13. Mill and family

David Morrison Blaikie
A Nova Scotia lumberman

13. Mill and family

Mother was well informed on all the folk lore around Burnside in years that are now far in the past. Burnside was a small, closely knit community. In those days, when relatively little travelling was done, the men frequently married girls who lived either in the community, or not far distant. There was therefore a good deal of relationship between families.

Mother knew ‘who was who’ among the generations for a long distance back. She had some very interesting writings of the old days in Burnside. I do not know what became of them. She also had kept a diary which has been preserved, giving much information on the life of Burnside in those years.

One of the stories she used to tell me was a Samuel Johnson, or Uncle Sam, as he was called by our family. His sister, Olive Johnson, was my grandmother. Leonard Johnson, recently referred to as the one who wired our house, was one of Uncle Sam’s sons, and another son was Martin Johnson, a lifelong resident of Burnside. Not wishing to diverge too far from the story, I might say that Herman Johnson, of Upper Stewiacke was his son. Others of his family – one or two of them are now dead – were Douglas, Oliver, Elmer, and Leila who is the wife of Murray Dickie.

Uncle Sam was very highly respected in the community in which he lived. He was a leader in community affairs, and was the superintendent of the Sunday school. He must have been a man among men, for I’ve heard as many of the older generation speak very highly of him. The ones who can remember him now are few in number, for his death, at age 67 (I don’t have a record for this) took place a long time ago, about the turn of the century, I believe. It was a stunning blow to the community.

Assessing timberland

Along with some other men, he had gone out into the woods to cruise some timberland. His health had been excellent, but he had a hernia which gave him some concern. On this cruising trip he ran into real trouble. Whether it was because he slipped, or had some other accident I’m not sure, but his rupture came out, and they were unable to get it back in place. By the time they got back home, it was too late. The rupture hardened, and peritonitis soon set in.

I suppose, even back at that time, they sometimes had operations of the type he required. I’m not sure. But long before a doctor could be secured, the time for successful operation had gone by. It was also unfortunate that there was little in the way of drugs to relieve pain. There was no hope of recovery. He lived only two or three days, during which his suffering was intense.

The whole community was shocked by his sudden passing. I can still remember mother telling me about the first meeting of the Sunday school, following his death. He had been an excellent Sunday school superintendent, one with personality. As they gathered together on this sorrowful occasion, the sense of loss was keen. But the world must go on, and a new leader had to be appointed.

I believe James A. Graham – the grandfather of our present next door neighbour – was the one chosen. He was a good man, and also well regarded. But a good many years would still go by before the influence of Uncle Sam’s strong personality would be forgotten.

Frances Blaikie

Our first child, a daughter, was born on March 7, 1945, the anniversary of my father’s death, thirty-six years earlier. We named her Frances Lorraine. I had always liked Frances for a name. It wasn’t a family name. In fact, I can’t recall anyone of that name in the family, as for back as our records go. Eva added Lorraine to it, so the baby was named.

We had always wanted children. Since we were around35 years of age at this time, Eva had been suggesting that we should adopt. This event, however, caused her to re-consider, and in view of results of the next few years, the subject of adoption was shelved for all time.

This birth occurred in the annex of the Colchester County hospital, in Truro. It was a normal birth, in spite of some trouble earlier in the pregnancy, occurring early in the afternoon of March 7th. Word was soon sent to me, and I was there as soon as visiting hours opened in the evening. Eva was as well as could be expected, and delighted that everything had gone well. The baby looked very small to me, but I was told that at eight pounds, six ounces, she was a very good sized baby.

Another baby

When I was taken to see her for the first time, another man, whose wife had given birth to a child at about the same time as Frances was born, also came to see their child. When the nurse brought a baby out I thought it was Frances, and my heart sank. This baby was very small, had already quite a crop of very dark hair, and was a sort of yellowish complexion, with perhaps a touch of jaundice. But as it turned out that this baby belonged to the other chap, who seemed delighted. I believe in future years this child’s appearance improved to the point where he was quite presentable.

Frances was a nice-looking child, and I don’t wish to make her vain, but she has remained nice-looking ever since.

How well I can remember the first night after Eva and the baby were brought home from the hospital! We were both afraid to go to sleep, lest Frances should cry, and we might not hear her. But after a few distracted nights everything became normal. For five or six weeks she had to have a two o’clock feeding, which disturbed our slumbers, but after this period was over, she usually slept well all night. Having always wanted children, we soon adjusted to any inconveniences which were entailed.

The log supply

During these years, the operation of the mill had gone on as usual. There was, however, some change in the method of our log supply. After we had stopped cutting logs ourselves, around 1935, there was a period of time, 10 years or so, that very few logs were cut on our company’s land. There were two reasons for this. Production in the mill had begun to increase, and we hadn’t enough time to cut any logs. But there was also the point that our company didn’t own any large amount of standing timber.

The Reynolds Lot mentioned earlier did have a lot of good timber. But in 1929, company finances had become so critical it was decided to sell this lot, using the money to pay outstanding accounts. Davidson Hill bought this timber, at a price of $3.50 per thousand feet. He didn’t buy the land. He moved in a portable mill, set up on the right hand bank of the Otter Brook, about two miles above the main Otter brook road. He didn’t get the lumber all cut that winter. And he never did cut the rest of it. The depression had begun, and a lumber operation such as this was no longer profitable.

The Reynolds Lot was still left with considerable timber. However, the best had been cut, and what remained was the smaller timber. It was better to leave this to grow for a few years. We still had the Weir Lot, but at that time it would supply less then 500,000 feet of lumber.

Buying from farmers

In those days, a good many farmers were anxious to cut logs from their own land during the winter months. For a number of years their efforts pretty well represented our log supply. But late in the thirties, and extending on into the forties, other timber lots were purchased.

There was the Sam Johnson Lot, up in Newton Mills. (The Sam Johnson case was unrelated, or only very distantly related, to the Sam Johnson recently mentioned from the Burnside area.) This was a nice timber lot, and very convenient to log. Other lots bought during the next few years were the Gould Lot, out back of Otter Brook, and three more lots, the George Dunlop Lot, the Luther Miller Lot, and the Philip Cox Lot, all in the Meadowvale area.

These lots, together with the original lots mentioned above, represented quite a lot of standing timber, probably five million feet, or more. Some of it, the greater part, could be cut at any time, yet there was very little that wouldn’t benefit from a few more years of growth.

Hiring contractors

Coming back to the period of time around 1945, when production had increased still more, it was decided to still continue to buy logs from the farmers. But in addition contractors were engaged to cut logs on our newly acquired timber lots. Winifred Patterson was the contractor who did the greater part of our cutting, but Frank Cox of Otter Brook also cut logs on some of these lots for several years. This was a good arrangement, for both these contractors were good men, and could be depended upon.

Up to this date the present situation of employer-employee unrest had not begun. It would start not too many years hence, but relations were reasonably good until, let’s say around 1960. any mill employee could be hired with little difficulty at wages mutually satisfactory.

The problem of hiring men during the last ten years of the operation of this business will be gone into in good time. But it is sufficient to say now that conditions changed so drastically in this respect as to create a problem almost insurmountable in the operation of a small lumber business.

Mill accidents

The accident rate in the lumber woods and in saw mills is very high. So high that no lumber operators can expect to get on for any extended period without any. Over the years we did have a fair amount of accidents, but were fortunate in that none of them were fatal.

Quite early in this story it was mentioned that Glenn cut his hand severely on a trimmer saw. This was a type of accident all too common in saw mills. It is unusual to see anyone who has spent most of his life working with power driven saws, without having some scars to show for it. This wasn’t the only cut Glenn had received. A couple of other times he cut himself in the same manner, and another time managed to stick his finger too close to the shingle-saw. On this occasion he lost the end of that finger which was taken off about half way down the finger-nail.

One of the meanest and most painful accidents to which I was a witness happened during the winter of 1944. Garnet Jennings was our splitterman that winter. He was a young man, and a worker who was quick, competent, and willing. I liked Garnet. He had been married recently and sometimes used to bring his wife (formerly Clara Kent from Musquodoboit) to call on us.

Flying shovel

The accident happened something like this: When the six o’clock whistle blew, we always finished sawing the log that happened to be on the carriage at the time, and then, with the mill still running, we shovelled up the sawdust that had accumulated around the machines during the afternoon.

I was shoveling around the carriage and sawbed at my end of the mill, and Garnet, at the other end of the saw-bed, was shoveling sawdust down underneath the mill, where it was carried away by a chain conveyor. The belt that drove the friction (or feed gear for the carriage) was running right at that spot. Garnets shovel caught on the rim of a fast-running wooden pulley. The pulley was revolving towards Garnet, and the handle of the shovel struck him with terrific force right in the mouth.

The impact of the blow drove Garnet back ten feet or so, and he fell flat on the floor. I never expected to see him get up, but he was on his feet almost in an instant, blood pouring from his mouth. I asked him if he was badly hurt, although I could see that he was. He mumbled “broke my jaw.”

The nearest doctor was in Truro, and Garnet had to be taken there, where he was attended by Doctor Ried. At the present time he would have been hospitalized, but then his injuries were attended to in the doctor’s office. He had lost four teeth, his tongue was cut, and all around his mouth, both inside and out, was badly lacerated. And as he had stated himself, his upper jaw was broken. His suffering for the first few days was severe. After that the pain gradually subsided. It was over a month before he was able to resume work.

Assorted mishaps

Over a period of time we had two or three cases of broken ankles. Also, Tom Fulton had a finger completely amputated on the trimmer saw. There were numberless small accidents, frequently crushed fingers or toes, back injuries and so on.

I was fortunate in having very few accidents over the years. I managed to keep my fingers away from saws. A couple of times I had a near miss from what would have been a serious accident. This sort of thing happens to almost everyone, regardless of what they are doing.

One of these occasions arose when the log carriage caught the skid nearest me. The skid and the woodwork on which it was resting were pulled right up against me. I was knocked down on the feed-lever of the carriage, and was helpless there for a split second. The impact of my body shoved the lever into reverse position. The carriage zoomed gaily back at full speed and disappeared out the end of the mill, carrying a fair amount of the wall with it. My injuries didn’t amount to much; I did have a pretty sore leg for a few days, but, had that carriage come ahead another six inches, the leg would have been broken.

Flying shank

The other time wasn’t really an accident at all. The rotary saw had the usual number of shanks. These shanks are pieces of metal about two inches long, and maybe an eighth of an inch thick. There are mostly around forty of these in the saw, where their function is to hold the saw teeth (or bits) into position. Occasionally, one of these shanks comes out while the saw is in operation. When this happens, they frequently go down into the saw-dust pit, and no harm is done.

This one didn’t. It swished past my forehead, close enough to bring blood. It flew clear to the other end of the mill, where it hit the wall like a shot from a gun. Had it come a fraction of a second sooner, I’d have been struck in the temple.

A serious accident happened at the Brookfield Box Company’s sawmill in Brookfield around twenty years ago. Cecil Dean was sawing there. On this occasion he had decided to adjust the saw guides. The adjustment to these guides is close to the saw, and care is required in order to do this safely. The greatest danger is in being caught by the carriage, should it start, and being dragged onto the saw.

My own way was to do this when the carriage was at the other end of the mill, for then I’d be facing it if it did start. But Cecil did a very careless thing. He stopped the carriage back by the skids, where it was behind him. Even then he’d have been all right if he had locked the lever so the carriage couldn’t start.

No escape

I suppose he thought it would take only a second, and nothing would happen. But the carriage did start forward, and he had no time to escape. He was caught and dragged ahead onto the saw, where one leg was cut right off between the knee and hip. His life was saved only by the quick thinking of his canterman, who saw what was going to happen. He quickly jumped over the skid and grabbed the lever, reversing the carriage.

It was fortunate for Cecil that this accident happened near a hospital. Even then, something had to be done to stop the flow of blood. Cecil must have had nerve, for he sat up himself and instructed them how to apply a tourniquet. His eventual recovery was good, but his days as a sawyer were ended.

Fatal accidents around sawmills are rare. But not rare enough. Several have come to my attention over the years. The commonest cause of these fatalities seemed to be either coming in contact with the rotary saw, as happened in Cecil Dean’s case (although he was not killed) or being struck by pieces of the same saw when something caused it to break.

Sawyer killed 

I know of one case where this happened to a sawyer by the name of K. MacNutt. The dogs used to hold the log on the carriage can be left out too far. These were ‘post’ dogs, and either the short end or the long end can be left out.

Common practice is to use the long end during the first part of sawing the log, and then to use the short end when the log is nearly done. In this case, it was the last cut to be made in the log, and the canterman made the mistake of using the long end of the dog.

The sawyer didn’t notice it soon enough. It struck and broke the saw. Mr. MacNutt was hit on the side, almost severing his left shoulder. The wound extended too far into his body for recovery to be possible, and he lived only about an hour.

Body severed

Another case not too many years ago, involved a man who was cleaning up sawdust at the end of the day’s work, but with the mill still running. There were other men present, but no one there had their eye on him at the time. Apparently he must have lost his balance and fallen on the saw. The men looked around on hearing an unusual sound, and the poor fellow was already dead, his body cut in two, and horribly mangled.

The tale of accidents could go on endlessly, of more people badly injured on saws, of men being caught and wound up on revolving shafting seven of one or two who died from falling into a hot water pond. This subject is depressing, and there’s no point in dwelling on it now.

But an accident that has no serious consequences can be humorous. During the building of the mill, following the fire in 1942, one of these cropped up. Accident might not be the correct word to describe what took place, but it was something like this: We had a mason on the job, and two or three other men with him, building the new Dutch oven, or firebox for the boiler. Arnold wood was using a wheelbarrow to haul up sand for the mortar.

Arnold, by the way, was a good man to have hired. He was energetic, loved to do a good days work, and had no use for anyone who didn’t feel the same way. he was capable, and could pinch hit at almost anything. He was loyal. He was also quick-tempered, and had one of the most comprehensive and expressive vocabularies in regard to profanity that I’ve ever heard.

Mixing the mortar

The mortar was being mixed beside a cement engine bed, a few feet from the low cement wall which formed the edge of the mill. In order to get the sand there, Arnold was using a wheelbarrow, as stated before, and had first to go up a plank resting on the cement wall. A second plank extended from it to the engine bed. It was a three or four foot drop from this second plank to the ground. Now For some unknown reason, he had moved this second plank back just clear of the engine bed. It was a long plank, so that it balanced on the wall, and didn’t drop to the ground. But of course it wouldn’t support any weight.

By the time Arnold was ready for another load of cement, he had forgotten all about this disarrangement of the planks. So he sailed merrily up the first plank. The instant he turned onto the second one, calamity beset him. The plank tipped to the ground and the wheelbarrow, out of control, went with it. And Arnold, thrown off balance, followed, landing on the wheelbarrow.

He picked himself up, regathering his dignity, then broke loose into an extemporary two-minute speech, voluble and impassioned, audible all over the village. I can remember some of it, but it is unprintable.

His gift of profanity on this occasion surpassed all previous effortsm covering the wheelbarrow, the plank, and the skunk who had moved the plank. (He forgot that he had done this himself.) Perhaps such a means of expressing oneself may have its advantages.
When he finished, he adjusted the plank, picked up the wheelbarrow, and went for another load of sand.

Mill crew changes

The mill crew changed over the years. My memory isn’t that good. However, a few of these changes should be mentioned, starting with Tom Fulton. It was in February of 1932 that Tom first joined the mill-crew. He started as lumber piler, or deal piler as everyone called it. Glenn was still trimming and tallying, and by this time Edwin had finished school and had taken the job of splitterman.

I became sawyer on a permanent basis that summer. For some time the four mentioned – Glenn, Tom, Edwin and I – constituted the mill-crew. A few years later, Glenn began driving the truck, and Edwin became trimmerman and tallyman. This left the job of splitterman open again, and I believe Sid Cox was the one who took it.

By the time our mill-crew was expanded to include a canterman – George Blaikie, as mentioned earlier. A second deal-piler was also hired to help Tom, a job taken by Richard (Bud) Wood. However, in a short time he enlisted, and his place was taken by his father, Arnold Wood of wheelbarrow fame.

George enlisted about midway through the war years, and Sid Cox then became canterman. I can’t remember all the additions to the crew after that, but Tom and Sid were permanent employees as long as the mill operations continued. Tom was with us nearly 37 years.


Sid was with us a short time in the mid-1930s. At that point he bought a timber lot, and spent two or three winters logging it. From the time he rejoined the mill-crew – probably around 1942 – he was there as long as the mill continued to operate.

When the war was ended George returned, but instead of coming into the mill, he went to work with Glenn on the truck. During all these years Roy was in charge of business affairs of the mill, and as well, had a fair amount of oversight of the mill’s daily operations.

In 1946 the mill-crew, beside Roy, included: deal pilers Tom Fulton and George (Geordie) Lemmon, Edwin as tallyman, Bob Densmore as splitterman, Sid Cox as canterman, and myself as sawyer. From 1946 on no changes took place in this crew for over 10 years.

In 1941 Sid married Roy’s daughter, Jean. And in 1947 Bob Densmore married another daughter, Ruth, the youngest of Roy’s family.

David Blaikie

On September 6, 1946 our only son was born. He was named David Ward. The ‘Ward’ was for his (foster) grandfather, Ward Gidden. I suppose the ‘David’ was for me. It just occurred to me that my name so far hasn’t appeared on these pages. I was named for my father, who was David Morrison Blaikie. Anyway, our David was born in Truro, in the same hospital annex in which Frances first saw the light of day.

Since Frances had to be cared for while Eva was in hospital, we had been fortunate enough to get a woman to come, keep house and care for the new baby when it was brought home from the hospital. And of course to look after Frances as well. Mrs. MacCarthy was a great organizer, and a woman with a terrific amount of energy. She fitted in at our home just as if she’d always been there.

I was at the mill all day, and she assumed full charge of Frances, and later on of David as well. Nothing seemed to hurry her; she gave you the impression that there was all the time in the world, yet she never wasted any of it. She was a fast eater herself, and long before I was done she would be starting to wash the dishes.

Ready and waiting

She always made sure that everyone got plenty to eat, and as she removed each dish from the table she offered second helpings to anyone who cared for them. As you finished each dish, it disappeared. When you finished your last sup of tea, she was standing there, waiting for the cup. She was an excellent cook, and her meals were always tasty.

A great deal of her life had been spent as housekeeper and practical nurse. She was really gifted as a nurse, and our doctor once told me that for home nursing, particularly maternity, he would consider her the equal, if not the superior, of most registered nurses.

You might wonder when she had time for nursing. She was 48 years old at the time, and believe it or not, she was already a great-grandmother. And she looked ten years less than her real age. She was an attractive woman, rather on the small side, dark hair, and very trim and neat in appearance.


Work never bothered her. While Eva was unable to work, Mrs. MacCarthy was expected to do everything, and she took charge of the children, day and night. If necessary, she would carry the wood, dig the potatoes, even feed the pigs. She was seldom called on to do any of these things, of course.

Yet no one needed to get the idea that they could put anything over on her. She drew a very sharp line between necessary and unnecessary work. When she cleaned up the house, you messed it up again at your peril. We never had a bit of trouble all the time she was with us. She was one of the most efficient and capable people I’ve ever known. We surely did miss her when she left.

David was a good-sized baby, weighing eight pounds, eleven ounces. Eva now had a fair amount of work on her hands. Frances was only a year and a half, and with a baby a month old as well, there were few dull minutes.

One day Eva was busy at household tasks, when she realized that things were very quiet – disturbingly quiet – and that she hadn’t seen Frances for some time. Investigation was warranted. However, she hadn’t far to look. Frances was in the back porch, as busy as Eva herself had been. There was a row of shelves in one corner of the back porch. On one of these shelves, a little higher than Frances’ head – but still not high enough – was a basket containing three dozen eggs.

Making an omelette

At least it had contained them before Frances dragged the basket down off the shelf. When it landed on the floor, the eggs took a beating. All but two were broken. But this wasn’t all. She had access to a couple of bowls, one containing potatoes, the other turnips. She must have had considerable time on her hands, for she had a sort of omelette prepared from all these ingredients. And there she was in the middle of it, stirring happily away.

We had a young doctor in the community at the time, and he happened to come into the house just as Eva had made her discovery. The doctor (MacKenzie) had a keen sense of humor, and this was too good for him to keep. Inside of two hours everyone in the village had heard of it. Quite a few of them still haven’t forgotten it.