THE OLD HOUND DOWN THE BEND
EPILOGUE—The Pilgrimage Dr. Herbert L. Lunday, July 2017
My dad and I were headed downstream to Buckeye. It was a beautiful, cool, and breezy November day. We occupied our accustomed positions in the wooden boat as we glided easily over the fairly smooth waters of our beloved White River. I was in the back, operating our green-and-silver 16-horse Mercury outboard affixed to the transom of the 12-foot boat my dad had built himself. Dad sat up front enjoying the ride. We had functioned as a team like this for quite some time, and Dad completely trusted my piloting skills. Suddenly, Dr. Frank came up from behind and travelled beside us, barely 20 yards away, through much of a straight stretch along Nine Mile Bend. I glanced over occasionally, but continued the journey without interruption. After a while, as if he knew something, Dr. Frank motioned for me to go ahead. I eased the Mercury to full throttle, and we pulled away from Dr. Frank and his 25-horse Evinrude. Later that day, my dad and Dr. Frank talked it over. Dr. Frank had been at full throttle the entire time, but he wanted to compare his Evinrude with our Mercury. That was man talk, though, and I was ready to go deer hunting
I remember that occasion as clearly as if it happened yesterday, but it was in about 1959 when I was 13. On this day (July 22, 2017), I am now 70 and my 33-yearold son, Aaron, and I were headed down the river again. Our guide was Brock Tidwell, accompanied by his young son, Cooper. Brock is now the owner of Buckeye Bend, a 24-acre tract that includes the old Buckeye campsite. We launched Brock’s boat at the city ramp just off Main Street behind the Bank of Augusta. The cooler river had already trimmed a few precious degrees from a scorching hot summer day. Once underway, Brock’s 50-horse Mercury created a welcoming breeze that dried our heavily perspiring faces as we traced the familiar route to Buckeye. Brock had previously explained that a tornado went through the greater Buckeye area back in April. As we neared the camp, signs of that massive storm were evident on both sides of the river. For many years Augusta residents reassured themselves that a tornado would never strike the city because of the river. That feeling of security is now over.
We passed the Buckeye camp, but after decades of overgrowth, we couldn’t tell much from where we sat in the river. We went on downstream about 100 yards below the camp, landed and tied the boat, and walked a short trail to the camp. And there it was—the old cook shack— the very identity of the camp. It was a beautiful sight to me, but it was barely standing. The front porch where the old campers often sat was disengaged and moved several yards by floodwater current when the river was high. The entrance was intact and standing, but the body of the structure had recently fallen. I pushed at the door with a stick, but it wouldn’t move. I feared the remainder would collapse if I pushed too hard. The pump was gone. The buses were there, but no longer in their original position. I showed my companions the location of the campfire and explained the large reflector device the men had fashioned.
(Note the stick I’m holding in the center photograph below. Following a hunt in the 1960s, I returned to camp and saw a vine-wrapped sapling leaning against the porch of the cook shack. I soon learned Gene McAlexander had cut it and brought it in. I asked Mr. Gene if I could have it, and he was happy to give it to me. I stripped the bark and vine from it and, some years later, applied a coat of stain. At some point, I used it as a poker for my charcoal grill. As time went by, the stick became more meaningful. It reminded me of a good friend, an honest and gentle man, Gene McAlexander. It has occupied a prominent place in my study for many years and will for the rest of my life. It was somehow important for me to take it back to Buckeye for a photo in front of the porch where I found it more than fifty years previously.)
Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of Dr. Lunday's memories of Buckeye!