River Incidents & Experiences


 
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Friends Warren G. Pierce, Ormond Otvos, and I frequently entertained ourselves on the Pasquotank River. Often we used my fourteen foot rowboat with a Martin seven and one half horsepower outboard motor.

When we rode our bikes home from school Ormond never took school books and made “A’s”. His father in the Navy, worked at the Weeksville Naval Air Station {LTA Blimp Base, operational 1941 to 1957}.

We had scouted out an area about a mile across the river from my house over time. This was in an area that was a bit swampy in places with Cypress trees next to and in the water. We found a nice big tall pine tree on good solid ground away from the shoreline. One of us got the “big” idea to make a tree house near the top. We needed wood to help make cleared paths across logs and swamp to the tree which was away from the water and to make the “steps” to where the tree house would be located near the top, plus platform. When a new home was built nearby where we lived, we would obtain the lumber necessary to keep the project construction going.

It took weeks but the steps started going up.  At some point the height was getting a little scary for me and Warren. Ormond to the rescue! Ormond could shoot a bird with one shot by means of a Wamo-O Sportsman Sling Shot with a marble! He finished the final steps to where the platform would be located. We got the platform built over time, only for it to become short lived. Soon after completion a hurricane hit our {may have been hurricanes “Connie” winds up to 140 MPH or “Diane” winds up to 105 MPH in August or even “Ione” with winds up to 140 MPH September 1955} area taking massive numbers of trees down on the northern bank of the river, making it difficult to get to “our” pine tree. After exploring a good portion of the downed trees and shoreline one afternoon, our interest because of the difficulty waned quickly on the tree house.     

My brother-in-law Willis M. Brice, II had a sailboat about 16 feet in length. When Willis graduated from Elizabeth City High School {NC} he went to the Apprentice School of Newport News at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. in Virginia. He gave this sailboat to his father. His father rebuilt and converted the boat with an inboard gasoline engine which started using a hand crank. The engine was neat in that it had no battery but a magneto to assist in the starting. His father was to later drown 31 July 1955 where the boat was kept next to the Basnight Boat Works on the north side of the Pasquotank River Bridge, Elizabeth City end. I became the caretaker of the boat since our house at 1322 Rivershore Road in Elizabeth City was on the river. We used this boat to “play” on the river, like water skiing with an eight by four foot sheet of plywood. This abruptly stopped when we did some reckless activities like trying to get the skier to fall. We were moving fast and Ormond was skiing, when I pulled the rope way too close to the boat. I let it go and Ormond went tumbling and falling head forward. The rope tightened with the front of the board catching him very hard in the gut almost knocking him out. We became a lot more responsible after that incident. Once in great while we would go to the black buoy with the green light (starboard) off of Cobbs Point. Actually it was on three high pilings. We would tie our boat to it. People said that the water was safe enough to swim in here because it was so far from where the waste water from town was dumped into the upstream part of the river. We used the fifteen foot high or so structure as our diving board into the 12 foot channel side. We had ample warning that a hurricane was coming possibly Betsy with winds up to 120 MPH August 1956. I anchored Willis’s boat to a single anchor with plenty of rope and swinging room. I took the smaller rowboat to a creek about a quarter mile away. Next morning after the storm, looked out and Willis’s boat had disappeared. Checked all along the shore line and could not locate it. Willis came down from Newport News, VA. We dragged in the area the boat had been anchored with a grappling hook, locating it. Hauled it to shore, bailed it out and Willis took care of the gas tank and engine to prevent damage. Could not determine what caused the actual sinking unless it had filled up a lot with rain water combined with the big swells.

About a year after Warren’s accident when he lost his left hand and part of his arm in an explosion, he made the claim that he could swim the approximate mile from my house across the Pasquotank River to the bank on the opposite shore. I of course tried my best to discourage such thoughts. It probably turned into a “bet”. Warren did play Junior Varsity football at Elizabeth City High School during the 1956-57 school year and it was very possible that he could/would do it. He was also a hunter! If so, am I going to have to show that I could also do it? Well, Warren insisted he could do it and plans were made for the day we would have the row boat, a rower (Richard) and a person (Ormond?) in the stern with life vest or inner tube just in case an unusual event should occur while Warren was swimming across the river. Congratulations, Warren you did it!  This episode meant that I was going to have to swim across the river to the opposite side. There might be snakes like water moccasins lurking close to the other side near the Cypress trees! The safety mechanism was put in place as before and now I was going to {very reluctantly} swim across the river. I made it but was more careful of “bets and challenges” after that affair. Warren did go on the following year to play football with the “Yellow Jackets” and was part of The 1957 State AA Champs at Elizabeth City High School. 

 
Richard Walter