Remembering "The King of the Androscoggin"



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Here Alfred Landry, dubbed “The King of the Androscoggin” competes in a log rolling contest as many spectators watch the event. The splash in the water was caused by the other competitor who fell off the log and lost the competition. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
January 09, 2013
BERLIN – When reminiscing and conversing about lumberjacks and "rivermen" during the time of the Brown Company log drives, Fred Landry's name is sure to pop up. He was a logger and riverman for Brown Company, a serviceman, a world-champion log roller and wood chopper, a Berlin Police officer for many years, a dedicated father and husband, and much more.

Alfred "Fred" Landry was born November 30, 1893, in Berlin. His parents, Louis and Diane (Couture) Landry, originally from Canada, moved their 12 member family to the Success Pond area in 1898 where Mr. Landry worked in the woods while Mrs. Landry cooked for the lumberjacks. Alfred was 6 when he started helping his father in the woods. His father decided to put him to work instead of sending him to school. In 1906 they moved to Dummer and started the family business of moving their logs to the Brown Company Mills via the river. By that time, Fred Landry was an established worker in the woods, as well as an avid hunter and fisherman.

In May, 1908 when Alfred Landry was 14, two of his older brothers had drowned in a log jam on the Androscoggin River. Shortly after, he and his father worked alone in the business. By the time he was 20, he was a popular local character and his name was often mentioned in conversations about significant rivermen and lumberjacks. In 1917, he joined the military and a year later he served in France. After being honorably discharged, he returned home in 1919 and began working on the river for Brown Company. Soon after he married Alma Carrier of Lewiston, Maine and they went on to raise five children. In 1923 he became a police officer for Berlin and was on the force for 40 years, promoted many times.

Landry took up the job as a police officer because he knew how to handle a drunken lumber jack. Back in those days, the department had one car and one motorcycle, so most officers walked the beat in different parts of the city. There were no two-way radios, but there were call-boxes spread throughout the city. If a red light flashed on one of the boxes, an officer answered the call. Most of the time, an officer would have to act alone during a crime because other officers would be walking their beats in a separate part of town. The officers walked in below zero weather and through thick snowdrifts during the winter months. To be a police officer back then, it was standard to be tough and in good shape. Landry was no exception.

"I recall a story that I heard about him from a guy I met at his funeral," said Walter Nadeau, longtime friend and co-worker of Landry. "On Friday nights, lumberjacks would get drunk and fight. These became known as 'Friday Night Fights'. As he watched from across the street with some friends, a beat cop went to break up a fight at a bar, located near where Northway Bank is now. Shortly after he went in, he came back out stripped of his uniform. Landry came by and told the cop to 'get him when he comes out' and walked into the bar. Soon, one lumberjack went through the window on the right, another through the left, and a third one through the center window," said Nadeau as he chuckled.

From information derived from Landry's personal scrapbook of newspaper clippings that was donated to the Moffett House by his family, it is evident that Landry made quite a name for himself which echoed a long way. The newspaper clippings were from the Berlin Reporter, Boston Post, New York Times, and many other newspapers.

In the 1930's and 1940's, Landry removed his uniform and took up many lumberjack sports as a hobby. He had previously won the world's wood chopping contest at Boston Gardens in 1929. During a wood chopping contest, each man would chop through a thick log with an axe while standing on the log. On almost every occasion, Landry would chop through the log seconds before his opponents without falling.

Log jams would frequently occur during river drives, so rivermen became skilled at skipping on and across logs and riding them, and many times they had to roll them to stay on their feet. Log jams had to be broken apart in order for them to move to their destinations down the river. Many fatal accidents occurred during these jams. Almost 6 feet tall and about 180 pounds, Landry was known to be very strong and rugged as well as athletic, and he had earned a reputation of being one of the world's best log rollers. When a log rolling contest took place, each competitor would roll the logs with their feet on opposite ends wearing special spiked logging shoes, and the first one to fall in the water would lose. At the Brown Company Winter Carnivals and Berlin Centennials, and throughout New England, Landry won many competitions in log rolling (also called birling), wood chopping, wood sawing, and cross-cutting. He was also one of the few men in the world who could balance on the end of a four foot pulp wood log while it was vertically submerged under water. It is no wonder that Landry was dubbed "The King of the Androscoggin."

Landry retired from the police department at the age of 70. He then continued to work as a handyman doing carpentry, mowing lawns, painting, and snow-shoveling. He remained an avid fisherman and outdoorsman for the rest of his life. In his 90's he took up bowling and was very good at it. He was the longest living known veteran and riverman of his time before he died in 1995 at the age of 101 and 7 months.

(Information compiled from the Coos County Historical Society, Yolande Landry; daughter of Alfred Landry, and the Moffett House Museum and Genealogy Center)

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