1928 - Alderson High School - 1968



Boat-building on the Greenbrier
John McCurdy 12-18-2003

In the 60s’ Bob and Charlotte Craft lived in what was called the Meadows House at the Federal Prison in Alderson.  The house predated the Institution itself and was over in the hollow behind Cottages 2, 3 and 4,   all now torn down to make way for a super-sized dormitory housing 500 inmates!

Let’s just say the Meadows house was in the southeastern corner inside the fence. Bob had been transferred to The Penitentiary in Atlanta when the Camp at Mill Point, West Virginia closed.  He was from the Union area and wanted to get closer, he was transferred on the condition that he live on the Institution Grounds.

Living in a Government house left Bob with a lot of idle time and you know what the devil does with idle hands, do you not? Bob was used to the little creeks around Mill Point and Union and living near the Greenbrier was a real thrill for the lad! He decided to build a boat for the Greenbrier!  He talked to anyone who would listen about the best kind of boat for fishing and all-around use and then he went to work on it.

He spent several  months spare-time on the back porch laying out and building a boat. A fine boat it was indeed,  a flat bottomed Jon-boat that was about 14 feet long. He sanded and painted and drove all of us nearly crazy talking about that boat. At last it was complete, and he was ready to go see if his creation would actually float!

Bob, at the time, was the proud owner of an Oldsmobile 98 2-door sedan, it was a pretty thing and had a trunk big enough to ride a pony in, (and swing a lasso to boot)! Several days of hard rains and the Greenbrier was almost at flood-stage, since Bob wanted to tie his boat up behind the Institution Powerhouse, taking it there by water would be a lot easier than dragging it over the Rail-road tracks and through the woods to the river.  Bob loaded the boat into the cavernous trunk of the Oldsmobile and headed for the river.

Stopping at the Front-Gate to show his handiwork, Bob said he was heading to put his boat in the river about where the Alderson Waste-water Treatment Plant is now located, (the old town baseball field for you old-timers) and that he would accept help in doing so, if any would be offered. None was, but one of the smart-alecs hanging around waiting for the quitting-time whistle, noticed that Bob had not as yet drilled the boat oars for the oarlocks.

Bob turned around and zipped back over to his house, in a few minutes,  back out the gate he came, heading for the river.     

In about an hour the Front Entrance Officer had a phone call from the Powerhouse Operating Engineer saying that Bob was there and asking if one of us would pick him up. When we saw Bob he was soaking wet and filthy dirty, scratches and cuts on his hand and face and all in all was a pretty sorry, disreputable piece of humanity.  

We were not about to let Bob get in the truck without some explanation about what had happened to him. Seems he had put his oars into the boat, the boat into the water and then himself into the boat and then into the raging torrent of the Greenbrier in flood!  Sitting down and putting the oars into position, he was dismayed to learn, that in his haste, he had drilled the oars and installed the oar-locks just exactly 90 degrees from where he should have. The oars sliced through the water quite nicely, just ineffectually!  He tried to use an oar as a paddle but could do little to steer his boat in the fast-moving waters. He was finally able to get his craft into the trees behind the Powerhouse but was unable to stop! Reaching up and grabbing an overhead tree limb stopped the boat but that led to another problem, how to let go!  Holding the boat against the current with his feet and legs soon became tiring, and suspending himself from a tree limb was fast becoming even more of a problem. To drop back into the boat would again leave him in the water without a paddle; to raise his feet would mean letting his prized boat go, and how deep was the water he would drop into?

Finally at the end of his endurance he lifted his feet and sadly watched his boat float away, no chance of it snagging on a tree and stopping any way soon! At last, he dropped into the muddy water; hip-deep he struggled to the shore and safety.

For a few days, the braver of us called him “Rowboat” instead of Robert, but since he was fast regaining his strength we quit flirting with disaster while we were ahead. The boat was never seen again as far as I know, and only now some 40 years later do I feel halfway safe relating the story.