Small Frye episodes - In Search of Happiness – Part 1

Leonard Lea Frazer

It was in 1934 or 35. I had just given the railway notice that I was quitting as a section man. I had three years seniority and had been promoted to foreman, but I couldn't see any future on the section. My last post was at Telegraph Point near Prince Rupert. I had a few days left to work.

The day started well, with lovely weather. We had to line up about ten sections of rail on a bad curve. But, we were put in a tight spot, because Prince Rupert couldn't give us the exact time the local (train) would start its trip across British Columbia to Red Pass. We had to start at 8 a.m., whether we got a reliable line-up or not.

The motor car that we used for transportation was a heavy machine, and my five men did not like to lift it off the tracks at just any place. If we knew when the local was coming we could be ready to let it pass us by at one of the ramps (car stand).

A last minute check failed to get the line-up. We had to get moving and, like I had done many times before, rely on the smoke from the big loci to signal us to get the motor car off the tracks. This does not always work around bends and through tunnels.

We got to the section where we had to lay new tracks, and here I made a bad mistake. We had to inspect our line every morning for rocks on the track and I sent the men off with the car to take a look. I figured they would be back in half an hour and guessed that the local hadn't left Rupert until noon.

I stayed to find the bad rails. I found them and had just sat down on the bank to watch some hair-seals frolicking in the Skeena River when I heard the motor car coming back. I also heard the wild whistle of the local as it came around the bend from the other direction.

The engineer threw on the breaks but the monster kept coming. Most of my men immediately jumped and rolled down the bank. The driver stayed with the motor car but at the last moment he had to jump too.

Then the train hit. The gas-car was blasted into a thousand pieces. The driver had rolled into the Skeena. Down he went.

Luckily no one had been killed in the collision of the speeder and the locomotive, or when the train engine hit the bad rails, turned on its side and exploded. Still, I'd had enough of being a section man.

My fishing boat was tied on the wharf in the Skeena just down from the bunkhouse. I knew a lovely little lady who was aching to go on a cruise with me. She had asked me several times to take her along the coast to Vancouver. My mind was made up.

I double-checked everything in the boat and loaded my gear. I got the ten-horse outboard snorting and shoved the boat into the current, without a backward look or a final paycheck from CN. I didn't want to get fired - never had been - so I quit.

By two o'clock I stepped into the Prince Rupert cafe where my girlfriend worked. She had heard about the wreck and asked me all about it. I told her my days on the section were over.

"How would you like to go on a cruise to Vancouver and back?” I asked.

Her face lit up. "You can bet your bottom dollar I do, and the sooner the better."

"Is tomorrow soon enough?” I asked.

She smiled and said, "I'm ready now, but I better finish this shift. We'll pack my belongings down to the boat tonight and sleep in the boat."

I was pleased, and told her I would help pack her stuff down. Then, I went to clear out my bank account.

I had stowed aboard enough supplies to last two weeks. When I heard Lorna coming down the gang plank, I said her stuff was loaded.

"Do you have fish hooks and shells for the shotgun?” she asked.

"You bet, and not only that, I've got a bottle of snakebite remedy and enough grub for three weeks if we stretch it. I'd like to take it easy for the first part of the journey, so we can get acquainted better. I've picked some nice camp spots for that very purpose."

"I like that, Mike. Some spot where we can be alone, a cozy inlet where we can fish and watch the moon come up at night."

"Let's head out," I said, starting the motor of the boat.

Lorna and I left Prince Rupert. No more working on the section for me, and Lorna wouldn't have to sling grub for a while. We were heading down the coast in my fishing boat.

Lorna was an ardent outdoor girl. In the two years I had known her we had explored all the islands and inlets around Rupert. Lorna loved to be out under a tree at night, listening to the sounds of nature and the welcome song of the wind inviting serene sleep.

I had picked out a lovely spot in a secluded lagoon on Porcher Island, where I knew the fishing was good. We could camp on shore or on the boat if we wanted. But the most important thing about this spot was that there was little chance anyone else stumbling upon our bit of heaven.

We were like a couple of kids skipping school. As soon as we tied up the boat, we got into our swimming trunks and jumped into the bright, warm water.

It was only three o'clock. There was nothing to do but make love and enjoy the water. Then, we took off into the woods to gather huckleberries for supper. We were still in our swimming suits so could not travel far in the heavy bush, but we had no trouble finding enough fruit.

Before eating we lolled on the beach and watched the seals playing in the surf, not two hundred feet from shore.

If the weather was good, we were going to try to make Hartley Bay the next day. It was a long haul, so we decided to hit the hay early. As the darkness crept in we had a hot pot of tea, I checked the boat, and we snuggled up under our favourite tree and drifted to sleep, with the sound of the surf in our ears.

With a burst of sunshine, the morning came. A thousand birds were chirping, Lorna was singing while she built the campfire. I clambered out of the sleeping bag, grabbed the coffee pot, and ran to the little spring that trickled from a nearby hill.

"What does my Princess want for breakfast," I asked when I returned. "Hotcakes, bacon and eggs, toast and jam?”

She smiled and put her arms around my neck. "I'd like some more of what we had last night, Mike. But, I guess we'd better settle for a more substantial breakfast."

To the soft sigh of the surf slapping the shore, with the birds bidding us good morning, we enjoyed our meal.

After slowly washing the dishes, we loaded every­thing in the boat and headed in a southerly direction that would take us into the Grenville Channel. We would be inside the main coast and protected from any heavy waves - all inside passage for many miles.

Soon we were inside and I headed for the very middle. Here we could enjoy both sides of the channel, drifting along watching the game as it came down to get a drink of fresh water from the many springs that seemed to literally shoot out of the shore on the mainland. On the west side, we were entertained by the antics of the seals cavorting on the rocky shore of Pitt Island.

Once we watched a huge bull seal; he looked like the very monster that you can see in movies today. I am sure he must have weighed at least a thousand pounds. He would come up roaring and down he would go into the deep out of our sight. We stopped the boat for a few minutes and watched him doing his show for us. He'd leap out of the water about fifteen feet away and then back he'd land with a splash.

Lorna looked at him and said, "How would you like something like that to hit your boat, Mike, he’d tear it to shreds if he hit us fair centre."

I told her I had never been bothered with them so far and was not worried at all.

Soon, the sun came out and I saw her dive down into the cabin of the boat and when she came back she had stripped and had let down her beautiful red hair. Looking at me she said, "I am going to get all I can while the sun is hot. Here, let me have the wheel and get out of them hot clothes." I was not long in doing just that and it was glorious to feel the sun on my body. Now we really could enjoy it all as we slowly drifted along. We could see for miles ahead in both directions and it seemed we had the channel to ourselves that day. Not a boat in sight - just what we had wanted.

Lorna made us a nice lunch and we ate as we travelled and I thought that I sure liked this a lot better than bossing a crew of Hungarians on the railway.

Some of you may think that I did wrong in leaving as I did. But, before I left Rupert I found out that all of my men were all right, even the one that broke his leg. And, the job of section foreman was not my kettle of fish at all.

I already had prospects of a good job back at my home village of Albreda, on the old homestead (south of Valemount). After this adventure was over I was going to start my own logging contract. I already had the timber, tools and horses to go into business on my own. Having saved all of my pay as section man for three years, except a small amount to eat, buy my fishing boat and to have the odd evening with Lorna McCray, I was well off.

Well, back to our adventure!

My objective for the day was to reach a small cove on the mainland, about halfway through Grenville Channel. Here again we could be by ourselves and protected from the east wind. We could also tie up to the shore and fish from the bank at that location. It was about four in the evening when I spotted the little cove to our left. Pulling in, we found it all that two young people could ask for - a very comfortable place to sleep under a huge spruce tree, a nice cool fresh water spring running into the salt water, and most of all, we could see salmon all over the small inlet (today known at “Klewnuggit Inlet Marine Provincial Park).

I had heard from one of my friends that a warm spring came out of a rock wall nearby. Since it was still early we went exploring but never found the said spring, but we did find a nice crop of wild currants and all the raspberries we could eat.

The map showing the route of Mike Frye’s voyage south from Prince Rupert.
The map showing the route of Mike Frye’s voyage south from Prince Rupert.

As we were slowly making our way back to camp, there came a big buck deer down over the rocky cliffs to the back of us. We watched as he nimbly made his way down the rough hillside. He did not see us till he came within a hundred feet of where we were standing. Holding our breath, we never moved, and he must of thought we were a part of the surrounding forest until he got a whiff of our scent. He then just wandered back up the hill and we watched him till he was gone. "What a sight Mike! He sure is a grand pappy of the deer family. Come on, let's get back to camp," Lorna spoke.

Just as we were getting into camp, Lorna spied a fool hen sitting on a low spruce limb. "Do you want chicken for supper?” I asked. "I can hit it with a rock, or would you like to see how I snare them?”

I took a small roll of snare wire out of my pocket, and using a long pole from a dead tree I fastened a snare on the end. Sneaking up to where the hen was sitting looking at us, I slipped the snare around her head and gave a jerk. Head and body flew to the ground, no longer attached to each other. Lorna grabbed the hen and cleaned it on the spot. Chicken and rice, and the wild fruit we had picked, made a wonderful meal.

. . . to be continued.