Small Frye’s Big Adventure: Part Four

Leonard Lea Frazer

Christmas Dinner, Making Bannock, Then, the Rains Came, We Get Our Necks Washed, We save the Lorne Creek Bridge with Dynamite & Black Powder, We find Usk floating on Down the Skeena, and Navigating a River Gone Mad.

We enjoyed the most wonderful and full winter that any two young people could have expected. We had a nice warm cabin and plenty of food to eat and we were too busy loving to get cabin fever.

Often, Violet’s mother would have us down for supper or she would come up for a meal and we all had Christmas together at our cabin and what a glorious time that was. I shot a big Canadian goose that had stopped long enough for me to get him on the sand bar near the cabin and for New Years we had a huge feed of deer meat, wild raspberries, that Violet had canned, and so much more goodies that I forget some of them.

I made a bannock that we all enjoyed. Bannock is a sort of hot biscuit that is cooked on a campfire. It is prepared by opening up a small sack of flour and rolling the top down, leaving a place that you can make an indent big enough to hold about a cup of water, in which is dropped about a spoonful of baking powder and a drop of salt. Then, this is stirred with a spoon or fork till it gets firm enough to lift out in your hands and dropped into a large frying pan that has been sprinkled with flour. Then the mixture is quickly flattened out in the pan and the contents held over an open flame till the bottom gets firm enough to twist easy in the pan and turn without sticking to the bottom. Next, the pan is held as close to the fire as you can get it and as straight up and down as you can hold it without the dough slipping out into the fire. This way it slowly browns as you continue rotating it. It gets brown all over. Then, turn it over and follow the same procedures as before till it is all golden brown, and then eat. Made properly, bannock really is a treat.

Enjoying ourselves so very much, we did not have time to think of the months flying by and soon the first signs of spring came. Most of the snow had gone in the valley, and we were anxiously watching the high country. There was a lot of snow high up and we did not wish to tackle our trip till it was all gone.

One drizzly foggy morning the sky turned dull black. It seemed to be some sort of omen to Violet and I, as we were both uneasy all that night. By morning it started to rain and I do mean rain. It seemed as if the whole sky had burst a seam as the rain poured down. Then, the thunder came with a roar that shook our little cabin. Rain, rain, rain, sheets of it. If we stood outside for a second we would be soaked to the skin and soon Lorne Creek started to run over its bank and we saw our sluice boxes go tearing down the river and ripped to pieces as they hit the railway bridge.

Now, we were worried about Violet's mother, as she was right in the path of this little creek that had now grown to a huge river tearing up everything in its path as it roared its way out into the Skeena. Just as we started to go down to see her; she came up through the brush to our cabin with a pack on her back.

Setting her pack down, she looked at us with a sort of funny grin, "Well I guess we won't have to worry about spring cleaning because I can dip water from my front porch without bending at all."

"Well,” I said, "It won't be long till you have running water in your house. Guess I'd better get down and save what I can."

I took off down through the brush and up over the railway tracks to her house. I was sure glad to see the house was still intact, but there was water right up to the front porch and as I opened the door, I saw water creeping in through the walls. I made one trip up to high ground with her Bible and all her precious needles and wool that was in a bag on the bed.

Then Violet came, and without a word, we started to get everything we could out and above high water. We worked for several hours, as fast as we could, but we soon realized that it was impossible to save all of her furniture. We did wrestle the old cook stove and her big rocking chair to safety. Finally, we had to give up as there was well over a foot of dirty water in the house and we were in danger of getting caught and not getting out. We took off up the hill and covered all her stuff with a huge tarp. Hungry and tired we wandered back up through the brush to our cabin. Both of us were soaking wet, cold and tired.

Violet’s mom had a good meal cooked and, after stuffing ourselves with roast of deer and fresh biscuits, we sat listening to the rain pouring down.

"I'm sorry Mom, that we didn’t get down sooner,” I explained, “You will lose most of your furniture. However, we saved your stove, the rocking chair, most of your goods, your Bible and all the knickknacks we could, your pictures and needles. However, we must move it all tomorrow… a really big job."

"Oh don't let it worry you, Mike, I am glad you two saved as much as you did, and I need some new things anyway," she spoke, "but I am very thankful that we have this cabin here on high ground."

"Yes, Mom, you can stay right here as long as you like, and anyway, Violet and I will be away for well over a year on our trip," I assured her.

We listened to the roar of Lorne Creek as it tore at the bank and literally ripped huge trees out and careened on down the slope to the Skeena.

We were all eating supper when we noticed that we could not hear the roar of Lorne Creek, and so, after supper, Violet and I went out to the edge of the steep bank and we saw the reason why.

The bench that our cabin was on was well over a hundred feet above the creek and we saw, to our horror that the water was nearly up to the highest edge of the bank and getting ready to overflow right to our cabin.

"Goodness, Mike,” said Violet, with fright in her voice, "If this keeps up, we won't even be safe in the cabin. The water must be dammed up at the railway bridge."

This gave me something to think about. I was not going to lose our comfortable cabin if I could help it.

"We got some black powder and I have a few sticks of dynamite. Let's take some dyno, caps and a fuse and go down to see what’s going on."

With that, we ran back to the shed where we had our tools stored and I got ten sticks of forty percent powder and a bag of black powder. By this time, Violet had the caps and fuses and a shovel and we ran down to the bridge. Sure enough, when we got there, we could see that the water was just starting to run over the top of the bridge.

We got busy and ran out as far as we could on the bridge, and we loaded all the powder and dynamite in a sack, stuck a cap with one foot of fuse in one stick of dynamite and lit the fuse. Then dropped the whole sack in the debris of mud, logs and black roaring water, then ran off the bridge.

When the shot went off, it threw logs, mud and water ten feet in the air. All the debris was carried under the railway bridge and on down into the already swollen Skeena River.   This saved our cabin and also saved the bridge.

Now, all out of breath, cold and soaking wet (the rain was still pouring down as if the whole sky had burst), we went back to the cabin where Violet's mother had a hot meal for us which we welcomed. We were safe, at least for the night. We went to sleep, both of us dreaming of the roar of that horrible water tearing down out of the hills.

As I awoke in the morning, Violet was snuggled right up to me and seeing me awake she spoke. “I was a bit scared last night. I'd much rather be camped out by some quiet lake shore. If we had gotten out earlier on our trip, we would have missed this terrible dilemma. I'm glad we are here to see Mom through it. We must go down to Usk tomorrow and see if we can help them. They must be in terrible shape if the water is this high down there. Half the town will be under water by now."

So, we decided to leave Violet’s mother and go down to Usk to try and help if we could. "Now, Mom, we may be gone for some time. You have plenty of wood and lots of grub, and you won't have too far to go for water, the way things look," I said. "But, if it looks as if the bridge is getting dammed up again, we will be right back and if you want to reach us, you will have to keep to the woods along the railway or possibly above it. We will go across the railway bridge and take to the side hill and will blaze a route as we go so you can follow if you have to."

"But, stay here if you can," added Violet, "We will be back as soon as we can." With that, we had a good breakfast, and taking some medicines and food, we went back down to the bridge. By then the water had gone down and was ten feet below the bridge.

We had no trouble getting across, but were amazed when we saw all the destruction that the water had caused.

"Mom's house is gone, Mike, look there," Violet spoke in a sad voice. I could see tears in her eyes. "All her life’s savings gone down the Skeena; the only thing she will have left is what we stored above the bridge."

I really felt bad, but when we had made our way down to the village of Usk, we saw that other people had lost more than that. Some had not saved anything at all.

Getting down to Usk along the railway track was difficult as we soon found out. We had not gone very far when we found that the water had washed out one small bridge. So, we had to go back to the edge of the hill and chop a tree across a wild creek. Then we stayed to the side hill, fought brush, and in no time, we were soaked to the skin. However, fighting our way through the bush kept us warm. It was a terrible trip but at last we came to the first house, or rather where the first house should have been. As we came within sight of the plot where the house had been, we saw what remained of it piled up against some trees standing in the rushing water. The house was tipped over on its side and ripped apart with water roaring through what was left of it.

The sight of this once beautiful house put an awful feeling in the pit of our stomachs, so we hurried along and soon came to what remained of the village. Here we found a crowd of wet and despondent people, standing at the foot of the hill on the road up to the schoolhouse, some of them packing their belongings. The schoolhouse was like a sanctuary built on a hill well above any danger of the flood water. Some were just standing there with lost looks on their faces. All that they owned was lying under trees or any shelter they could find from this terrible rain drenched world.

At once I saw Bill Betherum, owner of the big store, swinging in to land his boat at the edge of the fast running water. Here he unloaded and looking at me asked, "Mike, we need volunteers to help me get all the groceries we can from the store. Do you think you could help me?"

Telling Violet to help in any way she could, I climbed in, grabbed a paddle and away we went out into the river gone mad. The whole valley was awash in wild black mud and debris of all sorts rolling and roaring as it tore on down the Skeena. We tried hard to keep from getting bashed with a log or the remains of a house or whole trees with roots. I also saw railway cars torn from their wheels, as many as six cars still hanging together, rolling over as they hit large standing trees, and in pieces, heading off downstream to Kitselas Canyon.

Mr. Betherum and I made it to the store, still on its foundation. Here Bill had piled all the food that he could upstairs in the large hall above the store on a balcony made for the musicians. The balcony was about four feet above the floor and here he had piled whatever else they could save.

We had tied the boat half way up the steps that led up to the hall, and, in no time, we were getting a load of food into it. All this time Bill had been busy, wading up to his neck in cold muddy water, rescuing anything he could in the line of food or clothing from the now flooded store and passing me on the steps he sort of smiled and said, "Well, Mike when I first saw you I had visions of running water in my store but not as much as this!" and added, "This is altogether too much!"

To be continued . . .

From January 18 & 25, 1978 - Robson Valley Courier