5. Lunch hour tales

David Morrison Blaikie
A Nova Scotia lumberman
1909-1976

5. Lunch hour tales

Lunch hour at the camp passed all too quickly. Stories were told, frequently about lumbering operations away back in the past, usually centered around Burnside. I, being the youngest one there, heard many stories dating back years before I was born.

We heard about George Dugan, who had been a celebrated axeman in the distant past, and who, it was said, could chop as many logs in a day as two average men; and of his brother, Bill Dugan, who had lost an arm, but who could still chop as much as the average logger, and how they both made so much trouble in the crowd that, soon, no one would have them.

We also heard stories about the ‘Winter of the Deep Snow’. While there are various legends about the depth of the snow, it is safe to say that in Burnside it surpassed anything that had been seen since the date (1905). This present winter, 1970-71, is said to have surpassed all previous records, but the depth of snow in Burnside remains less than in 1905.

Ten feet of snow

While there are no proven records, Roy and Glenn cut notches in trees back in the woods at the level of the snow, and the following summer found these notches 10 feet from the ground. Allen Deyarmond told us there was over seven feet of snow on the Riversdale Road, above Burnside. These were people who were eyewitnesses, and not given to exaggeration, either. Somehow, I’ve never begrudged the old-timers all that snow.

Another story concerned Uncle John Blaikie. He was my great-uncle, a brother of my grandfather – quite an excitable person, who loved to fish. The Old Water Mill in Burnside was the setting for this story. A bridge crossed the brook between the dam and the mill. Underneath this bridge was a deep hole, in whose depths a few trout were usually lurking.

The surface of the water there was perhaps fifteen feet below the level of the bridge. The rocks on the bank made a good seat, and Uncle John used to fish there by the hour. On this particular day my Uncle Foster, who has been mentioned before, and who was quite young at the time, slipped quietly onto the bridge and started dropping tiny pebbles in the water.

Invisible trout

Uncle John thought these small splashes were trout jumping, and he was fishing furiously in all directions. Finally Uncle Foster brought a big stone, nearly all he could carry, and dropped it down into the fishing hole. The splash as it hit the water nearly drowned Uncle John, who narrowly escaped falling into the brook. He never did find out who dropped the rock, but he eyed Uncle Foster speculatively for sometime.

There was the time that Roy got marooned in the attic of the Burnside school house. The pupils were never allowed in that attic, but used to go there sometimes when the teacher had gone to lunch at noon hour. If the teacher arrived back prematurely, someone on guard was supposed to convey warning.

On this day the teacher was close when the warning was given. And everyone except Roy made it out. She did not see anything amiss but she was pretty sure by the commotion and quilty looks when she came in the door of what had been going on in her absence.

Missing student

Calling the school together, she found everyone present except Roy. She knew he had to be up there, so, addressing the hole in the ceiling leading to the attic, she announced, “I know you’re up there, so you might as well come now and have it over.” Roy had a pretty good idea what “it” meant, and at this point it occurred to him that silence was golden.

After a few more remarks concerning the advisability of coming down immediately, the teacher decided to resume classes, leaving Roy plenty of time to reflect on the evils of crime. He also realized, as she did, that it would be practically impossible to get down and make his escape without getting caught.

School went on for the afternoon and, after what seemed to Roy an interminable afternoon, classes were dismissed. Once everyone was gone, the teacher again addressed the attic, making a speech that went something like this: She knew Roy was there, she reiterated, and he might as well come down now.

It would be, she said, ultimately necessary for him to do this anyway, and the longer he stayed, the more severe the punishment that awaited him. He had deliberately disobeyed an order in going up there, and she could wait as long as he could.

The waiting game

After this, the idea of capitulation appealed to Roy less than ever. Previous experience had given him a pretty fair idea of the type of
punishment in store. Short-tempered at the best of times, she was now absolutely furious. And in morbid anticipation he could almost feel the wooden pointer descending on his unprotected hands. So he didn’t respond. He had made scarcely a sound all afternoon,
and decided to continue this awhile longer.

It was a beautiful, balmy autumn afternoon. Secure in the certainty of eventual victory, the teacher picked up a book, and taking a chair onto the doorstep, settled down to read. At that point, Roy quietly moved closer to the exit and assessed the situation.

Even if he was lucky enough to sneak down the ladder without attracting attention, he could not get past the teacher without being detected. However, she had evidently forgotten that there was a rear door, and likely felt there was no chance of his getting down without her knowledge.

Escape

The teacher was right. Roy realized he must ultimately come down. So he waited until she seemed to be absorbed in her book, and then he started very cautiously down the ladder. Hoping her interest in the book would continue, he managed to reach the floor. From there, a few noiseless footsteps carried him out of her line of sight.

Fortunately, the back door was open.

He went through it like a phantom, and keeping the school house between himself and the teacher, was soon in the woods. These woods paralleled the main road, and a couple of hundred yards beyond there was a bend in the road. At this point Roy poked his head through the bushes and looked up at the school with a song in his heart.

The teacher was still on the porch. He had been reprieved!

He remained worried about what might happen later. But when he came to school next morning the subject was never mentioned. This was a happy state of affairs for him. He always wondered how long she sat on the doorstep after he left, and if eventually, she may have wondered if he was ever up in that attic in the first place.

Knowing that her inept handling of the incident would only make her look ridiculous, she evidently decided to drop the matter altogether. And Roy was happy to concur with decision.

46 below – February 1, 1920

It was mentioned before that January was a bitterly cold month. I don’t believe it was a record – I’ve seen mornings in other years that were frostier than any of that winter. For instance, it was 46F below zero on February 1st, 1920, and I have never seen the thermometer that low, before or since.

Being only 10 years old at the time, I didn’t have to go out and work in it, and anyway it happened to fall on a Sunday. The previous day, January 31st, was really a colder day. It was 26F below zero that morning, with a shrieking north-west wind. The high (?) for that day was 16F below zero, and considering the wind, I don’t think Siberia could have added much to it.

During this time the logs were piling up in the mill yard. Through the week we were in the woods during all the daylight hours, but on Sundays I would often walk down to look at the logs. It was a pleasure to see those beautiful spruce logs, and never from that day to this have I seen as fine a brow of logs in that mill yard. I found it hard to wait until we should get the mill going and start sawing them.

Mild spell

During the first week of February the weather changed. There were no storms to speak of, and the days became mild – as mild as you would normally expect by the end of March. There was still plenty of snow on the roads for sledding, and we felt that it was still much too early for the winter to break up. But after a week or so of such weather, we were not so sure.

There was still plenty of snow in the woods, but in the clearings it was getting scarce. Then came a big rain-storm which completely ruined the sledding in the clearing. It was no use to cut logs while having no way to move them, so on February 12 we packed up what logging gear we had, and moved out.

About 15,000 board feet of logs remained in the woods, and there was enough snow to haul them out to the edge of the woods. We hoped that by waiting a few days we might get a fall of snow that would make it possible to haul them right to the mill. But when another week had gone by with the weather still mild, and no snow in sight, it was to risky to leave them any longer. And by the time they were hauled out to the clearing, the snow, even in the woods, was nearly gone.

The Weir Lot

We went back to work logging on another lot nearer home, where the road was harder. Logs yarded there could be could be hauled at any time. This was the Weir Lot, and the timber was much smaller. By March 1, however, it was obvious that winter was behind us. So we gave up logging and turned our attention to starting the mill.