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Woodsmen and River Drivers.

VHS Video: Woodsmen and River Drivers

To me, familiar Down East accents are just one of the treats of this trip back in time. Folklorists from the University of Maine elicit lively tales from choppers and log drivers who worked in the Maine woods 60 years ago, and the video's producers intersperse the interviews with carefully restored movie footage shot in 1931 by Alfred Ames, the last of three generations who managed the family-run Machias Lumber Company. Realizing that a way of life was ending, Ames recorded rare film of woodsmen working crosscut saws, horses twitching logs to the riverbank, log drivers in caulked boots balancing on the Machias River, and, 70 miles downstream in the town of Machias, logs being lifted from the mill pond to the bandsaw, and finished lumber being loaded into schooners bound for Boston and New York.

As priceless as the footage is, it's upstaged by the men. Their voices are strong, and their smiles speak of pride in their past. Says Frank Dowling, age 100: "There was a fascination to it: flies and blackflies and mosquitoes. And green tar and lard smooshed on your face. You never shaved and never washed. Why, it was a hell of a place, but nevertheless you couldn't help but like it."

Earl Bonness swings a stamping axe, etching MLC into the end of a log, Adin McKeown at 83 can still use a peavey. Newell Beam recalls how he started out at 15 as a cookee and washed dishes while the men in the bunkhouse swapped stories. One man sings a river driving song, another cooks a pot of beanhole beans, and another tells of the drowning of his brother-in-law: "We never found him for 20 days."

Shots of the Machias today - free-flowing whitewater, a moose and her calf, a flyfisherman - bring to mind that this video may be about another day, another era, but it's also about today and a stream that I consider Maine's best canoeing water.
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Author:Davis, Deakin
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Video Recording Review
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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