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1999 Liars Contest Winner

Tall tales were once again the order of the day at the 1999 West Virginia State Liars Contest, held as part of the Vandalia Gathering last year. And once again, the winner of the contest was the inimitable Bil Lepp, recently of Charleston, who pleased the crowd and swayed the judges with another not-quite-believable tale about the adventures on his now-famous Buck-dog. Highlights from Bil's winning story are included here.

Other winners in 1999 were: second place, Rich Knoblich from Wheeling; and third place, Mark Howes from Helvetia. The youth award was given to Eric Diehl of Meadow Bridge.

This year's Liars Contest will be held Sunday, May 28, 2000, at 1:00 p.m., in the Cultural Center's State Theater in Charleston. For more information, call (304)558-0220.

Bil Lepp: ...You see, recently I've been reading a lot of Jack London and the idea of mushing a team of dogs across the frozen tundra certainly has its appeal. I was thinking about getting into that. The only problem is that, well, we don't have any frozen tundra here in West Virginia. But the more I thought about it, I mean, frozen tundra is nothing but a strip of land perpetually covered in snow, and snow is nothing more than frozen water. So, the way I figured it for those of us living in Fayette County seeking Londonesque adventure, we have a little bit of advantage on the rest of the people because we have the New River. And the New River, I logically deduced, is essentially nothing more than unfrozen tundra, because it's just a strip of land covered with unfrozen snow. Am I right or am I right?

So, I had my tundra, now all I needed was a dog sled and a dog team and really that was the easy part. I just simply substituted by wife's kayak for the dog sled and Buck-dog for my dog team. I harnessed Buck to the kayak and we headed down to the New River.

Now I figured anybody could dog-kayak down the New River, the trick would be to dog-kayak upstream. So, we went down to Charlton Heights, right there where the New becomes the Kanawha, and we mushed around in circles for a few minutes until Buck got his sea legs and I got a feel for the craft, and then we headed upstream. Well, Buck-dog made short work of the Kanawha Falls, slicing through the current as easily as the People's Republic of China cut through America's Department of Defense computer systems. We mushed up through Hawk's Nest, under the New River Gorge Bridge, past Prince, and up the Sandstone Falls. We were taking it easy as we rounded the bend there at Hinton, figuring to pull out at the Bluestone Dam. Champ Liar Bil Lepp
Champ liar Bil Lepp in action at the Vandalia Gathering. Photo by Michael Keller

Well, that's when the flock of ducks landed. They were heading north for the summer, and normally you wouldn't perceive a flock of ducks as a threat. You see, in Jack London's stories it's always a pack of wolves that threatens the lives of the crew and the team, and ducks are generally harmless. Unless, of course, you know Buck-dog well.

You see, Buck-dog is strong, and he's friendly, and he makes for good company, but he's also none too bright. Well, the fact of the matter is he's scared to death of all other living creatures. This is a little embarrassing to say, but this is a dog who was once treed by a squirrel. The first time Buck-dog saw a cow he just flat-out fainted. And ducks, now your average duck just alone in a pond minding his own business, that's not much of a danger. But you get a bunch of ducks together, they get that collective duck consciousness going, they can sense fear. Buck began to panic. They sensed that panic and they turned toward us like they were the International Olympic Committee and we were a rich city in Utah. I knew that I was going to have to work fast if I was going to save Buck and my dog-kayak. So, what I did is I pulled out one of the Styrofoam blocks that helps keep that kayak afloat, reached in my pocket, pulled out my stainless steel 74-function Swiss Army-type knife, and I quickly opened up the hot-glue gun and the duck-shaped cookie cutter.

Anyway, I cut a perfect duck-shaped figure out of that Styrofoam, coated it with hot glue, and since I was trying to emulate Jack London exactly, I was wearing a real nice down-filled parka. So, I just ripped it open, pulled out a handful of feathers, stuck 'em all over that duck, glued it to Buck's head, cut two more ducks, and glued one to his back and one to his tail. He was utterly hidden, totally covered. If he was a crime, Congress couldn't have covered him up better. He was, in short, the perfect Buck duck decoy ploy.

To the ducks, it must have appeared that Buck just disappeared, but they still had me in their sights. In fact, I was a sitting duck. I was out of ducks. I was a lame duck in the midst of a duck stampede, and I can tell you right now that the adrenaline was pumping out of my adrenal ducts faster than water off a duck's back.

Well, just about the time they were on me, Buck's panic overtook him in the worst way and he started barking just as hard as he could and, well, that startled the ducks and they flew away. Buck started to kind of regain his composure, and he looked around to see if I had noticed how scared he was. And that's the first time he noticed the duck glued to his back and the one glued to his tail. When he turned around to look at the other side, he caught a reflection of the mallard stuck to his head and he froze. Alarms started going off in his head. Near as I can figure, he thought he was surrounded, and he figured that if all the other ducks had flown away except these three, that these must be the three baddest ducks in all the world. So, ...he dove.

He dove under the surface of the New River and started heading upriver. He went up the spillway of the dam and right down the center drainage hole of that dam and that's where we got jammed up. You see, that kayak turned sideways. We stopped all the flow of water coming out of the dam. There was just a little air pocket, so we could breathe a little bit. The duck on Buck's head and the one on his back got washed off in the water, but my more immediate concern was for the entire state of West Virginia as well as parts of Virginia and North Carolina.

You see, we had blocked all the water flowing out of the Bluestone Lake and the Bluestone Lake was quickly going from the second largest body of the water in the state to the first largest body of water in the world. Water was backing up in the Greenbrier and the Bluestone rivers, and it was flooding in the New River all the way down to Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

...On the other side of the dam, the New River was drying up. No water was getting into it, so the entire tourist-based economy of southern West Virginia was disappearing as rapidly as the tops on our mountains. And if the New River dried up, well, then there'd be no more white-water rafting, no more scenic fishing, and the New River Gorge Bridge would be forever more known as the Old River Dried-Up-Ditch Bridge.

I didn't know what I was going to do, and that's when Buck-dog turned around and noticed the duck that was still glued to his tail, and in an act of sheer bravery, he lunged for it. Well, he missed the duck, but he hit the front of my kayak so hard that it knocked the vessel loose. We shot out of the dam on the wall of water that was surging out of the dam. Now, we were carried way down river.

I managed to hang a right at Lick Creek, but I had lost my paddle in all the turmoil so we were going to have to walk home. But, I figured after being jammed in the dam in the unfrozen tundra with Buck-dog, three Styrofoam ducks, and the entire economy of southern West Virginia hanging over my head, that being up Lick Creek without a paddle wasn't the worst way the day could have ended.

Spring 2000 issue