Small Frye Episodes

Small Frye’s Pipeline - Part Two

Leonard Lea Frazer
 “Look Out!  It’s a Flying Squirrel!”
“Look Out! It’s a Flying Squirrel!”

Mike becomes the camp cook, romances the boss’s daughter, finds cold water at the hotel, becomes Straw-boss of the power saws, and lets flying squirrels loose at the Café.

I had been hauling pipe for over two weeks for Arrow Transfer and was sure getting shook up and darn tired of the pounding by those huge trucks and the mud, not to mention the long hours. One evening, Bill, the boss, asked me to come to his office. I thought he was going to can me. However, he smiled and said, "You proved you could drive crane, but you darn near killed me, and you proved you could haul pipe." Here he smiled again, "Although you drowned the first truck, you made up for it later. You can also drive truck and you got a good record for pipe hauling.” He stopped and looked out the window. "I just don't know what to say about this next job. If you take it, you may really do some damage. Oh, to heck with it, can you cook for a crew? So, what sort of qualifications do you have for this job?"

Now, really I was pleased with this offer as I was a good camp cook. Also, I knew the helper was a very beautiful young woman. If I could get this job, my pay would be cut. But, perhaps I would have some time to look into the helper’s love-life a bit and possibly there would be opportunities that I had no time for before.

So, I looked at the boss and said, "Well, Bill, I don’t have anything in writing, however, I cooked for ten pigs all one winter and only lost one and truck drivers are just as tough as pigs, if not more so. Anyway, I would like the chance to get into your cookhouse and do the job.” I didn’t tell him the real reason or he may have canned me right there on the spot as this lovely little woman was his daughter.

"Well, Mike, I am going to overhaul all the trucks and I’m giving all the other drivers a few weeks holiday. Knowing you, if I let you go, you may not come back. I'd like to keep you around if I can. You can start cooking tomorrow and, for goodness sake, don't go too hard on us. You will only have a small crew. My wife and I and my daughter will help you. I’m keeping three men to repair the trucks.”

Now, I had often looked at his daughter, as she waited on tables for us, and every time I did, she would get red in the face. Knowing something about human beings I knew this was a good sign. I also knew of some good huckleberry patches not too far from camp and, having a small crew to feed, I would have some time on my hands to do other things besides cooking. So, I took the job.

I got acquainted with the cookhouse and the big wood stove and found out it was a very well equipped kitchen. I was also in full charge of all the ordering of more food if I needed it. I could order in the morning and have it delivered the next day from Blue River.

And, of course, I soon got acquainted with the boss's daughter, this I did not neglect. I found her to be a very efficient waitress and a great help in the kitchen. I also found out that she was a great naturalist and knew the fundamentals of the birds and the bees. I learned quite a bit about them from her the first evening we took off to pick some huckleberries. My time there was going to be very interesting and fruitful. This was much better than fighting those huge trucks all day in the mud. The girl’s mother was a very interesting woman, also.

I looked forward to getting the work done at night so I could head out to some quiet place and sit and talk with the daughter. We sure had some exciting evenings together.

I was not looking forward to the job ending. I was getting paid good wages because I got paid truck drivers’ wages for cooking, as I found out on my first cheque. I got along well on the job because it was like a paid holiday as far as I was concerned. Eventually I had to go back driving truck again and had no time for romance. However, she and I had made the odd trip out to look at the birds and bees and pick berries. But, all that ended when she had to go back to Vancouver and we had to move camp.

We moved to McMurphy near Blue River then had to haul across the Thompson River. Here, the right of way was one mud hole from one end to the other. We were forever being towed through axle deep mud and I was glad when that job was over.

Soon I had to look for another job. I knew of some right of way slashing near Merritt, B.C. on the far end of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and it was here that I really learned about working for the contractor.

I had been out of work for around a month and my money was running low. Old man winter was coming up on me fast so I knew I just had to get to work as I would either starve or get into some sort of trouble. When I heard about the slashing job, I at once made arrangements with a bunch of my buddies, including my brother, and we took off by car to Merritt.

We landed a slashing job consisting of the four of us in one crew. We were to start the very next morning. I made a deal for us to eat at a Café and told them we would pay our bill as soon as we got our cheque. Then we all got rooms in the Coldwater Hotel. We soon found out why it was called the ‘Coldwater Hotel.’

Evidently the walls at the hotel were made of one ply and you could hear all that was going on in the next room. The water was cold and so were the rooms but we were used to that. We all had good sleeping bags and plenty of Scotch and rum to keep us warm. I found out later that we could have done without the rum and Scotch as it only got us into trouble and was a very poor excuse to keep warm.

The first day on the job at Merritt we had to be up at 6 in the morning and ready to catch the company crummy that would take us out on the line. This crummy was a large Ford pickup, with a canopy over the top to protect us from freezing while going to and from work, and there were always around twenty men that rode that thing.

We were crowded just like a carload of livestock. And, God pity them that were a bit late and had to ride at the back as the cold wind near froze them to death. When we did get to work, after about an hours cold ride in that rig, we were darn glad to get working, as fast as we could, to get warm.

Arriving at the job, we located our section for the day and found out that it would take us all day to get our portion done. There was no time for any talking as the work kept us right on the go. I thought I had worked hard at hauling pipe and unloading tar, but now I found out what real work was like. When I got in that night, I was so played out that I never got to the Café to eat supper.

I just piled into bed and died. The next morning I was so stiff that all I could do was get to the Café and have my breakfast and get my lunch made up just in time to catch that transport truck, with no time to spare. On getting to work, I got back in line and felt OK.  However, night time found me quite played out again. After awhile I got used to the routine and was able to eat supper and was awake enough to notice a good looking waitress that served our table.

Our job was to cut and slash all standing trees and brush and burn it as we went. The right of way had to be over a hundred feet wide, clean of all debris, ready for the grade suitable for the big machinery to travel on and work. Later, big trucks, back hoes or other huge machines followed along our path and dug the trench for the huge pipeline.

Most of the timber and underbrush was cedar, spruce and the odd pine. There were also willows ten feet high and plenty of devil’s club that would tear you to pieces if you didn’t have good gloves.

However, we found the worst kind of terrain was the swamps, where we would have to get in and cut that overburden and at times wade into water up to our waists. This was rather unpleasant, as most of us had no gum rubbers more than ten inches high.

We did the work and got paid the sum of $.80 an hour, ten hours a day. It wasn’t big money but we had to work. Most of us could not afford a power saw, as we had just arrived on the job-site and a saw was a very new and expensive bit of equipment.

We did have five of the first front-end loaders to come in from the States, and these machines were equipped with forks on the front. They increased the speed of piling the brush and logs. If I remember right, they were “988” and were capable of lifting huge logs. Some of the debris you could get into the forks by just letting them slide under the brush or logs. By closing up the two forks on the top, holding the logs in their grip, you could then drive over to the fire and pile them on.

My brother and I had the night shift and both drove the loaders. We had floodlights put up so we could work all night. There was a twenty-four hour shift on the piling; this kept the fires burning all day and all night.

I drove for around two months then switched to power saws. Everyone that could afford one had one and I got shifted from driving to power saw operator. I had bought a small saw and my job was to cut up the logs on the piles so they would settle and burn. This I liked because I was always near a fire and could keep warm.

I became very good with a saw and soon was put on as Straw Boss of a crew of power saw operators. I got back on day shift and did not have to work so hard. Now, I could get better acquainted with the crew and some of the waitresses that worked in the Café where we ate our meals and had our lunches put up at night. We were off our shift at six and ate supper at six-thirty every night. We turned our lunch pails into the waitresses and they would make our lunch for the next day. Here is where I got into some trouble at the Café.

I shall explain it all to you. As I was head power saw operator, I had a bit of time on my hands during the shift. One day we cut down a large spruce that was just loaded with flying squirrels. Now, as these little creatures could only see at night, when the tree came down, they were scattered all over the ground and I caught four of them and put them in my lunch pail. I forgot all about them that night. I just handed in my pail and when the waitress opened it, all hell seemed to burst as there were flying squirrels all over the Café and the waitresses went ‘wing-ding.’

They were all screaming and standing up on the counter. The Café was in an uproar, with the women screaming and climbing up on anything they could, broken dishes and broken countertops. It was some terrible dilemma. I don't know how much damage was done but it was more than I could pay. So, while it was all going on, I pulled the pin and got out of there.

It was just lucky for me that no one discovered who had brought the squirrels in but all of the contractor's men got put out of the Café and we had to go to another place. Soon after that, I found out where I could get room and board a lot cheaper than at a Café so I at once moved in with a grand German family where I really was well taken care of.  I also had the opportunity to move out of that terribly cold Coldwater Hotel. Now, I had a place where I was nice and warm and all the good food I could eat.

To be continued . . .