Underhill, Emerson

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                                         EMERSON UNDERHILL
                              Underhill nearly drowned on Dungarvon River


It’s 37 years since Emerson Underhill came down the Dungarvon on a catamaran and near lost his life. Emerson was a young boy of 16, but he remembers the story well. It was Good Friday in the spring of 1948.

“We were staying at Lorne Underhill’s old lumbercamp at the Whopper spring. Some people call it the Dead Boy’s Spring. Anyways that particular year the beaver season opened in spring rather than the fall,” says Emerson.

“Lorne was cutting lumber getting ready for the spring drive. Dad, me and Lorne’s son, Floyd were trapping beaver.”

Emerson says because the snow was deep in the woods, making walking difficult, they built a catamaran and run it four miles down the Dungarvon River. The catamaran consisted of four logs spiked tougher with three cross pieces. After they went down the river on the catamaran, they walked back on foot, checking their traps. We were picking out some particular logs for catamarans where the logs were froze on the ice,” Emerson says.

                                             Longer logs

“This particular morning we took three, 28-foot peeled boom logs which were much longer than we’d usually used. We had a bigger car that morning, something like a Cadillac,” he says with a laugh.

Being the spring of the year the water was high. “And there’s a bad turn in the river with a large rock in the centre about half-way down”, says Emerson. “It’s called the Old Dungarvon”.

He says many old-timers will recall this spot as it’s been well known through the years to river drivers as place where some had been swamped.

“As we approached the Old Dungarvon, the catamaran was travelling along rather swiftly. Floyd was on the front. I was sitting on the crosspiece in the middle and Dad was on the back end,” says Emerson. “As we came around the turn Floyd looked back to us and said, ‘I believe we’re going to hit that rock.’ Dad threw the tail end clear so the current would haul the nose end by the rock.

                                                Too long

“But the logs were too long and the turn was too short and she hadn’t time to haul by,” Emerson says laughing. The catamaran hit the rock.

“I know that echo could be heard a long ways up the river when we hit. My dad went over my head and onto the rock and when he landed he was still on his feet with the pole in his hand,” Emerson says. “Dad was known for being smart on his feet and this proved it.”

Emerson and Floyd were not as fortunate. Floyd went into the river ahead of the rock; the jar jumped them back and the catamaran shot by the rock and turned up on its side against the rock. “One log came loose and my foot was caught between two logs of the cat, and the water was going right over the top of the cat,” says Emerson. The water was low enough at the front of the rock that Floyd could reach bottom. “The rock broke the current from him so he could keep his footing,” Emerson says. “He couldn’t swim and neither could I. Finally I worked my foot loose and got down in front of the rock where Floyd was. My dad being a good swimmer made it to shore and tried to figure a way to get us out,” Emerson says.

                                        Strong current

O’Dell gave the boys a pole and told them to wade out onto the river keeping the pole between them and backing up towards the shore. “You couldn’t turn your back towards the current or the water would buckle your legs, the current was so strong,” Emerson says.

Finally after three-quarters of an hour they made it to shore. “But all the time I was in the water, the strong thought on my mind was what mother would feel when she heard the three of us drowned,” Emerson says. He says they hadn’t panicked, but somehow he couldn’t stop thinking about his mother.

“And when we finally got to shore we were all wet and cold on the wrong side of the river,” he says. “The water was too deep for us to go the other way.” Floyd took a match out of his pocket and put it in his hair. O’Dell found some old dry wood from a stump and Emerson says a once in a lifetime thing happened. The match lit.

“After getting warmed up and our clothes dried out some we walked a mile down the river bank,” he says. “Dad waded and swimmed the river again to get an old cat we used the day before. He used it to get us across the right side of the river and then we had a four-mile walk back to the Whooper Spring Camp,” Emerson says. After spending three-quarters of an hour in ice cold water, the boys treaded along through the woods tired, but glad to be alive.

“Statistics say no one could survive in those cold water temperatures, but we did”, Emerson says.

“My dad always believed it was an act of God. I believe he was right.”


Source: Miramichi Leader - November 1, 1985

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