14. Making rain gutter

David Morrison Blaikie
A Nova Scotia lumberman

14. Making rain gutter

The manufacture of eaves trough, or rain gutter, began in the 1940s and became more important as the years passed. Very few mills around the province made any gutter. A great many people used metal gutters, and others used gutter imported from British Columbia.

Gutter was rather tricky stuff to make. The knives, bolted onto the planer heads, had to make a very deep cut into the wood to create the groove, or trough through which rain water runs in the gutter. Knives have been known to break when subjected to this strain. The planer had to be set up properly, and the long knives bridle-bolted to the planer heads.

Some years earlier, Roy had felt that it would be wise to begin manufacturing gutter. He had exceptional ability at this, or any other type of mill work.

We’ll bypass the details of setting up the planer, but it was successful. It was fascinating to see a piece of rough sawn lumber 4 inches x 5 inches, go into one end of the planer, and come out the other end as a piece of white, shiny gutter.

Pine to fir

For a number of years we kept only a little of it for sale locally. By around 1946, we were selling it to Spencer Bros. & Turner, in Truro, and to the Dartmouth Lumber Company, in Dartmouth. Pine was considered the only native wood suitable for gutter, and that was what we always used. Now, as volume of sales advanced, it was becoming difficult to get enough pine of the right quality for the
manufacture of gutter.

There was plenty of pine in the country. Too much of it. Big overgrown pine, crooked, knotty and rotten, came to the mill all too frequently. For gutter, the pine had to be relatively free of large knots, with none of them bark-encased. It had to be perfectly sound, and if the logs were not reasonably straight, the lumber, as it dried, had a tendency to warp.

I made the suggestion that we should begin using fir for gutter. We did make a few hundred feet of it. But while it made rather nice-looking gutter, Roy didn’t like the idea. So we continued with what pine became available. However, it was useless looking for more business when we had insufficient materials to fill the orders we already had. But the fir gutter was still destined to have its day, and that will be dealt with at the time it occurs in this story.

Karla Blaikie

Our second daughter was born on August 7, 1947. She weighed eight pounds, four ounces, and we named her Karla Maureen. At this time David was only eleven months old. Eva hadn’t wanted to go to the hospital Annex where the other births had taken place. She had picked up an infection there at the time of David’s birth. Dr. MacKenzie was her doctor, and knowing her feeling about going back to the Annex, he suggested that the birth take place right at home. And that was the way it happened.

Once again we had Mrs. MacCarthy come to help us. Her capability was known to the doctor and I’m sure this knowledge was responsible for his permitting the birth to be at home. The birth wasn’t an easy one. Still no real problems developed during what turned out to be 24 pretty anxious hours. The doctor and Mrs. MacCarthy made an excellent medical team, one in which we had confidence. And afterward, as days went by, Eva was soon up and around again.

Eva and I had planned to take a short trip while Mrs. MacCarthy was still with us. But she had another commitment to meet in only three weeks. So we discussed the situation with the doctor. He would have preferred to see Eva wait another couple of weeks, yet he felt we should take the trip while Mrs. MacCarthy was with us, as it would be obviously impossible to do so after she left.

A short trip

We did not plan to go far. But since we had seldom been farther away than Truro and Londonderry, what we were now planning seemed like quite a trip. The doctor instructed that there was to be no hard driving – not over two hours at one time without making a stop for a cup of tea, or to do a little shopping, anything to make a break.

We planned the trip for the last week-end in August. I had been sawing in the mill right along, but made arrangements to get away, and Tom Fulton agreed to look after our cow and the pigs. We started out on Thursday evening, August 28. Our plan was to go down into the Annapolis Valley. If Eva seemed to be tired, we could take a cabin and stay there for a day.

Mrs. MacCarthy was very familiar with the drive to Windsor by way of Noel Shore. She was a native of that area – Tenecape, I believe – and was always singing its praises as one of the beauty spots of Nova Scotia. She was right. Tenecape isn’t outstanding, but the whole trip from Maitland down through Selma, Noel, Walton and Cheverie is beautiful.

Supper in Maitland

We drove only as far as Maitland that night, where we stopped at the hotel. There we were pleasantly greeted by a very corpulent lady, who must have weighed in the vicinity of 300 pounds. After making arrangements for a room, we were invited to have a lunch, we accepted this kind invitation, and an appetizing snack was soon set before us. This lady was very sociable, and stayed to chat with us while we were eating.

By the time we had finished our lunch, though it was not yet 10 o’clock, we were ready for bed. I had been up at six o’clock, sawed all day, and had done the evening chores before leaving home. Neither of us needed to be rocked to sleep that night.

In the morning a delicious breakfast was served to us – juice, bacon and eggs, coffee, toast and jam. The lady who looked after us was kindness itself, and by the time we got ready to leave, it was nearly 9:30 a.m. The bill for all this hospitality was very small. The total for the evening lunch, the room for the night, and the breakfast we had just eaten, was only $3.00!

On to Windsor

Saying good-bye to our gracious hostess, we started out for Windsor. In Walton we took a wrong road, through a desolate section known as the Walton woods. For a long distance there were no houses, and we didn’t know where we were. But just as we were beginning to get a little worried, we came out in Scotch Village. We had missed what would have been the prettiest part of the drive. But we weren’t going to drive back through the Walton woods again, so on making inquiries we got our bearings and headed for Windsor.

We arrived there just at dinner time, and in spite of the hearty breakfast, we were ready to eat again. I was always endowed with a
healthy appetite. It goes with working in a sawmill. Anyway, calories meant nothing to me, for I was never one to put on weight.

We found a parking place, and were directed to a restaurant. On the way there we saw an elderly lady cross the street and enter the door of the restaurant. She was very tall, at least six feet, and from that distance her features seemed to have a sombre and forbidding aspect. Just as we went to the door, I said to Eva “I hope we don’t fall foul of that old bird when we go in there.”

The tall lady

Inside, the hostess asked apologetically if we’d mind sharing a booth, as the place was filled to capacity. We agreed, and were shown into the same booth were the tall and sombre lady was already seated, preparing to place her order.

It’s never wise to judge too hastily from first appearance. We all introduced ourselves, and she was a good talker and really a jolly
person. Her name was Ina Custance. At such times you always fish around to see whether you know any mutual acquaintances. We discovered that she had been well acquainted with Arnold Wood at one time. She mentioned a little story that Arnold was connected with, and which happened a long time ago.

This was before she herself was married. On this particular day she and her sister were home, and they happened to look out the window and saw Arnold coming. Now Arnold, just to be a little odd, would take a drink of almost anything that came to hand. And even if it was unpalatable, or on the hot side, it didn’t seem to bother him.

A ‘hot’ drink

One of them picked up this bottle containing an inch or so of anodyne liniment. Into this they shook a liberal dosage of cayenne pepper, and then set the bottle in a conspicuous spot. Arnold came in. In a minute he spied the bottle. Off came the cover, and he took a sniff of it. Then he put the bottle to his mouth, and in two or three rapid gulps he drank it all.

According to her account of the story, Arnold didn’t stay long, and she didn’t see him again for some time. When they did eventually meet, he said, “My God, Ina, what did you put in that anodyne liniment? It damn near burnt out my guts!”

That afternoon we stopped at various points along the way and by the time we got to Annapolis Royal, we were ready for supper. At the table next to ours in the restaurant, was a family from Panama – a man, his wife, and his Mother-in-law. The couple were not too young, around middle-age, while the Mother-in-law must have been over 70. Their faces were so tanned by sun. They were people you
like to meet on a trip – gay, lighthearted people, full of laughter and animation.

They lived in the Canal zone, and had been born in that area. Panama, they said, was a hot spot in July and August. But with August nearly over, and they were about to leave Canada for home. In fact they were on their way to Yarmouth where they would take a boat to Bar Harbour, Maine, the first part of their journey.

The chicken roost

The weather was cool that night. After supper, we drove on toward Digby, in search of an overnight cabin. About five miles outside, we stopped at the Hedley Hotel and Cabins. We were both getting weary, and we engaged a cabin without going to look at it first. This was a mistake.

I don’t know what their hotel was like; it might have been refreshing and luxurious beyond words. But the cabins were neither. We were disappointed from our first look inside. But we were too tired to go on, and decided that this would have to do. It was getting cold, and a little fire would have felt good. There was a stove, but owing to the decrepit condition of the stove-pipe, we didn’t feel much inclined
to put a fire on and risk going to sleep, for fear of burning the place down.

There was a rather heavy odour about the place, noticeable from the time we entered. And as we got settled it intensified. It smelled like chickens, or more specifically like the residue under a chickens’ roost. It got so bad I wanted to get up and leave, even though we had the place paid for. But Eva was too tired, so we stayed. Amid the stench we were restless, and slept only fitfully.

Down to Yarmouth

Morning found us not too well refreshed, but relieved to know that now we would escape from the hen house. There was frost that morning, so I got up and put on a roaring fire to warm the place for Eva. We were leaving anyway, and I couldn’t have cared less if it did burn the place down. About 7:30 a.m. we departed this odorous and uncomfortable hovel, and drove to a restaurant in Digby.

And just as we were getting out of our car we met the party from Panama coming out of the restaurant. The man asked, “Is weather like this a habit around here at this time of year”. I told him it was a little early for it, but still it wasn’t unusual. “I guess it’s time we were heading South,” he replied, climbing into their car.

After breakfast, we started for Yarmouth. Just outside Digby we picked up a young chap, also on his way to Yarmouth. He was familiar with all the area, and pointed out interesting features along the way. We stopped and went inside a huge Roman Catholic church – the St. Bernard Church – near Belliveau Cove. Work was still being done inside it, but it was in use. He told us it was one of the largest Roman Catholic churches east of Montreal. We didn’t doubt his word. Where they’d get enough people to fill it, or money enough to pay for it in that area, is hard to understand.

Our guest was Malcolm Lovitt. He drove with us all the way to Yarmouth, learning en route he was a denturist. During succeeding years we exchanged cards with him. Years later, he was involved in a Nova Scotia squabble between dentists and denturists.

Changing landscape

The scenery between Digby and Yarmouth stands in contrast with that of the Annapolis Valley. The floor of the valley was lined with apple orchards, and at the time of our trip the fruit was ripe on the trees. Fields of grain were turning from green to gold. In other areas large fields of potatoes would soon be ready for harvest. The valley was well known for what could be plainly seen – a prosperous fruit and farming area.

Between Annapolis Royal to Digby there was a change. The country became much rougher, but there were still plenty of pretty spots along the way – notably Bear River, for anyone who will take time to drive four miles off the main highway into this charming little village.

Beyond Digby, there was more change. Good farm land becomes scarcer, and conversely rocks become much more plentiful. I noticed a cow lying down on a large flat rock in one of the fields. You might have questioned her taste, had you not taken a good look over the field. Among all the rocks, we couldn’t see a patch of grass big enough for a cow to lie down on.

The buildings in the various villages – which have improved since that date – were run down and desolate. But the view out to sea, looking down the Bay of Fundy, was rewarding. The air was clear that morning, and as far as you could see, blue waves sparkled in the sunlight.

Yarmouth to Shelburne

The country we were travelling through was new to us. I had been down the valley as far as Annapolis Royal some years before, but from there down to Yarmouth, and all the way up the South Shore of Nova Scotia to Halifax was country that neither of us had seen before. We spent some time looking around Yarmouth, and at noon we had dinner at Wagner’s restaurant. Then we set out for Shelburne – 77 miles away — which was plenty for the easy trip were taking.

Teams of oxen were common on the South Shore. Near Pubnico two different parties had their ox-teams out, exercising them on the pavement. An exhibition was to be held during the next week, and the teams were decked out in all the festive finery you could imagine. We stopped to take pictures, which delighted the owners of the teams.

Around three o’clock we arrived in Shelburne. It is a small town, rather an attractive spot. We had a cup of tea, and then did a little shopping. An hour later, we were on the road again, travelling towards Liverpool, 55 miles beyond.

Italy Cross

At Liverpool, we drove around the town for a few minutes. It is somewhat larger than Shelburne, but still only a small town with a population of probably not much over 3,000. We had supper there, and made up our minds to go a little farther before stopping for the night. In Italy Cross, about ten miles below Bridgewater, we saw some nice looking cabins.

This time we asked to see the interior before engaging one for the night. It was really inviting. The evening was chilly, and there was a
nice little wood stove, in which we soon had a fire going. Along the way we had picked up half a dozen ears of corn, for a snack. The proprietor of the cabins furnished us with a dish to cook the corn in.

We had tea with us, and bought a loaf of bread and some cookies. All the dishes we needed were supplied to us. We enjoyed that lunch in the cozy little cabin, the complete opposite of the fetid house of the previous night.

Heading home

The next morning we woke to find the skies dull and grey, threatening rain. We packed our few belongings and started for Bridgwater. By the time we got there and had looked up a restaurant, the rain had begun. And after we had eaten, we started for home. It was raining hard by this time, and there was no temptation to linger along the way. And we were wondering how all was going at home.

We arrived in the afternoon to find that all had gone well during our absence. Our trip had been a very ordinary one, but it seemed wonderful to us, for we had never had one like it. So much depends on the point of view.