Small Frye’s Big Adventure: Part Six

Leonard Lea Frazer

The Flood continues, Mother moves in, The sun reappears, Repairing the washed out railway line, Drilling holes and planting black powder, Laying track and communication lines, and Back to gold mining.

As Bill and I sat there in the boat, looking across that sea of mud and drifting timber of all sorts sweeping past us at such a speed, it looked almost impossible to buck that sort of nightmare. We knew there would be no chance of us getting across the main channel. All there was left for us to do was to get going and take a chance of getting back to our friends at the schoolhouse.

I untied the rope and gave the boat a shove out into that mad tangle of debris and we were on our way. In no time at all we had passed the store. We could see it was still standing with the back end down and the front end up in the air. Thank goodness, as we passed the store, the current became much slower and at last we started to make headway for the far shore. As we reached the shore about two hundred feet above the main Kitselas Canyon, we made our way back up stream through brush and trees. It was well past three before we got back to the landing, and there was Violet waiting for us in the rain.

"Oh Mike," she said, "Please don't try that again. I've lived a life of Hell since you left and I watched you as long as I could but when you got over as far as the ferry I could not see you and I was sure I was already a widow. Please don't do that sort of a thing again unless I'm with you."

She was soaking wet and had not eaten anything since we had left. We got out of the boat stiffly and went up to camp as fast as we could and soon had a mulligan on the fire. We both enjoyed a cup of hot tea. It took us half an hour to get warmed up after that terrible ordeal of sitting in the boat so long with no protection from the rain.  All the rest of the day Violet and I just sat under our well-protected tree and listened to the rain.

Violet's mother was living in the schoolhouse with the rest of the women but that evening I was surprised to see her bring her stuff down and throw it under the branches of our tree. "I am moving in with you and Vi, Mike. Too damn crowded in there for yours truly. Sure hope you don't mind!"

I moved some of the stuff of ours farther in under the boughs and made room for her pack. "Sure Mom, we are glad to have you," I said. "We get lonesome for you and you know we need someone to cook for us."

"No, mother, we are glad to have you. Possibly you may be able to give Violet and I some advice and information on the country we are going to cover next summer. You have been all over it and you can tell us what we can look forward to. We expect to be all summer travelling as near timber lines as we can. We’ll be going right through to Bella Coola, then take the old cattle trail to Williams Lake and then on down to Little Fort, on the C.N.R, and back here late in the fall.”

“You know Mike, I sure would love to go with you and Violet on that trip, but I also know you have decided to have this as your honeymoon and on a honeymoon you know that three is always a crowd. I’ll keep the home fires burning and be waiting for your return."

I told her that as much as we would like to have her with us, that she was right, a person only hopes to have one honeymoon in a lifetime.

The next few days were hard to put in as it rained continually. At last, one morning we awoke at daybreak, and all was quiet. For a minute or two we wondered what was wrong but at last I saw what it was. The rain had stopped and all was quiet. Soon the whole community were up and yelling and dancing. Oh I wish I could tell you how good we all felt about that blessing. It was a morning without any rain and soon everyone was celebrating in some way or another.

To top it all off, the beautiful sun shone on us at last and the whole rain-drenched valley was steaming and by noon we could go around in our slippers and not be wading in mud to our ankles, what a God-send it was!

It seemed that the sun was trying its best to make up for lost time as it really went to town drying out the whole valley and especially our tree. It was like heaven to us and all we did was lay there and enjoyed every second that we could.

On the second day, we noticed that the water was receding at a fast rate and by noon it was safe for us to reconnoitre and see what damage had been done to the village.

We found the store still sitting at an angle with the back end down but still there. Also, the C.N.R. station and the hotel were still standing. All the other buildings had been swept out to sea. It was a desolate and forbidding sight, mud all over town, and as the water receded further, we could get down to the bottom of the hill where we found river silt over a foot deep.

The railway seemed to be torn out and driven out into the brush along the right of way and most of the bridges gone. The telephone poles were leaning out over the river and lying down; wires all mixed up and tangled. What a mess!

But, everyone at once got busy and started to repair their homes, in the surrounding area, dragging them back out of the brush and sitting them on foundations again. The store was heaved back on its proper foundation and sat straight up again, but, what a job to clean it out. What grub that was left up top that was any good was the canned goods and this was welcomed but we were running out of flour and other cereals and the most important was coffee, sugar and tea. They seemed to be the most missed, and, of course, tobacco.

Although Violet and I shared what we had, we were still the best off as we had got in a good supply early in the fall.

But, now the community was faced with the problem of transportation. The railway had to be repaired at once and every man that could work went at it, heaving and pulling the rails back on the road, building a new road bed, putting in temporary bridges, getting the telephone lines back up in trees or on poles, any way to get some means of communication and I went to work on the railway.

We had a long way to go to work so that meant getting up at five, eating a fast breakfast and be at the tool shed at seven. As we were conscripted, we couldn’t quit. We had to be sick in order to even get one day off a week. This was a rough schedule and it soon separated the men from the boys!

On arriving at the job, you at once crawled into your tunnel that you were drilling or loading and got your jackhammer working by seven sharp! If you were loading a particular hole with black powder you would be in there, one man right behind the other, close enough so that you could pass a tin barrel of black powder from one to the other. A complete string of men, from a boxcar on the rails, around twenty or forty feet from the end of the tunnel, passed black powder to the tunnel. There was no letting up all day! You kept passing powder all day long till the end of the hole was full of it and the main stick of dynamite, with a fuse and cap, was in place to set it off.

Nowadays, according to the Workman’s Compensation Board, you don't load black powder like that. No powder with the fuse and cap can be set unless you are going to set it off at once. In my time, I've seen many blasts set off prematurely and many a good man blown to Halifax.

As the tunnel was only six feet high, you had to stand bending over all day and had your lunch right in the tunnel. Twenty minutes to eat and back to work again! So, you never felt like going to any grand opera after work. One good thing was - they would pay us one hour overtime every second day to haul groceries from the railhead to Usk with our push car. This was a flat-surfaced car pulled behind the hand car and we could transport around a ton of supplies at a time. That would keep Usk eating.

On one of these grocery errand days, after about the fourth trip, we made it to the worksite from Usk, we were going along at a good clip pumping the hand car and had just come to the small bridge going out of Usk when we felt a crunch. We had just made the middle of the bridge when, with a snap and roar, the whole section of rails and ties snapped right back out into the woods again, clean out to where we had rescued them a few days before. We were all thrown out into the brush, men, tools and hand car, and some of us landed in the water up to our necks! This set us back a whole day, fighting them damn rails and ties back in place again!

We had no change of clothes and were soaking wet and this made it all the worse so we spent a very miserable day.

We had now been well over a month drilling and loading holes the entire length of the washout. It was around fifteen hundred feet long. With the drill holes every twenty feet, this represented a lot of black powder - two full boxcars or one hundred tons of explosives altogether. We knew there would be a great explosion and, as we left that night, we sure wanted to be there in the morning to see it blow. But, again we were foiled. We got out early enough, as usual, but the powder monkeys got out earlier than us and we were still about two miles from the site when we heard the roar as it went off. It was all over with before we got there.

As we drove up, we could still see smoke drifting away into the valley but the smoke had no more than settled than we were all put to work shovelling and scraping the rubble away and laying new rails as we cleaned the road bed.

Three hundred men, one locomotive and ten flat cars loaded with ties and rails and, of course, yours truly, volunteered to be one of the head men to drive the spikes. Now, this was damn hard work! It entailed swinging a twelve-pound hammer all day with one man straight across from another on the rails. The rails and ties were laid by one crew and we followed behind as they laid them. This meant ten men laying ties and then the same number packing rails ahead and laying them on the ties and four men driving spikes on the sides of the rails to keep them upright. The locomotive followed as we laid track, always keeping the ties and rails as close as they could to the men who were packing. We did very little final blasting as the main shot worked well. Once in awhile we would have to drill and blast some rock that stuck up too far to get the rails down to the proper grade.

As there were two towns waiting for the train to get through to bring medicine and food, we could not stop till the job was done. It was well past midnight when, with a whistle and roar, the main locomotive hooked onto a boxcar of supplies for the besieged villages took off down the newly laid rails. Away it went to Usk, Copper City and Terrace. I am sure no other train was more welcome than that old locomotive as it came puffing and snorting into the villages and although it was early morning before it arrived, everyone was out to welcome it.

After the road was laid, we were asked if we cared to stay on and help to put the road back in good shape again. I asked for two weeks vacation and told them I'd go back and spend the summer working.

During this time, Violet and I went back to Lorne Creek and took her mother with us.

Of course we had no trouble putting in time for the first two or three days as we were behind on a very important part of our lives and had to catch up, which we did. But, after the first three days, Violet just had to go up to where our sluice boxes had been to look for gold and she came back all out of breath and running. In her hands she had a lovely chunk of quartz all full of pure gold!

Now, this put a different slant on things. I went back with her and saw what appeared to be good gold bearing gravel. So, we at once rebuilt our sluice boxes and went right back gold mining and forgot all about the railway job. We really did well that summer.  When the fall came, we were well off and loaded our cabin up with grub and cut lots of firewood. We were ready for another winter and now, believe me; we knew just how to put in the long nights without wasting any time! In fact we looked forward to them long nights.

To be continued . . .

From February 15 and March 1, 1978 – Robson Valley Courier