1960 CHS Grad Has a One in a Billion Moment

By Kim West
CNHS Class of 1979

As a junior class member of the legendary and undefeated 1959 CHS football team, graduate Larry Long loved competition. He was of small physical stature, however, and while he always played his hardest, he was the smallest guy on the team. At his college choice, Purdue University, his competitive nature was satisfied by being a member of the rowing team known as The Purdue Crew. He left the school with a very special momento of his tenure there.

On March 5, 1963, after heavy rains, the Wabash River in West Lafayette was angry. With the river so swollen, the team should not have practiced that day, but they took their shell (boat) and decided to try. The river was swift and full of debris. “The Wabash was about 20 feet over flood stage and about a mile across including cornfields,” Larry said.

The shell (boat) for a rowing competition, back then, was very thin and made of wood. In fact, it was so thin that Larry believes this is how the watercraft got its name. “Everyone had to be extremely careful around the shell,” he said. “One could easily poke his foot through the material. Today, of course, much better materials are used and the likelihood of stepping through the bottom would be very rare.”

A rowing team consists of eight members, all rowing in unison, to reach their destination. To watch a competition looks like their efforts have been choreographed. If one person was out of sync, everyone would be thrown into the water. Back then, each oar was made of wood, three inches thick and 16 feet long. Every day they would run two miles to the boathouse and then row 20 miles, return and run back to campus. It was quite a coordinated workout.

They launched into the angry river and began their routine. Rowing was difficult with large tree limbs, rocks, etc. making it difficult to maneuver. In the #4 spot, Larry hit something with his oar and it snapped. As they waited for the river to bring the broken oar to them, the culprit floated beside them: a drowned 300-pound pig.

What were the odds? The engineering students calculated the number of strokes they had made and determined they had taken over a billion during the course of the season, hence a one in a billion chance they would hit a drowned pig in the flooded Wabash River.

Purdue University is proud of the distinguished graduates who have passed through their doors. During their 150th anniversary, they put together a book displaying the artifacts that had been donated. Among the prized memorabilia was a slide rule and spacesuit used by Neil Armstrong. The flight log of an international trip made by Amelia Earhart was included. On page 57 of the book, however, was a strange entry: a photo of Larry’s broken oar. He described it this way, “300-pound pig loses battle with #4 oar on heavyweight 8 at 20-foot flood stage.”

Perhaps this quote from author Bruce Schneier sums it up best for the team, “More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good we are at calculating risk.”

The infamous oar is displayed in the Levee Boat House along with the many trophies won by the team. You’ve heard the quote, “when pigs fly.” Apparently, they can’t swim either! It was hard work that season but The Purdue Crew brought home the bacon!