Category Number Per cent
Rich Farmers 50,000 2.9
(average holding 80 acres)
‘Snug’ Farmers 100,000 5.9
(average holding 50 acres)
Family Farmers 250,000 14.7
(average holding 20 acres and usually not
Cottiers 300,000 17.7
(average holding five acres)
Labourers 1,000,000 58.8
(average holding one acre, though often
without any land)
There were localised famines in 1800, 1817, 1822, 1831, 1835-37 and 1842. Prior to 1838 there was no state welfare system. In 1841, two fifths of Irish homes were one-roomed mud walled cabins. In the words of a contemporary observer: 3
Begin forwarded message:
From: ALAN SKEOCH <email@example.com>Subject: EPISODE 87 MY LAST KICK AT THE CAN…LAST MINING EXPLORATON JOB SUMMER 1965Date: August 5, 2020 at 9:01:06 AM EDTTo: Alan Skeoch <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Marjorie Skeoch <email@example.com>, John Wardle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
EPISODE 87 MY LAST KICK AT THE CAN…MY LAST MINING EXPLORATON JOB SUMMER 1965(Marjorie surprised us all…dare not say more)alan skeoch’August 2020THE STRANGEST THING HAPPENED WITH THIS STORY. I WANTED A PICTURE OFTHE COMINCO OPEN PIT MINE SO PUNCHED UP MERRITT B.C. ON THE INTERNET AND THEREIN BOLD PRINT WAS MY ORIGINAL STORY…SAME EVENTS AS BELOW BUT DIFFERENT. SOYOU WILL GET TWO VERSIONS OF THE SAME STORY. HOW ACCURATE WAS MY MEMORY.YOU BE THE JUDGE…VERSION #2 COMING NEXT EPISODE.COMINCO MINE … picture taken several years later than our visit in 1965…Now Called the Highland Creek Mine.Open Pit mines use massive Euclid trucks to clear away the overburden to get at the ore.This is the Cominco ‘holding pond” for mine tailings. It is now a new lake completewith trout for fishermen and fisherwomen. Not all mines are disastrous to theenvironment although that is hard to believe when the open pits are in operation.VERSON #1: WRITTEN FROM MEMORY ON AUGUST 4, 2020Yes, I am back. This terrible summer of 2020 has not been pleasant. There has beena big gap in my plants deliver an episode each day the goddamn Covid 19virus has forced so many of you into involuntary isolation. I have wantedto put some of these stories in print for ages…actually for 60 years. While lockedup like a lunatic this spring and summer I have been typing and some ofyou have taken the time to read and comment on the stories. Thanks. Yourcomments are like a pint of Guinness to an Irish alcoholic.Two comments before I begin Episode 871) The pain in my gall bladder was excruciating. My performance in theemergency ward of Mississauga’s Trillium hospital a few days ago wasembarrassing. Having an anxiety attack while nearly nude really threwme for a loop. (see last Episode for the particulars). I am fine now.No gall bladder. the holes in my chest now match the holesin my head. The death of Gabriela, one our daughters in law wasa double shock contributing to the panic attack no doubt.2) This Episode 87 does not follow the chronological order of the Irishstories. I will get back to them shortly. I must tell the of the story of the Summer of1965 while I remember what happened. Cannot find my journal. Just memory. Butthe events are true.EPISODE 87 MY LAST KICK AT THE CAN…SUMMER 1965We had been married for two years. A good marriage. Loved eachother with no second thoughts. at least none on my part. Maybe Maroriehad second thoughts after this adventure. Doubt it. Best Friends and lovers as they say. Everything was newto the both of us. We started life as husband and wife with nothing. Nopile of money. No great rich parents to load us with the luxuries of life.We were self supporting. Marjorie was a teacher at Emery Junior High Schooland I had job teaching history and english at Parkdale Collegiate Institute.We looked forward to a quiet summerin our huge apartment at 120.5 Westiminster Avenue in west end Toronto.I blame that fish and chip dinner we ate at a greasy spoon store on RoncesvalesAvenue. Ulcerated mouth … Trench Mouth. It began slowly with asore throat and progressed to a ghastly mouth that became one hugeulcer. Eating food was like sticking my throat in a bonfire. And itwas ugly to look at…white rather than red. We reported the suspectedorigin to the Board of Health where the nurse explained Trench Mouthcomes from eating off plates with cracks. “More often coffee cups withcracks.” The inspector wondered how sure i was the infection camefrom the fish and chip store. I was not sure. And regrettedsending inspectors to the small hole in he wall restaurant. “Happensall the time, people make guesses and restaurant owners get hurt.”I wished the inspector would leave. Wished I could lie down.Wished the pain would go away. wished I could eat or drink withoutincessant fire in my throat.“The summer is terrible, Marjorie…On all those mining jobs we never gotsick in the bush. Cooked our food some of which was disgusting. Rememberthat ‘campers special stew’. Dried. All it needed was boiling water.”“Boiled over a fire late at night as we set up camp. Dark. The stew tastedgreat.”“Then in the morning light we noticed the pot was full of tiny dead worms.The dried stew had been pre-digested by the worms. We at the worms.Never got sick.”“Worse than that was the sowbelly maggots…and weiners exuding awhite preservative that stuck to our hands like glue. Never got sickin 9 summers of mining exploration.” (Not quire true)“Then I got this nice safe teaching job and here I am flat on my back with Trench Mouth.”“Might be a good idea to stop talking about it Alan.”“Easy for you to say.”“Not easy…this summer seems dreadfull.”The Trench Mouth ordeal was nearly over in the first week of August.The phone rang.“Alan, this is Norm Paterson. How is the teachig career going?”“Very well,” (What would Dr. Paterson be calling me for?….certainly notfor small talk. Certainly not to hear me whine about Trench Mouth.“How would you like a short job?”“Great.” (Amazing how my blubbering about Trench Mouth ended so abruptly)“We need a guy to do a seismic job in British Columbia.”“The Portable Seismic…FS 2?”“yes, same one you used in New Brunswick and again on the Niagara River job…you know it.”“How long?”“A week…maybe two weeks. You will be back in time for school.”(Norm…i mean Doctor Paterson…knew I was a mining exploration addict.)“When?”“Leave tomorrow…Air Canada to Vancouver then local flight to Kamloops wherea car has been rented. Then south to Merritt.”“Why the urgency?”“Open pit mine with a big problem. One wall of the open pit seemsunstable. Could collapse into the mine. Wipe them out financially.”“So how will our seismic machine,” (Funny how I began usingthe term ‘our’) How will we help”“The geologists and mine manager are hoping that somewhere along theline of unstable rubble there will be a big hook of bed rock capableof stopping the collapse. Millions of dollars involved. If we can help…the cost will be negligible.”(I do not remember ever asking Norm…I mean Dr. Paterson…how muchI would be paid. The chance to have an adventure trumped money anyhow.)Trench mouth be damned…I was back in the saddle again as the song says.)Some of you readers may have already made a snap judgment about me.“Damn fool does not know he is now a married man…never consulted Marjorie..readyto bugger of on an adolescent male holiday without thinking about Marjorie.”Not true. The previous summer we took a job in the bush north of Sault Ste Marieand I invited Marjorie to join us. She arrived on the ACR(Algoma Central Railway) at our flag stop…i.e. we simplywaved to the engineer and he stopped the train. Marjorie got offcarrying two things. Both of which were quite useless. She broughther sewing machine … electric…useless. And our cat, Presque Neige’….wolveshowled every night. Marjorie was not averse to adventure. While waiting forme to fly out to Salt Ste. Marie she accepted an invite to practice takeoffs andlandings with a character just learning to fly. She only got out of thatadventure by pretending to throw up all over the windscreen as they dipped and dove“Well,Alan, what did Dr. Paterson want?”“We have a job in B..C. Flying out tomorrow.”“Does Dr. Paerson know I will be coming as well.”“Not exactly…no…he does not know.”“Who pays for me?”“I will pay…our holiday time.”“But you will be working…no holiday.”“Better than a holiday.”So we flew to Vancouver the next day. I was a bit worried. How would the geologistsand mine manager react when I arrived with my wife. Not such a good idea.Miners facing the loss of a whole multi-million dollar mine would not beamused. Their thoughts could be…“He brought his goddamned wife.”(and then phone Norm…I mean Dr. Paterson…in Toronto.)“We waned a seismic man out here…not an asshole with his wife.”(That could spell trouble…but i had a plan. The plan turned out tobe bad.)“Marjorie, could you stay in Vancouver overnight and then cometo my motel room in Merrit tomorrow. Take the bus. That would give me time toprepare the big shots for your arrival..”“Suppose I could….” (she was not ecstatic about the idea butaccepted the plan with reservations.)So I few to Kamloops. Rented a big flashy red convertible anddrove to Merrrit with the radio belting out Gordon Lightfoot andPeter, Paul and Mary. Life was good. Forgot about the TrenchMouth.Earth mover…like riding a dinosaur…cowboy drivers sat in that little cage in front. Bounced their way to the dump site.I drive right down into the open pit…an immense hole in the land.Parked at the minemanagers shack, Some cowboy about my age came thundering out of the pitdriving an earth moving machine…bouncing along with a load of waste to dump inthe tailing dam. He saw me…saw the red convertible and decided to scare theshit out of me for no good reason. He wanted see how close his earth movercould get to the passenger door of the convertible. He misjudged and rippeda slab of steel siding as if he was driving an immense can opener So muchfor the red convertible. We got a less glorious replacement. next day/.That little incident was a forewarning of things to come.I thought Marjorie was safely tucked away in a modesthotel in East Vancouver. East Vancouver? Never been there.Not such a nice place so I am told often by Marjorie overthe past 60 years.“Alan, the hotel was terrifying and thestreets outside were worse. Scared me.So I left it behind. Caught an overnight bus at 10 p.m.from Vancouver to Merrit. Found your motel…signed in and went to bed. You were out onthe job”This was true. I was out on the job with the big shots. Doing some practiceblasts on the edge of the immense open pitNice guys. Soon convinced I knew what I wasdoing.“Let;s go for a beer near your motel.?”“Good idea.”The men were startled to find a woman sleeping in my motel room.I was just as startled to find Marjorie there. but immediatelyintroduced her to the geologists and the mine manager.“This is my wife Marjorie.”They winked! They grinned. They did not believe me…they wereconvinced I had hired a hooker from Vancouver to ease thetensions of the seismic job. No matter what i said they grinned.“Marjorie, no matter what I say, those guys areconvinced you are a Vancouver prostitute.””“Nothing much we can do about that…I will justhave to play the role…could be amusing.:’:”How in hell;s half acre did you ever get to Merrit onyour own?”“It was not easy but I sure was not going to spendthe night in that hotel.”(Secretly I marvelled at Marjorie’s ability to take the bullby the horns and adjust circumstances. Some of herfriends were shocked at our earthy adventures.alan skeochAugust 2020Post Script. “Nice guy sat beside me on the bus…all night.” Wow!The job worked out OK. First full day the powder man fell off the edge ofthe open pit carrying our box of Forciete and blasting caps. We hauled himback to the mine crest. His fall was only about thirty or forty feet on a stableslope. Forcite does not explode easily.Later, when the big shots came to see a demonstration I set everything up…seismicmachine as base point and blasting stations with 50 or 100 for intervals. My jobwas simple. Push the ‘fire’ button and read how many milliseconds it took forthe sound wave to reach the seismograph. What could go wrong.?Lots. Dr. Paterson knew that so before takeoff from Toronto he gave me a smallpackage of computer boards. “Alan, if the machine fails, just slip out a computerboard or two and replace them with these new boards. I don’t expect that to happenbut you never know.”Of course the first firing failed. The forcite exploded but the millisecondsof the sound wave did not register. And all the mine officials were standingbeside me. Big time pressure. “Keep cool, Alan…cool.” My thoughts.“Just a computer problem fellows. Will fix it in a minute.”(opened up the seismic machine…slipped out one computer board andslid in another from the stash provided by Norm.“OK,fire again. All clear.” I pushed the button . The Forcite exploded andthe millisecond lights lit up. Perfect. Everyone was impressed including me.I do not remember whether we found a bedrock hook to stop the minecollapse. Not sure we did. What I do remember was looking down…a long way down…to the bottom of the open pit. And watching thedetonations below. Huge explosions…massive walls of overburden justfolded into piles of rubble for the Euclids to receive from Excavators.AMMONIUM NITRATE detonated in an open pit mine.“Ammonium Nitrate by the ton…poured down blasting holes and thensweetened with diesel oil. Detonated. Makes piles of rubble. End of the worldit seems at times.”We finished the job. Had a couple of meals with the mine manager and others.Marjorie was included…bubbly as ever. She played her new role to perfection.They continued to wink. Actually they liked her. By the end of the job they mayhave even considered she was really my wife.“How will we get home, Alan?”“Job is over. On all my jobs I tried to take the slowway home. To enjoy the sights of a strange place.”“Cut the guff, how are we going home?”“By the train…the transcontinental…Dining car andbig bubble viewing car…and bunk beds.”“Sounds expensive.”“I cut the cost buy just ordering one bed…a lower….we will both be inthe same bed….might be a little tight.”alan skeochAugust 2020END VERSION #1 EPISODE 87
1965: My Last Summer in the Wilderness: Merritt Open Pit Mine, Merritt, BCalan skeochFeb. 2019As the Summer of 1964 ended, I thought my career as a Field Man in the Miining Industryalso ended. Was I waving a fond good-bye? Not a chance. Along came the Summer of 1965.Marjorie now had a role which was misinterpreted as you will notice.“Hello, Alan, is that you?”“Yep.”“Norm Paterson here…need a man for a seismic job in BC…two weeks, maybe three.”“Wait until I check with Marjorie.”“Short job, Alan.”“All clear, what’s up”“Big molybdenum mine near Merritt B.C…worried about overburden slippage…need seismicinfo urgently.”“Using the portable FS2 unit.”“Yes, with some modifications…”“Modificatons?”“Nothing big time…you can handle it I’M sure. Can you take the job?”“When?”“Fly out to Vancouver tomorrow then short hop to BC interior.”“Sounds great, count me int.”That call came from out of the blue about August 10, 1965. This was our summer vacation as publicschool teachers. Hardly a vacation for us since somehow I got Trench Mouth in early July. Trench Mouth?Not many people have even heard of trench mouth. Lucky for that. It is a super painful mouth infectionMouth…a series of ulcers in mouth and throat…super painful. Cause? Gums got infected with Trench ]Mouth bacteria from some source. Rare disease dates back to soldiers in the trenches of World War I.Knocked me out for month of July so the Seismic call from Dr. Paterson was a welcome return to normal life.But I had a few questions…reservations. What is molybdenum? What are these ‘modifications’ to theFS 2 portable seismic unit? Where is Merritt? How big is the open pit mine? And finally a questionsbest not put to Dr. Paterson” “Can Marjorie come along on the job?” Of course, the final question wasthe really big question. And it was already answered.“Marjorie, pack a couple of bags for two weeks…light, one bag each.”“Where are we going?”“Wish I knew…place called Merritt.”“Another bush job?”“Nope, sounds like a job at a mine site.”“Where will we live?”“Not sure…I will fly in first and then you follow a couple of days later.”“Why?”“Because the mine manager expects an expert…this job is serious business…if the open pit is on verge of collapse…they do not expect a husband and wife team on some kind of junket.”“Where am I to stay then?”“Stay in Vancouver for a day or two in some cheap hotel and then take a bus to Merritt…by then the job should be wellunderway.”“How do I get there?”“By bus…should be a nice ride.”“I’ll book you into a an East Vancouver hotel,…”MOLEBDENUM“What is molydenom?”“It’s a mineral often found assoiated with copper.”Never heard of it.”“Not many people have…important mineral though…alloyed with steel makes steel harder.”“Who needs harder steel?”“Military. One inch thick steel plating of steel and molybdenum is as good as 3 inch think ,metal. Maketanks ligher…makes ships lighter…”THE NATURE OF THE JOB: COMINCO OPEN PIT MINE PROBLEMOne wall on The Cominco Open Pit Mine was unstable and seemed about to collapse which would tumble hundreds of tonsof soil and rock into the open pit mine. Like a mountain landslide. Geologists and mining engineers became aware of the danger when slight rock falls beganto happen. Could the whole massive open pit mine be compromised? Maybe. Maybe not. There was a chance that deepunderground the rock was quite stable. Maybe there might even be some kind of intrusion underground that would inhibit anyfurther movement.It was worth finding out. If stable then the profits would be secure. If not then drastic action would have to be taken. Action thatmight even bring about the closure of this partciular open pit operation.“You can do it, Alan,” said Dr. Paterson which was comforting. I was not so sure as I had graduated from U. of T in history and philosophy.Philosophy gives a person confidence. History made me aware of my ignorance. One cancelled out the other.No matter, we were committed and picked up the portable ‘modified’ seismograph. Marjorie and I flew to Vancouver the next day. She was booked into a modest hotel in Vancouver whileI caught a plane to Kamloops and rented a snazzy red convertible for the trip down to Merritt. Then Rented a room in the local motel which was very close to the mine itself.On arrival I met a company geologist and the mine managerand we sleuthed out the site. Explosives and blasting caps were purchased and we got down to business. Plan was to start the job the following morning.That sounds very business like. Very efficient.Unfortunately events did not go that smoothly. Let’s start with the car rental. Nice red American made convertible. Luxury car was only car available so I motored joyfullysouth through the desert landscape of sagebrush and Ponderosa pines. Pulled the car up near the mine admin building…sort of a wooden temporary structure. Lotsof huge earth movers were busy stripping off the overburden then loading up with the blasted fragments of copper bearing ore…very low grade…with molybdenum and tiny traces ofsilver and gold. Needed huge load of ore to get small amounts of copper or molybdenum. Gold and silver even less so.Earth movers have a blade about midway down the body. The blade is a mouth…once dropped it scoops up loose soil and rock…then the mouth is lifted andthe pile of soil and rock is hauled to a dump site. These machines are often driven by devil may care cowboy kinds of people. Shake the shit out of drivers. Certainly true in this case. As soonas I parked the car a cowboy tried to see how close he could come to the car. He got very close…too close. Sheared off the passenger side and back bumper. Had torent another car, less luxurious. Funny thing was that neither the mining people nor the rental agency got their underwear in a twist.Later I heard that heavy alcohol consumption in the area led to many car accidents.Imagine this rental car with the side sheared away.An earth mover, called a tractor scraper, identical to this one took a swipe at my rental car…ripped the passenger side and tore off the back bumper.Driven by a young man about my age or younger…maybe even only18 or so. I have no idea why he did it. Never met himand he did not stop just kept hauling his load to the dumpsite.The Cominco (later Highland Creek) Open Pit copper and molybdenum mine in 1965Current picture, circa 2018, of the Highland Creek open pit mine near Merritt, BC. When I worked there back in 1965, the pitwas not nearly tis deep. The place where we did the survey may have been somewhere near the central road waybut up on the former surface. Then again it could have been a nearby open pit that was subsequently abandoned.SO YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE FS2 PORTABLE SEISMOGRAPH?I learned the business from the bottom up. My first job in New Brunswick was the ‘hammer man’ job. Dr. Paterson gave mea heavy sledge hammer and small steel plate.“Hit that plate as hard as you can wherever and whenever you are told to do so.”“Must I know how to run a seismograph?”“You do not need to know a damn thing…just follow orders.”“Bottom of the learning ladder kind of job, right Dr. Paterson?”“Right…if you are lucky, you come back as a field man for the company…capableof running a seismic survey. If you foul up, well, you can figure what that means…”“Who is my boss?”“Dr. Abul Mousuf, a professional geophysicist…nice guy.”Description: Sledge hammer pounded on a steel plate sent sound waves tothe portable seismograph at clearly defined spatial intervals. Some distancefrom the Seismograph it was necessary use explosives. Sound waves travel atdifferent speeds in different material…i..e. air, overburden soil, bed rock.So My first job we used an MD-1 portable seismograph. All I had to do was hammer a steel plate with heavy steel headed sledge hammer. Abul Mousuf was my boss on that job.Just the two of us were sent to New Brunswick to confirm the future lakebed of the St. John River Valley was going to hold the huge amountof water from the Macktaquack (sp?) dam.Abul was the first moslem I ever met. Very patientand generous guy. He ran the portable seismograph while I provided the sound wave vibrations which were picked up by the machine in milliseconds..tinyfractions of a second. I pounded the steel plate at measured intervals…usually around 50 foot intervals. The more distant I got from Abul theharder I had to hammer that steel plate. When hammering was no longer readable, we started to use force… explosives…Explosives!“Alan, cut the Forcite sticks into quarters and halves.”“How?”“Slowly with a knife…the sticks are quite stable…“Stable?”“plastic C4…needs big shock to detonate…That’s where the caps come in.”“Caps?”“These little metal tubes with wires…electric firing caps.”“How are they charged?”“Slide the metal tube slowly into the Forcite…quite safe.”“And the wires?”“Attach to this cable that goes back to the firing switch…“Any danger of error?”“Always a danger if more than two people get involved…safe is we work together.You set the charge…bury it so some of the force will go down… then get back out of the way…Signal me…wave your arm…yell, ‘All clear’and I’ll detonate the charge. usually only need quarter sticks.We worked out a routine…once the charge was buried and wires connected I signalled Abul, then moved outof the way, and he pushed the firing button. Wham! A small geyser of dirt snd debris flew into the air. And beneath the ground a sound wave racedto the seismograph. Sound waves move faster in hard surfaces so it is possible to ‘read’ what is beneath the ground…and do a profile of the depth to bedrock.That is a very simple explanation. Forgive any errors. Remember I was just the hammer and explosives guy. The kid on thejob.We hired a man to help with the explosives. I have forgotten his name. If someonesaw him walking through town today with this handful of Forcite sticks made readyto detonate they would call in a Swat team or run for their life. In the early 1960’s notmany people were concerned unless we were crossing their land.This is how the St. John River Valley above Fredericton appeared to me in that summer of 1961. Like a picture postcard.Stunning in its beauty. We were agents of change.The whole valley from Fredericton to Grand Falls was destined to become a huge lake held in place by the Mactsquak Dam.King’s Landing. Many of the historic buildings in the Valley were moved to King;s Landing which remains a mecca for tourists.That job was done a few years earlier around 1961. Actually the job was depressing because the St. John River Valley was absolutelybeautiful. To imagine it being flooded made me sad. But progress is progress. Loyalist farms had been expropriated. Their antiquetreasures were so vast that a huge historic village called King’s Landing was being constructed while we were assessing the future lake bottom. Some of these farms werestill in operation others had been demolished. One farm I remember particularly. We had rented cabins at a doomed resort near Pokiok Falls, also doomed. The weatherwas turning cool, early September, and each of us had a small wood burning stove beside our beds. In my mindI can still smell that wood fire.The barns on that farm were filled with ancient farm machines like a wooden tread mill for a horse to deliver power to a florally decorated flat to the floor threshing machine.At the time I wished I could rescue some of these implements. I hoped they would end up at King’s Landing for future tourists.Pokiok Falls was also doomed. The water spilled down a long split in the bedrock which made the waterfalls almost inaccessible. Now it is all covered in water andthe village of Pokiok Falls is a memory at best but more likely totally forgotten.I got to know Abul really well. We liked each other. Part way through the job his wife joined us. She was a French Canadian girl from Bathurst,New Brunswick. Really nice person At one point Abul said, “Why don’t you two go down to the Fredericton Fair tonight while I dothe calculations. We did that. Even rode a Ferris Wheel as I remember.” On another night we visited the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.Why tell you this? Because Islamophobia has become sucha big negative factor in Canada today. Images of Moslem restrictions on women are rampant. That was certainly not the case withAbul. He trusted me with his wife. She was about my age. Back in Toronto, in late fall, Abul and his wife joined our Presbyterian Young Peoples Group and explained someof his Islamic beliefs. This was not done with the intention of conversion.He was about as laid back a man as possible.Why tell you all this.? Because Abul taught me how to use the portable seismograph. And my image of Moslems was permanently affected byhis gentle behaviour, his humour, his trusting nature, and his love of life. The next summer I asked Dr. Paterson…“How is Abul?”“He died.”“Died, no he was young.”“He caught pneumonia on a job in Northenr Quebec las winter….died.”“What a nice man he was.”“Yes, we all miss him. I spoke to him just before he died and hesaid…’Don’t feel badly, it my time to go. I am at ease.’There were several end results of working with Abul . First, I met a man I have admired all my life. Second, I came to understand Islam in a manner that was positive rather than fear laden. And third, Ilearned how to operate a portable seismograph which increased my value to Hunting Technical and Exploration Services. Oh, yes, there was a fourth result…I got a couple of glycerine headaches fromhandling the Forcite sticks. They beaded droplets of glycerine.So, when Norm…sorry, I meant to say Dr. Paterson…phoned me in late July 1965, I was overjoyed to have the job.The greeting by the professional staff at the mine site was a little disconcerting though. They had set up a demonstration test just to be sure the company, my company, knew what we we’re doing.At least that’s the way I interpreted them gathering around the FS2 on the first working day. They assigned a hammer man to work with me, a man who was a little familiar with frociete explosives.Really just a kid a few years younger than me. We walked along the edge of the huge open pit mine. Walked carefully. But not carefully enough for the hammer/explosives man. He slipped overthe edge carrying the box fo Forcite sticks. Fell down about ten feet or so, regained his footing and popped up again. Forcite does not explode when dropped. A most stable explosive…can be neededand wrapped around a bank vault as they show in the movies. So there was no real danger although the boy who fell had misgivings.Let me set the stags for the next critical incident:We are standing on the edge of the open pit Molybdenum mine. A Great circular road weaves its way down to the pay dirt at the bottom. Huge Euclid mine trucks are going and comingwhile equally large excavators are at work far below. The officials from the mine are interested in seeing the Seismograh at work. They are professional people…a geologist and the mine managerare among the 5 or 6 people present.I set up the console and mark off the intervals for a) the hammered plate and then, once hammering cannot be done b) the intervals for the electrically fired quarter snd half stick of Forcite. The hammer manhas been instructed how to slowly side the electric firing caps into the Frociete then use the lead wires to make the explosive secure.I am nervous. What if nothing happens? What did Dr. Paterson mean when he said certain adjustments had been made to the FS2. Let me describe what happened next in dialogue form.“OK, we’re all set up, FS is on.”“Hammer the steel plate…NOW.”“That’s odd, no reading…no milliseconds indicted…Do it again!”(Nothing happened…I had my heart in my mouth…was there something I did not know…was it my fault?Keep calm, Alan…be confident.”“Sorry, must be a defective board…may have shaken something loose en route.”Dr. Paterson had given me two or three spare “boards” filled with complicated soldered resistors and what not.)“Just do a replacement…slide this board out and put a new one in…happens all the time.”“OK, now take a good song with the hammer:“Bingo…working fine…measures time vibration gets to the seismograph in milliseconds…te more distant the hammer or the explosives get from the seismograph the closer we get to findingwhat is underground. What you want is a stable rock base…or a rock knob to prevent any more slippage.That will take s lot of readings…(no need for an audience is what I really meant)”“My credibility had been established…by pure luck…well, more than luck, let’s say guts…Dad alwayscalled me a ‘gutsy bugger’GUESS WHO ARRIVED THAT FIRST DAY ON THE JOB?Once the board was replaced all went well. Firing box for Explosives worked perfectly. All I had to do was push the button and thenwrite down the milliseconds it took for the sound wave to reach the seismograph. Simply add up the little twinkling lights. At least thatis what I remember. Things became routine.My next shock was when I returned to the motel.Marjorie was unpacking her suitcase in our room.“Marjorie, I thought you were going to wait a couple of days?”“Not in that Vancouver hotel. I was sacred so I caught the nightbus to Merritt…arrived this morning.”“Scared?”“Strange men…noise…drunks…did not want to stay around.”“Glad to see you…perfectly safe here…”A little later, the mine geologist showed up to make me feel welcome. Me?He was surprised to find an attractive young woman in my room with me.Wore a kind of lopsided grin when I introduced Marjorie to him.The next day I got the scuttlebutt from our hammer man that the execs thought I hadbrought a hooker in from Vancouver. They were certain of that. No matter how manytimes I introduced Marjorie as my wife, they figured I was leading them on.“Marjorie, these guys think you are a hooker…can’t dissuade them…”“So, let’s leave it at that then Alan.”Pictures: Marjorie…I know these were taken a few years after the BC venture…but they seem to fit.As the days wore on, I think they came to realize Marjorie was my wife but we werenever sure that fact was believed. There is an old story about mining that I pickedup when working on the Elliot Lake uranium job. Our liaison man on that job said“The best way to tell if a mine is going to be operational is the arrival of the hookers.”Maybe Marjorie was a good luck omen.WHAT WAS THE RESULT OF THE SURVEY?I was only the field man. The interpretation of my results was done by professional geophysicists like Dr. Paterson back in Toronto.The execs from Cominco would have liked me to tell them if the unstable north wall of the open pit was on the verge of collapseor whether it would stabilize due to a tilt in the bedrock. I never did know the results. That was true of all the jobs except forthe Southern Irish job where Dr. Stam and geologist John Hogan were on site for the duration of the job.When we finished our seismic readings and the results were sent back to Toronto, the job was over.So here we were in Central British Columbia with s few days before school started back in Toronto. What should we do?Fly home right away? I never liked doing that on any job. Seemed an absolute waste because most of the places we surveyedwere distant from Toronto. Some were fascinating places like Anchorage, Alaska…Keno City, Yukon Territory…Bunmahon, CountyWaterford, Slouther Ireland. It would be stupid to rush home. And it would be costly since two airfares were involved only one ofwhich was covered by the company.“Marjorie, why don’t we catch the CPR Canadian…the transcontinental railway?”“Can we do that?”“On our own time…company job is over.”“Expensive?”“We can cover most of it with my return fare…maybe even cheaper.”“How?”“Let’s just reserve one sleeper bed…a lower?”“Is there room for two?”“Who cares?”So we did. We came back to Toronto on board the ‘Canadian’…meals in the dining car, vistas enjoyed fromthe dome car and both of us folded into the lower bunk sleeper. A little tight but No problem. Job over.AND SO ENDED MY CREER AS A FIELD EXPLORATION MAN IN THE MINING INDUSTRY.EACH DAY SEEMED TO HAVE A NEW ADVENTURE. SO GLAD YOU HAVE TAKENTHE TIME TO READ THESE NOTES.ALAN SKEOCHFEB. 8, 2019P.S. There will be some short notes coming…such as the GOOD FOOD note below
(And a game for you to test your vision)
17) One reader noticed the person in the photo is left handed…as I am.But I did not own such a fancy pair of long underwear. We sharedthe meal, however, both left handed cooks.18) Another reader commented on his clean feet and wonderedwhether he had washed his feet in the wash basin before makingthe skim milk, custard and stale bread gourmet dinner. It is justpossible he did do that which would add some fine particles to the meal.alan skeochFeb. 8,2019(picture was taken on the Yukon job in 1961 or 1962)
EPISODE 86 EMBARASSING BEHAVIOUR….ANXIETY ATTACK
If you can stand to read this then do so. If you are queasy at the knees as I can be…then DO NOT READ THIS EPISODE 86
TODAY is Sunday july 26, 2020. I was released from hospital an hour ago…thankfully.
“What the hell are you doing in the hospital, Alan?”
“Give me a few minutes and I will tell you. the
events are not flattering…make me looks deranged.:
Marjorie and I returned to the city after a delightful meal at the farm
practicing social isolation and distancing with masks. All the goddamn
things we had been doing for the past four months.
“Marjorie what do you have for an upset stomach”?
“Something you ate?”
“Don’t know but hurts bad…like a ballon in my gut.”
“Book says ginger is good…I’ll make ginger tea…”
Cut to the qjuick here. After the usual panacea, water…We tried everything including apple vinegar
and honey. Next comes mint leaves, the BRAT DIET (banana, rice, applesauce, toast), then Iturned
to the internet…lime, lemon juice, baking soda ,
even considered Yarrow leaves from the garden.My gut hurt really bad…bloated.
I remembered uncle Norman said the vets used a big knife for bloated cattle because the choicewas a terrible choice. And I remembered him hauling out a dead bloated steer with the help ofthe man from the dead wagon.
“Christ, Marjorie this hurts but the internet says the worst thing
to do is lie down. So you go to bed and I will pace the floor until
this stuff works its way out my ass or my mouth.”
1.00 a.m. “Marjorie, wake up…we have to go the hospital fast. I think
it’s the gallstones again. Pain bad…really bad. Get up. Wake up.:”
We moved with speed of summer lightning…Mississauga Trillium Hospital…guards out front.1.30 a.m. “Just park anywhere …let me out. Ignore the guys in
“Hold on sir.”
“Let him go…he’s having an attack.”
“Then you can go no farther. lady.”
(I slipped by…in my pajamas with a spare shirt and my I phone.
Emergency room was empty…no one there. At other times there were dozens
but no one tonight ( July 25, 1.30 a.m.) Then a nurse appeared…got all the data needed
as I fumbled through my wallet. “I am in pain…bad” “how bad on scale 1 to 10?”
It was10…might be 8 now…”
“Here slip on this wrist band”
“Follow the arrows back there…someone will help ou.”
Alone, I walked, then heard tapping at a window and there
was Marjorie…thumbs up…I returned the gesture even
though my pajama bottoms wanted to fall down. The trail
led me to an assessment centre…
(Why 5…most distant room….hardly a room …tiny but large enough for terror to unfold)
“Let me take some blood, sir”
“What is your first name.”
“Caister” (may have got it wrong)
“There, got the blood, now get ready to give me a sample. I will
be back in a minute.”
(A minute was just to damn long. I snapped. Did not expect
to do so but anxiety attacks are almost spontaneous. They explode.And this is when things turned UGLY. real Ugly for
“ I started to scream…I can’t breathe! I CAN’T BREATHE! help me SOMEONE…FOR
CHRIST’S SAKE, I CAN’T BREATHE! I SCREAMED AND SCREAMED.
People came running. From where I do not know.
“HELP ME…HELP ME…NO BREATHE…GOING TO FAINT.”
They tried. Many people…maybe 6, maybe 10 all crowded into
this overgrown telephone booth. All yelling as well. “Give him air.
Calm down, sir. Sit Down Stand up. Stope yelling. breathe through
you nose not you mouth.”
“CAN NO ONE HELP ME. I CANNOT BREATHE.”
But you are breathing. “NOT ENOUGH AIR. LET ME OUT OF HERE.
SOMEONE HELP ME.:’
“QUICK, RUN AND GET THE ECG…FAST…”
“SIT DOWN, SIR.”
“I CAN’T SIT DOWN…CANNOT BREATHE.”
(I Tore off the hospital gown.)
“GOT TO STAND UP…DYING.”
“SWEATING LIKE A STUCK PIG…WATER POURING OFF.”
(The GUY WITH MY GOWN IS TRYING TO WAVE IT TO CalM ME DOWN.
BIG GUY, . HE CLEARS A TINY SPACE
FOR ME TO STAND UP…FANNING ME…I AM NEAR NUDE …SCREAMING LIKE
A MAD MAN.
(…6 to 10 of us…then the
ECG arrive on a trolley…wedged into the room…tottering.)
“I CAN’T BREATHE…HELP ME…SOMEONE HELP ME.”
“Here slap these patches on his body…anywhere…then we’ll
hook him to the ECG. Patches and then a forest of wires attached
while I am jumping around screaming…”I CAN’T BREATHE. I NEED
AIR..OXYGEN. AN AIR TANK FOR GOD’S SAKE”
Then the ECG starts to chatter while showing zig zags of my heart on a screen. Danger?
zigs and zags all looks the same. Cards piling up like an accordion. No strait line thankfully.
I glanced and remembered hospital shows on TV. Straight line on an ECG spells death.
“I CAN’T BREATHE. NEED AIR.”
“SIT DOWN SIR,”
“CAN’T SIT DOWN”
Some hands pushing me down, others helping me up. Too many hands.
Everybody yelling and the ECG chattering. Spewing out the last few moments
of my life.
“I CAN’T BREATHE FOR CHRIST’S SAKE…HELP ME…I NEED AIR..NEED AIR.”
Then someone wraps a plastic air pipe around my neck and is fumbling with
the pipe…air tank now in room as well.
Trying to reach my nose…jumping around“CAN’T BREATHE. DRY MOUTH…DRY MOUTH…DRY MOUTH”
A hand jams a capsule in my mouth and something sticks to the inside front
tooth. “DRY MOUTH…HELP ME…SOMEONE…CAN’T BREATHE.
“BUT YOU ARE BREATHING, SIR.”
“NOT ENOUGH. ONLY HALF BREATHES…NEED AIR…NEED AIR.”
(ECG machine has paper as long as the room by now. Someone takes
a look. I must be dying…but machine keeps chattering…no deadline…I am
alive but ‘I CAN’T BREATHE”
“CALM DOWN, SIR…TRY YOUR NOSE NOT YOUR MOUTH…YOU WILL
GET OVER IT…CLASSIC ANXIETY ATTACK…HE WILL GET OVER IT.”
THE guy with my gown now has a little more room. He starts to wipe me
down with the gown…meanwhile I am still yelling “I CAN’T BREATHE…DRY MOUTH…
WILL SOMEONE HELP ME.”
Little sticky patches allover my body…multi coloured wires.. “SIR , TRY TO RELAX.”
Eventually Iwound down … slowly …still yelling but without the short staccato yells …I am getting
more oxygen…someone holding the tank behind me…I am breathing…not well…not even
but I am breathing.
It was pandemonium. And I was the in the centre. But I really could not
breathe. Even though I was gulping air like a goldfish in a tank. Someone switched
off the ECG. I sat down. Then Caistor helped me onto a gurney. Wrapped me
in a new gown…must have been a new gown…my original was soaked.
INTERJECTION: TODAY I WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE SIX TO TEN PEOPLETHAT CROWDED IN THE ROOM TRYING TO HELP. GOOD PEOPLE. PART OFTHE HERO FORCE WE MAY NEED AGAIN. I WONDER HOW THEY WILL REMEMBERME? UNSTABLE? MAYBE ANXIETY ATTACKS ARE COMMON. PLEASE TAKE NOTE THAT ALL
THESE PEOPLE WERE TAKING RISKS TRYING TO HELP ME. I AM PARTICULARLY
“Taking you down for a CatScan, sir.”
“Drink these two tumblers…no rush but drink it all.”
The technicians fiddled around with my hands for a while and
once I was calm enough they fed me into the big donut like you
feed a frozen makerel to a whale.
“Try not of move sir…absolutely still”
I was worn out anyway. And I was breathing. The person who got
the air tank handed to the CatScan technician and disappeared.
What I am trying to describe to you is a classic example of aN Anxiety Attack.
It happened suddenly without warning. The source was stress and fear. I am81 years old. My 50 year old daughter in law died last week. Tragic. Everyone in turmoil.My memory kept drawingup a memory from the even deeper past. A moment of sheer terror in France.
The reason for my Panic Attack was clear to me as I tried to
explain to others. Several years ago I had trouble coming
out of an anesthetic at a nice hospital in the south of France.
I had fallen off a cliff while trying to get a better angle picture
of a beautiful lavender field. Bashed myself up badly and broke
my wrist. The operation was a success. Unfortunately I had trouble
coming out of the anesthetic. I opened my eyes, saw Marjorie
across the room…but I could not breathe. My lungs would not work
correctly as they must have been tuned to some kind of lung
machine. It took a couple of minutes for me to adjust. Terrifying
minutes that made me fear anisthesia.
So this anxiety attack was not funny.
It was not funny at the time. Sounds funny now. But I know it was
not funny. I really thought I was going to die…to smother to death
right there and then. with 6 to 10 people watching and an ECG machine
chattering and Caistor with my gown fanning me.
A few weeks earlier I had arrived here in emergency witha gall stone lodged in the neck of my gall bladder. Pain thatI had no wish to ever meet again. pain that lasted 5 days…no sleep…three of those days in a hospital bed. Then the moment the surgeonwas about to cut, the pain ended. The stone slipped off. No pain.I told the surgeon in plain terms “If it ain;t busted, don’tfix it.”Get me out of here. I was released. What a relief. a bunchof men were out in the lot building an emergency hospital forthe expected rush of Covid 19 patients. I did not want to be around for that.The surgeon knew an operation was the best choice but he also knewwhat was coming with the Pandemic. “I will get it removed in a coupleof weeks when the pandemic dies down. That idea was wrong. We arenow nearly at the end of July. The Pandemic is still hereNo delay…no smart ass comment like “If it ain;t busted, don’t fix it.”
So I kept my mouth shut while Dr. Zilbert pushed on my stomach.“Where does it hurt?”“Right there, Dr.”He seemed to already know about my case. Maybe the fuss down in theEmergency room had reached his ears. Maybe the CatSkan was clear.Bottom line I was admitted and wheeled into a ward passing throughlong empty hallways with no one visible. The Mississauga Trillim hospital
like hospitals across Canada was half empty as the nation waited
to see what Covid19 was going to do..I was in the middle of noman’s, nowoman’s lamd.
I was in the midst of the care workers I had been reading aboutjust a day earlier…nurses, doctors, orderlies, sweepers, cooks,…many people.
And I was afraid.
Fear. Pure and simple. Fear. That is one reason for panic attacks
like mine. There can be other reasons but for me it was the fear
I would wake up and not be able to breathe.
An orderly took over the gurney from the CatsSkan operator
and landed me in Room 213 at the Mississauga Trillium Hospital.’
“Would you like the window, sir?”
“Sure would. Last time I was here Got a window.”
“When was that ?”
“First week of March…same time you were emptying the hospital expectng
Covid19 infested patients by the hundreds.:
“Why were you admitted?”
“Terrible pain….Gall stone lodged in my Gall Bladder….stomach
blown up like a dead pig in a farm field. Scale of 10 over 10
for pain. Did not sleep for 5 days…three of those days here
“How did we reduce the pain?”
“Morphine and lots of it. Have you ever had a morphine trip?
“I had three days and nights on Morphine…right outside my window
I had morphine trips that were great. One night a circus arrived
with a big brown bear up a telephone tree that slowly turned into
an oak or maple tree as the bear looked at me in friendly way. Not
a hungry bear There was a little white Jack Russel dog that tipped
me off that a trip was about to happen. Cute little dog. Then some
big sailing ships flooded by with people aboard…silent people.And on the shore a bunch of men were trying to pull downa big tree by hand. My room moved closer….a young womansitting cross legged idly plucking rose petals from a huge silverbowl. Others standing on high poles as a building waslowered from the sky for the men and women to bolt in place..”“No morphine on the orders today.”
“No, the pain has eased…down to a 5…tolerable…If it skyrocketed
you will turn to morphine.”
“Let’s hope that does not happen.”
Dr.Zilbert and others arrived at my bedside and did a little probing
and said the magic word…”Surgery soon” And away they went.
A bubbly Filipino nurse arrived with a tub of soapy water. Big smile.“Would you like a bath, sir?”
“Here you wash your face, I will do the rest of you.”And she did…swiftly…even the underparts. She was fast andcheerflull but no debate invited. She had two little toddlers of her own…so
risky situation for her.
I had two nurses…my day nurse was Agnes, my nightnurse was Maria. Two people who took charge of peoplelike me every two or three days. They just took chargeof my every movement. They checked my heart and temperatureevery two hours. Agnes jabbed me with needles that suckedmy blood and another needle to prevent blood clotting.They put meto bed and got me up. They were always just a buzzer away.“Agnes, can you get a message to Dr. Zilbert?”“I can try…he is a busy man.”AGNES…MY DAY SHIFT NURSEAgnes and Maria and others seemed to like collecting my blood. I was beyond caring by then.
“I am terrified of the anisthetic. I fear arepeat of an experience in France wheremy breathing was compromised. Tell himI am scared.
“When is the operation planned.?”“We never know. First we must get you ready.No food today. just cups of tiny ice cubes thatyou can eat one at time.”MY WASHER, BATHER, BED MAKER….DRESSER (NEW GOWNS) BENEATH THAT MASK IS A BIG SMILE. AS YOU CAN SEE.MARIA….MY NIGHT SHIFT NURSEAnd Maria, my night nurse followed the same routines.
MARIA would like everyone to appreciate FRONT LINERS like her and so many others. That is one reason I am writing this story
“When will they operate, MARIA?”“We never know…operations go on here night and day.”“Today?”“Best you just suck on ice cubes and sleep.”On that I fell asleep… only to be gently awakenedat 1 a.m. IN the morning. The night was dark and hot..
THE SURGERY“Wake up, Alam/““Not more blood…have I any remaining””“Getting you ready for surgery.”“At 1 a.m….middle of the night?”“Surgery goes 24/7.”
So I rolled myself onto another gurney and was wheeled through the dark and
“There you are, sir.”
The orderly slid my gurney into a dark corner where I could see no one at first and then
Some time later Agnes awoke me…around 6.30 a.m.
And a whole bunch of people began to assess me. Heart. Temperature. Blood, of course.
P.S. Why do I want this rather sorry behaviour put in print? Simple answer. I am very