Barrel Derby Days

A tradition born of bootlegging….

Just how long does it take for a barrel to travel along the Kettle River from the Midway Bridge at Ferry, Washington to the Town Bridge of Curlew, Washington? In an annual event, that’s been taking place since 1950 (with a short hiatus in the 1970’s), folks in Curlew challenge themselves and visitors to give it their best guess.

Tradition has it that during Prohibition, bootleggers tried to slip barrels of illegal whiskey across the Canadian border and past Customs officials by floating their contraband down from Midway, British Columbia, along the Kettle River to the town of Curlew, where the barrels were reclaimed from the water.

A few things have changed since then. Nowadays, a single barrel is set adrift at the Midway bridge in Ferry, Washington (just south of Midway, British Columbia)** and the liquid in the barrel is just plain ol’ water. But, the excitement that the crowd experiences as the barrel arrives at Curlew is as genuine now as it was then.

View of Kettle River near Curlew, WA.
Barrels wend their way along bends such as this one on the Kettle River north of Curlew, Wa.

Sponsored by the Curlew Civic Club, funds collected through these events support the Curlew Community Center as well as other scholarship funds. Events each year typically include the following:

  • Pancake breakfast
  • Parade through downtown Curlew
  • Arrival of the barrel at the town bridge in Curlew
  • Hoop Jam tournaments
  • 4-H activites
  • Ice cream social
  • Face painting

**Looking for a fun river-floating experience this summer? Curlew has a first-class swimming beach and the float from Midway bridge to Curlew bridge is considered a great way to while away a hot summer day.

Schedule & Location

First Sunday in June, in Curlew, Washington.

Acknowledgements wishes to thank Julie Helmick for providing the event information used as the basis of this article.