Whitey’s boat could carry about two tons of freight and the charge was 2 cents per pound from Pruden’s Crossing to Bezanson. At Bezanson there is a good-sized river flat and as the railroad was expected to cross the Smoky at this point A.M. Bezanson and several others had settled there and had started a townsite. This was expected to develop into the metropolis of the Peace River Country or at least of the South Peace. Of course their dreams did not come true and for the last fifty years the city of Bezanson has produced nothing but pasture and blueberries. But to give it its due, the blueberries there are really good and for as long as I can remember the farmers have come for miles in the fall to pick them. But to get on with the story of the steamboat. In the summer of 1915 two brothers of the name of Fletcher brought a flourmill down to Pruden’s Crossing. The idea was to take it up the river to Bezanson and set up a milling business there, which appeared to be a mighty good proposition at that time. They unloaded on the bank on the east side of the river and thought it would be no trick at all to load it on the gas boat and take it up to Bezanson. But Whitey and his boat were in business for Whitey, and his price from Pruden’s Crossing to Bezanson was 2 cent per pound. I do not know what the weight of the mill and engine would be but am sure it must have been more than Whitey could move in one trip. And anyhow at 2 cents per pound even if only 2 tons, or one trip, the cost would be $80 and the Fletchers decided they could certainly not afford that much, which was probably more cash than they had anyway. So they decided they would build their own boat and power it with the engine which was to run the flourmill when they got to Bezanson.
Now the engine was an upright boiler steam engine and though I saw it only from a distance I would guess it to be at least twelve feet high. So the boys set to work and built their boat and sent out to Edmonton for a propeller and the project took them all the summer of 1915 and when they finished they had a mighty odd looking craft with that high upright boiler in the middle. By the time it was ready for launching (there was no champagne in Pruden’s Crossing though there was plenty of moonshine!) it was October and the river, following its usual custom, was low and the navigable channel narrow and fast. Anyhow this would not bother the pilots of the steamboat for they had no idea of what the river was like between there and Bezanson, but if Whitey could do it with his gas boat they could sure do it with their steamer.
I was by that time setting out my trapline on the hillside of the river and was lucky enough to see the steamboat set out on its trial trip. They took it upriver some two or three miles and back to its dock and apparently everything went well and they loaded up the outfit and after a couple of days set sail for Bezanson. I have travelled the river by boat and raft between Pruden’s Crossing and Bezanson several times and I would judge that by river it is about 70-75 miles. This was a two-day trip for Whitey’s gas boat but at least four days for the Fletcher steamboat, as they would have to stop every few hours and cut wood for fuel. I did not see them start for Bezanson so the rest of the story is hearsay. Apparently they got as far as the mouth of the Little Smoky, some ten miles by river from Pruden’s Crossing, when they hit either a rock or gravel bar. Finally, Whitey had to salvage them and take them on to Bezanson! I might mention that there was a very rough trail through the bush through the Saddle and Burnt Hills which they might have used after freeze-up but it would have entailed at least double the river mileage and the Fletchers had no sleighs or horses.
However, they eventually made it but did not set up the mill at Bezanson but took it to Sexsmith where it was set up. After a couple of years it was purchased by Mr. Warren who operated it until it burned some twenty years or so later. This mill, which was operated most efficiently by the Warrens, proved a very valuable asset to a very large area of the South Peace, most especially during the Dirty Thirties. There was always a crowd of men and horses at Sam Moon’s livery barn waiting their turn to get their load of wheat made into flour, cracked wheat and bran and shorts. The Warrens would always take a load of firewood for the boiler or a share of the wheat in payment for the milling charges which was a wonderful help to the settlers who were selling wheat for 19 cents and oats for 5 cents a bushel. Also, the quality of the product of the Sexsmith mill was very good and if your wheat was top quality wheat so was your flour. But in those days much Garnet wheat was grown and one needed experience to make good flour from Garnet though a small admixture of Garnet in Marquis or other top grade wheat was actually an advantage.