IM this article to a friend!

April 25, 2004

Kansas School for the Deaf teachers launch raft on Kaw for novel lesson

From: Lawrence Journal World - Lawrence,KS,USA - Apr 25, 2004

By Mike Belt, Journal-World

Sunday, April 25, 2004

They didn't expect to meet any con artists or lynch mobs, and they certainly weren't expecting to crash into a steamboat.

But two teachers from the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe launched a log raft Saturday into the Kansas River to bring new meaning to Mark Twain's classic novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

"You do something like this and all of sudden you can see a book come alive," said Kester Marsh, an English teacher at the school and former America Sign Language teacher at Free State High School.

Students from Marsh's English class and fellow teacher Kevin Milner's drafting and shop class spent the past couple of months reading and studying Twain's novel. A mixture of high school juniors and seniors, they collaborated on a plan to design and build a raft that Huck Finn and escaped slave Jim might have used in the book to float down the Mississippi River on their way through a series of adventures.

The school's raft was made of logs from a variety of trees that were roped together. On board was a small firepit partially enclosed by smaller, upright logs. The raft was about 10 feet by 12 feet, much smaller than Huck and Jim's, which, according to the book, was big enough to contain a two-man wigwam.

Marsh, who is not deaf, and Milner, who is, set out in a cold steady rain from the Eighth Street boat ramp and planned to spend the next several hours using a log rudder and log oars to paddle and float about 10 miles to the boat ramp in Eudora. They towed a canoe with them, just in case they had problems.

It was a good thing they did. They had their own series of adventures.

During the first couple of hours of their journey, the 1,500-pound raft got stuck three times on sandbars. The third time they had to leave the raft behind.

"We tried for half an hour and just couldn't budge it," Marsh said. "We took everything off of it and tried to tow it with the canoe and it still wouldn't move."

Moreover, the raft rode lower in the water than the teachers preferred. Marsh said he started to worry about Milner getting hypothermia. Milner, wearing sandals, was soaked and cold. The rain began coming down harder. At one point they had to park the canoe, go ashore, find some material dry enough to burn and start a fire to warm Milner.

"We got down to one last match," Marsh said.

They also cooked a meal of deer stew and ate applesauce. It was a meal reminiscent of the mid-1800s and typical of what Huck and Jim might have eaten, Marsh said. Meals from that period were researched by one of the students involved in the project.

Other students had other areas of research and assignments, such as making fishing poles from that time period. Three students actually built the raft onto a boat trailer, which was then hauled by truck to the river.

Because of liability issues, the school would not allow the students to go on the raft. One of the students, Chester Kuschmider, a 17-year-old junior from Olathe, was at the boat launching to record it on video. His job is to help make a documentary of the entire project.

"I have a special computer and I'll edit it," Kuschmider said through a sign-language interpreter. "When I'm finished I'll show it to the public and to the students. It also will probably be put on the Web site ("

Other students involved in the project weren't at the river, probably because of the weather and because they were getting ready for Saturday night's school prom.

"We'll go back and tell them what happened and ask them to come up with reasons for why the boat didn't work," Marsh said.

Marsh, however, doubts that any raft could have traveled far on the river because it was so low.

"I checked it out on canoe a couple of weeks ago and it was about two feet higher," Marsh said of the river's water level.

Contents of this site are © Copyright 2004 The Lawrence Journal-World. All rights reserved.