Several members of the crew held ropes connected to the raft to hold it in place while Lassie and I climbed on board. The water was shallow and calm, but frigid in this bend of the Sonora River, high in the Sierras. I wore a wetsuit underneath my clothes. It was awkward, but it helped keep the cold out. The shot had been carefully explained. It could only be done once. Lassie and I were to navigate downriver towards the white water by means of a long pole I used to push the raft forward. When we hit the current, we were to jump into the rapids. I should act like I'm in trouble, fighting for my life. Downstream, out of camera range, there was a safety line across the water. All I had to do was go with the flow of the water, then reach up and grab the line as I passed under it. My stunt man, Whitey Hughes, didn't think this was a good idea; he wanted to go in for me. Director Bill Beaudine disagreed. Sure, it was dangerous, but they'd all be there if something went wrong. Besides, they only had one raft and it would disintegrate in the rapids. "So do little boys," thought Whitey. Beaudine insisted that everything would be fine. Since they could only get the shot once, it had to be me out there, not Whitey. I enthusiastically agreed. I was a twelve-year-old boy looking to break the monotony of a film shoot. This sounded exciting. Beaudine ignored the warning and decided to risk letting me do the stunt. Lassie used a double.

I boarded the raft and pushed it along in the shallow water. The double dog sat next to me, alert and ready. I felt like Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, making my way downriver. A few moments later, everything changed. The water swirled around us in all directions. The dog and I got the cue to jump and we leaped into the water. Even with the wet suit, the water felt like pins and needles stabbing my neck, my hands and feet. My wet jacket and jeans were heavy and difficult to move in. My leather boots filled with water. I struggled to keep my head up as I hurtled downriver. The raft hit a rock and splintered in a hundred pieces. White water spun me in circles. I couldn't see the cameras anymore. The shore rushed by. I tried to focus on the safety line stretched across the river. If I missed that, I'd really be…BAM! I slammed chest-first into a sharp rock hidden beneath the water. Instantly, all the air was knocked out of me. I couldn't breathe. I was swallowing water. Panicked, I flailed my arms wildly. I went under. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two of the crew get in the water. I gasped for air, weak from the fight. They reached out their arms and scooped the dog out of the rapids as I sailed by. I went under again. "The kid is great," someone said. "What a performance." I couldn't hear them. Exhausted, choking, I went under for the third time.