In the Land of the Black Bear Part 5


One Hundred and ?fifty Feet of Corduroy and Gravel laid down: Only Eight Hundred and Fifty Feet to Go.

150 feet of Corduroy and Gravel laid down, 850 feet to go


The Road Ends at Home

“Frenchy”  Ron Vipond was one of the unsung heroes of our house building project. In Frenchy, we were finally able to get a reliable trucker to deliver gravel on an ongoing basis in early June.

Logging for the trees for  the foundation of our road absorbed a good part of the Apprentice Bushman’s day, but early evening after supper, a muffled rumble would disturb the country air and  the ground around the camper would take on vibrations in harmony with a loaded gravel truck crawling in reverse, through the bush up the lengthening corduroy road. What relief we felt! Frenchy was here! Tomorrow the road would grow another twenty to thirty feet!

Frenchy would make another 30 trips from Prince George to Patterson Rd., after his regular work day in town, before we could wean ourselves off his service. Although well paid for his reliability, his presence was a reassuring factor at a time when we needed assurance.

“I need the practice, he would say when we apologized for having him back the loaded truck along a narrow 14 foot corridor. The 14 foot wide right of way made no allowance for space for a vehicle to turn. Once off the beaten path there was a risk of being stuck, bogged down with a load of over 7 cubic yards: 10 tons of gravel. With patience, great skill and good humour, Frenchy did those 30 dumps over a two month  period, in reverse gear, once he reached the front of the property.

Ground cleared of trees. Logs piled for base of corduroy road before gravel layer.

Evening deliveries of gravel meant mornings of work with shovel and wheel barrow to spread the 10 tons of material dumped the night before over the corduroy base which the Apprentice Bushman had laid down the day before. Frenchy’s dump would have to be in a simple, unified, high pile since he would not be able to spread the load by dribbling it out over a longer run. The corduroy without gravel was unstable.  Without the gravel on top the logs would separate. The placement of the lengths of logs would have to be stabilized by the weight of gravel laid upon the logs. The next load of gravel would be delivered on top of the last load dumped and spread over the log base. “Journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” would be the Apprentice Bushman’s constant refrain.

By mid June the Apprentice Bushman had loaded sixteen tons many times over* by shovel and wheelbarrow, and spread it over the foundation layer of logs. The time had come to evolve beyond the Stone and Gravel Age of his own invention. For this great leap forward into a new age, the Bushman opted for an ancient diesel, front end loader tractor, brilliant with a new coat of red paint. He found “Big Red” idlying non-productively in a used farm equipment lot in nearby Pineview. The Bushman’s labours would now be cut in half with this purchase: “Big Red” assumed the other half.

Big Red and the payload of Kids in his bucket at Patterson Rd and our driveway.

By mid June also, it was  obvious that with the slow progress in the construction of the road, we would not be able to get the Pan Abode building materials from BC Rail close to the house site on our road at the appointed time.  This delay could be costly. Storage of the materials would add considerably to the house building project. We managed to avoid the added costs by arranging with a neighbour, Mr. Franklin, to have the materials dropped off a quarter mile in from Patterson Rd.on his property, as close to our house site as we could get. This would store the materials far from the Patterson Rd. frontage where the passing public would not be tempted to help themselves to the lumber, windows, doors and hardware.

A rain slicked slope prevented the B.C, Rail transport truck with the “piggy back’ container of building materials from going up the neighbour’s hill. The truck and trailer slid off the wet clay surface of his makeshift road and came to rest at an angle in the ditch. The trailer was detached from the truck and we were left 24 hours to unload 2 tons of building material from the trailer or face charges of rental per day for the trailer.

The Apprentice Bushman brooded at the many obstacles placed in the way of  the realization of the project. The Bushman’s wife blessed with a reservoir of stubborn optimism was able to lend the enthusiasm to counter the physical and mental fatigue that had come to lodge in the Bushman’s mind. With the help of a neighbour who would  eventually become the key to the house building project, a team of sorts got to work and unloaded the materials transferring the house, piece by piece, by hand, over terrain covered with bush and dead tree trunks to an area near the house site.

Back to the road

As the road progressed towards the house site we found a cache of logs piled in a flat area at the base of the hill. A part of the property had obviously been logged and the harvested logs had been left to be picked up a decade before. Lumber prices may have dropped or difficulties with machinery may have caused the abandonment of the harvested timber, but whatever the reason the unexpected windfall was a welcome resource to finish the corduroy section of the road. Despite those fortuitous piles of logs, we had used over two hundred trees to build an all weather road which would not be subject to the vagaries of spring floods.

 It would take 34 loads of gravel and around 1600 twelve to fourteen foot lengths of timber to cover the 800 feet of corduroy before the labour intensive part of the road would be finished. The rest of the road had enough elevation as we approached the hill to need no wood base and by that time dump trucks were then able to drive in on the finished part of the road, turn around and dump their loads by driving out of the driveway while spreading the gravel over the surface scraped bare of its vegetation.

End of the road. Looking down the driveway from the house site on the hill, late August.

The road was finished by mid August. With the school year  approaching it was obvious that the commitment to our teaching jobs in September had removed the desired  possibility of assembling the house ourselves. We had one of those difficult to imagine, providential interventions which can and do make believers of many people.
In late June we had met a couple who were moving in to property next to ours. They had just bought the 40 acre property next door and were moving in from the Vancouver area. By some cosmically arranged coincidence the husband was a carpenter and would be looking for work in the Prince George area. In another bit of harmonious alignment, the carpenter had extensive experience in erecting prefabricated cedar homes like the one we had chosen to construct.
Excavation for the house site on the hill would be the last activity in preparation for the start of house construction. Jim Cunningham from nearby Buckhorn Rd. lent his expertise and his old D7 Caterpillar to the site preparation for the basement as well as excavating the sewage lagoon. House construction would begin after the Labour Day weekend, just in time for the school year to begin.
“And the days dwindled down to a precious few.” “And the days grew short as we reached September.” And the winter fast approached. And the basement forms to erect. And the concrete for the basement to pour. And can the cement trucks negotiate the road to deliver the cement for the basement?  And will the weather hold for curing the cement? And the panic soon set in!


*The Apprentice Bushman spread one dump truck load of gravel for six days before buying a used front-end loader. “You load sixty tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.”



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