The Road to Home
The road was long. The time was short. The weather was bad. Nineteen seventy three was a year of bare survival. If we had known how difficult it would be we undoubtedly would have abandoned the hare brained plans we had concocted.
We had crossed some kind of threshold when we gave notice to terminate the lease of our apartment in Prince George in April. We would move to our bush in May and live in an eight foot camper which would become our interim residence for a couple of glorious summer months, while benevolent Nature watched the near miraculous emergence of a tidy, rustic, not too little house, on top of a conveniently placed hill, far from the the poop mills and “far from the madding crowd.”
We reached the point of no return when we chose the house plan from a catalogue of milled cedar logs from Pan Abode. We would have a 1224 sq ft, 4 inch, double tongue in groove, 3 bedroom house for $19,000. The package included all the materials needed for the fabrication of the structure from the sub floor to the finished roof, doors and windows included. In mid June B.C. Rail would transport the materials on a “piggy back” container which would be loaded on a truck and transported to the house site where we would unload our home and start building.We would have to construct a basement and sub contract the electric and plumbing services.Our theory had it that after two weeks to a month of road building we would move our camper home to the building site on the hill and in this idyllic Shangri-la we would spend the summer assembling our home with a cast of Disney cartoon animals encircling the work area singing “Whistle While You Work.”
The plans started to be unraveled when a tonsillectomy was ordered for Allison’s chronic tonsillitis. The operation would coincide with our move to a drafty, damp and cold camper on the first of May. We spent a few days in a Motel until the danger period was over and there was evidence of the little patient’s recovery.
The monsoons started by mid May and never let up until late July. Life in an eight by eight foot living space in near constant drizzle was made tolerable with the help of a battery powered record player, a collection of well loved stories and music and an exceptional mother and wife who consistently projected a positive outlook on the bleakest of days when the going was tough and failure seemed the only logical conclusion to our house building project.
We were operating with some important deadlines: the Pan Abode house package would arrive in June, the school year would begin again in September and after mid October snow and cold temperatures would make house building difficult, if not impossible. Everything depended on access by road to the building site.
Our first attempts to locate gravel for the long road to home met with failure. Truck operators were in high demand in Prince George and politely declined the offer for a small, time limited gravel trucking job 30 minutes from town. We had not yet found access to the local network of people with the skills and equipment that we lacked and at every turn we would end up reinventing the wheel. We purchased a culvert and placed it in the ditch to span the gap between our road and Patterson Rd. and waited what seemed an eternity in the rain.
One deadline passes
Mid June shortly before the arrival of the materials by B.C. Rail we had barely gone three hundred of the thousand feet we needed to reach the house site and realized that we needed to start improvising the already improvised strategies. Progress on the road had been slow and would remain so for good reasons. We had located a trucker who started delivery of the gravel which would become the surface of the road. After the delivery of four loads we observed that the subsurface of the road seemed to absorb the gravel and would disappear under the weight of the gravel truck as it brought each succeeding load. We were dumping gravel on clay saturated by spring melt from winter’s snow in an area of bad drainage. The weight of a loaded dump truck simply punched the stones in the gravel down into what we would later learn was 100 feet of Pineview clay. The naivete, arrogance and misplaced confidence of youth had encountered hubris. It was back to the drawing board. The delay would be costly.
The Apprentice Bushman brooded.
The first contact with residents on Patterson Rd. would come out of the contents of a bottle of spirits served up by Ed Wolfe. The Apprentice Bushman was invited to play the spoons, a kind of castanets with teaspoons between the fingers, while Ed strummed his guitar and sang country songs. He dispensed to the Bushman along with booze, a bit of information that would be the salvation of the road building project.”Corduroy road”, he said. “In swampy ground you need to make a corduroy road.”
The Apprentice Bushman said nothing. Next day after the hangover, the Bushman went to work. With chainsaw, he began a ten week frenzy of cutting, piling and transporting logs for the layer of timber which would serve as base for the road.
At first the going was easy: dry standing pines and fir beside the right of way which had died as a result of the poor drainage in the area. It was simply a matter of felling the trees across the right of way, cutting the fourteen foot lengths and laying them beside each other across the cleared path which was becoming the road. The log base, the deck on which the gravel would be spread, would keep the gravel floating above the viscous saturated clay terrain which dominates the region above the Fraser River.
Once the low hanging fruit, the easy pickings of standing dry trees was depleted, the Apprentice Bushman would go progressively further afield to harvest the precious wood base for the road. Green trees quickly replaced the standing dry dead trees and the 14 foot lengths of the green trees, some 10 inches to over 15 inches in diameter were dragged, tipped end-over-end or hefted over increasing distances. Fatigue made for short work days.
Despite his quick transformation to beast of burden and the bouquet of a mule to match, the Apprentice Bushman plowed on at the snail’s pace rate of progress of a staggering 12 foot per day. Fatigue was always about 3 hours after the start of the work shift. Increasingly long days made 4 shifts the norm.