Somers, David A.

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                                         DAVE SOMERS
                                     By William J. McNulty

Near Patten, Maine, 63 years of age – born at Lyttleton. The following article recently published in the Boston Sunday Post, written by William J. McNulty, refers to David A. Somers, who was born at Lyttleton on the Little Southwest Miramichi:

“Fighting against heavy odds has been a specialty of David A. Somers of Patten, Me. Today, at the age of 63, Dave is entering on his 50th year of continual contracts with the woodlands and foam-surfaced driving waters. His age and the decline of the long-lumber industry are not his most serious impediments in his battle of life. Five years ago he lost an arm at the right shoulder socket.

The average individual would toss in the sponge, as a worker, at the loss of his entire right arm. But old Dave, a picturesque figure of the big woods and angry waters, is made of sterner stuff. Since leaving his right arm in a hospital, he has continued to earn his way through life. Nor has the distressed experience soured his genial disposition. “Just one of the breaks of the game,” he explains.

When I drove into Patten to interview Dave, I found he was at Wiley Pond, about six miles west of Patten, as a foreman in pulpwood operations for Chester G. Richardson, Patten merchant. With Richardson leading the way in his car, I drove out of Patten in my car. We left the State road and took a tote road which took us to a logging camp. My wife, who sat in the front seat beside me, was glad when the journey was over. It was a series of dips and dives.

                                    Fighting a log jam

Old Dave was in the woods scaling a cut, so we had to wait until he came up to the camp. In the meanwhile, the French cook invited us to sample his pastry, which would do credit to any restaurant cook and had a soothing influence after the tough riding over the tote road.

After waiting about an hour, we saw a man of medium height, slender and erect, and carrying a scaling stick in the only hand he possessed, come up to the incline to the camp springily as any young man. Naturally, I was curious as to how this veteran of logging lost his arm. I invited him to tell me about it, and here is his answer:

In the spring of 1924 he was looking after a drive on B Stream for Harry Sharpe of Houlton. We were three miles out of Houlton, where there was a concrete bridge across the stream. At this bridge the logs jammed. I had six men with me, and not one of them would clear the jam. All said it was sure death. There was nothing else for me to do but go myself, and this I did. I found a cedar log was holding up the works. With my cant dog I upset this log, after crawling right out on top of the jam.

“I started to run to the shore as fast as I could, for the jam cleared the second I gave the cedar stick a twist. However, the drive came too powerful a big cedar root was torn and came along between the logs. I tripped over this root in heading for a safe place. In about two seconds I picked myself up. Bud Carpenter, who was working under me was on the bridge where the rest of the men were too. There was a shear running out from the bridge, and he grabbed me by the arms and held me up.”

“While Carpenter was holding me up, the logs, 20 feet high, raced under the bridge. The logs were hitting my legs, but Carpenter couldn’t raise me any higher. Then, suddenly, he let me go, unable to hold me up on that shear any longer. I fell right in the midst of the drive, and went through under the bridge for a distance of about 30 rods before I got out of the tangle and swam ashore.

                                    Blow After Blow

“I was ground between the logs, but I held to my senses. If I had been knocked out, I would have been killed sure. Although I was badly hurt, I waited my chance to get out of the tangle and swim back to the bank of the stream. While among the logs I got hundreds of blows from the sides and ends of sticks.

“When I crawled up on the shore, I was pretty worried. But I didn’t lose consciousness. They picked me up and put me in the Madigan hospital at Houlton. There the doctors looked me over and found my right arm was crushed so badly they would have to take it off right at the shoulder. Every bone in the right arm just below the shoulder into the fingertips was pulverized. A bone in my left arm was also broken and four of my ribs were smashed.

Somers knows every inch of the Penobscot River from the source to the Bangor booms. In his own words is repeated the story of one of the most thrillful adventures of his whole career. “I was driving one spring for Con Murphy of Oldtown. We were on the Amibanty Stream, and tributary of the west branch of the Penobscot. There was a fall of water on the stream measuring about 18 feet. At these falls was a 60-foot ledge, and under it a room where the logs used to jam. They used to lower me down there with a rope tied around me and I would free the jams.

“We were working on the drive for two weeks, when we were ordered up above the falls, where we drove all that day. The next morning Murphy gave me five men and told me to go down to the falls see if she was jammed. If there was a tie-up, we were to break it. “When I led the men to the falls, we saw it was a big fir stick that was holding up the big parade. I told the men to go up above the falls out of danger before I started breaking the jam. They were leaning on their cant dogs. They were up a little on the logs, but not much above the falls. I beckoned them to go up still farther. They refused to go, yelling out to me that far enough to be out of danger.

                                    Between the logs

I had an axe with me, I hit the butt end of the big fir log a hard blow with the blunt end of the axe. The other end of the log flew up and struck me as I stood on top of the jam. The force of the blow threw me into the middle of the logs when the jam broke, and I went over the falls between the logs.

“It was a tough drop, and I got a terrific thump in the fall with the sticks dropping like bullets. Directly below the falls was a basin that was nothing but savage whirlpools. I swam and got caught on a log that got caught in a whirlpool and was swung around and around, with the other logs dropping all around me and some of them on me. “Looking up, I saw the five men come tearing over the falls. Some of them clung to logs, while others were thrown clear of the sticks. I clung to the log I was on as it whirled around, and then shot through the rips.

“On all sides of me I saw two foot logs break in two under the pressure of the whirlpools and the rips. At one time, I was clinging to three logs that came together. Two of them were broken in two pieces each by the whirlpools. Of the five men who were swept over the falls with the breakup of the jam quicker than they looked for, four were drowned within a minute after going over the pitch. I guess practically all of them got knocked out by the blows from the sticks. The other fellow came over, sticking on a log. The log went into a whirlpool while I was being tossed around in another. The logs collided a couple of times, but we both stuck.

“There were times when the whirlpools were 40 feet high, all of logs twisting and turning under the force of the water. There we were up at the tops of those turning pieces of logs. Then there would be a crash, and we would find ourselves touching the water. Both of us got smashed up a lot by the logs. I was able to stick it out until I got through the rips entirely and could swim ashore. I thanked myself for being a good swimmer.

As we were going through the rips, my companion was ground between a bunch of sticks, all travelling fast down the stream. I saw him loosen his grip on a log and sink. I was terribly used up, and fell unconscious on the shore as the logs shot by. I laid there for several hours before I was found. I had bines broken over most of my body, and I was bruised from head to feet. I was lucky enough, though, to escape serious injury, and was all right in about two weeks.

                                    Use No Dynamite

From his 13th year, Somers has spent all his time in logging operations, including the driving. He has logged all through northern Maine. Although he knows almost every yard of the forests among which he has spent most of his life, he admits he was lost once.

“Conditions are a whole lot different in lumbering than they used to be,” said Daredevil Dave, a title bestowed upon him because of his willingness to tempt fate. “In the logging camps the men come for a few days, and then they are away again. The auto brings them to the camp and takes them away again. In the old days, we were often 50 miles from a railroad and no cars.

“We had to walk most of the way into the camps and out again. They can’t stand the gaff today. They have to have luxuries we wouldn’t think of when I was young in the game. We thought nothing of staying in the deep woods for as long as a year and working hard every day. On the drives we used to have to use our peaveys and cant dogs to break the jams. There was no dynamite. Now all they have to do is shove in some dynamite and the jam is broken. There are few woodsmen today who can stay on long lumber. It’s about all they can do to handle the pulpwood.”

“What was the roughest water you ever drove on?” The old man who at 63 is the active as any man of 40, reflected not even a second. He poked his scaling stick in the dirt and said:

                                            Riding Lumber

“The roughest stream in my history is the Miramichi Little Southwest Branch. I did a lot of driving on that river and had many narrow escapes. The lumbermen had a hard time to get drivers for the Miramichi because of the risk. In those years two dollars a day and found was good pay. I had no difficulty getting four dollars and the rougher the water the better, I liked it. I guess I was born with a liking for adventure, for I have been looking for it since I was a little kid.”

He looked at me and laughed. “And I guess I’ve had more than y share, too!” and there was no pessimism when he looked at the empty shirt sleeve.

Even today, minus his right arm, Dave can ride the lumber of today better than the average youth. He continues to handle the wood on the water as well as land. Although his right was his stronger arm, he has trained himself to use the left, and he can manipulate an axe better than most men who retain possession of their right arms. Being foreman does not stop him from doing effective work with his axe.

Within three months in the Wiley Pond operations he has got out 2500 cords of pulpwood, all peeled and sawed as well as cut. Recently he piloted his employer over 10 miles of woodlands. He finished the survey in good condition, while Richardson was on the verge of exhaustion, although 16 years younger.

Mr. Somers, who spent the greater part of his life on the Little South West Miramichi has a large family – five sons and six daughters, most living in New Brunswick and two in Maine. He also has a brother residing at Sillikers.

Source: Miramichi Leader – December 26, 2007

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