The Way It Was – Canoeing on the Kokosing


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

Sometime during the mid 1970s, I bought a canoe. Don’t ask me why I did that, as I don’t have a clue. Nevertheless, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn’t know the first thing about canoeing.
Years earlier, when I was at Boy Scout camp, I had a chance to take canoeing lessons, but I didn’t do it. They taught how to handle a canoe in rough water, but I didn’t think that was necessary. Canoeing looked pretty easy.
When I first got the canoe, my wife and I took it to Mill Creek, and we paddled around for a while. There was nothing to it. A couple weeks later, I got a phone call from my nephew, Jerry Simpson. He invited us to his house the following Saturday for a cookout. He lived in the hills of Knox County not far from Kenyon College.
Before the cookout, we would all go canoeing on the Kokosing River. The plan was to rent canoes from a canoe livery. My wife and I, of course, had our own canoe, which we could use. Another Marysville couple, Ralph and Phyllis Simpson, along with their daughter, Nancy, would join us.
We arrived at the canoe livery early that Saturday morning. There was a sign that said the river was up about one foot above normal. The man in charge said there would be some fast water, but we shouldn’t have a problem if we knew how to handle a canoe. Since we had paddled around on Mill Creek, I figured there should be no problem.
We all set out together. There were five canoes. My wife and I in the first one, followed by our son, Dave, and a classmate named Sandy Hoffman. Right behind was our daughter, Jenny and Nancy Simpson.
Then came Jerry’s canoe. He paddled in front, and his wife, Ann, handled the paddle in the rear. In the middle sat their two sons, Rod and Matt. Both of the little boys were in life jackets. Rod was maybe six or seven years old, and his brother was a couple years younger. Ralph and Phyllis brought up the rear.
Everything went smoothly for the first half-mile or so. It was really fun. Then we came to our first challenge. It was a narrow place in the river where the water ran much faster. A tree that had blown over partially blocked the entrance to the narrow section.
Getting around the tree just as we entered the fast water was a little tricky, but my wife and I made it through without incident. The next two canoes were tossed around a bit, but made it through in good shape.
Then came Jerry and his family. As they entered the narrow section with its fast water, they became tangled in the fallen tree. The water hit the side of their canoe and it overturned. That’s when things got a little dicey.
Both young boys were thrown into the water well away from the canoe. Their life jackets kept them afloat. The older boy, Rod, started paddling like crazy, and he made it to shore.
Little Matt, however, was bobbing all over the place like a cork floating on the water. Both Jerry and Ann tried to get to him, but they were held back by the fast-moving water. Then Ralph and Phyllis came through the narrow stretch. They tried to move their canoe closer to Matt to pick him up, but the fast water made that impossible.
The next thing I knew, Ralph stood up in the canoe and jumped into the river. He was able to get close enough to Matt to grab his life jacket and the two of them made their way toward shore.
OK, now what do we do? Since we were only about half a mile from the livery station, all of the wet people decided to walk back that half mile and drive back to Jerry’s house for dry clothes. It was too long a walk to carry our canoe through the woods, so we continued, along with our kids, to the end station.
Compared with what we had just gone through, I would probably say that the rest of the trip was uneventful. And the scenery was beautiful.
That was my last canoe trip. A few months later, I traded my canoe to some guy I met at a flea market. He had a bunch of parts for a Model A Ford that I was restoring at the time. I think it was a good trade, because I had a lot of fun restoring that old car. And I never had to worry about falling out of it into deep water.
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