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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.

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.                                                                                                                                                    

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