Small Frye’s Pipeline - Part 3

Leonard Lea Frazer

Mike discovers smoke in the snow, a fight breaks out at the Coldwater Hotel, a Wildcat Strike begins, Mike becomes an Engineer and finds out all about hot tar and wrapping paper on the pipeline.

Christmas was coming up on us and we all had six days off from the hard work of clearing. A bunch of the boys wanted me to join them on a big binge but I had found something that interested me much more than getting drunk and sick.

I had observed smoke coming from the ground about a mile from Merritt and someone had told me it was a coal mine that had caught on fire many years before. Although it had been shut off and buried, it continued to burn. The smoke and sometimes fire could be seen coming up through vents blown up from the main lead. I wanted to investigate this queer phenomenon.

I hooked up with one of the waitresses from the cafe; we made a lunch and took off for the hills. In two hours we had reached the vents where the smoke was coming out. There was about ten holes with smoke. As the weather was a bit chilly, we welcomed an abandoned cabin nearby where we found a table, beds and stove. Near the stove, in a corner, was plenty of firewood, left there many years ago by the miners.

Making a fire in the stove, we soon had the cabin nice and cozy. We had brought our thermoses full of coffee and enough good lunch, plenty of lunch to last us for two days if needed.

As we enjoyed a lovely lunch, we pulled up a couple of blocks of wood near the open door and watched the fires burning from the vents. It was sort of scary and ghostly feeling to see this smoke coming up out of the ground and we had a very exciting afternoon inspecting each one, finding some of them quite hot to the touch, even hot enough to boil a kettle of water. We found out by boiling a pot of tea on one vent close to the cabin.

We had intended to stay and watch these fires burning at night and really got quite a thrill out of it after dark.

Of course, we found plenty of other very interesting things to do and see around the old mine that night. The next day, we made our way back to town. We were well satisfied with our outing. On arriving back, we found the men in a rowdy state at the Coldwater Hotel. Some were singing and some just talking about their work. Many of them called me a spoil-sport for not getting mixed up in their drinking. I got a big kick out of watching them get sick and drunk.

There was about ten of them in one room, some playing cards, some arguing, and some telling long tales. In other words, they were having a good time as far as they were concerned. I had bought a bottle, but was not drinking. I gave the bottle to one of the boys as my donation to their party.

We stayed there till quite late and the party got more rowdy all the time. Finally a fist fight started. One of the boys sitting on the bed jumped up and took a swing at the offender. The said offender ducked and the poor fellow that took the swing, kept right on going, missing the head of his intended victim and, with a crash, his arm went through the wall and into the next room where a man and his wife were trying to get some sleep. The arm, going on through, went clean to the shoulder and hit the poor guy on the other side, upsetting his sleep. We heard a scream and a thud as both the occupants of the room fell off the bed from the force of the fist coming through the wall that came crashing into the man's ear.

Anyway, the guy’s arm was stuck in the wall and we could not pull it out without cutting his arm on the sharp, ragged edge of the shattered wall. Just as we were getting ready to get a power saw to get his arm out, the poor fellow from the next room came barging into our room with only his nightshirt on and seeing this other fellow with his arm through the wall, he took a swing at him but the guys jumped on him and stopped him from hitting the trapped man. We held him down and talked him out of fighting at least till the power saw came up and, I'll tell you, with the sound of that power saw and all the noise of the other guys, singing and everyone talking at once, it was a bedlam royal.

At last we freed the trapped arm and took out half the intervening wall and then as soon as he was free, he went after the other man and all hell burst. Everyone fighting at once and in such a small room I soon saw that there was no room for me, so we took off.

Having left plenty of food in the cabin back at the mine and having holidays coming to us, we were not going to spend them fighting at the hotel.

We had a huge laugh out of the hotel party and were glad to get back to the cabin where no one knew where we were. We spent our holidays very quietly but in a very productive way. We learned a lot about the underground fires and, as there were no birds or bees out, we had to go for blue jays and magpies and found them very interesting.

During the day we would explore the old mine and the low surrounding hills. Then, at night, we would walk back to town but, always, we kept away from the Coldwater Hotel and did not mix with the rowdy crowd. At last, the Christmas holidays came to an end and so did our money. We were all glad to get back to work. The slashing was much lighter now as we left the heavy brush and moved onto the open fields, low lying willows, and finally into the sagebrush country. Here the slashing went fast and soon we were over the hill and coming into Savona country. We were promised by our boss that when we reached Savona we would get a raise in pay.

At this time we had to leave Merrit, the distance to work getting too far to travel every day and night. We had to arrange for some place to stay at Savona and we did get a place. However, all it was was an old broken down hotel at the edge of the Kamloops Lake at the far end of Savona. It had been abandoned for some time and was a wreck. We liked it because it was a place to get in out of the cold and rain and it did have some beds, a stove and plenty of household effects. So, we settled for it and had the whole deal to ourselves.

After getting settled in that rat’s nest, we decided that now was the time to get a higher wage and so a delegate went to see the boss. He told us, no raise in pay. So, we went on a wildcat strike.

The next morning, we all went to the meeting place where we were to start to climb into the crummy that took us to work and back but no one got on board. We stood up and told them, “No raise; no work.” We also had the cat skinners with us as they would not go to work either.

I had my own car with me and was standing off by myself and had firmly decided to not go back to work unless we got a raise. I was getting tired of the heavy work anyway and was about ready to quit and find something else. It was the beginning of spring and I knew I would have no trouble getting work. I heard of a grading crew that had already started beyond Savona and was already getting ready to lay the pipeline.

So, I stood my ground not caring how it turned out. One thing I didn’t know was that the big boss of the slashing was going to be in charge of the pipe-laying crew and another man was taking his place on the slashing. Anyway, it was settled fast, as when he saw we were going to strike, he walked up to us and said, "Any of you that want to go to work, get in the Crummy and those that don't, go to the office and get your pay. You are fired," and he looked right at me. I stood my ground as before and told him to go to Hades as I had quit so he could not fire me. Glaring at me, he said get in that bus and get into Kamloops to the office and get my time as I was fired.

I looked at him and said, "You can't fire me as I've quit and I don't need any ride in your bus to town." With that, I got into my car and drove off to town where I got my cheque and went down to where I knew Canadian Bechtel had their office.

I knew they were the main engineers that were supervising the building of this huge pipeline and all of the main bosses were good friends of mine. I had known them all for many years. Mike Boyle was the head engineer, and a very good friend of mine. Also, I was on good terms with Syd Wright and Johnny Woodward. Well, I knew them all and so I had intended to only go down to their office and see them, not expecting to get a job as an engineer.

However, as I walked into the main office, Mike Boyle looked up and said, "Well, look who is here. Hello Mike," and with a smile, he said, "What are you doing here in town? I thought you were out on the slashing?"

"Well, that Yankee devil I was working for tried to fire me, but I quit before he got the chance, so now I am out of a job. I never gave him the satisfaction of giving me the axe, So, how about it, have you or Syd got anything lined up for me to do to keep out of mischief?"

He smiled at me and looked over some files on his desk, then picking up a paper, he said, "Do you think you could run a Jeep on the pipeline?"

Well, I thought he meant a truck that would go anywhere nearly. I never knew that he meant a detector that was run by a battery to indicate the thickness of dope on the pipe. I asked him what sort of jeep he meant and he told me that it was a detector. It was a battery-operated affair that was in a pack that a man would carry on his back with a steel rod wired to the box and a coil of spring steel that was slipped around the pipe, after the hot dope was poured on by the dope machine. This dope machine was a huge contraption that had rollers on it, with brushes all the way around. These rollers were slipped over the end of the pipe and hot dope came out of holes in them, forced out at quite a pressure, slapping the hot dope over the pipe and then brushing the dope smooth.

My job would be to go along side the man that carried this jeep and as he walked along the pipe with this spring steel loop around the pipe, if the dope was not thick enough, the steel spring would cause a short in the battery pack and it would sound out with a loud squeal or blast like a steam whistle. Then, I would have to give orders to stop the dope machine and have the part repaired by hand. I could see where the leak was by watching the sparks that would fly from the steel spring that was around the pipe. I would then mark that place and there would always be two men that ran along the pipe as it was being doped, these men would be carrying a bucket of hot tar and some wrapping paper.

Then, I would have to see that they did the job right, so there would be no leak. This would cause the contractor a lot of wasted time as while this was being done, all doping would be at a stand-still and they had to try and cover so much pipe per day to keep up with their contract.

Mr. Boyle showed me a drawing of the jeep, "Do you think you could handle this job Mike? You know you won't be very popular with the contractor, can you put up with a bit of trouble from them?"

I thought just a minute than I thought of all the hard times the slashing contractor had given me when I had worked for him.

Then I said, “If you will give me this job, I'll be fair with him, but I sure won't let him get away with anything. I'll try my best to do a good job for you."

He smiled, and then spoke, "Well you better go and get some decent clothes and a suit of new khaki and a new Stetson hat. I don't want you going out as an assistant engineer working for me dressed like a working man. From now on you are an engineer and you must dress like one." Then he pulled out his pocketbook and handed me two hundred dollars. "Go get dressed up. Then, come back here and I'll assign you a company vehicle to travel back forth from work and reserve you a room in the best hotel in town and you can charge your meals to Bechtel."

Truly, I was amazed at my good luck. Here I was part of a big engineering concern that controlled the entire building of this huge project. Just how lucky could a guy be? I got all dressed up in brand new khaki and a big white Stetson and was all ready to go to work. When I got back to the office I was told to take a bit of a rest for a couple of days and my time would go on, as I was on their payroll.

So, I paraded up and down the street in my big Stetson and new clothes, hoping to meet some of my buddies that were working on the pipeline slashing and sure enough, I met them and we all celebrated the big occasion at my hotel, till late that night.

My friends asked me how I got such a good job. I told them, that it was not what you know, it was who you know. And, I knew all the brass.

To be continued . . .