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Working-an autobiography from 1971-

My working life in a wide variety of occupations.
Expanded stories of some notable places of employment as well as a general overview of life's flow.

Note-Chapters are posted in reverse order,so scroll to the earliest to read in order.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I learn more skills

Luckily for me, I was only on the early shift for a few weeks when Cliff approached me after work one afternoon to ask if I'd be willing to work with Frank on the afternoon shift unloading section.

Most of the ore we handled originated at the Red Dog Mine in Alaska and was brought by freighter to Vancouver,unloaded and reloaded into the ore cars that were diverted into Washington State and up to our location.

Frank was known to be a cantankerous, cranky fellow who worked at a breakneck pace and most of the other senior guys refused to work with him.
I accepted the offer to get onto my preferred shift mostly, but was also interested in learning to run the car mover.
Kris, the other fellow who started just before I did was already thought of as a slacker who only did the minimum amount of work and was constantly in trouble for being away from his post, or slacking off somewhere.
He and Frank were enemies by this time and therefore there was only me left to fill the position as I came onto the job the following Monday afternoon after having been checked out on the machine by Sandro for a few days the previous week.
The car mover job was very tedious at this time due to some equipment failure.
The job went as follows.
The car mover operator and the excavator operator drive down the tracks to the ore car lineup.
The excavator operator acts as helper to jump out and hook up the car's airline to the car mover, then run down 4 cars, uncouple them from the string and turn off the air valve on the last car.
The car mover operator then builds air pressure to release the brakes on the cars and begins moving back to the unloading shed.
The helper runs back and jumps into the car mover as they pick up speed and roar along into the shed.
Pulling under the hoists used to remove the covers they stop in the correct position and both climb out and onto a catwalk where they remove each lid with two hoists per lid and raise them clear of the loaded cars.
Recording the number of each car, the car mover operator returns to the machine while the helper climbs up to his excavator and gets it ready.
The loaded cars are moved under the excavator and stopped to line up with a painted stripe on the wall which enables the excavator to reach the front of the car to begin unloading.
The car mover locks up the brakes on a radio signal from the excavator and waits about 5 minutes until told to recharge the brakes and move again.
This is repeated about 4 times and took Frank about 15 minutes to finish a car with 100 tons of ore which was amazing compared to the other operators who took nearly twice as long.
Frank was an awesome operator who used the huge bucket like a finger and could gently scratch away at something, or move an entire string of cars with locked brakes effortlessly.
I had to sit in the car mover watching the proceedings until the fourth car was done, when I would push them back under the lids.
We both then replaced them and locked them down with the 4 latches on each corner. They were often difficult to cooperate and had to be jumped on by the elf-like Frank who would dangerously leap onto the lids that were slippery with ice in winter.
The cars would then remain where they were until the next 4 were brought in and the car mover would push the empties along while pulling the next 4 in.
The 4 empties would be moved onto a track during the unloading to be stored until the train picked them up.
I would have to do this quickly in order to return when Frank was ready for the next move of the car he was working on.
Having no patience he would be heard cursing as he waited.
He used a very dangerous method of pushing the empties down the track at high speed and releasing them to hurtle on their own to where they would crash into the parked cars down the track.
He broke so many of the rules that I had been taught when I first was hired I had to talk to Cliff who was not happy to hear of Frank's actions.
Frank was very pissed off at my "squealing" but I felt lives were at risk and this was a serious matter.
He did back-off after this and we ended up working very well together.
Frank actually bragged about my abilities to my surprise and totally lost his crankiness with me.
Sandro was the only other co worker he liked to work with and we had our own little cliche.
We were expected to unload 12 cars per shift and could (and did) unload twice that number easily on occasion.
Once our cars were done we cleaned up the area as mentioned previously, shoveling spilled ore onto the conveyors and checking our equipment before heading over to the repair shop where we hung out until it was time to shower.
As winter came the job became more difficult as the ore would freeze as hard as concrete.
Jack hammers were rented and the teams had to break up the contents of their cars as they finished them to remove the residue from the corners. The cars had to be spotless or Cominco squawked.
Frank used ingenuity to figure a way to scrape up the frozen ore with his bucket by getting it into the corners and breaking up the chunks.
The other guys were down to 4 cars per shift while we continued to do at least 12.
We were transferred back to the early shift and had the added "fun" of thawing out our machines each morning.
The car mover had to be jump started with a shop truck many times and took ages before any warmth came from its weak heater.
I wore layers of clothing and was okay except when in the shed where wind blew through constantly.
The tracks became very slippery with ice too and the brakes were not very effective at times.
Sometimes I slid right through the shed or crashed into the empties with some force.
The aforementioned equipment failure I mentioned was an automated system where Frank could control the air brakes of the cars using a switch on the joystick of the excavator.
Finally the shop had it repaired and I saw it in action with great relief.
Now we brought the cars into the shed and attached an accordion-like section of air hose to the last car.
Frank could then unload the string by himself, freeing me to carry out other duties with lots of time to spare.
I would unhook the car mover and drive out for the next set of cars which I would unhook and move alone.
I would bring them close to the shed to save time and then return the car mover to its position ready to move the empties when Frank was done.
Frank would employ me to fetch him coffee too which he lived on while at work.
I never saw him eat anything during our two years together. He drank copious amounts of the very good coffee supplied by management and smoked constantly although warned not to on our contaminated work site.
I could also carry out checking of the conveyors, moving the "pant legs" which were the apparatus that funneled the ore into the huge piles in the sheds and cleaning up as we worked so that once finished we had nothing more to do.
When it was very cold I could duck into the electrical control room where the various equipment kept it very comfortable.
Wandering alone in those dank sheds was an erie experience. Condensation dripped in the form of acid rain that corroded the metal walkways and loaders kept within and an ever present mist hung in the air making it hard to see the far end of the dimly lit building.
I was much happier being able to keep busy and pass the time in a useful manner.
Next, we were back on the afternoon shift when the car mover's engine gave out and we were forced to use the big IT38 loader to move the cars.
Using a chain I would pull them along while Frank hung from the last car and used its manual hand brake to slow and stop them.
We were down to about 6 cars per shift and Cliff put us on 10 hour shifts to make up for lost production.
We worked from 4 p.m. -2 a.m. for a month even after the car mover had returned with a new engine and other repairs completed making it much improved.
We now unloaded 16 cars with ease and sat in the shop for a few hours every night collecting overtime.
Frank often booked off his shifts and I had to occupy my time doing maintenance or working in the shop.
Once the shop manager learned of my mechanical background I had a regular place to work assisting the truck mechanics.
It was common for the train not to show up at least once a week meaning no work for the crew who were told to stay home.
I was welcome at the shop and never missed hours of work.
One very stupid thing about Trimac was the way nobody was on a regular schedule.
Each afternoon the next days roster was put up and we never knew if we would be on days, afternoons or no work.

Another job that could be done during a shortage was loading slag.
There were usually a few of the hopper cars (at right)
on hand that could be moved to a conveyor where using the IT-38 we loaded from the pile of black material onto a feed belt which carried it up and deposited it into the cars' 3 compartments.
The belt had a scale that automatically stopped the belt when the required 65,000 pounds per compartment was reached.
The car was then moved to the next compartment until filled. The job could be done at a leisurely pace that took at most about half an hour per car.
During dark snowy nights the slag was invisible making it hard to operate around.
The slag also froze into big chunks that had to be manually broken up with a long wrecking bar in order to move up the belt.
If it was windy the sharp glass-like granules pelted our exposed face and got inside our gloves.
By a year and a half into my "tenure" we had 4 other guys added to the crew with Kris having been fired after his numerous write-ups. I liked him and had worked on dunnaging with him numerous times.
Although he did work at a relaxed pace it was his mouth that was his undoing as he argued with bosses and other coworkers constantly.
There was often overtime available on Saturday or Sunday and I sometimes put in a shift dunnaging by myself, or worked with Frank unloading.
They bent the rules prohibiting working alone as long as I "promised to be careful" and I enjoyed many shifts hammering and sawing away as I secured the big ingots.
A few times Cliff would appear on a Sunday on his way home from the Salvation Army Church to see how I was doing.
Cliff was a very humane fellow and, although about 6'7" was very mellow and caring.
One night without Frank I filled in my time dunnaging and somehow found I had completed 12 cars on my own by shift end.
I arrived for work the following day and was called into Cliff's office.
Cliff was so impressed by my work the previous evening he ordered me to take Shelagh for a "nice dinner" and give him the bill.
Soon after, Cliff was transferred to a better posting in Alberta and a new lady manager took over.
She was daughter to one of the big wigs and totally unsuited to her job.
One day I was assigned to improve productivity by being stationed in the ore shed for 12 hours to load the trucks as they came through.
It was usual for the drivers to load their own ore and she thought it would speed things up.
I spent my worst day ever imprisoned in that hell hole from 5 a.m. to 5. p.m. one Sunday and saved them a bit of time, but the drivers felt it was a wasted effort.
I was totally fed-up with the new management and when told to do the job again I refused.
I said they could fire me if they wanted, but I wouldn't do it again.
I was surprised to find they assigned another new guy to it and said no more about it.
I went back to my usual duties with Frank until I saw an ad in the Trail Times.
With things getting worse on the job I had begun to search for a new position and saw in the paper that the Salvation Army was looking for a driver and sorter full time.
I applied for it knowing I would probably take a pay cut, but hoped I would be doing something where I could help others and feel I was making a difference and not a pawn as I felt as part of Trimac.
I was pleased when I was hired for the position and could put in my notice.
My coworkers understood and supported my decision .
My last shift was spent in the shop repairing tarps on the ingot trailers.
This concludes my working life for now.
To be continued.....

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mucking about at "Trimuc"

For some ungodly reason the shifts at Trimac started at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m..
Even though I was somewhat used to early rising for some of the camp work, it was a different story once the fall weather set in.
I was up just before 5 and out the door by 5:30 every morning.
The facility was only about 15 minutes' away which was a bonus at least.
There were between 4 and 5 of us on each shift when I started there.
The business was recovering after a year-long strike at Cominco which is the largest lead and zinc smelter in the world located nearby in Trail.
Our function was to unload the incoming ore from rail cars which was then carried by a conveyor system to be stored in mountainous piles located in A-frame steel buildings to be carried by belly dump truck loads the few miles to the smelter.
The finished lead and zinc ingots were trucked back to our facility and stored in a warehouse to be loaded by forklift into boxcars.
These loads had to be "dunnaged" or secured using 2x6 lumber we cut to fit and nailed into the special floors with 6" nails.
The day started with us putting on our gear-red coveralls,respirator,gloves,hardhat and safety glasses along with safety boots and ear protectors.
We didn't have a coffee break as the arrangement was for an hour lunch at 11 so I carried a sealed coffee mug of "Instant breakfast" to last me.
I was teamed up with Sandro, a burly and very friendly fellow in his early 40s who carried a 2-gallon plastic jug of water with him at all times.
We trudged over to the shop where a battered green mid-70s Ford pickup awaited.
The truck sported a ladder rack which I later learned was where we loaded our 12-foot lengths of 2x6 to dunnage the boxcars with.
It also carried 2 Husqvarna chainsaws, fuel and oil for them, boxes of nails, hammers , tool pouches and a "tidy tank" of diesel fuel.
The old truck was in rough shape and took about 20 minutes of warming up before it would idle as it had a dead cylinder and missed as its old 360 V-8 rumbled away in the morning cold.
As it warmed up Sandro sat and relaxed with a smoke as he went over the routine.
We headed off and drove a short distance to one of the ore sheds where a drive through bay was located on one side for the "bellys" to enter, load their ore and drive out again.
Our first duty was to vacuum the ore bays to prevent the toxic soil being tracked off the property on the trucks' tires. Respirators on, we entered the building. I noticed the sweet and pleasant scent of the moist ore.
A huge and very powerful vacuum cleaner was housed within the building and piped everywhere so that cleanups were possible.
Using the nozzle of 6" diameter with an attached floor tool I went over the floor being careful to stay out of the trucks' paths as they came and went.
This was a good daily job to do as we woke up as was the next chore-fuelling the two loaders used in the sheds.
Driving around to another entrance, Sandro jumped into one loader and positioned it near the door where the fuel hose from the tidy tank would reach.
I then manually pumped the lever until the loader was filled up.
I noticed the immense piles of dark ore within the dark and humid building and the conveyor system looming about 60' above us with a catwalk along its length that stretched the full 600' of the shed.
We repeated the fuelling of the second machine, then headed off to the site's own refuelling station to refill the tidy tank.
The next job was to drive around to the chain link fenced off lumber storage area where we piled on as many 2x6s as we could carry.
Heading along the railroad tracks that were everywhere within the property we pulled up alongside a line of boxcars.
It was now full daylight or we would use the gas generator and portable lights to illuminate the inside of the boxcar.
Backing up to one car, Sandro recorded its number on a clip board in the cab and we unloaded lumber and tools.
The next 15 minutes were spent cutting and nailing in a pre-planned manner dictated by the railway to ensure these heavy loads didn't shift in transit. A shift could cause a derailment.
After dunnaging around 9 cars we were finished the loaded units and it was time for lunch.
I was now dog-tired as we entered the change room , removed our gear and cleaned up.
I found I was enjoying my job and my work mates, one of whom had also just recently started work there.
After a leisurely lunch we headed back out to refuel the loaders again and start cleaning up procedures.
The Burlington Northern train arrived around this time each day to bring in more full ore cars and empty boxcars before removing the cars we had loaded and unloaded.
Usually 20 to 30 ore cars and 10 boxcars came in with a few hopper cars used to load slag-the black byproduct of smelting.

The big engines hurried through the yard at an alarming speed, but slowed and coupled up in a skillful manner.
We assisted Frank and Mark who were unloading ore in the unloading shed with the cleanup.
Their job was to bring in 4 ore cars at a time using the Track-mobile
The lids were fibreglass and hung suspended from electric winches to be later replaced when the string of cars were emptied.
The excavator dumped its bucket loads onto a big grate called a "grizzly" where the ore fell through onto the conveyor belt to be carried into the ore shed next door.
The cleanup involved shovelling up spilled ore and checking the conveyor system.
Shovelling below the grizzly was a very dirty job where I could not see my hand in front of my face if the ore was particularly dry and dusty.
At 1:15 we headed inside where we were required to shower to decontaminate ourselves.
This was a very pleasant duty and I emerged very refreshed to end the day filling out our duties performance sheets and leaving all cleaned up at 2.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I return to camp

One thing I did to keep busy and feel useful was to accept a position on the Camp's board of directors who met monthly at the nearby United Church on Monday evenings.
Frank was chairman then and was full of good ideas and added energy to the proceedings.
The other members seemed very cautious and I found it very frustrating at the lack of interest in carrying out needed improvements.
As spring approached and I had found nothing in the way of employment I accepted the offer to return for another season in my position of groundsman.
I was pleased to have that to look forward to and Frank and I prepared another long list of projects to complete that year.
As the other staffing was dealt with I was pleased to find David and Peter returning along with Nikki as assistant cook and Lorna head cook with Doug the lifeguard to round out the team.
Kandy,another long time camper and board member took on some of the camp leadership and volunteered her husband who was an experienced logger to assist in cleaning up the forest surrounding the camp which had snags and dead trees needing to be felled.
Frank had bought (out of his own money) a 1983 Toyota 4x4 truck to use as a camp truck for hauling propane and supplies which we readied in his rented garage in Montrose along with the boats stored there.
 May soon came and we were back at it.
Boo-Boo was out there from the start and immediately ran to the brick house to resume her pack rat hunting.
David was delayed as he was completing some school before graduation so Frank and Peter filled in until he was available.
Knowing the routine, we had everything ready in short order and busied ourselves with projects until the first school groups came near the middle of June.
The weather was wet and cool much of the time and I remember having a fire going in the big log "lodge" building's stone fireplace where the first campers dried their clothes and towels.
Boo-Boo was constantly damp and my bedding absorbed lots of moisture as did my own clothing which I had to change often.
Lorna's husband, Bill came across to help Frank and I with some logging work one day and we accomplished what I thought was a lot that day.
We wanted to do as much of the potentially dangerous jobs while no kids were present.
This provided stacks of firewood which I enjoyed bucking up and splitting to distribute around camp with a wheel barrow.
A few days after the school camp started I was returning their lifeguard to the McDonald's Landing dock in the afternoon.
As I approached the dock I saw a girl sitting there.
Getting closer I saw she was smiling broadly, more so as I neared the dock.
I was thinking she was waiting to meet the lifeguard who was also a girl of similar age.
I manoeuvred alongside the dock and when I looked closely, saw it was none other than Nikki with a different hair colour and style!
She was waiting to see me and gave me a big bear hug like an old friend.
Nikki lived nearby the dock and also worked at a neighbouring motel while going to school.
She was excited to be coming to work with me after being a camper since she was a little girl.
As I returned to camp she promised to see me at the dock often until it was time for her to start her cooking job in a few weeks.
 The weather improved by later in June and once the regular camps began we had a stretch of perfect days.
I often thought to myself that there was no better place to be anywhere on Earth!
David and I worked on shingling the shower building with the bundles of cedar shakes on hand and it turned it from the bare white trailer into a cabin-like structure as we had hoped the year before.
I had a very enjoyable week when the exchange students from Selkirk College came out.
They were mainly from Asian countries and most were from big cities making the camp a totally new experience.
Frank was worried they might find Boo-Boo frightening, but it turned out they all loved her!
They found the speed boat ride over very exciting and whooped with joy as we plowed through heavy waves during a period of strong winds.
The instructors were a fun group too and really made things fun for all.
One morning two scruffy large stray dogs appeared in camp.
They must have wandered down the tracks from Procter a few miles away.
They proved to be a big hit with everyone and were fed and fussed over for a few days.
I remember one tall Korean fellow who only spoke a bit of English who seemed to be the most interested in one of the dogs and could be heard urging "Follow....follow" to one as they journeyed around the camp.
They disappeared eventually. Boo-Boo seemed to miss them for awhile.
My son, Harley and his best friend came to the co-ed camp and befriended Nikki who wanted to become part of our family.
She asked to come and stay with us one weekend and after meeting her Mum so that she could see I was harmless  allowed her to come home with me.
She did become like part of our family and to this day holds a very special place in my heart.
Shelagh also became very fond of her as does anyone who meets her.
Once the church camps were done and Nikki returned to her motel job, she was always at the dock to meet me on Sunday evenings as I went back on shift.

While home one weekend I saw an ad in the paper looking for full-time labourers at Trimac Transportation.
Trimac has a big facility in an industrial part of Fruitvale.
I sent in my application as requested and had a call on my cell phone while out at camp to attend an interview.
The manager was a very kind fellow who applauded my working at the camp and offered me a job starting as soon as I was available.
The camp was slated to go until the beginning of October to allow another school group who booked late to attend.
It would be a challenge since David had left for a job in Vancouver and Frank would only be able to help a few times due to his schedule.
We had to shut the camp down for a few weeks in the interim and I was able to have some time off at home to be ready for my new job.
I had buggered up my shoulder moving those cursed propane tanks and appreciated the rest.
I returned late in September to reopen the camp on my own one dark, rainy day.
the Aeroliner was tied at the dock and was very beat-up from several storms that had bashed it around as it sat unused.
It had lots of water in the bilge which the solar powered pump had failed to keep up with.
after manually pumping it out, Boo-Boo and I headed across the lake where I could see as I got closer the Starcraft moored nose in to the beach sunken with the tip of the bow visible.
some bonehead had left it where the waves ended up swamping it.
I had to use my head and after calling Frank to leave a message reporting my findings I got the camp set up and then went and brought the gas powered water pump used as a fire fighting apparatus up to the boat along with a 5-ton com-along winch that I attached to one of the nearby dock pilings.
I attached the cable to the stern of the Starcraft then began lifting it until it was a few inches free of the lake.
I put the inlet end of the fire hose into the boat and fired it up.
I was thrilled to find my plan working as the boat rose out of the lake and was soon safely at its usual height.
The motor having been submerged would need servicing at Jones Boys located up the lake.
Frank eventually returned my call and was pleased I'd successfully re floated the boat and told me he would contact Chuck to bring the trailer to the boat launch the next day to tow it up for repairs.
Using the Aeroliner I towed the Starcraft over the next morning and accompanied Chuck to Jones Boys where they promised to have it ready ASAP.
 We had only a few days until the school group was due and Frank with his usual last-minute timing had it back the night before the camp and stayed overnight to help me with transporting them in the next morning.
I had another pleasant week, but found ice on the dock most mornings and a very chilly breakfast time.
It was 6 Celsius in my cabin in the mornings. I had a pile of blankets and sleeping bags to crawl under wearing two pairs of pants and a hoody over my flannel shirt.
The teachers were skilled outdoors people and were happy to help me look after things making my last camp a breeze.
Soon after it was done and we closed up yet again.
My Trimac experience was about to commence.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A few short term jobs fill the time

Once I was back home I was into my routine of utilizing the Skills Centre to look for work along with checking the Canada Employment Office and newspapers at the library in Fruitvale.
I applied for an advertised job looking for school custodians on-call and was pleased to be hired.
They couldn't promise how much work would be forthcoming, but it was the only way to get into a position on the school board that paid very well and had the possibility of a steady future.
I had to be around home at 1 p.m. daily when the calls would come if they needed a temp to fill in.
I was in the routine to await a call which came a few times where I would be dispatched to whichever school in the Trail or Castlegar area was short-handed and work from about 3-10 at a very leisurely pace I was unaccustomed to.
As luck would have it only a few months after I signed on in the late fall of 2000 the government announced big cut backs in funding and the calls ceased for good.
I had enough E.I. to carry on for quite awhile, but I hated not being employed.
In December I received a call from one of my old work associates from the mill who was working as the security guard there as the site was still as it had been left more than a year previous.
He had the disappointing news that the equipment was to be auctioned off on the 12'th and would I like a few days' work with the auction company.
I was happy to do something and reported out there with a few other of my former co-workers where we helped get things ready the day before the auction date.
As it happened we had a cold snap at the time and found it to be -25 as we reported for duty which involved working outside all day.
My job included situating barrels around the site to keep warming fires burning (which was right up my alley).
The forklifts,loader and two trucks had to be thawed out and started after sitting for the long period of inactivity.
The parking lot had to be cleared of 18" of snow to allow the buyers a place to leave their vehicles.
A kitchen was set up in the former lunchroom where food was to be sold the next day.
One perk for us staff was free food and as much as we wanted.
The auction company guys told us to get in out of the cold when we needed to and have something to eat.
The following morning was just as cold and the vehicles started arriving in big numbers.
As I kept the fires going I could watch some of the activity and was amused at the auctioneer's obvious discomfort from the cold as he urged everyone to hurry things along.
One ill-dressed American from California was heard to say "Piss on this!" as he rushed to his car wearing only summer attire and sped off in a southerly direction.
As things progressed I was directed to act as security by the main gate and check receipts as buyers left.
I had a fire barrel beside me and was quite comfortable as the hours went by.
I had a bit of a diversion when one of the Boyce brothers known by all area citizens as "The hillbillies" approached from the ramshackle farm across the highway followed by a small and thin duck.
As we had a few words I noticed the chilly duck as he huddled against the hillbilly's leg.
He noticed and cuddled the bird to him, but worried me as they both leaned towards the flames licking out of the barrel.
Now warmed, they made the return journey homeward.
By early evening everything was sold and I was paid out in cash at $10.00 per hour.
I noticed two shovels that had been overlooked and saw that they were the ones issued to me when working there. I had marked them with a blotch of orange spray paint..
Before I left I asked one of the auctioneers if I could have them as souvenirs of my time at the mill and was told "Throw them in your trunk." I was also presented with a Trade West Auction cap that I also have as a remembrance.
I later heard that the amount earned amounted to only 10 cents on the dollar.
Once again the government had screwed up royally.

The mill was now eerily gutted and empty. It still sits in that state over 10 years later.

The summer winds down

Another very pleasant group were the "Dancers of universal peace" who were a group from the Ymir area.
Some of them were family members and others were friends. They brought a few dogs too which Boo-Boo liked.
They were very laid-back and cooperated on the cooking and other chores between the group and always did a project to improve the camp on each yearly visit.
Another bonus was I didn't have to be up early to pick up a cook as they all stayed over for the week.
But I found myself being awakened very early by pine cones raining down onto the cabin's metal roof as the crazy squirrel collected his winter feed.
Boo-Boo would rush out to find him and he often ran down the tree to just out of reach where he scolded her loudly.
The mornings were getting cooler in late August, but the summer for the most part had been terrific for me.
It became dark earlier and the lamp was lit in my cabin by about 8 each evening as I read on my bunk.

It was my usual routine to wander around the camp after supper to check on everything and see that the water was flowing through the gravity-fed pipes leading from the creek uphill from the camp.
We had a little shed where a purification sand filter and required chlorine system injected the necessary amount automatically. we had to check it daily and test the water. Boo-Boo followed along and watched for varmints, hoping to see something worth chasing.
By this time she was in fantastic condition physically and spiritually.
After our tour I went to the shower room beneath the kitchen for a relaxing cleanup and then retired to the cabin to read until around 10 (if I could stay awake).

After their week, the camp was done for the season and Frank, David, Peter and I put everything into storage and loaded our gear into the boats to return to civilization.
I was sorry to leave and the boys and I hoped we could all return the next year.
Both Boo-Boo and I had been kept in great shape by the vigorous work we had done during the past months and I kept up with my daily hikes with the 3 dogs in our neighbouring hills.
My mind was fixed on finding work, but hoping I could somehow return to Koolaree.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Y2K-The new century brings my favourite job yet!

I was back searching for work and took advantage of the Skills Centre in Trail where I received job coaching and could take job-related courses that came up from time to time.
There was very little going on and the months dragged by.
Reports kept coming in from my various acquaintances of plans to restart the mill.
One idea that seemed perfectly viable to me was put forward to the government by a group of the mill's creditors who between them had plenty of experience to operate the mill as a co-op.
Stupidly, the powers that be refused the plan and the mill sat there.

Finally in the spring the young lady who's little girl Shelagh did daycare for had an opportunity.
She was on the board of the United Church's Camp Koolaree summer camp located across the Kootenay Lake near Nelson.
They yearly hired staff to run the camp some of whom returned from year to year.
The guys needed for maintenance and to operate the two boats used to ferry passengers and supplies  were a hit and miss bunch who usually were not motivated to do more than the minimum amount of work.
I applied for one of the two "Groundsmen" jobs which required living on site during the week to be on call as needed.
I was hired to begin in mid-May and eagerly looked forward to getting out to the camp I had yet to see in person.
One afternoon I waited with my duffel bag full of gear at an agreed upon pickup spot where Frank,camp chairman and lifelong camper at Koolaree would take us out to open up the camp after the winter.
It was the practice to lock everything up after Labour day and return the two boats to Frank's yard for storage.
The photo at left shows the boats moored at the camp dock. the all white boat was a 1950s Aeroliner 16 footer used to carry freight and act as a marine version of a pickup truck. The other was a Starcraft 16 footer used to ferry passengers and was quite a fast boat with its 125 hp Mercury outboard.
Both boats were aluminum which made them both robust, yet lighter than fibreglass and easier to move out of water.
I had never met Frank in person, but immediately took a great liking for him as he was very personable and  energetic  as well as full of great plans for the camp which  at the age of 56 he'd been a part of for most of his life.
The camp had been in operation for nearly 75 years and located on its 137 acre remote site across the lake from the "6 mile" area outside  Nelson was world famous in some circles.
Frank and I picked up a huge load of groceries "Get anything you guys might like! You'll work hard and deserve to eat well." advised my new boss.
A work party was planned for the next day when I would meet the other two groundsmen, who both had just graduated high school .
We arrived at the government dock at Mac Donald's Landing where years before the paddle-wheelers had stopped to pick up loads of fruit destined for the jam factory in Nelson.
Once out on the lake I felt a great sense of calm come over me, a feeling that always happened from that day onward whenever I headed over.
It was a feeling commonly referred to by most others connected with Koolaree.
The camp seemed to be unmolested upon inspection, which was not always the case as kids sometimes walked up the CPR tracks (that ran right next to the camp ) from Nelson during the fall and winter and sometimes broke in or otherwise caused vandalism.
I had my choice of rooms in the rustic cabins shared by staff and after dropping off my gear we began to get things in order.
There was a propane fuelled old commercial range with grill in the kitchen along with propane fridge, water heater and lights.
A solar panel was unpacked and Frank climbed to the roof of the dining hall/kitchen(at right) to place it to be used to power the camp's cell phone.
We unlocked the jail-like brick structure known as the "Brick house" where most of the supplies were kept.
Barrels of boat gas and many very heavy and awkward 100lb propane cylinders were stowed safely behind the 6" steel padlocked doors with foot thick brick walls and barred window.
This structure was left from the original owners of the property "Giant Mining Co." who gave the land to the United Church when they left the area many years before.

The building was used to safely store explosives and originally had 4 feet of sand on the roof to contain any blasts.
The old building was built to last!
Graffiti adorned it from campers of many years in the past.
After hooking up two big propane tanks we lit the pilot lights on the stove,fridge and water heater (which provided very pleasant hot showers.)
We soon had enough done for the day and shared the cooking to whip up something tasty in the open air kitchen that was often quite a chilly place at the early and late parts of the season.
Working at the sink we could view the lake through the trees as it reflected the sun onto our faces.
I was so thrilled to be out there and remained that way throughout the months, even though much of the work was very intensive and difficult at times.
After a very pleasant evening reading by lamp light in our respective rooms I soon heard Frank's loud snoring as he drifted off.

He was pleased that I was there to work and we planned out the summer to attend to many tasks that Frank had been unable to start or complete due to the lazy former staff he'd had to deal with.
The next morning I awoke to Frank yelling up from the kitchen to the nearby staff cabin 'JOHN!!DO YOU WANT PORRIDGE?"
We enjoyed a hearty breakfast including strong coffee from a large percolator that was in constant use throughout the year.
Frank's pager went off signalling the fellows were at the dock across the lake ready for pickup. We were each furnished with pagers with a code of 777 in its display meaning someone was needing a ride over.
The three arrivals included Chuck, another elder of the church and longtime camp supporter and outdoors man and the two young fellows, David and Peter.
We all worked well together and became close friends in short order.
The boys were both "gung-Ho" and had also been to the camp since early boyhood.
I was also pleased to learn they enjoyed cooking and between us we enjoyed many cooperative meals together during the periods between camps when no cook was on duty.
 We accomplished many tasks from the list over the weeks until the first camps started in late June.
I returned home on Thursday afternoons and came back on Sunday evenings.
After my first week Frank came to the door one Sunday asking if I'd bring Boo-Boo one of my dogs along as there was a bear causing havoc around the site.
Boo-Boo was a mix of pure Doberman mother and an Akita/Husky father.
The Akita part made her an instinctive bear hunter and I'd told Frank of her natural skill in chasing any bears we encountered on our hikes in the nearby hills accompanied by my other dogs, Chummy and Dougal who had no interest in chasing anything.      
I always felt safe when hiking with Boo-Boo who missed nothing in our area and scrutinized her surroundings with an eagle eye.   She was a most disobedient and strong-willed dog who             rarely came when called if we were on our property or if she escaped out the door and roamed the neighbourhood for hours until she felt like returning. I didn't know how she would behave at the camp and how she would welcome being fussed over by dozens of children at once.                                                                                             Her first time on the boat ride over she huddled miserably in the bow, her tail tucked tightly beneath her and dove off the side as we neared the camp dock to swim the rest of the way herself. I learned to tie her in afterwards as sometimes I wanted her not wet if it was close to bed time as her thick coat took hours to dry. She was in her glory once she became acclimatized to her new "home" and rushed around looking into everything and obviously thrilled with it all.                                                                                        
She also surprised me in wanting to keep me in sight most of the time and behaved very well compared to at home. She was very friendly towards everyone in the camp except strangers approaching by boat who she barked at until I told her it was alright.                                                                                                                 She went to work on the bear the first night as I was reading in my cabin she suddenly perked up from her place on the bunk and I heard rummaging sounds from the kitchen area located about 50 feet away. I opened the door and off she shot into the dark. Moments later I heard her loud frantic barking and the bear crashing through the brush as he attempted to get away.                                    
She returned after awhile very pleased and we heard no more from the intruder that night.                    The last week of June brought the first of the school camps who were regulars each year consisting of kids and teachers who learned some outdoor skills as well as teamwork. The teachers were a terrific bunch who had everything well organized and shared in cooking some really good food.                          One of my favourite fringe benefits was being fed to excess by the various cooks throughout the season. My usual place when not busy was seated at the dinette table near the window in the kitchen where I would eat and visit with whomever was at the range, which was nearly all day from early morning until after dark with Boo-Boo stationed outside on the door stoop resting from her exhausting schedule. She often disappeared into the nearby brick house for her ongoing hunt for the wily pack rat who lived in there and made himself a constant nuisance stealing tools and hardware which he hid below in the dungeon-like crawl space where David would periodically descend to find missing items.               
One afternoon as I worked at the bench in the brick house I heard a sickening squeak and saw Boo-Boo trap the rat between the big doors and snatch him up by the chest like a stuffed teddy bear.                   
I attempted to rescue the creature, but Boo-Boo led me on a merry chase around the buildings as she
shook her head vigorously until she stopped and dropped the mangled corpse at my feet. She had 
done her duty as she saw it and I had to congratulate her perseverance after the weeks it took to
reach this final outcome. Boo-Boo was a great hero as the camp bear chaser  and the kids fussed over her as they passed by her resting place as they went to the dining hall. Her favour was tarnished soon after as the bear made an appearance one night and got inside the kitchen. Boo-Boo was dispatched to run him off  and  there was a terrible fight in the darkened kitchen ending up with the bear diving out through a screened window into the night. The whole camp were hiding in their cabins during the battle until I gave the"All clear". Cleaning up the mess we found a large jar of coffee mate empty by the dinette where it was kept along with peanut butter and a few other items. Sometime the next morning Boo-Boo appeared alongside me as I was clearing brush from a trail covered in a white and foul substance.          
I rushed her to the lake where I forced her into the water and tried to clean her up.                          
I later found a huge pool of bear vomit behind the kitchen area which she had rolled in!                      
It took a few weeks to get the stink off of her with several shampoos as well as swims. For most of the remainder of that week the kids made a wide path around her as she looked puzzled at the lack of attention she was now receiving.