Image: Log raft on the Clinch, Tennessee State Library and Archives
Any historical study of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee is likely to turn up references to rafting goods and in particular logs down the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers to Chattanooga. This practice prevailed from mid-nineteenth century even into the first two decades of the twentieth. I have been attempting to write what is to be either a short story, a novella, or a short-short story depending upon the number of words I can string together in a cogent manner to tell a story I want to tell.
In the introductory chapters (meaning the first three or four pages of work) I was having a character sign on to work as a hand on a rafting expedition down the river. This is all within keeping of the time and setting of the story. But then I found myself relating a circumstance that centered around a drought in the area, and I brought myself up short, so to speak. "Whoa," I said. Would the Clinch support commercial traffic in a time of drought?
So I shut down the writing and go to the research. I have two very large loose-leaf notebooks related to my family history and genealogy. I recalled that therein someplace I had an article about the floating of logs down the Clinch as it seems that some of the Morrells and Palmers were engaged in such activities. From that I went to the internet to garner more information if available. All this to insure that a fictional tale made sense in a non-fictional world.
Now I am beginning to appreciate a bit better the efforts my sister engaged in to write her recently-published novel, Child of Desire*. (btw, Sis, I am not attempting to replicate your effort. Couldn't do it even if I wanted to.)
At any rate, the story will hold together so long as I make sure the protagonist made his trip in the winter, not in spring or summer, for the logging operations took place during the dry summer-fall season, logs being stacked along the riverbanks in preparation for the swelling of the stream in the winter. A completed raft would be up to 225 feet in length. The crew would consist of a steersman and six to a dozen hands. Following delivery of the goods, the crew would return home via rail or on foot.
*Powers, Verla Lacy. Child of Desire, Tate Publishing Company, 2011.