My words, thoughts and photos from a Swedish perspective

The Dead Fall

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My first visit to the Dead Fall was in 1970 and I don’t remember much of it because I was a boy then who soon would turn ten. My second visit was last week. One thing I noticed, and it was a joy to see, was that they had made arrangements so the visitors could walk around the Dead Fall conveniently and they had also done their best for impaired visitors. The latter may not be able to access the entire fall, but at least they can get a good view of it and stay safe at the same time.

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Despite the great scenes right before my eyes, I felt somewhat “split”. The reason for this was that the man who was responsible for the Dead Fall was Magnus Huss and is a very distant relative of mine. Through the times the Huss family has taken great pride in this. True is that the locals could and did benefit from this, but the flip side of the coin is that it was nothing less than a huge disaster when it happened. My standpoint is probably “pagan”, but I blame it all on the fact that I both look and am more like my mother’s family.

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The history behind Sweden’s greatest cataclysm is called timber. The only way to transport timber long before railways and trucks had been invented was to let it float with the rivers to sawmills or places of collection from where it could be sold. The locals in Ragunda had the forests and could therefore provide loads of timber, but there was one obstruction – the Big Fall with a height of about 35 metres that mashed the logs to matches.

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What they needed was some sort of by-pass and the idea was not new; many attempts had been made, but they had all ended up in nothing. There was an increasing demand for timber towards the end of the 18th century but the people in Ragunda could not be part of it and the wealth it would bring to them, so a businessman from Sundsvall, Magnus Huss, accepted the challenge to dig out some sort of canal for the logs to float through without total loss as consequence. He would be compensated with the sum of 100 riksdaler. Royal permission was granted and the work commenced.

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The progress was slow, partly due to sabotage. The decision was not unanimous and a number of people opposed it for various reasons. As you know, nature’s graces are unpredictable and the water was low in lakes and rivers in 1795. This would have been an excellent opportunity to gradually open the new bypass, but the work had been delayed so this was just a dream about what it would be like in a perfect world.

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The following year was the opposite. Very high levels in the spring and, well had the knowledge in geology been higher, it may not have happened, but the pressure from the unusually high water made it break through an esker mostly consisting of sand. The water did not bother about mankind’s efforts – it broke new ways through the landscape by its own force. A lake (Ragundasjön) was emptied completely in 4 hours and the furiously flushing water swept everything away that came in its way with a roar. Once source says about 300 millions cubic metres of water, another says 1000 millions and it is a miracle that nobody got killed. I don’t even dare to think of what it must have looked like the day after the disaster!

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Mission completed, although not as intended. The fall was silenced and timber could be floated thanks to the new direction the water had taken. As time passed, the former bottom of Ragundasjön (Lake Ragunda) could be used by farmers and they could also get their share of the wealth in the forests, but the mass destruction the water had caused has set a record in legal processes – an epilogue some tend to forget.

It is easy to feel and understand the forces of nature when standing at the bottom of the Dead Fall and I have no problem with understanding their thoughts but the lack of knowledge in geology made them disastrous. In fact, it was not until after the huge railway accident in Getå in 1918 that the need for proper geological examinations became obvious.

My blogfriend and I were lucky – this is when the rain began, but we had finished our tour and had a cup of coffee together in the nearby restaurant. There is loads of information on this topic on the Internet and my decision was therefore to write this story from my personal perspective. If you want to read more about the history and the surroundings, please visit their website by clicking here. Then click on “Translate” in the right bottom corner and select the language of your choice.



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