My father and older brother had come the year before, but my mother, myself and younger brother come in the spring of 1919. We shipped to Spirit River, landed in Spirit River, then hauled our stuff to Dunvegan. My mother, young brother, and myself came up on the “Pine Pass” boat to what is now the area of Cherry Point. We stopped off at a little cabin. Father, brother, and another man came around by team and wagon. We didn’t know that the “D. A. Thomas” was sailing at that time. And that’s as far as coming to the country.
I have just told how we came by train from Spirit River, then part of the outfit went to Dunvegan, my mother and younger brother came from Dunvegan up to Mickey Schobert’s cabin in the area of Cherry Point. He lived there alone. The boat named the ‘Pine Pass’ was run by a captain at that time. We started working with him on the river.
It was about 27 miles from Rolla to where we lived, and the first two or three fellows to come in, going to Rolla, very often poled up the river with a ‘spruce engine.’ They came up the river to Rolla Landing, and walked from Rolla Landing into Rolla, which at that time, didn’t seem to be very far.
In the summer of 1922 I went up to work for O. C. Yates at a mill he had at Taylor Flats — across the river from Taylor Flats, I guess, at about the mouth of the Pine. And the next year I was back again there. He brought a boat down to scow lumber to Peace River to ship to the outside country. And this little yarn is about that trip down.
It was approximately the 10th of October when we left the mill. We made 45 miles the first day, but the day ended shortly because we run on a rock and we sunk right in the middle of the river. Of course, we didn’t sink very deep because we were on the bottom. We had to repair the boat and the only way we could do it was to unload a lot of lumber out of the barge.
We made a sort of a raft and sank it right to the bottom of the river and then loaded more lumber on top and held it there, unloading until we got down to where the hole was. We found it, and patched it a little bit, made sure, then patched it up the best we could. Then we came back and loaded the lumber back in the barge again.
We took off and we made somewhere down around Dunvegan the next day, and the next day we were heading for Peace River. Of course, we hit a big rock reef at Allie Brick’s place, or the Anglican Mission, about 18 miles above Peace River town. We went to turn right around, but by the time we turned around we were sunk! I and some of the others thought we could just keep on going, but the captain said, “No, we will go to Peace River and get a barge and unload this one,” but we thought we couldn’t get over the Catholic Mission bar.
Well we did that, we went down to Peace River, but we didn’t get a barge, so we came back, and took off with our barge, sunk as low as it could be in the water. With the lumber load, of course it couldn’t sink clear out of sight. And when we got to the Catholic Mission, all right enough, it was too shallow. So instead of making the same kind of raft, the outfit that would go to the bottom, we made a flat raft that would float until the water covered it all. Boat, barge, and all, floating off and we went to Peace River town.
Of course we had to load all this lumber on a train, and ship to the outside, which took some little time, and then we started back up on the 29th of October.
It was hard going. For an elderly passenger by the name of Doc Lambert, and myself it was cold. It was getting pretty cold the first night out. I remember we didn’t quite make Dunvegan. The next night we made the Montagnais — now that’s about half way between Rolla Landing and Dunvegan — but that’s as far as we got, because we wound up on a bar. And that night it turned cold. We found out afterwards that it went to 30 degrees below zero. The motor we had was kind of a cranky thing. If you idled it a while it was very apt to stop, which it did. So after we got off at this one place, we hit another spot, and stuck there for a little while, then we got it going again. Then Howard Feenie who was really the boss, said, “We want to go to St. John.” I argued with him. There was no way we would make it to St. John, against that ice, at thirty below zero.
“What do we do?”
“Well,” I said, “we go back to Dunvegan.”
“Well,” he said, “I won’t run it back.”
There was nothing to it but to run it back, because all the dead water, and all that was froze up, so we couldn’t get out of the channel. We got to Dunvegan right around 12 o’clock at night. It was dark and cold. We had a pilot house all right, built on the thing, with a piece of canvas for a door. I had on all the clothes that I had, and more too. When I got to Dunvegan I was never so cold in my life. I felt like a piece of raw meat that you bring in icy, right out of the deep freeze, then worse when I warmed up, and the frost was coming out.
After the weather warmed up and we shoved the boat back in. We had unloaded a lot of the freight we had in it, which was the grub stake for the mill, meant to last through the next winter, for the winter’s work and the next summer’s. By then we knew we should have help with us and a smaller boat. We got Jack Foster and Gordie Chalmers, who were a couple of young boys from Dunvegan. Incidentally the Foster boy’s dad was running the ferry at Dunvegan at that time. These fellows come with us and were all right.
So we had enough. They towed their boat. We didn’t take as big a load as we had before, and we made it through without any hitch, or very little hitch as far as Paling Flats, which is about five or six miles below Taylor Flats. There we ran onto a bar again. But the boat canted and the boiled potatoes we were cooking for dinner on the heater stove tipped over and were spoiled. We unloaded using the little riverboat. After we had pulled the barge off the bar, we loaded up again and made it to our destination, the mill at Taylor Flats, that night without any trouble.
The weather was real nice and warm. We went to Grandhaven for the turkey shoot on the 11th of November in our shirt sleeves, and on the 12th I drifted back to our home in the Cherry Point area, and the other three boys went on down to Dunvegan. They said they never had a better trip in their lives.
Later we were logging on contract, done pretty good for a time. Then when the Pine River ice got too thin to haul on, we sawed spruce logs for eight cents a log, and paid seventy-five cents a day for board each. We averaged 115 logs per day, six days a week, which at that time was considered fair money.
We put booms across the channel to the nearest island, and while we were making logs, Howard Feenie skidded them and got them into the channel for when the high water came the logs would float to the mill about a mile and a half down.
Because we had quite lot of spring work, a number of us who were young fellows would go up the channel and try riding the logs down after work and on Sundays.
When the mill started up, my brother was canting, rolling the logs on the carriage and turning them with a cant hook by hand as the sawyer wanted. Pete Olinger asked me if I could run the steam engine, as I had looked after it the fall before for a short time.
The “Lady Jane” boat was used again that summer, scowing lumber to Peace River town. We ran out of logs in the middle of August, but had a lot of lumber to trim. The crankshaft of the steamer broke again, it was a double simple engine, and with the heavy workload on the fly wheels, the centre crank was wrecked. But then I was overdue at the gold dredge, but I had been working on a bar near the old Hudson Bay Post at the flats near Fort St. John.
We had a stationary engine which we connected up to the boiler, and it did a good job running the planer. By this time the water was getting low in the river, and as there was more lumber on hand than the boat could get out that fall, Mr. Olinger asked if I thought I could get some to Peace River by raft. I thought we could, if we did not make the raft too deep.
The making of the raft was up to me. I did not use logs to put the lumber on, just used the lumber and made twelve rafts, 16 ft. by 16 ft. square, and three feet thick. As the lumber was quite dry there was only little over half in the water. There was 83,000 board feet in all. We had a post in the corner of each raft and fastened them together with a long cable. We had a sweep at each end of the raft, so we could swing it the way we wanted or at least try to. We had a tent, and we put up a platform so we could see far ahead and try and go down the channel. There was six of us with the raft: Jim Watson from Kilkerran; Walter Taylor, who was only fourteen years old; Cliff Reims; Jim Aldridge who was an old English sailor; Tom Murphy, and myself.
The morning we started the wind started to blow shortly after leaving. But we had no real trouble. There was a gravel bar just above the mouth of the Beaton River, and I had got stuck on it a couple of years before with a raft of slabs. We got the raft turned so that when it hit the bar it would swing to the deeper water. It was large enough that it rolled the gravel out of the water. Of course, it was like a dam and the water on the lower side was shot off some, but the raft never stopped.
We could not go just where we wanted to, so when we came to the islands just above the mouth of the Cutbank River, we could not go down the main channel, as the current took us up to the north shore. The head of that channel was quite narrow and swift. The front of the raft hit the shore, and pushed one section about half out of the water. The current swung the upper end about and we changed ends and kept right on going. I though we might get free by towing with the boat on a long wire, while the crew heaved with a rope from the shore, trying to swing the raft against the bar and stop it, but that did not work at all. We got stopped about a mile below the mouth of the Pouce Coupe River, where there is quite a sharp turn. The river just put the raft against the bank, and we were able to get it snubbed to a big rock.
I wanted to go home, if possible, so after making sure the raft was tied good, we went across the river in the boat, and walked about a mile and a half to the house.
We had bought our first power boat in Peace River and hauled it up to the mill on a barge. My mother, father, younger brother and sister had come to the mill the same trip. My family drifted back home in the boat, but they had not got the motor going. Now the motor was out of the boat, which was why we hauled it up, so we decided that I would take it down to Peace River with me.
We did not get started very early next day. The river was rising some, so we were making fair time. Walter Taylor and I were putting the motor in the boat as we were drifting along, but did not get it started. When we came to the many islands, I knew it was hard to say how we would make it through, so Walter took the motor boat through separately. The big raft traveled faster than the boat, in fact at times you could see the water at the front end, looking like the raft had power.
We made it through the many islands with no trouble, but could not get stopped before we came to the Montagnais where there is another group of islands. So nothing to do but keep going. We went down a narrow channel and the same thing happened as at the Cutbank, only the channel was not as wide as the raft was long. Then the other end hit. The post on one side of the middle raft broke and we just kept on going. There was no sign of Walter and the boat. Just a short way below the Montagnais the current took us ashore again, so we got tied up. By this time it was getting dark. We started a fire ashore so Walter would know where we were. About an hour and a half later Walter came along. He had got the motor to start, but it would not keep going.
Next morning we started at daylight, but with the river rising we drifted close to the shore. At times we could jump ashore, we drifted along behind the bar and the raft stopped by itself. We had the motor boat working by then, and pulled the raft out, but it only went a little way and stopped again. So I said, “Just let it stay.” Tom Murphy started to tie it up, and I asked him “What for?”
He said, “It will drift away.”
I told him that was what we wanted.
We stayed there two or three hours, and the raft just started off down the river. We had a very good ride down, close to the south bank to Dunvegan. The “Lady Jane” and scow passed us there. The raft hit a big rock at the edge of the river, and before we could swing out Jim Watson jumped out and climbed ashore and tied it up. I took the boat and was talking to Mr. Olinger on the barge.
Next day we made it through to Peace River. With the motor boat working it was easy to stop the raft just by pushing the upper end against the shore until it stopped. We tied up a short way above the town and took a couple of sections down at a time. The landing was just below the “D. A. Thomas” landing. After shipping all the dry lumber, we sold some that was wet locally.
Mr. & Mrs. Olinger went back up to the mill with Harry Weaver, who was operating a boat and barge service between Peace River and Hudson’s Hope. Walter Taylor, Jim Watson, Cliff Reims and I went back in our motor boat; and that was the end of that deal.