© 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