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Rivermen of the Cumberland Chapter 2

By Chris Bennett

Chapter 2: "Planning"

Planning a 500+ mile river trip would not be an easy task. I knew there would be very limited access to fuel, drinking water, food, and spare parts. There would almost certainly be severe thunderstorms, with no shelter.

I would have little to no cell phone service for most of the trip. I also needed maps, navigational charts, and information on going through the locks at each dam. I needed some one to take me to the water to start the trip, and to pick me up, hopefully in western Kentucky when I finished. I also would need some crazy person to accompany me on this trip of a lifetime.

Columbia's resident adventurer, electrician, and author Chris Bennett's series is now available in the softcover book, "Rivermen of the Cumberland."

It can be purchased from or ordered through your local bookseller with ISBN 978-0-557-05263-9.

For fastest home delivery, order online today at, where it is available both in softcover book form or formatted as a PDF for instant downloading to your computer or portable book reader.

$10 Navigation chart was first stage purchase

The first stage of planning began with a call to the US Army Corp of Engineers home office in Nashville. The Corp control all the Cumberland River locks and dams. For a mere ten dollars they sold me a navigation chart of the river from Celina TN to Smithland KY; this covered 389 miles of the Cumberland River, and was a big help.

It showed the docks that sold gas. It had the lock rules, and the rules of navigation on the Cumberland. The chart also had restaurants and overnight lodging locations listed. I wasn't able to find a good map of the 71-mile stretch of river between Wolf Creek Dam and the start of the Corp's navigational chart. That part of the journey would rely on my own experience. I also bought detailed maps of the four lakes I would be passing through on my way to the Ohio.

GPS unit would help plan gas purchases

Gasoline stations were most important, but were going to be in short supply. I had no idea how many miles per gallon I could expect on a long distance trip, like the one I was about to attempt. I have never seen a boat with an odometer, and most speedometers on boats are just not accurate. To help with this problem, I bought a GPS unit. I know what you are thinking, Lewis and Clark didn't have a GPS, but this allowed me to accurately calculate my speed, and distance traveled for fuel mileage computations.

I took my boat to Green River Lake and did trial runs, trying to get some idea of how much fuel it would take to reach my destination. With a fully loaded boat, smooth water and the wind at my back, I could expect 6 mpg. On a rough water day with the wind in my face I could expect maybe 3 mpg if I was lucky. My boat fuel tank holds 14 gallons of gas, and I would be taking along an extra 5-gallon jug. At best I could expect 60-120 miles between fuel stops, not to mention 1 gallon of oil per 50 gallons of gas. The Question I kept asking myself was "could I carry enough gas to make it from one stop to another"?

A list of provisions included $19 sleeping bag

I made a list of provisions for the trip, a flashlight and extra batteries, a lighter, a rope, and trash bags, beef jerky, a first aid kit, you get the idea. I bought a disposable charcoal grill, for a little riverside barbeque. I also bought a $19 sleeping bag; I was certain I would throw away when the trip was over. I took a sharp hunting knife, tools, an extra prop and spark plugs for my boat motor. I tried to think of every possible situation. Whatever happened on the trip, I did not want to become the morning news story on the Wave, "village idiot dies on crazy Cumberland River trip".

History of Cumberland River was part of my homework

The Cumberland River has played a major roll in the local history of the area that I live in, so I felt that I needed to "do my homework," and study up on the river's history. I wanted to be able to identify the historical locations on the river as I passed them. The "white mans history" of the Cumberland had began in 1748 when Dr. Thomas Walker explored the river, and its valley and named it Cumberland, for a then current hero of the English people 'The Duke of Cumberland'.

The Geography of the Cumberland River played a major roll in the early settlement of the river. On the Tennessee lake Cordell Hull, there is an area named "Defeated Creek". This name comes from major defeat suffered by early white settlers, inflicted by local Native Americans who didn't want their land settled by the whites.

During the steamboat era, the areas around the river thrived with commerce due to the easy and low cost of transporting goods on the river. This would be of great importance during the "War of Southern Independence". The strategic importance of the Cumberland made it an early target of Union General "U.S." Grant. His victory at Fort Donelson is listed as one of the top ten strategic battles of the civil war.

After the war the river would enter its golden age, and flourished with freight traffic until the time right before great depression. The advent of the automobile and modern roads ended the steamboat era of the Cumberland. This devastated the local economies of towns such as Burkesville, Creelsboro, Burnside, and Celina.

The building of the lakes on the Cumberland River system during the 1940's gave the areas surrounding the river, a financial boost. In building the lakes it created jobs for local residents with the hope of ending the costly flooding that occurred each spring. In the last few decades, the tourism created by these local lakes has given the areas an even bigger financial boost. Fishermen from all over the United States come to fish for trout in the tail waters of Wolf Creek Dam, and where the Cumberland and Obey rivers meet.

Photography: 700 high quality pictures taken--with film

Photography was going to be a very important part of our trip, as we would be passing through some of the most spectacular scenery in our part of the country. Although we took almost 700 high quality photographs I feel that I failed in this area. I only carried one camera, it was a Fujifilm point-and-shoot six-megapixel with 4x zoom. I feel that it took good photos, but the zoom just wasn't enough. Also the depth of field of a point and shoot just can't compare with my Canon DSLR.

Throughout the planning of the trip, I was looking for some one to go with me. Even though I felt it would be the trip of a lifetime, I knew it wasn't a trip for just anyone; it would be long and hard. I thought it would be best if I took two other people with me, that way if some one backed out at the last minute, the trip would not be affected.

Several people I talked to said, "yeah I wanna go", but as the time grew closer, they would give me a reason why they wouldn't be able to go. Finally, Neal Jackson of Jamestown told me he wanted to go, although had just gotten married, his new wife Angie gave her blessing. After looking at a calendar and making arrangements with my employees, and rescheduling some jobs, we decided that our departure date would be June 2nd 2007.

Charles Green drove us to river; Nick DeVore would pick us up

I was planning on leaving from Wolf Creek Dam, but we were in the middle of a major drought and river levels were extremely low. I decided the starting location would be chosen the day I left on the trip. Charles Green had volunteered to drive us to the river, for our departure. I made provision with Nick DeVore to pick us up when we finished, although it was unknown exactly where that was going to be or how far we would actually go on the Cumberland.

Wolf Creek Dam to the Ohio? the Mississippi? It sounded crazy

When I tell most folks about the trip they don't really understand what I am talking about. Imagine driving to Wolf Creek Dam from Columbia, launching a your boat at the ramp below the dam. Then traveling until you reached the Ohio, or the Mississippi, before you stopped. It sounds crazy, but that is what I was planning. Two days before our departure, Neal called me from work. He said, "I have been looking at a map and it's going to be a long trip, I don't think we can make it". "Maybe we can make Nashville, but I doubt it". I told him that we would were leaving on Saturday, I had it all planned, and we would arrive in Nashville Tuesday morning. No matter how much I reassured him he still did not believe me. The guys he worked with had convinced him our trip was foolhardy and couldn't be made; I knew they were very wrong.

On the Friday night before our departure, I hooked up the boat, and packed it all up. I went over my checklist and tried to make certain that there was nothing I was forgetting. I wanted to take several items, such as a video camera, that I just wasn't going to have room for. I told Neal that we could bring one bag each, about as big as a normal backpack.

We also brought one pair of shoes and one pair of rubber moccasins incase we had to ford the river. I packed food, and a cooler full of drinks. I also used my live well for storage, but I did bring along two fishing poles. I called my parents, and sister and told them I would be gone a few days. I remember sleeping very well that night. I had been planning the trip at least six weeks. I knew that the morning would bring the start of an epic journey I would never forget!

INDEX to Rivermen of the Cumberland By Chris Bennett
The story is being carried in 9 mini-chapters. They will go online as they are written. Just click on each chapter title, underlined and linked, as it is posted, to read it.
Chapter I. "Why would any one take a river trip" tells my history on the river, and what inspired me to go on my trip.
Chapter II. "Planning" Planning the trip, and finding some one that would go with me.
Chapter III. "Day one" Creelsboro to Burkesville, 25 miles traveled in 5 hours
ChapterIV. "Day Two" Burkesville to Cordell Hull 89 miles traveled in 11 hours
Chapter V."Daythree, Cordell Hull to Old Hickory Dam
Chapter VI. "Day three, Old Hickory Dam to Nashville"
Chapter VII. "Day Four "Nashville to Lake Barkley"
Chapter VIII. "Day Five, Mississippi here we come"
Chapter IX. "Old Tennessee River, take us to Pattis 1880's settlement"/b>

This story was posted on 2008-08-31 07:13:58
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