When there was no work many men worked at the drifting

Posted by | July 13, 2016

A great many people in Ekeyville owned their own small boat, a skiff or johnboat. The johnboat is a flat bottomed affair with one set of oar locks and square in the stern. The skiff comes to a sharp bow and a gradual tapering to the stern and generally has two sets of oar locks.

There were many versions of these boats tied along the river bank, all being homemade.

“Drifting” on the Ohio River was a great pastime for those who owned a skiff or johnboat. There was always something floating down stream. In the early days many things of value could be caught, logs, railroad ties worth a dollar, new sawed lumber, boat and barge planks, frames of small buildings. If there came a sudden raise in the river – the better the drifting – for people up stream lost things that were not securely tied up or nailed down.

Usually two men would go together, one to row the boat the other to stand up in the boat with the spar pole to spear the objects floating, fasten a rope securely and then tow to shore.

a johnboat on the Licking RiverExample of a johnboat. Caption reads: “Clarence Sidney Willis rows a johnboat on the Licking River [KY], with Mae Martin and another woman, Sept. 14, 1919″

Ed and Dave McCoy were a team to drift. During the Depression when there was no work and plenty of time many men worked at the drifting. Some of them were Lou Thomas, Charlie Dunlap, Andy Prosko, Wilber Ekey, Frank and Shorty Byers.

John Ekey was a qualified drifter. He could tell at a distance of 10 to 15 ft. if the object was worth towing to shore. In his younger days he often took a younger man or teenager with him to manage the boat. Captain Ekey held a pilot’s license for more than twenty years for the river district between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Gilbert VanDyne always had great pleasure and fun going drifting many trips with Cap Ekey.

There were four times in Cap Ekey’s life when the object caught was a body – and this was unpleasant.

source: “The Stratton Village [OH} Story/A Community History 1880-1976,” by Mary Ekey Robinson, published by the Stratton Village Bicentennial Committee, p. 53, at www.digitalshoebox.org

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