Ballad of a Sourdough       

An Ode to C. Frank Raper         

By Bill McGrew, 1945-46                 

 

Once upon a time, not very long ago,

A good friend of mine, whom you may know,

By the good name of C. Franklin Raper,

He’s the life of the party, and dances a good caper.

 

He left his home one fine summer’s morn

Accompanied by his golden horn,

And traveled all day o’er stream and hill,

Until finally he pulled into Asheville.

 

Now Asheville is a lovely town

With peaks and crags all around.

He was met at the station by John McCloud,

Who of his station wagon was mighty proud.

 

Over hill and dale they traveled far

And barely missed many a car,

They finally reached Pack Square

And John then said, “We’ll soon be there”.

 

By the time they reached the Beech store

Charley thought he could stand no more,

But they turned the corner and on they went,

(The driver, you know, had nerves of flint.)

 

They passed beneath the Sequoyah sign

And on through the stand of hemlock fine,

Until at least they came to rest,

Here is his summer mountain rest.

 

Now he was assigned to Cabin eleven,

High on the hill (but not in heaven),

And soon were to be heard voices merry

He, his guitar, and Gordon Sperry.

 

Now how I know this you may ask,

This question I’ll answer very fast;

It was I below in Cabin ten

Who had to listen to the din.

 

Camp finally opened that year

On a day that was very bright and clear,

You could see about five feet ahead

And on the mud needed a sled.

 

Now you may guess what aides are for,

Gosh darn mules! I’ll say no more;

And when Charley finished the baggage that day

What he thought, he couldn’t say.

 

Now Charley, he played the bugle notes,

When reveille came, he got no votes,

You’d like to throw a shoe in his face

Although it wouldn’t even slow his pace.

 

Charley tried to be prompt that year,

I’ll vouch for him, he came mighty near,

Rain! Fog! Fire! Or was it fate

That the bugle was always thirty minutes late.

 

He worked so hard to not be slow

That he finally made the Sourdough,

A woodcraft trip so rugged and rough,

That to get home safe, you’ve got to be tough.

 

The members of the Dough that year

I’ll reminisce and list them here;

Dad, and Julian, Wilby, and Kim,

Leon, and Bill, Bob, and Jim.

 

And to this list I want to add,

The comics of the crew, they kept us glad;

The one and only Skinner, and don’t forget Blair,

And last but not least, Raper was there.

 

August the third came cool and clear

With a faint blue haze in the atmosphere,

Snowball lay in the distant faint

And ruled o’er all like a godly saint.

 

We strode down the path with three cheers and a song,

And vouched to ourselves it wouldn’t take long,

Down through the hemlock grove we strode

Until we reached the open road.

 

On and on up the road we went,

Our shoulders to our packs we bent;

And to our legs great power we’d lend

Until finally we came to Blackberry Inn.

 

Here we took to trail primeval

Free from worry and all life’s evil;

Finally climbing to Hawksbill’s face

We viewed in wonder God’s infinite space.

 

Down we dropped and up once more

Climbing higher than before,

Until we climbed o’er Snowball’s cap

And dropped down into Bee Tree Gap.

 

We climbed again up o’er the Crags,

(You’re a mighty good man if your feet don’t drag)

Climbed until we reached the top

You knew at last that you would stop!

 

Through the Pinnacle, around the Dome,

Far in the distance you saw the clouds foam,

On and on along the ridge you drive,

The distance in mileage is just about five.

 

We arrived at the bottom of Locust Ridge that night

At quarter after six, and started a camp site,

The saplings were growing so close in that place

That only a snake could set the pace.

 

Saplings, snakes, a rotten log,

And to top it off, mist and fog

Were there to greet us in our future home,

While high o’er head the hemlocks rose to form a dome.

 

The shadows of black were dark and deep

As we started to fix a place to sleep,

We cut the saplings, we cleared the ground,

And finally a place for the tarps we found.

 

Our work the next day was for no one frail

A fireplace, a spring, the cutting of a trail,

That night after the setting of the sun

We were all very proud of what we had done.

 

Many a happy hour was spent that week,

While dragging in wood, or seeking the creek,

And late at night, by the light of the moon

To Raper’s harmonica we’d sing and croon;

 

Such songs and lyrics something like these,

“Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise”

And we’re sure dear Buston, whose probably still hot,

Will never forget “Forget me not”.

 

When Chief came up in the Packard big

For him his canoe tent we had to rig,

And then he talked far into the night

On World War I and the U.S. might.

 

The following morning came cold and gray,

And out in raincoat Chief came to say,

“Back in the days when aides were men,

They always carried ninety pounds and ten”.

 

He gave a demonstration of how to wring a cloth dry

And the Buxton said, “I would like to try.”

He took the dry cloth and squeezed it in his hand,

Out poured water, down into a pan.

 

The next day a trip to Mt. Mitchell we took

By a trail that was narrow, wet, and with many a crook,

The ranger trail to Balsam Gap,

The old railroad bed to Mitchell’s cap.

 

Fourteen miles in four hours and a half,

At many hikers we now could laugh,

We ate our lunch, and rested a while

For there still lay before us many a mile.

 

From the wet trail we wanted to flee,

And so went back by Clingmans and WMIT;

It was here the immortal Kim was heard to say,

“Do you have a radio that we may play?”

 

Here we learned of the atomic bomb,

And discussed at length where the power was from;

We went over Clingmans and down Potatoe Knob,

Going down that mountain was quite a job!!

 

All the way back we set a fast gait,

And arrived in camp at quarter to eight,

We ate our supper, and hit the sack

With everyone glad that he was back.

 

Thursday and Friday were very dull days,

We all did nothing and had our ways,

And debated o’er questions all day and night,

As for politics and sports, we’d almost fight.

 

Early next morning we started for camp

Accompanied to the tune of tramp, tramp, tramp,

We pulled into Craggy at ten on the nose

And stretched out to rest and take a short doze.

 

But Lawrence and Crouch soon pulled in

With enough food to feed three times ten.

They had waited at camp to meet McCloud,

Who, because of no gas rationing, was gay and loud.

 

An hour and a half we spent at that place,

Discussing the bomb and the whole human race,

While devouring the food brought by the two

And resting for our last lap to do.

 

All the way back we hit it fast,

Trying to break records of Doughs in the past.

An hour and a half to make nine miles

Coming back through the shade covered aisles.

 

We finally reached camp at one o’clock

And soon were leaping from the dock,

We didn’t have enough breath left to say

And soon were eating our third meal of the day.

 

Lo and behold the summer passed

And Charley went home to run the mile fast,

All winter long though studying hard

To next summer’s camp he was looking forward.

 

Finally came the month of June

And our hero knew that it would be soon,

Once again in Sequoyah, my mountain home,

The stream and hills once more to roam.

 

Again he took up his old job

Of blowing his bugle at the angry mod,

This was the year he lost prestige

If he was fifteen minutes late, Ray laid him siege.

 

He seemed to be in a musical daze

While in Hoffman Cabin playing “Polannaise”

Until he was found by Ray or Red

To sit and work in the office dead.

 

One day he went on a cabin supper

And started to part some corn from its upper,

The knife was sharp, and through the cob it went

Into his hand and to the bone did rent.

 

We were assigned to the Duff that year

To help Malone and bring up the rear,

And also to make the Dough supplies

So that their packs wouldn’t be large size.

 

We left on the Duff one fine day,

And headed o’er the mountain the very same way

As we did the year before on the Dough

And made good time, we didn’t go slow.

 

Our able leader that year was Dick Malone,

When he was in good shape, he’d hike your legs to the bone.

And when he cried, “Tout de suite”

You’d better have the camp site neat.

 

Now Charley and I got ambitious,

And picked a tree that looked to be vicious,

Eighty feet high and forty inches thick

We threw it to place with the help of Dick.

 

Six happy days we had that week,

However it wasn’t a trip for the week,

We worked very hard and woodcraft sought,

A camp we cleared and improvements wrought.

 

In the middle of the week, Dan and Leon came

They were expert, and won their fame

By throwing knives and axes close to a mark,

They could even hit them in the dark.

 

Early Saturday morning we broke our camp

And started out in weather very damp

Through rain and wind storm we pushed our way,

To arrive in camp by mid-day.

 

And so dear Raper ends my tale,

I hope to the moral you will avail

When Longfellow wrote, “Woodsman, spare that tree,”

He was talking to both you and me.`