Editor's Note: “A Look at Times Gone By” is an in-depth look at weekly Times Gone By entries compiled since 2015. These articles represent the history of Washington County sports.
Nebraska Press Association Hall of Famer Ken Rhoades regularly wrote Enterprise Media Group sports columns for years, covering topics from the baseball fields, basketball courts and football fields.
But in August 1971, he also wrote about the upcoming Big Missouri River Raft Regatta. The wordsmith previewed the Sept. 5-6 race in two write-ups, focusing on Washington County pairings preparing for the journey down the Mighty Mo.
Rhoades first met with Beaver Nielsen and Jim Rybin at the Cottonwood Marina, looking for an interview and a photo. Nielsen suggested the best shot would come from atop a houseboat on the other side of the marina.
Rhoades wrote that he first preferred a car ride to the new location, but Nielsen offered him a raft ride on the water.
“I was sure I would end up getting underwater fish pictures before I ever got across,” the columnist wrote.
Thankfully, Rhoades and the camera survived to preview the race again the following week. This time, the writer spoke with Dar Sutherland and Ed Rhoades Jr.
“Dar and Ed didn't reveal their maneuvering plans for fear the opposition might take advantage of them,” the column read.
In the end, though, just one of the three pairings with Washington County ties reached the end of the 1971 river race, which stretched from the Hilton Marina Inn at Sioux City to the USS Hazard at Freedom Park in Omaha.
Larry Williams of Blair made the trip with Fred Argabright of Council Bluffs. The two-man raft team finished 25th out of 235 teams in 17 hours. They'd been 19th while passing under the Blair bridge.
Nielsen and new partner Ray Lantry, meanwhile, hit a buoy near the start in Sioux City, which slowed their progress due to the need for repairs. They'd go on to pass teams ahead of them, but called off their journey once they reached the Cottonwood Marina — where their picture had been taken weeks earlier.
Sutherland and Rhoades Jr. had a more dramatic ending to their raft race, though. Once nightfall hit on Sept. 5, they hit a partially submerged buoy south of Decatur. Their floatation device popped and both men had to swim to shore.
Thankfully, Sutherland and Rhoades Jr. were able to flag down a boat ride with their flashlights. While they made it to Blair, the last they saw of their raft was on that buoy.
All told, the Big Missouri River Raft Regatta winnings didn't come to Washington County in 1971 as two Lincoln pairings claimed first and second place.