row2k Features
Book Excerpt: Chapter 17, Flag Waves Down and Up and Down - from Four Years at Four, by John Escher
April 8, 2022
John Escher and Philip Makanna

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago, it must be,
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They're all that's left you

-- Paul Simon

To find out how an eight-oared crew really feels, one wouldn't want to interview at either end where the people tend to be too smart-- true density lies in the middle. Already I have told how the person directly in front of me, Bob Olson/Bobo/Nussbaum/5 came to row, and now I turn to the person directly behind me, Ed Ashley/3/Eddie the Dip.

"Je me souviens," says Ed.

Me: "When I see that photo of us about to pass Washington, I still get enraged. Little creep. Don't you know you're supposed to steer straight?"

Ed: "As for remembering opposite numbers, I remember Bob Berry of California, and that little Washington cox %$&@ Ron #$*& Wolfkill. Not that I hold a grudge or anything. My Washington counterpart was the one who crapped out, resulting in their drift our way. I had to hold my nose when I read THE BOYS IN THE BOAT.”

Now I had the Washington coxswain's name, Ron Wolfkill, so I put it in a search engine and soon was reading that Ron Wolfkill UW'61, whom I always equated with the one-legged monomaniac Captain Ahab in MOBY DICK, was in fact the retired owner of Wolfkill Feed & Fertilizer of Monroe, Washington which is just northwest of Seattle.

I further read that the Washington rowing classes of 1961-2 won all their races "except those in which Ron Wolfkill and Dave Amundsen steered their shells into buoys."

And that in the 1960 IRA, "the varsity, leading by as much as two lengths coming into the final mile, faded badly in the heat as both Navy and then a sprinting California pushed past to win."

The heat, what heat? The weather was bright but cool. What actually happened was that Washington spent themselves by rowing in the high thirties for the first two miles. Note also the lack of any mention in this account of Brown University.

So was it malice or mere steering negligence that caused Ron Wolfkill to cut us off on that unbuoyed course? In either case we should have requested the disqualification.

Working together, Ed and I figured out that Kinley at three was the one who passed out-- or finked out like Fink in the Yale-Harvard race I described before.

But there was another lesson to be learned sixty years up ahead.

Bill Engeman in reviewing old IRA statistics noticed that there was no official entry for Brown's time after third place Washington's sixteen minutes two seconds.

In the chaos of the conclusion the timing of the regatta became impossible.

In a multi-boat race a flag goes down for first place, up for second, down for third, up for fourth, etc.

Except the flag failed to go up for fourth and no one manned the timer for us either. Because we like Dartmouth behind us were jammed in place by Ron Wolfkill's cockeyed boat.

We never crossed the finish line and neither did Dartmouth-- literally. Seven of the other crews probably did but will never receive the official credit of an actual time. The awarding of fourth place to Brown was a race committee's act of charity-- quite a revelation.

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