In the Land of the Black Bear Part 6


Folly in the Hill: November 1973

To Ken Lund who saved our bacon.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Rainbow Trout were excited as they followed the spawning salmon up the Stellako River from Fraser Lake to Francois Lake on the 1973 Labour Day week-end. Salmon eggs were the cause of the Trouts’ excitement. 

At Stellako Lodge the Bushman and his wife discussed the options for the house building project, by now 2 months behind the idealistic schedule they had imagined. Stellako Lodge was to have been a brief interlude of relaxation sponsored by the Bushman’s wife before the increasing tensions of the coming school year compounded the summer’s fatigue from road building. To postpone construction until next year would entail a loss of face, a loss of motivation to continue and a potential loss of building materials or the costly construction of a building to store the Pan Abode materials still laying on the ground near the excavation for the house, accumulating a layer of mud as the weather deteriorated.

Bushman’s break, Stellako River

The Bushman exploited the trout’s feeding frenzy, removing a half a dozen fish from the stream for supper that night and for breakfast the next morning. But the anxieties about the late start to house building and the fatigue from the grinding task of road building did not subside.  A couple of night courses at the College where the Bushman taught extended the duration of the school day and  pretty well removed any week day participation in house building by the Bushman and his wife.

Late September 1973. Basement forms erected.

The neighbour that the Bushman’s family had met in late June was more than just a competent carpenter. Creative, resourceful and intelligent, Ken Lund was the person  needed to guide and supervise the building project even if the Bushman and his wife had been able to assemble the materials themselves. Now in the  absence of the Bushman and his wife he took complete control of the erection of the house bringing along with his many skills, three teenage sons who could be his helpers.

Despite the inevitable contretemps, September produced results beyond the  most optimistic expectations. The Bushman and his family were delighted observers as a structure grew out of the clearing on the hill. The quick progress in erecting the frame of the house was a vindication of the choice they had made. It was confirmation of the boast of the manufacturers  that a small crew of three to five people could erect a sizable structure from foundation to roof in a week-end.

At the end of September with Ken Lund’s initiative the house was a shell minus the roof. Cement trucks had  delivered their pay loads to the house for a basement with little concern that the road would sustain the weight. From then on the weather would dictate the rate of progress. That year Halloween was preempted by the first snow. It would be April of the next year before we saw the end of the accumulated snow and May would bring us fresh deposits of this by now depressingly renewable resource.

 The protracted camping trip from hell in the bush ended after Thanksgiving when cold nights and frosty mornings chased the Bushman and his family out of the confined 8 foot by 8 foot cubicle where they had  spent nearly six months. They occupied a room in a Motel for three weeks and in late November moved back to the bush on Patterson Rd. into a partially finished structure which only by stretching the imagination could they call “home”.

Shortly after the road was finished B.C. Hydro had brought electrical service on four poles to the property from the existing service on Patterson Rd. This service now afforded the Bushman’s family the luxury of light, heat and cooking appliances.

By mid winter of that year however, the snow load had accumulated to such an extent that the hill would become accessible only on foot. The down side of building on a hill became increasingly painfully evident. Everything had to be carried up: groceries, 5 gallon containers of potable water, school books, everything. Snow clearance became a virtual full time job along with the other full time jobs the Bushman and his wife were carrying.

 Finishing the house from this stage was a slow process. It would take another five years and much more work to acquire the services and amenities which  modern urban dwellers consider acceptable. While it does not take a village to raise a house, it did take the contribution of many people in the neighbourhood to prevent the Bushman and his wife from committing a slow suicide by a toxic and chronic overdose of work.

The Lund family, Ken, Earliss, Murray, Mike, Yvonne and Jimmy  were an indispensable base of resources and over time would become friends. The Ervin Rolfes family, Mary, Marilyn and Ervie Jr. also had a wealth of skills which we needed. They too would become family friends. We would learn a lot from these good people about life out of town, beyond the easily accessed services available in urban areas. Through them we acquired an impressive repertoire of life skills which we have used since our stay in the land of the black bear.

There were other participants to the folly on the hill in 1973.  Honore Belanger made the kitchen cabinets. Henry Schmidt delivered the kitchen cabinets on a sled drawn by a pony through a blindingly white Siberian landscape up the snow covered hill to the grateful Bushman’s wife. The Schmidt children would later become playmates to the Bushman’s daughters.

The Bushman and his wife calculated the cost of the project of house construction at $33,000. This figure included the cost of 40 acres of raw, unserviced land, the cost of the Pan Abode building materials package, the cost of purchase of a tractor, “Big Red”, the cost of a new chainsaw, excavation for the house and installation of hydro-electric services from Patterson Rd. and the cost of plumbing and electric contractors. The physical wear and tear of the Bushman’s family and the psychological stresses were not included in the assessment of costs. The life experiences were, as they say, “priceless” and were the unintended bonus.

One final image remains of 1973. Mid June. It has rained for six weeks and it is raining now. “Big Red” is mired in a stump hole and hung up, suspended on a log. The Apprentice Bushman has only a few days of experience with his recently purchased machine and the precarious position of his tractor in the hole, is the testimony to his neophyte road building skills. The small hand operated winch and the lengths of heavy chain attached to a nearby tree which he has been using to get himself out of his predicaments is useless.  “Big Red” is too heavy to be pulled out with the winch, the so-called “come-along.” A few residents pass on Patterson Rd. and witness the Bushman’s growing frustration, no doubt thinking: “What is that clown up to now?” One of the passing pickups stops. Two men get out, one a mountain of a man, probably 6 foot 6 inches tall and 300 lbs”. He has a baby face and a head that seems too small for his giant body size. He wears a straw hat. A corn cob pipe protrudes from a mouth full of damaged chiclets. The other guy is lean, of medium build, dark skinned with fine cowboy-like features to go with his cowboy hat, a good-looking rogue to be sure. The Mountain Man speaks: “See you got yourself a bit of trouble.”

“Yeah, my come-along* can’t budge the tractor. I’m in wet clay and hung up on some windfall.” the Bushman says.

With an economy of words the two proceed to detach the chain from the come-along, discard the come-along, secure one end of the chain to the tree trunk and thread the other end of the chain through the a space in the metal rim of one of the big back wheels of “Big Red.”

“Fire it up now and drive it out,” the Mountain Man says.

The Bushman does as ordered. Under power, Big Red’s, the tractor’s slipping, big back wheel spins, tightens up the slack in the chain attached to the tree and lifts itself out of the watery hole. “Big Red” then crawls out of  the hole on the chain riding on the taut chain, using the chain for traction.

Abe Bourdon and Bill Harrington return to their pickup and depart leaving the astonished Bushman to utter silly phrases like “Thanks a lot for this” and “Wow!” in their wake.


*Come-along– a small utility winch

One thought on “In the Land of the Black Bear Part 6

  1. Thank you so much Garry for bringing back some awesome memories which have been lost in the black holes of my mind. You and your family were a great part of my teenage years. I look forward to seeing you all this summer and will be checking out your other chapters. Have a great day!

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