreciated for the beauty and challenges this mighty river has to offer. The Indians named it Wah-Bah-Shik-Ka, meaning "water over white stones", for the clear riverbed of limestone in its upper reaches. The French pronounced it Ouabache, which led to the modern-day name of Wabash. It was created during the runoff from melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age. It is rich in history and was a major transportation route for Indians, explorers, canal barges, and riverboats. No other place in Indiana offers the variety of scenery, water conditions, and challenges that the Wabash River has. The landscape along the river can change suddenly from forest to urban, then from urban to farmland, them from farmland to hills and bluffs. The water can become calm, choppy, slow, swift, deep, or shallow at the turn of the next bend. It is an unpredictable river and at times dangerous. I have traveled many rivers but my heart will always be with the Wabash.
Note...This story is one of the chapters in the book, Beyond the Bridges by Jerry Hay