Campus Trio’s Documentary Traces Log Drives on Connecticut River

AMHERST, Mass. – “Dynamite, Whiskey and Wood – Connecticut River Log Drives, 1870-1915,” a new documentary produced by three campus employees, will premiere Aug. 7 on WGBY, Channel 57 in Springfield.

The program is the latest collaboration involving Biology professor Ed Klekowski, his wife Libby, a research associate in the Biology Department, and Elizabeth Wilda, a producer and director with Academic Instructional Media Services. The team previously produced “The Great Flood of 1936” and “Under Quabbin.”

Like its predecessor productions, “Dynamite, Whiskey and Wood” uses historical photographs, early film footage, contemporary newspaper accounts and personal reminiscences and underwater video shot by Ed Klekowski to highlight the region’s past.

The Connecticut River log drives were the longest in America. Every year, river men drove 250,000 spruce logs 300 miles from the river’s headwaters near Quebec to sawmills in Massachusetts. The drives began in April and the logs reached sawmills at Turners Falls, Mount Tom and Holyoke in August. Much of the lumber was used to the build the Cities of Greenfield, Holyoke, Springfield and Hartford.

The drives were fraught with difficulties: logs that caught on natural obstacles collected into jams, some so huge that dynamite was needed to free them. As many as a dozen men drowned in a single drive, most while trying to free a logjam. Other times, jams would rip bridges from their stone pier foundations. At Bellows Falls, Vt. and Turners Falls, the drives would stall, sometimes for as long as six weeks, as the logs passed slowly past dams across the river. As a result, saloons did a brisk business and fights between townsfolk and logger would frequently erupt.

Klekowski’s dive team discovered traces of those bygone days. “In many places the riverbed of the Connecticut is a museum of log drive artifacts: lost tools, whiskey bottles, boom chains, log cribs that anchored booms, sunken bateaus and even the occasional spruce log have been found by divers. Underwater exploration of these sites is what inspired this documentary,” he says. “I’m fortunate to have a really great production team: Elizabeth Wilda, who is a talented and very creative editor, and my wife, Libby, who shares may passion for local history. She is a very careful historical researcher and is extraordinary in finding old photos and other historical resources.”

“Dynamite, Whiskey and Wood” will premiere Sunday, Aug. 7 at 8 p.m. It will also be shown on Friday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 13 at 3 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 14 at 1:30 p.m.

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