Small Frye episodes - Small Frye’s Survival of the fittest

Leonard Lea Frazer

The hungry thirties and what we had to put up with in order to survive was something else. God helps those that help themselves. But, in our case, we were just helping ourselves. Stealing veggies, cow’s milk and blasting powder is hard work!

Small Frye has a taste of buckshot and he and the gang do a bit of blasting at Albreda. 

In my rambling back and forth, bumming my way on freight trains, town to town, always looking for something to make a dollar at, I had been to all the big vegetable farms and saw all the lovely looking vegetables that grew around Kamloops and North Kamloops including Chinese gardens. I knew of the big fruit orchards and also when all of this produce would be ripe and ready for market.

As I was camped along the North Thompson River in one of the hobo jungles eating some chicken soup from chicken that I had swiped from a local farmer, I thought I would just wait around and keep my eyes open. When the Chinese farmer has a good supply of vegetables picked and piled ready to haul in the next day I could just go there at night and pack a good bunch over to the CNR roundhouse at the junction. Then, I would load it in a boxcar and take it home on the train. I could ride right inside with the vegetables. But, in order to do this I had to know what freight train was going to pull out, bound for Albreda. I had plenty of friends that worked for the railway, and so I found out who would be on, making up the string of the boxcars that would go north. I found just the man I wanted and told him my idea. He showed me what cars would be going out that night, and so I went back to the jungle and told my companion about this. As he had a family, and could do with some vegetables, he said he would go along with me on the deal.

So, the rest of that day we went from farm to farm pretending we were looking for work, but we were looking for the best one to raid. We found one, only about half a mile from the railway boxcar that we had to take. The farm had cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, and some ripe onions already picked and piled in boxes and sacks. This was just what we were looking for. So, well after dark we made our way back and had packed around ten sacks of nice ripe fruit and vegetables, and were just crawling through the barbwire fence with the last load when, for some reason or other, the Chinaman had came out to look his produce over and he had a shotgun with him. This we had not thought of. I got through the fence with my load but my pal did not make it. I heard a blast from the shotgun and the next thing I knew he ran past me going like a bat out of Hades. I ran too as another blast went off. This time I got a taste of the shot myself and found out why my buddy was running so fast, and this helped me get my speed up too. I dropped my sack and took off for the junction as fast as my little legs could go. The Chinaman was too far away for the shot to do much damage but I still felt the heat and it stung like hornets.

We made it back to the railway and climbed aboard. I knew that our train was ready to pull out and we wanted to be sure our car went with it. Sure enough, we felt a bump as the locomotive hooked on and, with a rattling of couplings, we were on our way to Albreda, or so we thought.

We both huddled in our car, neither one of us sitting down. We could still feel that hot shot in our backsides, but could do nothing about it then. We would have to wait till we got home to get the shot out and it hurt like the very devil.

We got to Blue River around six in the morning, and here they shunted our car off on a side track and we were in for some fast packing again. But I soon found an empty car that would go to Albreda and we hurried to get all our stuff loaded. As Blue River was another divisional point, we had about an hour to do it in but also had to watch for the railway “bull” as we were not supposed to be riding the trains, let alone hauling stuff home. We didn’t see any and made it just in time as the train started up. And, away we went again. Now, generally all freights stopped at Albreda, but as we came in to the east end of the switch I could tell the engineer was going to highball right through, so we would have to dump our stuff out on the fly and jump.

We waited till the train came near our home along the railway and started to dump our loot. We threw sack after sack till it was all unloaded and now we had to jump ourselves.  I went first. I took a leap out of the car and landed rolling and, I kept right on rolling, down the bank into the creek and just before hitting the water I saw my buddy as he took the leap. I came up sputtering and darn near drowned and he fared no better. This sort of business taught me never to steal from anyone.

Both of us were all cut up and bleeding and a sorry sight but we were still alive. We managed to save a lot of the vegetables, though some of it was smashed from rolling down the bank.

Now I think it’s much better to pay for what you get!

We had a blasting good time.

In our journeys up and down the railway tracks, a group of us "rangy-tangs" had located the place where the section men had a powder house built and, like a bunch of wolverines, when we found the powder cache, we at once had ideas about what we could do if we were to break into the cache and get some powder. We could dynamite fish, we could blow stumps, and there was no end to the trouble we could get into if we could get a good supply of dynamite...

On finding the powder house we saw that it was well hidden from the main railway and in a good spot for us to get away with our caper if we could break in. We stationed a good look-out to watch for the section men, while the rest of us went about making an entrance to the powder. We found the weak spot at once; the roof. We had a bit of trouble tearing the first logs off, but soon found our way into the main powder house.

It was a glorious place to us, boxes of powder, rolls of new fuse, and all kinds of dynamite caps to detonate the powder with. Oh boy, this was a great chance for us, and we at once took two cases of forty per cent powder, two boxes of caps and two rolls of fuse, and giving our look-out man the word we took off through the brush with all we could carry.

It was hard work carrying all our blasting loot but we made it to our secret cache near home. We had trampled about four miles through the thick brush and were too tired to do anything with it that day. We just cached it and made plans for the next day.

None of us had worked as powder men. “Powder Monkeys” were their title on a construction job. We had watched these men blow stumps and were thrilled by what powder could do, and we had always wanted to try a hand at it ourselves. We had so many things that should be blown up; stumps, rocks, and I had always wanted to get the best of an old bull that always chased me away from the cows when we wanted to steal some milk. This was the first thing we would attend to, so we made plans how to blow him up without killing him, as he was a prize bull, and if we killed him we'd get our hides tanned, but good, and we knew it.

So this would have to be a very delicate blasting operation and would take some thinking. At last our technicians came up with the answer. We decided to bury the charges about a foot in the ground and get Mr. Bull mad enough to chase us and we would lead him past the buried powder. We found this to be very tricky work as we could get blown up ourselves. So, we had about ten charges made up with short fuses and at every charge we had a kid there to light the fuse, only putting in one stick to a charge.

When we were all set, we found the bull and got him chasing us. Each charge was about forty feet apart. I volunteered to be chased by the bull. I was mad at him anyway. When I got him into the field and about fifty feet from the first charge I hollered  "fire"  and I could see that the  fuse was sputtering as I sped past it. Mr. Bull followed like a good guy, but he was gaining on me. He just made the first charge when off it went with a roar. It knocked him down, but damned if he didn’t get up and shake his ornery head and take off after me again with a bellow that sent my hair straight up on the back of my head. So, I took off again and hollered "fire.” This time we both made it past the charge, but the bull got the worst of the blast and went down on his knees. Up he got and really took off after me. Now I had to time it right as I was getting tired of this game. I hollered "fire" and away I went. This time I had timed it just right and he went down on his nose and stayed there. I was sure he was dead. We’d be in some trouble if we had killed him. From where I was, I could see him still breathing. So we sat around, until he got up and then we set all the rest of the charges off and Mr. Bull had had enough. He took off with his tail straight up and bellowing as if he was being killed.

He never did bother any of us anymore. We could come and go as we pleased and when we came into a field where he was he took off into the brush as if the devil was chasing him.

We had many more exciting things to do with that powder, too many to mention here. 

From January 14 and February 11 - Robson Valley Courier