Avery Angevine remembers Rapid River in the 1930s
Note: This story follows one last week regarding the future of Forest Lodge in Upton.
Earlier this month, Avery Angevine of Bethel went along on a group tour of Louise Dickinson Rich’s Forest Lodge on the Rapid River. For the Upton native, it brought back many memories of life in the western Maine woods in the 1930s and 40s.
The tour, organized by the Upton Historical Society, provided a look into the life that best-selling author Rich wrote about in her book “We Took to the Woods.”
The two dozen people on the trip saw how Rich and her family split their seasons between the “Summer House” and the “Winter House.” Both houses still contain many items used by the writer, including her typewriter, desk and cookstove.
A well-preserved poster
Stepping inside the Summer House, Angevine quickly pointed to a wall with a yellowed poster dated Oct. 15, 1938 – three weeks after a devastating hurricane that had toppled swaths of trees, creating an additional fire hazard.
The poster said, “Proclamation by the Governor: The continued lack of rain and unusually dry condition in the forests of our state has resulted in a serious fire hazard in the forest areas of Oxford and Franklin Counties … I do proclaim Suspension of the open Season on Hunting.” The proclamation by Gov. Lewis Barrows also prohibited all smoking or the building of any and all fires out of doors in the woods.
“I carried that in from Upton after the hurricane of ’38,” said Angevine.
He recalls that the fire warden was not able to get to the wilderness area of Rapid River by water because his boat had been taken out for the winter. So he enlisted Angevine, who was 20 at the time, to walk the eight miles or so from Upton Village to carry a stack of proclamations into the region.
“I left some at B Pond, and the rest with Ralph Rich (Louise’s husband) to post,” said Angevine. “I was four hours walking over and under all the blowdowns.”
Louise Rich described the aftermath of the storm in her book: “In the morning we woke to a ruined world. We couldn't even get across the yard; trees lay criss-crossed in a giant tangle from the back steps to the road. The sky line all around us was unrecognizable.”
Spring road maintenance
Angevine also worked on maintaining the Carry Road near Rapid River, near Forest Lodge. As a result he had contact with the Riches in the mid-1930s, when they were first married and living there.
“My father was road commissioner for Upton,’ said Angevine. “We came in after mud season and stayed in a cabin (owned by the Riches). We fixed the potholes and ditches in the Carry Road. We had our meals here. It was the first year Louise was here. We did it for three years.”
Angevine recalls that Louise Rich was very busy with a new baby for part of that time. “She had to cook for four or five men while we were there, carrying the baby in one arm,” he said.
In the kitchen, where Louise’s cookstove still sits, Angevine recalled a humorous event at one meal.
“Louise got breakfast for us. After a while, the fire in the cookstove died down. She opened it and threw some bacon grease in. It steamed for a while, and then, “bang!” – we had stove covers all over the kitchen.”
As the Angevines worked on the Carry Road, they were aided by Ralph Rich.
Angevine remembers him as being a very quiet man. “He was a very hard worker,” he said.
Ralph provided one of his old cars, a Marmon, and a trailer that the men used to carry gravel from the river to fill potholes in the road.
“We’d load gravel from near Pond-in-the-River Dam, and walk along behind the car and shovel gravel into the potholes,” Angevine said.
The Marmon was remembered by Louise – not fondly – in her book: “I won’t regret the passing of the Marmon, known locally as Rich’s Big Green ‘Mormon,’ at all. It is a 1924 sports touring model, at least half a block long. Because of its tremendous power, Ralph uses it for hauling, and I have to ride in back and watch through the rear window that we don’t lose our load.” She compared the ride to being in a cornpopper.
Angevine also worked on the log drives down Rapid River, about which Louise wrote, particularly a government salvage operation after the hurricane, in 1938 and 1939.
As Louise describes the effort, “The government had a good idea – ‘for the government,’ as they say up here. They set up a Timber Salvage Administration for the saving of the pine. The lumbering was let out to local contractors who would get the blowdown out of the woods and into Government storage booms in specified ponds and lakes.”
Said Angevine, “The job I worked on was all saw logs, just below Forest Lodge. We rolled them into the river and they went down into the lake (Umbagog), where they were placed in a boom and hauled down the lake to the sawmill.”
He cut the trees with a two-man crosscut saw. “It was a very hazardous job,” he said. “The trees were still attached to the roots – if you cut it off and the roots fly back into the hole, you have to be careful not to get down there with it.”
Once the logs reached Umbagog, Angevine worked on the boat that pulled the boom. The boat belonged to Leslie Davis of Bethel, who owned several sawmills.
The salvage operation was one of the last log drives in the region, said Angevine. Some of the saw logs from the operation sat in Umbagog until they were cut in Davis’ mill, where Angevine had gone on to work, in 1942.
“Then they closed the mill,” he said. “There was a shortage of logs after the hurricane.”
Pulpwood drives of four-foot logs in the lakes region had also just about stopped because, he said, “trucking had come into being. It was the end of an era.”