Small Frye Episodes

Small Frye’s Pipeline Part Six

Leonard Lea Frazer
Leftover pipeline pipe stored near Valemount from 1953 to 1965.  At that time the pipe was removed.  Photo by L.L. Frazer
Leftover pipeline pipe stored near Valemount from 1953 to 1965. At that time the pipe was removed. Photo by L.L. Frazer

Mike wenches a backhoe up a hill, moves to Nojack, lounges at his penthouse, and while cleaning the inside of the actual pipeline he finds chunks of wood, brush, several rabbits and a coyote.

All I had to do on this particular job, while working for the engineers, was to watch and see that the backhoe operator dug the ditch deep enough. At the time I was on this inspection job, the contractors were short of cat skinners and, as I had very little to do, they made a deal with Canadian Bechtel to give me a wage just to drive a T.D. 24 International Cat with a winch on it.

I set up two large mirrors so I could both watch the digging and tell when I would need to pull the backhoe a bit more up the steep hill. I had my cat sitting at the top of a hill and had a long one-inch steel cable line that would reach right to the bottom of the hill.This way I could hook onto the backhoe and winch him up the hill as I needed to so he could keep right on digging.

Some of those hills were at least a forty per cent grade and the poor backhoe driver had to be tied into his seat. Being a watchdog was a soft job for me as all I had to do was sit there for six hours with the cat idling and keep the winch tight. The poor backhoe driver had to sit there with a belt on him to hold him from falling right out of the machine. After about four hours, with the machine being at such an angle, the oil in the engine would all be at the front, so finally it would begin to burn and then it would send out a cloud of heavy smoke. If it was a hot day, the backhoe operator earned his wages and was played out at the end of a twelve-hour shift. Many times I sure felt sorry for him. I sat in a comfortable seat and he was in torment all the time and I was drawing two men's wages for my job.

On this project I really did see pipelining at its best and its worst and learned a lot about people and rough country, and especially the deadly swamps of Alberta.

Seeing it was such a long drive to Edson and back every morning and evening my crew were stationed at Nojack not far from Peers Siding. This meant more time to rest at nights and we all appreciated it as after a day’s work fighting that terrible mud and the swamps all day we wanted nothing more than to get to bed at night. However, every other weekend we could go to Edson for Sunday and Mondays. This would give us a chance to get in our reports to our office there and also give me a chance to see Marie.

We would try to arrange for a picnic or something to relieve the monotony of the long week in the mud. We could also do our shopping and get our cheques for the week worked, including our expense account cheque. This cheque we could do as we wished with but it was intended for expenses incurred during the week, such as our meals and rooms. I was always able to pay all my meals and room with this cheque and sometime have a few dollars left over.

As we progressed with the preliminary line, we came closer to Windfall. This was a huge gas well that was refining crude gas and storing it in tanks under pressure to be sent along the line we were surveying. As we got closer to this company town, we could smell the terrible stench of gas.

At times the smell was about all that any of us could stand, but the people that worked and lived there did not seem to mind. When we had to stay there for a few days we sure welcomed the chance to move out of the stench and fumes of natural gas.

Our main line intersected a feeder line from the main well and then carried on over the swamps past Edson and on to Jasper and then on down to the Coast. We were sure glad when we got close enough to Edson to move back there. We would be near our Field Office and my penthouse that I had continually rented since hiring on at Edmonton.

My Penthouse overlooked the main town and was part of the Sunset Motel and Cafe. The best part was, Marie had a room next to my penthouse and now we could watch TV or do as we pleased to pass the long evenings. This made life quite interesting for the both of us, and to this day, for the life of me, I cannot quite understand why I would give something like this up, but finally I did.

Now, as I look back and think things over it must have been all planned ahead of time by my BIG BOSS. If I had stayed on that job I would never have met the ONE WOMAN of my life, but this was a long time in the future as I put in two years on the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

My apartment was fully furnished and I could cook for myself any time I wished or go downstairs and eat at the cafe next door. Most of the time Marie and I would board ourselves and we ate like kings. As she was always at the office she had the chance to do the shopping for food. Sometimes I would cook and have her over to join me at supper, but most of the times I would eat at her apartment and then go to mine to watch TV or play cards.

Other times we would go to some important event that was going on in town and we both enjoyed eating at an Italian restaurant, where they would serve spaghetti Italian style, this we both loved. And we had lots of these orders to go, if we so wished. They always had the best of wines and food.

Back to the survey: As we worked like fiends to get the first line surveyed, another crew was right behind us straightening our line out and putting in the main line, and then right behind them came the big crew of men cutting and building right of way. They were followed by the grading crew. Just when we finished we were moved back to Nojack. But here we were on a Supervising crew, not Surveyors.

All the old crew that I had been with on Trans Mountain were on their same jobs and my old boss that ran the construction job was there so we were all together again. The little motel in Nojack was bursting at the seams.

Although my wages and expense account were greatly raised, I missed my nice penthouse and Marie. But, she came to Nojack as often as she could. She still was very busy at the field office in Edson.

By the time we were moved back to Nojack the main ‘right of way’ was built and many miles of ditch all ready to lay the pipe. And, as we laid the pipe, I was amazed at what a difference the contractor had made of all that rugged country we had first surveyed through.

Some of the lakes had been bypassed and the odd swamp, but some of those swamps had been loaded with heavy gravel and we went right through them with the pipeline. Here I found that I had to be extra careful and could not take any chances of a weak wrapping of the pipe. In some places I had to have concrete blown on with the dope and then wrapped with cedar slats. This would reinforce the wrapping.

I enjoyed the work, as I got along well with the contractor and all of his men, and they tried to co-operate with me to the best of their ability.

We had caught up with the welding, and had to have some uncertain pipe welding tested under a terrible high pressure. My crew were put on the supervising of this job till the sections of pipe were tested. My job was to be at the very end of the pipe that had been welded and put up on skids. This section was eight miles long, all decked on skids and ready for testing. At the start of this pipe, it had a strong steel cap welded on the end and then a screw connection to hook the compressor hose to it. The air would travel through the long length of pipe and then a huge compressor would force this through the eight miles of pipe. But first, before welding the end-cap on, there was a huge round thing that looked somewhat like a barrel; with a pointed end on it, and all around were heavy steel brushes. This device, which we called a ‘pig’, was forced on through the pipe cleaning it and testing it at the same time. The compressor would build up pressure to 60 lbs per square foot, this was a tremendous strain on the pipe, and when this pressure was starting to build up the device would start to roll and clean the pipe at a terrible speed.

As I said, I would be at the very far end of the pipe, but there were two other men following this steel pig with an instrument that would tell them just where it was at all times, and if it got stuck, they would at once get the compressor to stop and the pipe would have to be cut on the exact spot and find out what had caused it to stop. For that matter, you could hear the pig as it roared along at express-train speed. Long before it got to me I could hear it. I could hear the rumble of that pig, ten minutes before it got to where I was. There was trash of all sorts just thrown out of the end of the pipe up into the air. There were old chunks of wood, brush, rabbits and I saw one coyote that had gotten into the pipe thrown fifty feet into the air all torn to shreds. When the pig finally did come it was blown at least fifty feet into the air. Some sight I'll say!

And, that’s my story about building the pipeline.

So, when you turn that knob on your gas stove to make a cup of tea, just think of all the trouble we had to build that line so you could get gas!