alan skeoch
August 2020


alan skeoch
august 2020

PILOT  “Listen boys, I do not like this little lake
so do your work fast.  The water is going down
and  landing will get difficult.”

“Take less per load.”

“Possible but soon there’ll not be enough water to land.”

“These  are the last off our anomalies…we will work fast.
Come back for us in three days.:  (I do not remember this time line exactly)

The summer of 1964 was hot.  To many that means heightened fire  danger which was
true.  We had a no fire rule for much of the summer. But the real danger was the slow but
steady evaporation of water from the lakes.  A lot of water
was gone between June and September.  That fact is apparent in the photograph of
our fly camp (Episode 97).  Looks like the water has gone down five  feet or more.

Flight pontoon landings that were easy and safe in June became difficult and dangerous
in September.

This picture was  taken  in mid August.  Take a  look at the high  water mark on the shore.  Seems water had  gone  down about
four or five feet by then.  On  our last job the water level had dropped more.  Very dangerous for water landings and takeoffs as
we discovered.

It was our last job. 
we Were  finished. The crew had returned to Paradise Lodge to pack up.
Marjorie had caught the ACR to Sault Ste Marie.  “Meet you at
the airport, Marjorie…maybe around noon.”   My part of the job  was finished.  I had to be
back in school by the end of the Labour Day Week  End.    

The plan was neat.  We had finished work on an anomaly close to a small lake
south of our Wart Lake camp.  All that was left was a pile of gear….tents, cooking
goods, some wire frame cots, axes,shovels.,Coleman  stoves, fuel, etc.  I don’t really remember what was
in the pile of goods.   Maybe 200  to 300 pounds  of

“I don’t like this lake…too shallow,” said the pilot when he dropped us a few days earlier.

“And it will get worse.”

We did the job as fast as we could and had arranged a pick up.  Don’t remember much about the first flight
  but I do  know I was  feeling quite nostalgic.  This would be the last bush job of m life.  I knew that
and wanted to savour my exit alone. Crew out first.  The flight went
well although the distance from touchdown to the end of the lake was short.  

That was not the problem.  I did  not expect a  problem for I was  wrapped in
my memories of so  many bush  planes on so many lakes.  Mostly Beavers but a  few
Cessnas and one Seabee which was just a visitor being dropped off.  “Those 
Seabees are really dangerous.  Motor at the rear.  Pushing.  If the motor quits the
goddamn thing drops like a rock.  No ability to glide.   Cessnas  glide best.”

The Cessna 170 came in  at tree top level.  Had  to.  Landing strip of water was short 
as evaporation created shallows where  once  there was two or three feet of water.

The pilot cut power early and  the plane settled  down  harder than usual.  Bigger chevron 
of water.  And something different.  Slightly lopsided.  The plane turned  and  idled
its way to our landing site.  Slight slant.  Odd.

“Hit a fucking deadhead.  Ripped the pontoon…goddamnit.”

Submerged  objects terrified bush pilots.  Often they took a run at landing
then circled.  Looking for objects.  Like dead heads…old submerged logs or
trees  sometimes angled upwards.

“I’m going to pump out the water while you load.  Could be tricky.  Put 
load  as far forward  as you can…need the weight for extra  lift.”

Took no time at all.  Ignition. And we worked our way to best takeoff  position
and he gave it full power.  We flumed our way down the lake with an increasing
slant as the pontoon filled with water.   Fast but not fast enough.  The far shore 
and  tree line got closer and  closer.  “Can’t make it!” and the pilot cut power and  the plane settled.  Slightly off centre.  And close
to shore.  Too close.

“Dump the load on the beach.  We’ll try  once more but empty.  Got to get off
this fucking lake. “  He cursed and  pumped out the pontoon water.

“There.  Let’s give it another try.”

He taxied down as far as he could without getting tangled in weeds.  Then
we were moving.  The pontoon filled with water as we went full throttle
down the lake.  Far shore became the near shore.  No lift yet.

“Move your body  forward…gut more lift.”

Then we had liftoff.  To me it seemed  just in time.  Seemed we were
just skirting the swamp and  maybe touching tree tops  Not true of
course.  Imagination played.

The rest of the flight was easy.  In an hour we had landed at Sault Ste
Marie where Marjorie was supposed to be waiting.  I had said noon but
we were late, very late. She was not there.
Her turquoise VW beetle  was in the parking lot but no sign of 

Then she walked into the holding lounge from the aircraft side.

“I pretended to be  sick.”

“A man offered me a tour of the city from his plane.  I did  not
know he was just a pilot in training.  Scared me near to death.
Only way we got back on the ground  fast was I pretended  to
be about to vomit”

And so  it ended.   Our days of mining exploration were over.  They
ended with a bang.

alan  skeoch
August 2020

P.S.  I know this sounds hard to believe.  Writing from memory
can result in exaggeration.  So here are the simple facts
of that last flight.

1) Water levels had  fallen dramatically (see picture)
2) Pilot did hit something and punctured one pontoon.
3) I  watched him pump out the pontoon
4) We failed to get liftoff on our first attempt and jettisoned
the cargo on the beach.
5) Second attempt was just barely successful and I remember
the pilot asking me to lean forward.
6) Our baggage?   Do  not know what happened.
7) Marjorie did take a joy ride that scared her enough to feign vomit
8) This  was  not my final job.  The next summer we flew to Merritt
B.C. on a short seismic job.  But this Paradise Lodge job was
my last bush  job.



alan skeoch
August 2020

This was the Dawson City, General Store in the Yukon as it appeared
in 1961.   
The building was slowly sinking into the permafrost each year.   This picture has nothing to do with the story that follows.  My job
for ten summers was as unique as the  Dawson City hardware store.  




Dinner at our fly camp in summer of 1964.   After the supper of wormy stew we went 
back  to the good  staple food  of  pork and beans.  That is  Bob Bartlett
pouring condensed  milk onto something and beside him is Serge Lavoie.  

This captures what life  is like in he bush…cooking over an open fire. Very rough and unpleasant. in this case
 the fire  is much too large but it was  made in the pouring rain when we  took a lunch 
time  break…and tried to dry our socks.  Fires were always carefully extinguished.  Never once do I remember a fire
causing damage.   One Question?  Where would you sit here?  Careful, you could
easily get piles.  Yukon Territory job. 1961.

alan skeoch’
August 2020

Many of our jobs had camp cooks, sometimes we ate in diners.   But a  lot of
the jobs were bush jobs where we were our own  cooks.


Cooking.  Essential was bacon…needed to grease the pan for both French Toast
and  Pancakes, both of which we ate often in various forms.  Note the blazing
axes  in the background.  A  special light axe for marking trails.

1) French Toast was great for breakfast as long as the eggs lasted.   Rotten eggs
made poor French Toast but that never happened.   The nose was  key to freshness.
French Toast had an added plus factor.  Slabs could be eaten cold at lunch sitting
on a dry log.   Two meals.  Even three if there were some leftovers for supper.
2) Peanut butter…could  be slathered  on cold French toast.  Or on anything.  Peanut 
butter could  be eaten with a spoon right from the can or bottle.  No wash  up
needed.  A perfect food.  And if  too many field  mice found our cook tent then
peanut butter on a Victor snap  trap solved the problem.  Red squirrels needed 
a rat trap but were also suckers for peanut butter.  Rarely used though.  There was
no trap big enough for black bears with whom we shared food a few times.

3)  Rolled oats cooked fast for breakfast with brown sugar and
canned or powdered milk.  Then the leftover porridge would cool and form a 
gelatinous  slab for lunch.  The slab could be rolled with marmalade or
peanut butter in between.  Scrumptious .   Many many lunches of such 
make my mouth water even today. wrapped in wax paper which served the
double function of starting the lunch time fire for our Billy cans of tea.

4) Salami or Polish sausage.  Both kept well.  The flies preferred to lay
their eggs in the slabs of sowbelly…bacon slabs…rather than the salami
or Polish sausage.  Why?  I am not sure but suspect the latter were loaded
with preservatives that the flies sensed  but we did not.

5) Pork and Beans.  A camp favourite even though the cans  were often
too heavy to pack if we were not returning to base camps for a  day
or two.  Throw in a  slab of butter and more salt and  pepper.  Smell
was terrific.  Dining like kings and queens.  There were side  effects, of  course,,
but the side effects were very healthy  Nothing worse than constipation.
Or, as we called that affliction, “the screaming shits”.

5) Cookies…lots of them.  Usually Peak  Frean shortbreads of  various  shapes.
But I remember large boxes of David’s cookies on the Quebec job.  I mean large
…about the size of a small suitcase.  That company made lots of sweet things
with marshmallow fillings.  We never put limits on consumption that I remember.

6) Food for fast consumption.   On deep bush  jobs where food service was by
bush plane at irregular intervals we would order some fresh  food…like fruit.  Maybe
a watermelon to eat right away or a six quart basket of peaches.  Oranges were
best since they kept well.  Sometimes we might even try a pie or cake…again
for fast consumption the arrival day.  Gorge and starve.

7) Drinks.  You might think we would order several cases of ginger ale or Coca cola
but that did not happen.  Lots of  tea bags and ground coffee.  Hot chocolate made
with powdered milk was  drinkable but barely so.   Fresh milk was a luxury item.
Alcohol was never on site which I find strange on reflections because we always
celebrated the end of a job with a beer or double O.P. (Yukon job).

WE  never had alcohol on the job.   After a job, however, we celebrated.  This is my favourite picture  of celebration 
in Ireland in 1960.  Most of these men were our employees and they all enjoyed a pint  of Guinness as did we.

8) Bread.  Useful whether fresh or stale.  Old bread got rather crusty but could 
be softened  in the form of French toast as mentioned above.  Mouldy bread
was garbage but sometimes the mould was  spotty and  could be cut out.
Sliced bread got mouldy in the first four or five slices…deep in the loaf sometimes
a  good slice was found.

9) Canned Prunes.  The  two terrors we wanted to avoid were Constipation and
Diarrhea.  Bot are debilitating.  Constipation seemed the most common hence
the canned  prunes.

10)  Pasta…lots of it in the form of Kraft Dinners, and a few attempts at
 spaghetti with canned sauce…no fancy pastas however like
Lasagna…too hard to make.   Kraft dinner best.

Mrs.  Kennedy was the dominating person in Bonmahon. Ireland job.   She also saw that we ate well.  No rough food like we
had in our wilderness camps.

11)  Mrs. Kennedy, on the Irish job, made my lunch sandwiches filled
with Lobster.  A delicacy.  But I had never eaten lobster and carefully
asked her,  “Could you make peanut butter sandwiches?”  She had
never heard of  peanut butter sandwiches   Both are good.


1) Wieners.  I expect readers would find this wiener aversion surprising  because
they are fast food items.  Hot dogs…super easy  The problem was that with time
our wieners exuded a white bluish  substance…preservatives I think.  On he
Groundhog River job I remember picking up a wiener with one finger…the bluish
stuff stuck to the finger tip.  Did we eat them anyway?  Not sure.  We ate a lot
things that were disgusting.

2) Sowbelly.  Again I remember the Groundhog River job where the blow flies
laid  eggs  in our slabs of bacon (really  sowbelly).   Cutting off the contaminated
end was part of the ritual of breakfast.

3)  Canned  meats.  Edible but not pleasant.  We referred  to all cans
of preserved meat as cans of Clap.

4)  Doughnuts.  great when fresh but very soon turned into life preserver rings
as hard a  bullets.  Of course they could be  dipped in tea.

6)  Fresh fruit like grapes,  peaches, pears, cherries, melons.  Wonderfull
when the airplane  arrived but very soon rotten or fly infested.   We gorged.  
Then chucked the rotten remainder in the latrine.  There were 
wild berries however.   I was never sure which of the wild berries were
edible and which were not.  Walter Helstein ate them all so he became our
berry tester.   Blueberries were easy to get as were swamp apples (orange, large)
but they were super sweet to an extreme.   Walter ate lots of red berries
that seemed inedible to me. (Groundhog River job)

7) Some dehydrated  packages turned  out to be wormy as mentioned in Episode
97 but that was not true of all dehydrated food.

8) Chocolates….in candy form or bar form.  Fear of toothache from cavities
made  all forms of chocolate suspect.  But we  always ordered a couple
of cases of  chocolate bars.  When  we got a toothache we just had
to tough it out.  No dentists in the bush.   That applied to any  ailment.  

9) Moose meat:  Marjorie was  given a slab of  moose meat to
cook for the fellows on a short camping venture to Wart Lake.  There
was no way that the moosemeat could  be made edible using 
normal cooking skills.  Tough as  leather no matter what was done.


1) My worst ailment had nothing to do with food.  It was my feet.  The constant
rubbing of my boots against the undergrowth soon wore through to my 
feet.  Water seeped in and got warmed up by my body  temperature so that
my feet were cooking.  By the end of some bush jobs my feet were as
pock marked  as the fields  of France in  World  War I.  Flesh could be peeled.

2)   On bush jobs in the Yukon, Alaska, Northern Ontario
we  always  carried  a  hand  made billy can…a coffee can with a wire loop
for making tea.   Usually using tea  bags.  It was possible however to make
Labrador tea  from a common shrub with canoe like leaf shape with fuzzy
underbelly.   Making tea was easy.  Could  be done anywhere with a small
fire.  Sitting was the problem.  The undergrowth was often spongy with wet
mosses of all kinds.  Sitting on the moss  was like sitting on a pillow…a
wet pillow.  We looked for dry dead logs instead.  Sitting on wet moss
day after day was crazy.  Piles!   Anyone who has  had  piles  knows
the discomfort.  We sure did and looked for windfall strewn forest
floor where there were logs to sit on.

3)  Tooth ache…terrible thing.  Constant pain.  happened occasionally.
Nothing we could do other than tough it out.  I seem to remember suggesting
we tie a string to a tooth and the other end to the Yukon cabin door.  Slam the 
door and  out comes the tooth.  Only time I remember that working was
with my brother way back in the years when he trusted my ideas.

4)  Food poisoning.  I got that on the Cochrane job from eating rotten
balogna.  I could not work and spent a couple of days in my sleeping
bag wondering if I was going to die  Everyone else went to work. My 
only visitor was a big black  bear who arrived when all others were gone.
No problem.  he or she was just sniffing around the cook  shack where
some scraps must have been available.

5)  Serious cuts with axes.  Using a blazing axe requires a little skill.
Alway  put blazes on sold trees.   Never try to blaze a leafy branch.  Why not?
Because branches are elastic.  Hit a branch and it bounces  back.
Along with the bounce back  comes your blazing axle.  I  remember a particularly
difficult fellow would just would not learn.  Sliced himself badly with his blazing axe
and had to be taken out on a emergency  flight.  No  loss.  He was just
too much trouble to have around. Lazy.  Looking for the easy way. Accident 

6)  Falling.  So  easy to do and a fall could  have serious conseqences
as happened to Walter Helstein when  he fell on a sharpened picket which
pierced his hand and was subsequently infected because we couldn’t get
a plane to pit him up because the weather turned stormy.

We warned Walter not step on fallen tree trunks.  Never step  on a fallen log…to do so was to 
possibly slip and fall headlong into whatever was on the other side. Step over. In Walter’s case sharpened
pickets like the Viet Cong used in the Viet Nam war were low to the ground on the other side.
Freshly cut by lone cutters.  Lethal.  Easy  to
get hurt.  Walter was  too old for the job  Perhaps sixty.  He  couldn’t step  over logs.
The end result was tragic (as mentioned in earlier episode), poor Walter lay in the tent for days
moaning as  infection spread.  When float plane could  finally land, Walter was in very bad
shape and spent a long time in hospital recovering…months.  All  from a single misstep pmtp
a moss covered windfall.  We never saw Walter again.  Missed him.


Nerves get frayed on tough bush jobs where two  or three men have to live together
under poor conditions.  Tension develops over small things. ‘ Who ate all the chocolate bars?
My pack frame load is heavier than yours, you bastard.   Let’s rotate he lead job when blazing  
trail.  You jerk, your goddamn belt buckle has made the compass wrong.’

It is  very easy to get on someone’s nerves even in the best OF jobs.  On a bush  job
tensions occur fast.  How  are they best handled?   Here  I turn to Floyd Faulkner
again (Groundhog River job…3 months together on a ground crew .searching for anomalies found
by an airborne crew)   Even if compass bearings were correct we sometimes made 
errors.  One time, however, was really bad.  “Al, you take the lead with the compass,
we’ll do the blazing.”  Big mistake.  My  Boy Scout belt buckle was big and  bronze.  it 
deflected the compass.  We were hopelessly  lost by the time that error was discovered.
Floyd’s reaction was laughter.  We faced hours of labour retracing our steps, correlating
our position with the aerial  photographs.  I was 17 years old  and threw a hissy  fit…began
thrashing at the jungle undergrowth and  yelling like a  stuck pig. “Goddamn bastardly bush”
 Floyd thought that was even funnier.
From that incident I got the nickname “Fucking Al” which was  a term of endearment.
Another incident on the same job made me look like a fool.  We had to pack  our fly camp
out to the Groundhog River from some distance east…miles.  There had  been big storm
and  the tents and fly sheets were wet and terribly heavy.  A real bitch.   “Bob, my load
is way heavier than  yours.”  “OK,  Al. we’ll switch loads.”  Another stupid incident.
Bob had  the big wet tent.  It was so heavy that by the  time I reached the Groundhog
River, my packframe was bent into a curved piece  of useless junk.  Bob and Floyd
were  amused.   Make me look like a fool, right?  

All the years I worked for Dr. Paterson there were no fights.  Quite amazing because 
the job was very tough and the communities were sometimes not prone to
lovable relationships.  But no violence.  On one occasion Dr. Paterson was amused…
no, incredulous..when  the
Alaskan branch of  Humble  Oil armed us all with heavy duty rifles. Our company
never gave us weapons for fear we would  shoot each other.  True. 
No need. 
Really, we had  a good  time together nearly all the time.  That was why
I loved the job so much.


One summer I took a  survey job with the Ontario Department of Highways building 
Highway 17 across Northern Ontario.  We were based  in a trailer camp outside
 the village of Hunta.  Eight of us about 18years old. .    An age when stupid
things happen.  One of our crew was ‘disturbed’…really a bit wacko.  John (no
last name  used here) just did not fit in.  He could not fit in anywhere.  There was
something  seriously wrong with him.   It took a while to surface but when he snapped
we were lucky that no one died.   Some  of the boys picked on John as teen  agers
are prone to do.  Like a big Boy Scout,  I took John on my survey crew and got along
OK … not terrific but OK.  At least until one day when I
signalled  John to move to the right or left just to keep our line straight as we could
John turned … looked at me….and threw his blazing axe  at me.  Missed by a foot
or two.  But there was  no reason for the sudden  anger.  I was least likely to make
fun of him.   Privately I told  the crew foreman who was reaching a point where he
realized  John was  a problem.  

That night John did something I can never forget.  We were all asleep  or
dozing in the trailer.   The night was black,  Suddenly there was a loud crash
at one of the bunks.   John had got up silently.  Holding a large granite boulder
high above one of the guys who had teased him… a Finlander from
Thunder Bay as  I remember.  Then John dropped or threw the rcck  down hard.
The rock  smashed  a big gallon water can  beside the Fin’s head.   Crushed completely.
We got the lights on.  By then John was back in his bunk.  just lay there while
the rest of us  clustered around the water jug.  He was silent.  He did not move.
He must have done it.  Had he intended to
kill or just to warn?  We were never sure.  The next day officials arrived to take
John away.  We never saw or heard from him again.

That was the only violent act that got close to me in ten years of exploration.


Humour is a tricky thing to present.  Incidents that I consider funny may
seem  insensitive and crude.  Like the time that Bill and  I were sitting
in a bar in Dawson City.  We had camped  outside the town on an old 
sourdough claim site.  Needed  a  beer badly after a tough night and day.
We were really just kids pretending to be men.  Beside us on the floor
of the bar two very large people…one male and one female…had decided
to copulate.  They were having  difficulty with their clothes because both 
were dead drunk.  Bill and I kept our cool and pretended the behaviour
on the floor was  normal.  the bar tender came around  the bar and began
rolling the amorous couple towards the door.  I seem to remember the 
rolling but no sure how he got them out the door.  They took a lot of door 
space.  Later Bill and I laughed and laughed.  You  may not consider
that funny.

Bill and I worked  damn hard on that Yukon job.  We deserved s week end break in Dawson City.  Here Bill is
plotting our data.  Sadly his Dad died in the middle of that summer and he had  a rush flight home.

On another occasion our contractor, a mining speculator called Dr. Aho
from  BC, had the habit of buying newcomers to the Yukon  ‘Double op’s”
at the Mayo Landing  hotel.  “Here boys  have a Double OP”  What 
is a Double OP?   It is a liquid explosive.  Rum and Whisky sent 
to the Yukon was double regular proof…i.e.  damn close to pure
alcohol.  Multiply that times twice and  you will understand what happened
after only one of these was consumed.  Dr. Aho thought that was funny.
I  agreed after we had been  around Mayo Landing for some time.  Lots
of heavy drinking.  Even our pilot Bob was drunk much of the time.
Isn’t that funny?    

Then there was the time we sent Joe Fortin to  Chibougamau in1958 to 
get us food.  He flew out.   Then at  dusk  he flew back. Just getting
out of the Beaver was a chore.  He fell into the water from the pontoon.
Joe was dead drunk.  He spent his time and our money at the
Chibougamau Inn.  Forgot to get us food.  Isn’t that funny?

Bill Gilbey in bed on the Marathon job

Then there  was Bill Gilbey (Gilbey’s Gin family) on the Marathon job
thumbing his way through the women’s lingerie section of Eaton’s catalogue
saying “We are a pathetic  bunch relying on Eaton’s catalogue for our pornography.”
Isn’t that funny?

Then  you will remember the BC job at Merritt where the mine 
manager and geologist mistook Marjorie for a  Vancouver hooker
that I had hired as company at night.  This picture is not the motel
room bed but gives the right impression all the same. Isn’t that funny?

Then there was our flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seattle with a lot of American
military brass flying out of Tokyo.  Our regular flight had been cancelled due to
crippled landing gear.  The US officers were a stiff bunch. None
of them drank.  So the stewardess gave us her full attention. Free
drinks.  When  we sobered  up in a Seattle  Hotel we were all 
wearing Japanese kimonos.  Isn’t that funny?

Then there was Pete in the Yukon, lying in bed each night 
reading the Bible.  He could quote chapter and verse by heart.
I wondered.  “Pete, you must be really religious?”
“Not so at all.  I read the bible just to get into arguments..really
I am an atheist.   Isn’t that funny?

Then  there is our helicopter pilot on the Alaskan job awakening
us on the camp PA with his charming “Let’s get Fucking Airborne”
Or the camp cook explaining the finer points of  eating moose heart.
Isn’t that funny?

Then there is Barney Dwan warning me to be careful crossing Irish farm
fields.  “There was a nun who took a short cut and  all that was ever 
found were her boots with her feet in them.”  (Hogs got her)
Isn’t that funny?

Then there were all those lonely hearts club letters I received on
the Groundhog River job.  Dozens of young (and  older0 women hoping
I would marry them or at least help  them out of poverty.  Those letters
came when my friends  Russ and Jim  enrolled me in the club.
Isn’t that funny?

Obviously, a lot of these stories are not funny at all.  Unless you 
are 17 or 18 years old enjoying the full panorama of life.

alan skeoch
August 2020




alan skeoch
August 2020

We had trouble getting a bush plane…Only available in late afternoon.  This was  unfortunate because it meant
our crew had to set up  our fly camp as  night approached.  But it had to be done.  These last few anomalies
were too far west of base  camp at Paradise  Lodge so the camp  had to include an airborne component.  Such
flights were very common on other bush  jobs but this  was the first for the Paradise Lodge crew who were
new to the business.  The fellows were quite excited about the idea of flying in to a tiny lake and setting up a
campsite in  the wilderness.

“Looks like a good spot down there…where that slab of treeless granite meets the lake.”
“No problem…lake is small but we can set down.”

The Cessna touched the water so gently it was hardly noticeable were it not for the huge Chevron
of water driven up by the pontoons.

“I  think we can get everyone here…and the canoe…in two flights..before  dusk.”, the pilot had explained.
And  he did just that. 

As the sun got close  to the horizon the Cessna took off for Sault Ste Marie.   We were 
on our own.  

 Five of us were then left alone to get the camp  constructed as  daylight
faded.  Not so easy.  We had with canvas wall tents…three of them to erect.   First act was to saw down
ridge poles and de-limb them.  Then six sets of support beams. Lashed together.   No time to look for perfectly flat ground 
in the forest.  each other.  Amicably we hoped.

It was  not a pretty sight but it would  do.   The job might take three or four days and then we would
fly back to base camp.  No  need for a pretty campsite.   Dusk became darkness before the tents
were lashed in place.  We had  not eaten but already  had  a nice fire going on the bare
granite well away from the tinder dry forest.

All of this was  quite standard.  Perhaps  boring to anyone reading this story.  Maybe interesting to
real outdoorsy people whose criticism is unwanted. We were on a job not a fishing holiday.

The main event?   That happened in the blackness of night.   A supper all of  us would remember.

“How about a big stew for supper?”
“I have just the thing….a great stew…dried in packages….just add water.”

My enthusiasm was misplaced.   Sadly.   The stew  was advertised as  a perfect meal for
backpackers.  Packages rather  than cans, therefore light in weight.  Full of all kinds  of good
things…meat, potatoes, carrots, broth, onions…the works.   And no work required.  Just
rip open the package and dump the dried contents  into boiling water.  I did so…several 
packages dumped and  boiling on an open fire in the splendid darkness of  a summer night
in the wilderness.

We got the tents in place.   And then dug into the stew.  It tasted good.  Thick with lots
of chunks and a spicy  gravy.    

Then we went to bed.  Satisfied with the camp and more than satisfied  with the stew.
As a matter of fact we could not eat all the stew … set remainder
it aside for morning clean  up.

“Jesu Christ!  Look at this!”
“The pot if full of dead worms…little dead white worms…dozens of them.”
“That bastard that sold this so called  perfect stew must have known.”
“Who was he?”
“No idea…just sounded  good in the camp outfitters advert.”
“Anybody have a gut ache?”

Nobody was  sick.  The worms had  been well cooked and must have
been quite edible.   Actually we all had a good laugh.
There was some concern about our food supply.  How many packages
of dried food ?  Too many, but we had the usual  back up.  As I remember
that back up was a case of pork and  beans…lots of bread  and  eggs
for French toast and  a few boxes of Nielsen’s  Jersey Milk Chocolate bars.
A good  sized sack of rolled oats, dried  milk powder…
The basics.  We would be fine.  I do not remember any bitching.  We just got
on with the job.

Breaking camp a few days later did not take long.  The Cessna arrived  in the morning
and that meant we were back at Paradise  lodge by noon.  We  were overjoyed to
see our cook again.

alan skeoch
August 2020

P.S.  Look at the rock along the sore….the high and low  water marks.  The lower the lake levels
got as summer progressed the more dangerous takeoffs and landing became.  Sometimes
log  deadheads lurked.   Sometimes lake bottoms, sharp rocks,  were deceptively shrouded in
water weeds.  Pilots got nervous by late August.  For good reason as will be
described in Episode 99.



alan skeoch
august 2020

Serge Lavoie and I were completing a magnetometer survey on an anomaly a few
miles south of our base camp at Paradise Lodge.   Seemed  to be a sunny day.  Stayed
that way until we looked at the sky about mid-afternoon.   Black storm clouds moving
our director.  Moving fast.  The forest seemed unusually quiet for a spell and then 
all hell broke loose.  

Great swirling winds tore into the forest.  Winds  strong  enough to uproot whole clumps
of trees.  Particularly clumps of cedar that whipped over shoving their tangle of  roots and dirt

Usually we toughed out storms by just hunkering down.  This was different.  The wind was
cyclonic…moving in  circles.  Rain, thunder, lightning.  Noise as  loud as  a ACR freight

One of us was carrying the magnetometer while the other carried  related gear.

We were trying to reach  the ACR  roadbed, perhaps  a  mile or two  east of
our survey area.  

We never made it until later.

I remember a crack.  Like an  axe splitting a birch block.  Sudden.

And that is all I remember until I woke up.  Same with Serge.  When we awakened
our gear was strewn around.  The Magnetometer with its tripod was a good ten or
fifteen feet from where we lay.

We were fine.  But we had  no idea  how long we were knocked out.  Was it five minutes
or an hour.  What had happened?  We guessed it was a lightning strike nearby…close but not close
enough to kill.

The storm was  still happening but the ferocity had eased.  I seem to remember several clumps
of cedar ripped from the ground.  Overturned  on their sides.  Were the trees like
that before the storm.

“What happened, Serge?”
“No idea…knocked  down”
“Let’s get out of here…maybe a freight train coming.”

Sure enough we were able to flag down an ACR diesel and  load
ourselves   and the mag into the open doors of a  freight car.   The engineer
must have known us for he stopped at Mile 71giving us a minute or two to
jump down with our gear.

Bottom  line?  We had  no idea what had happened to us in that cedar swamp.
But something knocked us down and out.  Later in the fall when Serge visited
us at home in Toronto we remembered  that storm.   What knocked us down?

PERHAPS someone reading this  has  an answer.

1) caught in big cyclonic type sudden storm (circular winds with high velocity)
2) suddenly we were knocked out for a few minutes  or longer
3) the magnetometer was ten feet away from us when we both woke up
4) seem to remember clumps of cedars down with roots in air
5) storm may have ended as fast as it came upon us
6) only Serge and I had the experience … we were several miles from camp

alan skeoch
august 2020



alan  skeoch
august 2020


IN the summer of 1964 I thought my prospecting days were over.  I had  just finished my first year  teaching
at Parkdale Collegiate, Tronto.  Also we had not been married for a full year so taking off for a mining adventure
was highly unlikely.   One of my many  failings is that I never let go of things with ease.  Seems that Marjorie knew that.

The phone call from Dr. Paterson came iii mid June.  School was still  in session.  Final exams were  being
written and marked when  Norm called.

“Alan, we need you for a short 8 week job…are you available?”
“Let me check.  Marjorie, Norm on the phone … wants me on a bush job.
What do  you think?”
“How long?”
“About 8 weeks.”
“The whole summer in other words, right?”
“Yes…what do you think?”
“Take the job.   You will be disappointed if you don’t.  Hard to live with… Where is the job?”
“Where , Norm?”
“Mile 71, Spruce Lake…on the Algoma  Central Railway”
“Algoma…Marjorie…where we had the Batchawana adventure last summer
before the wedding.”
“Take it, Alan.  I will manage…lots to do.”
“When do I leave, Norm.?”
“As  soon as you can…Linecutters are already working…Mag job and  the Ronka…you
will have  a four man crew…five counting yourself.”

(Well that was not what happened.   We got a six person crew, one of  whom was unpaid.)

Paradise Lodge was really a fishing camp built for well healed men.   A  lodge  with dining room
and  a cook then an assortment of small cabins strewn around near the shore of Spruce Lake.
This was only  the second  job where we had a cook for the crew.   Back in 1959 on the Alaska
job we had a camp cook, actually two to three of them  because cooks are sensitive people.
If  diners get too critical, they quit and go elsewhere.  The Alaska cook quit when we criticized
his ‘moose heart special’ which included all the ventricles exposed. Whatever our cook presented, I told
the crew  to eat and  keep opinions to themselves.  That seemed to work.

The big  surprise  came as a shock to the whole camp except for me.  We had
been working for about a  week.  Long enough for me to determine whether Paradise  
Lodge was livable or not.  It was grand.  So I sent word south to Toronto.

“I expect a  visitor today, boys…flagstop at Mile71.”

Marjorie  arrived at Spruce Late…she startled us all.   I will never forget the moment
the ACR ground to a halt.  First off was the conductor with his special  stool.  Then
came Marjorie.  Dressed as  if  she was  going to dinner at the Royal York. 

We had discussed this possibility in June.   “If the camp is  livable, maybe you
could join us.  What do you think, Marjorie?”

“That is just what I was thinking.  You have  a camp cook, maybe  I can help him.”
(That made me a bit nervous but I said nothing.)

“Give me a week  or so to get things settled.”

Marjorie did not come alone.  As she stepped  down from the train she handed
our cat, Presque Neige, to the conductor.   “Holy Cow…she brought the cat.”

We greeted each other warmly…I was really glad to have her with me.  But the
cat was another matter.  “Marjorie, we have to be careful with the cat.  Wolves
howl from the other side of the lake each night.  The cat will have to stay  in our
cabin or attached to a rope of some kind.”

This picture is backwards but does show  you how bleak the  Mile  71 flagstop appeared.   Marjorie

may have  been a passenger  on a nearly empty train.  This was not the Agawa Canyon special
train with dining car and  lots of  glamour.   This train was the regular passenger and freight train
on its way to Hearst far to the north.

“What else  did you bring?”
“My electric sewing machine.”
“Sorry Marjorie…we have no electricity.”

Well, did Marjorie’s arrival ever stir up the camp.  For a start our language improved with
less use of ‘son of a bitch’ and ‘goddamned’ that we  normally applied to anything that
was disagreeable…mostly the voracious insects…occasionally to each other.

And we began to  sing.  Bob Bartlett was a folk singer. And he had his
guitar.   1964 was  a  great year for folk songs and  Bob seemed to
know them all.  Evenings  were  never boring even when we were tired after hours
long fighting  our way through the spruce and cedar forests.

In 1964 Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early  Morning Rain” was number 6
on the Pop Charts.  To us, at Spruce Lake, it was Number 1.
Particularly the final lyric…”You can’t jump a  jet plane like 
you can a freight train…in the  early morning  rain.”   Our own
freight train…the ACR…Algoma  Central Railway.   We sang
the blues away each night thanks to Bob Bartlett and Marjorie.

“Early Morning Rain”

In the early morning rain with a dollar in my hand
With an aching in my heart and my pockets full of sand
I’m a long way from home and I miss my loved one so
In the early morning rain with no place to go

Out on runway number nine big 707 set to go
But I’m stuck here in the grass where the cold wind blows
Now, the liquor tasted good and the women all were fast
Well, there she goes, my friend, well she’s rolling down at last

Hear the mighty engines roar – see the silver bird on high
She’s away and westward bound – far above the clouds she’ll fly
Where the morning rain don’t fall and the sun always shines
She’ll be flying o’er my home in about three hours time

This old airport’s got me down – it’s no earthly good to me
‘Cause I’m stuck here on the ground as cold and drunk as I can be
You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train
So, I’d best be on my way in the early morning rain

You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train
So, I’d best be on my way in the early morning rain

And Marjorie had the ability to keep our cook happy. She was willing to help him but
only if he  asked for help.  No danger of the cook quitting.

Marjorie has that great skill of  making  everyone feel   comfortable. She makes
other people  feel important.  Because she is really interested in their lives.  No 
phoney bull shit kind of conversations.  No special persons either.  Sometimes
she became so much of a den mother that I felt just as much  under who wing
as the rest of the team.   She loved the folk singing.  She had other skills too.

One illustration.  Serge  Lavoie was the only crew  member with no
bathing  suit.  Before  Marjorie arrived we just dove off the dock nude.
Who the hell cared.?  When she arrived bathing suits  appeared except for

“Serge, do  you want me to make you a bathing suit?”

Well, she did whether he wanted one or not.  Hand  cut,
modelled, sewn.  And Serge was ecstatic.   That is just one
example of how Marjorie took over the camp.  Technically
I was the boss.  And I did the work for the company…non stop.
One reason Norm gave me these  jobs is he knew I would
deliver.   I was the boss but not the director.  Marjorie’s laughter
even  made the trees start of grin.

The cat?   Well, the  cat live in our 12 c 12 little cabin.    No objections
from her.  Perhaps she knew what a wolf howl meant.  “Owooooo!  Qwoooo!
Owoooo!”  which translated means  “Im hungry and I am going to get You…ou…ou!”

“Presque Neige” (Almost Snow) was a wedding gift from Marjorie’s bridesmaid
Faye Nichols.  Imagine getting a cat as a wedding gift!  We loved her  of course.
In turn the cat  trusted us completely.
The cat got out occasionally…even went for boat rides as you can see below.

We made good use of the outboard motor boats rented from  the  Lodge.
Travel to our anomalies by boat was a  lot easier than slogging for
hours by foot.

One day, Marjorie asked me “What exactly are  you doing in the bush each day,  Alan?”

“Why don’t you come  along tomorrow.  I  have to
check out a base line north of here.  Our crew will go in there
next week if  the trail is clear and matches the aerial photo.

I do  not remember why I had to check out this anomaly on
my own.  Perhaps there was a claim post to confirm or an
error in the readings  of some kind.  I have No reliable recall.

But what I do remember vividly  are the  scars on a  spruce tree just a few  feet above our heads..

“See those scars, Marjorie,”
“Yes, do they mean anything?”
“Perhaps nothing but they look like a place
where a bear has sharpened its claws or a
place where a bull moose has rubbed  the velvet
off its antlers.   Just guessing.”

Funny thing about bears.  I  spent 10  years in mining surveys and never once met
a bear face to face on a linecutters’ trail.  The closest I came was meeting a bear
while wading  up an Alaskan stream…off the trail.  Never on the trail.  Why not?
Well, one opinion is that bears  do not like us.  We smell bad.  But The  basic reason is
that we make lots  of noise…tin can with pebbles on our belts for instance.  The bears
get out of our way.  A bear with cubs might be  different but I never met such a bear.
Fear of bears diminishes.   I have said this one point often.  When I asked Floyd Faulkner
on my second bush job…”Why don’t we have a gun?”  
“Good reason, Al, (actually he called me ‘Fucking Al”)  If we had a gun we
would be more likely to shoot each other.  Living together in a  tent, eating rotten food,
feet blistered, insect welts all over…all these tend to make us sensitive…trigger happy.”
(I did not take this  bear picture but imagine parting some brush  to find the bear looking at you..
never happens that way)

“Let’s get out of  here now.”
“Never go fast on a linecutter trail.  Just take it easy.”
“But what about the bear?”
“Scars  may have been made months  ago…if they are scars.”
“All the same, let’s  get out of here.”

(This gave me a chance to show off…while at the same
time sowing how caution is needed on these linecutters’  trails.)

“The linecutter puts blazes on two sides  of the trees…one blazé tells
us where the line is going…we line up the blazes.  The other set tells
us the way  back  out…line up the other blazes.  If we make a mistake and
get off the line it is  damn easy to get lost.  So go slowly…walking pace.

“The other dangers are the pickets  close to the  ground.  They could act like
spears if we trip or slip.  Walter Helstein fell on a sharpened  picket…put
the spear right through his hand…got infected…could not get a  plane in for
him because the weather was bad.  He spent the year in hospital.  Easy
to spear yourself on a tag alder sliced close to the ground.  So it is best to 
walk not run.”

All of this  is true but writing it  down makes me seem like some kind  self appointed
preacher.  Sorry about that.

Once we  got back to the lake where our boat was tied  to a deadfall, things
took a  turn for the better.  Better?  You  might disagree. Remember Marjorie
and  I had only been married for ten months.  Really newlyweds on a
different kind of honeymoon.

“Look at that beautiful little island…smooth granite landing places, bit
of  sand, couple of stands of scraggly  spruce.  Deserted.   Let’s land
and  go  for a swim.”

“Bathing suits  are back in the cabin.”
“Who needs bathing suits?  No one here to see us.  We are alone
on a sunny afternoon with enough breeze to keep the flies at bay.  Let’s
strip and swim.”
“Put that camera down,  Alan…down this minute.”
“Just a couple of pictures to remember this glorious day.”

That was in July 1964.  Today  it is August 2020….56 years
later and I remember the day as  if it was yesterday.  And  I have
the pictures to prove it.  Male  chauvinism at tis worst?  Maybe.
But we don’t think so.

Whenever I think of the Paradise Lake job this moment on a  little deserted
island is the first thing that comes  to mind.   When writing these stories about
the summer of  1964 all the details of our survey work have just melted away
and my memory savours our joint moment of absolute freedom that sunny

A good place to end EPISODE 95

alan skeoch
August 2020

postscript:  I know it seems an odd thing to do…i.e. To take your
wife on a prospecting venture.  Well, my boss Dr. Norman Paterson told
me in a moment of revealing  conversation…”I took my wife on one of our first jobs.”
I remembered that comment and acted on it.  Marjorie paid  her own
way and she kept the camp happy.   She even took over the cooking
when we moved to an abandoned lumber  camp on Wart Lake in  late





On Aug 18, 2020, at 1:51 PM, ALAN SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com> wrote:

On Aug 9, 2020, at 1:05 PM, ALAN SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com> wrote:


alan skeoch
August 9, 2020



alan  skeoch
August 2020


  (bigger than  some American  states)

  As I was putting  the MILE 71, SPRUCE LAKE, Paradise  Lodge story together I received this letter from friend Kent Farrow.   He has captured  the loneliness  of
those railway flagstops that pop up as  those lonely trains roll through the seemingly endless Boreal forest which covers  most of  Canada.
We live in the second largest country in the world, only Russia is larger, yet we are an urban  people and most of us  never see the real immensity of our
land unless we  ride  The CN or CP transcontinental railways through Northern Ontario.  Or better still, take a ride on the Algona Central Railways which
is  to me the loneliest railway I have ever travelled  on.  The Algoma  Central Railway remains as only a fragment of its former self.  And  even that
fragment…the Agawa Canyon tour train…has now been cancelled  due to Covid 19.  Sorry, I spoke too soon, the ACR  seems to be closed down.

HARD  to believe but this  railway  junction is one of the historic sites in  Canada.  The place
is called OBA.  Here is  where the CN track crosses the ACR track.  Isolated…barely noticeable.


Hi Alan and greetings from Skootamatta Lake….  I look forward to your ‘life recollections’ and this one about the ACR strikes close to home for me.  For the summers of ‘72 and ‘73 I worked as a brakeman for the CNR and was posted to Hornepayne, Ont, which at the that time, was a bustling railway yard and town north of White River.  I worked the freight trains east to Folyet and west to Nakina.  On occasion I worked the passenger trains which  saw me going east to Capreol and west to Armstrong which is. Where the Central time zone begins.   Just east of Hornepayne at a siding called Oba, the ACR crossed the CNR line and headed north towards who knows where.  I remember the ‘Northlander’ well.  Today, Hornepayne is half the size it was then servicing half the number of CNR employees as there is only one brakeman per train plus a conductor and of course, the hogger.  Back then I was making 22 cents per mile on the passenger trains and 33 cents per mile on the freights…..that was a lot of money back then.  I enjoyed all my trips especially the ones to Nakina, the birthplace of Jan’s Mom.  I would stay overnight in a bunkhouse next to their homestead which was neat.

Anyways, all my railway experiences were memorable ones so thanks for relating the ACR story!  Thanks and stay safe!

Kent Farrow

With the closure of  the ACR all the tiny villages and ‘f” stops (flagships) were placed in jeopardy.  I  have no idea how
many remain.  Below is the list as it existed  in  1975.   Today, in the year 2020, they  have been forgotten except by fishermen 
and fisherwomen.

ACR LogoACR Local Timetable

Effective May 12th to October 13th, 1975

No. 1
Miles from Soo Km from Soo SAULT STE. MARIE – HAWK JUNCTION *
No. 2
0800 lv.  0833  0850    0904  0914  0925  0940    0953  f  f  1012  f    f  1032  f  1047    f  1117    f  1128  1146    1209  1224  f  1242  f  f  1308  f  1330    1343  1400 ar.
0  14  25    32  36  42  48    56  57  62  64  69    71  73  75  80    85  92    93  96  102    114  120  122  131  132  138  141  148  150    156  165
0  22.7  39.8    50.7  57.8  67.3  77.4    90.5  91.7  100.4  104.0  110.7    115.0  117.3  121.8  128.4    137.4  148.5    149.6  153.7  165.1    183.1  193.3  197.1  210.7  212.9  222.8  226.6  238.9  241.2    251.9  264.9
   SAULT STE. MARIE     Heyden     Northland     Goulais River     SEARCHMONT     Wabos     Achigan     Ogidaki     S. Branch Chippewa River     Maskode     Trout Lake     Pine Lake     Mekatina     Pangis     N. Branch Chippewa River     Spruce Lake     Summit     Mongoose     Batchewana     Batchewana River     Rand     Montreal Falls     Montreal River     Mile 93     Hubert     Frater     Agawa River     CANYON     Eton     Mile 122.5     Agawa     Millwood     Sand Lake     Tabor     Anjigami     Perry     Michipicoten River     Limer     HAWK JUNCTION
ar. 1800  1735  1720    1703  1653  1643  1630    1615  f  f  1600  f    f  1540  f  1523    f  1455    f  1446  1430    1405  1347  f  1327  f  f  1308  f  1249    1234  lv. 1225  
No. 1
Miles from Soo Km from Soo HAWK JUNCTION – HEARST No. 2
1415 lv.  1435  1450  1504  1513  1525  1535  f  1545  f  f  1605  f    f  1639  1659    1712  f  1741  1747  1757  1811    1821  1830
165  173  178  184  188  195  201  206  208  210  212  217  221    233  239  245    253  262  273  275  281  288    294  296
264.9  278.7  286.2  296.4  303.0  313.8  323.5  331.5  333.9  337.9  341.1  349.7  356.4    375.6  384.7  393.8    406.8  421.6  439.5  443.1  452.1  462.0    473.3  475.9
   HAWK JUNCTION     Alden     Goudreau     Dubreuilleville     Wanda     FRANZ     Scully     Wabatong     Hilda     Mile 210     Mile 212     MOSHER     Price     Oba River     Akron     Langdon     OBA     Oba River, Albany Branch     Norris     Hansen     Horsey     Mead     Coppell     Stavert(Jogues)     Mattawishkwia River     Wyborn     HEARST
ar. 1200  1140  1131  1119  1107  1057  1042  f  1030  f  f  1010  f    f  0935  0927    0908  f  0836  0832  0819  0805    0753  lv. 0745

Reference Marks

f – Flag. Stop on signal.

* – Dining Car service between Sault Ste. Marie and Canyon Only.


Personal effects, such as clothing, etc. (except liquids and fragile articles), when contained in suitable sturdy luggage, trunks, etc., may be checked as baggage in accordance with tariffs. Up to 150 lbs. personal baggage may be checked without charge on an adult fare ticket, and 75 lbs. on a child’s half-fare ticket. Single pieces over 250 lbs. must be shipped in rail freight service.

A reasonable amount of personal hand baggage may be carried into the rail coach.

The railway assumes no liability for baggage other than as specified in its tariffs published and filed pursuant to law.

Train Tours for All Seasons

  • One Day Wilderness Tour to Agawa Canyon, Mid-May to Mid-October
  • Ride the Snow Train – One day Winter Wonderland Tour. January to March
  • Tour of the Line – Visit the Frontier North. Available year round.
Agawa Canyon Tour Train - Official Site
The ACR Agawa  Canyon Tourist train has taken more than 100,000 people into the centre of Algoma…a one day  trip.  Passing some of the isolated
fishing  camps like that picture above.  Today, 2020, that trip  has been cancelled due to Covid 19.  Hopefully it will return as long as the federal
government provides a subsidy.


When  we arrived  at Mile 71, Spruce Lake, the Lodge and cabins were not visible.  All we 
found  was a trail that led down  to the lake.  No train  station.  Nothing.   Just a bush
trail that weaved its way down to the Lodge and the tiny cabins that would be home
for the summer days of  Geophysical Exploration.   Why were we there?  Because
airborne magnetometers has identified strange magnetic anomalies in a number of places
between Spruce Lake and Wart Lake and  some even deep into the interior that could only
be reached  by  bush planes.

Our survey territory was hardly something newly discovered.   The Algoma  District 
is home to a large number of abandoned mines through the 19th and 20th centuries. 
Backpackers spend a lot of time each  summer finding and exploring the mine sites.
The most recently abandoned  is the Tribal Mine which may have contracted our 
company to examine anomalous findings in 1963…a year earlier.

Old opening to an Algoma abandoned mine…of which there are more than a dozen in Algoma.   

What I would like you to take away  from this Episode is the unique character of  Algoma…let me do this in
point form.  My impression…

1)  There was a big crack in the Canadian  Shield  millions  and  millions of years ago that allowed  magma to move closer to the 
surface of the  earth.  Algoma remains Rich  in minerals.
2)  Algoma is very sparsely populated in the interior…a wilderness
3)  There are dozens of abandoned  mine sites in this wilderness.
4)  There are indications that other mines are possible…Some of the older mines
are rather shallow…250 feet deep.   Others are deeper.   Minerals  may still exist 
in these mines  or in nearby  intrusions that have not been  discovered.
5)  The Algoma Central Railway is (was) an unusual railway that cuts  through the
Algoma wilderness.  AN exciting railway.  Doomed perhaps.
6)  The regions  is exceptionally beautiful…peppered with lakes…sparsely settled.
7)  One man, Francis H. Clergue did much to develop Algoma….Wawa and the
Michipicoten Iron range were exploited making Sault Ste Marie home to a steel
industry.  A  most unusual character.  Investing in his Algma projects made people
riche (some) and  made others poor (man).  He is  a story untold.
8) Batchewana River and  Bay can give tourists, backpackers,  adventure seekers
an  easily accessible taste of this land.  Right on Highway  #17.  

In the next Episode 96, I will try to make things personal…this provides an  overview

www.ontarioparks.com/images/headers/parks/fall/768/batchawanabay.jpg 768w, www.ontarioparks.com/images/headers/parks/fall/480/batchawanabay.jpg 480w” alt=”Batchawana Bay” apple-inline=”yes” id=”788932CA-DD64-4FE4-8B41-685B0D922A09″ src=”http://alanskeoch.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/batchawanabay.jpg”>

alan skeoch
August 2020




alan skeoch
August 2020

Today, the third August week end, a thousand adventure seekers will be floating down the St. Clair
River from the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia to who knows where.  They will be  floating on an
assortment of plastic, rubber,wooden rafts.  Some with beer coolers strapped down.  Yes, it is
dangerous.   Normally huge freighters thread their way down the St. Clair River  but not this
week end.   Attempts to stop the rafters have failed so  the big  freighters are not allowed
on the river this week  end.  

For those who are not familiar with geography, the St. Clair River links  Lake  Huron  with Lake Erie.
A narrow stretch of fast water between  two of  the Great Lakes.  Yes, it is an adventure.  No one
organizes the FLOAT DOWN so no one is responsible therefore the Float Down is hard to 
stop.  Rescue  boats  from both US and Canadian sides of the river will hopefully retrieve
any person whose plastic raft springs a  leak.  Or drinks too much beer.

The  international boundary between  Canada  and  the US runs down  the centre of
the river.  Mistakes in navigation could  land  American adventurers in deep trouble…
especially with Covid 19 in the air … and in the  lungs of some floaters.

As I was reading the article about the Float Down in the Toronto Star, I was
reminded of  the sunny August day several years ago when our son Kevin
asked , “How  about swimming down the Rhine today?”

We  protested but finally caved  in and stepped into the fast flowing Rhine
at Rheinfeldon, a Swiss town above Basel.  There were a couple  of others
in the water…moving fast.  No need to swim,” just let the racing river carry you”

Once in the river, Kevin also told us to keep close to the Swiss side of
the river.   “Don’t get out in the middle or you will miss our landing point
and end up floating through the City of Basel.”

We  followed him and his kids.  When he cut floating and began to swim
to shore, we did the same.  “The landing point is narrow…you will only have one chance.”

We made it.  Thrilled actually.   Take a look at the pics  below…not our families
but could well have been.  We  carried  our clothes with us  but did not have the
special clothing float bags of the Swiss swimmers.

I did get into a problem however.

We landed at a Swiss waterpark much  like the playground below.  Kevin 
recommended we all take a slide down a hard plastic flume like the one below.
That was fine for slim adults and teen agers.  Not so  good for me.  My bum
was too big so it spanned the water flume that made sliding  possible.

I sat there, about ten feet down, immobile.  Everybody laughing.  It took a long
time to weasel  my way down…sort of bum walking much to the enjoyment of
our family  and any kids and adults interested.  “Move along”, some seemed
to call in Swiss German.   It took a  long time.

alan skeoch
august 2020

EPISODE 93 PARADISE LODGE … MILE 71 ON THE ALGOMA CENTRAL RAILWAY (How does Paradise Lodge fit into the universe as we know it?


(How does Paradise Lodge fit into the universe as we know it?)

alan skeoch
August 2020


My job was to get the numbers.  As har as thinking was concerned I was  not expected to do  much.  Best to keep my
head as  thick as  this piece of rough sawn timber.  Just being an instrument man was  tough enough.  Most people
would refuse to do the work.  Why?   Afraid  of losing so  much  blood  to carnivorous insects that tore flesh or shoved 
stiletto needles and sucked blood.


“ALAN, don’t you think it’s strange that so much  of your time in the mining game was  centred
on the Canadian  Shield.?

“Never thought too much about it really…took it for granted.   I was never encouraged
to consider the big picture. ” Just do your job…get the readings.”Mining companies are secretive.
In nearly all jobs Our contractors did  not want many people to know what we were doing..”

“Why is that?”

“Money had a lot to do with the secrecy.  Big blocks  of land were staked as mining claims but
never big enough.  “Suppose  we claimed  the wrong place and  some other son of a bitch
knew about our work and  snapped  up the good  claims.”   If too much  was said about our work, then other mining promoters  would
flood the area with claims.  So we were never told much  about our clients.  
Most clients were honest even if  secretive.  At the same time there have always been
A lot of  shady  
characters boosting worthless mining stock…sucking in the greedy people of this world.

When I was a 17 year old high school student, I did  a job  in the Chibougamau region of Northern Quebec that taught me much
about the shady side of  mining exploration.   My  role was minor on the job…basically to 
help portage and  row a  rowboat through a series  of lakes “to check  out a vein of
chalcopyrite for a mining company”.  It took us  two days  to get there and two days get back 
to Chibougamau.   Maybe a week.  No communication with anyone.  Secret.  While we 
were rowing in the shallows and then we had  a small outboard fising engine for the deep  water.. ..”

“Rowing?   Why didn’t you use a canoe?”

“No canoes  were available or so we were told.   So  we rowed this ungainly towboat
and  carried it across portages.  Carrying a rowboat over rocks, tree roots, and through 
tag alder swamps was  not pleasant.”

“Why did they send you, Alan?  Were you special?”

“Just for brute labour.  The real important person was  Dr. Wilson,an elderly geologist. .
A really nice man who had been  asked  to give his opinion on a recently discovered
vein of chalcopyrite.  Asked to do so by  a  small  mine company.”
(I have a  picture of Dr. Wilson in our motor boat but have not found it yet)

“What did you find?”

“Oh, we found lots of chunks of Chalcopyrite.  The mine promoters had  spread  lots  of 
the stuff around.  They brought the lumps into the site from somewhere else.  The term
for that  is “seeding the site’.
 They had blasted the  vein all to hell.   Just a  smoke  screen.  The vein was a worthless
vein of  pyrite.  The blasting was designed to indicate seriousness.  To fool investors.
 Dr. Wilson did  not spend  much
time on the site. however.  He knew  what was  happening. “This place has been  seeded.
The chunks  of chalcopyrite have been brought in…the vein is  pyrite…no copper.
We are heading back right away.”

He was angry.  He had  been duped for he was an  honest man.  The owners  of the claims
were crooks.  There was no potential mine.  But they could  make big money by noting
in an advertisement in the Northern Miner that “at team  with a noted geologist has  been sent in to check
out the value of  our claim, etc.etc.… whatever.”   The mining stock  they issued would
go up in value.  Speculaitors wanting to get rich quick bought the stock…ordinary people
often who  knew nothing about mining.  Pharmacists like your grandfather from Lindsay.
Remember all the mining stock you inherited.  Worthless.  The shady promoters would  Fools would buy it.  The stock would  go up  in value.  
When the promotor thought it was close to a peak, the promoter would  sell and  make a  bundle.  Let’s say the stock sold
at 20 cents  a share…and then shot up to $2 a share.  One hell of a profit possible.

“What happened when you got back to Chibougamau?”


“Dr. WILSON told the truth.  “All  we could find was a vein of worthless pyrite”
And the stock would plummet.  Investors would lose their shirts  The promoters
would walk away with the money.”

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“Reckon so.”

“What did you do?”

“I brought out a big chunk of the pyrite vein.  it’s around  the  garden somewhere.  
Can’t remember where.    Bottom line, I did nothing..  What was I supposed to do?
My job  was  pure and  simple.  I rowed the boat in and  I rowed the boat out.”

“Couldn’t you call the police?”

“Never occurred to me.   One thing  I did learn though.:

“What was that?”

“Not to buy mining stock.  I never knew what was  good  and what was bad.
Many of our customers preferred us to know as little as possible about
what we were doing.”

“Do you mean  you spent nine years of your life checking mining claims but
never knew whether they were worth anything?”

“That’s about right.  I was a simple cog in the machine.  Bottom of the 
pyramid.  Not expected  to think much.  “Just get the data, Alan, nothing
more.  We will do the interpretation.”


Image shows a screenshot of the Mid-Continent Rift Story Map

Lately, I have been thinking about what I did  for those nine years.  The big picture.  
And  I am bowled over.  What I spent nine  years (maybe ten  years) doing was 
linked to the origins of planet earth.   Our big  ball whirling around  the sun is a
most unusual  place.  Perhaps unique in the universe.   Certainly unique in our
solar system.   Perhaps unique in our galaxy.

I remember asking a Grade Ten class to speculate on what life would be like
on our planet 50 years from now.  One boy ’s  answer remains with me.
“Sir, in 50 years we will have explored our solar system and other solar
systems.   We will have concluded that we are alone in the universe.”

What makes our planet singular…unusual?

The  September issue  of Scientific American is titled “Humans, why we’re unlike any other
species on the planet.”   At the back of that issue is an article  by John Gribbin titled :Why we are 
probably the only inellifent life in the galaxy…ALONE IN THE MILKY WAY.”


“ASTONOMERS HAVE FOUND thousands of planets orbiting other stars
in the Milky Way,  and 100 million more strars in the galaxy presumably host planets
of their own.  Given the sheer number of worlds out there,  scientists find
it easy to hope that some of them might be harbouring sentient beings (like us).
After all, could  Earth really be unique among so many planets.”

John Gribbin’s answer?

“It could.  Optimism about the possibilities  of intelligent extraterrestrial life ignores
what we know about how humans came to exist.  We are  here because  of a
long chain of implausible coincidences — many, many things had to go right
to result in the  situation  in which  we find ourselves.  The chain is so implausible,
in fact, that there is good reason to conclude that humans most likely are the
only technological civilization in the galaxy.
(Let us leave aside  the other countless  galaxies in the cosmos because, as 
the  saying has it, ‘in an infiinte universe, anything  is  possible.”)

So Mr. Gribbin  is saying the same thing my Grade 10 student said…i.e.
we are alone.

We are the result of a  whole mess of good  luck.   And some of that
luck is apparent in the places I have worked.  If I had to drive a
thumb tack into the centre  point of my mining exploration activities
i would drive that point into Mile  71 on the Algoma  Central Railway.

And the place is called Paradise  Lodge.   No doubt the name was
chosen to attract fishermen rather than the Paradise  of which I speak.
Let me just select some of the lucky circumstances.

First and foremost is  the thin crust of rock and minerals on which
Paradise  Lodge rests.  Very little topsoil because  past centuries
of glaciation has pushed whatever topsoil once existed into depressions
or into glacial rubbish hills far to the south in Ontario.  That has exposed
the vast sheet of granite and  volcanic rock  on which our thin
crust of earth floats.  Our own  tectonic plate.  Our Canadian Shield.

Beneath that shield is an immensely thick envelope of  molten magma…molten 
rock and minerals.   And deeper still is the core of the earth there  is a  Heavy metallic
core of  nickel  and iron.  Hot as the hubs of hell.  Huge core.  A  solid core…but a hot core…
that rolls around somewhat creating the magnetic  field that shields us
all from the deadly cosmic rays  emitted by the sun.   Without this magnetic
field  we would  be fried.  Fried?  More than  that.  We would never have come
into existence in the first place.

As  astronomers search  the galaxy for other worlds  like ours they have
found  many that exist in a  liveable zone like earth.  But they have not 
found  as yet round balls like ours with a heavy metal core, a huge envelope
of molten magma that occasionally bursts through the thin but solid tectonic
plates  that float on this molten sea.  We need that magma since it carries
and replaces  the minerals  upon which our civilization is  more and  more
dependent.  Like copper.

Why are these tectonic  plates  so thin.  Why  is there not a solid envelope 
of rock surrounding the atmospheric envelope in which  we find the Oxygen
that gives us  life.  Why is the Canadian Shield  so thin  that it has lots
of  cracks?   Why  are these cracks important.? 

Let me return to Mr. Grabbin.    In ancient times…billions of years ago, our
earth collided with another planet.   It was  not a direct hit so most
of the earth survived.  The collision was a glancing blow that sheared
of a  great slice of our planet.  The part sheared of was  mostly the cold
crust of lighter rock like our granite.  once sheared the  rock hurtled into space.  But that sheared portion
did not escape.  The power of  mother earth…i.e. the power of gravity…
prevented  the sheared bit of the planet from escaping.  The lump, held  by
gravity, orbited our earth and rounded itself off to become our moon.
The moon was an accident of  birth.  The moon exerts gravitation force
that holds  our earth in a  stable position.  Without the moon we would
be revolving.  No orderly seasons.  Rolling heater skelter.  Chaos.

That collision carved away a great slab of the earth’s crust.  What remained
was …is…a much thinner crust of  moving plates  of rock of which the
Canadian Shield is but one plate.  When the plates collide mountains  are
formed and some of the hot magma  intrudes bringing up copper, gold,  iron,
silver, molybdenum, and  other minerals without which we cannot live.
Lucky us!  That thin crust is crucial.  Had  the crust of the earth remained
solid and thick , we would not be here. We  certainly would  not be driving
around in ‘Planes, Trains and automobiles’.

Something else happened  in that collision.  The heavy core  of the earth
remained and  all the heavier parts of the pieces in the collision
were drawn  together forming that nickel / iron core and the great 
massive molten surrounding envelope.   That core  provided  the magnetic
force to hold the big  fragment piece in place…the moon is held in place
by the gravitational force of  our earth’s core.

This sounds simple.  Or maybe it sounds improbable.  Maybe I am wrong
in some of what I have written.  Be that as it may.   

Paradise Lodge is located at Mile 71 on the Algoma Central Railway.
Geophyicists like my boss Dr. Norman Paterson were contracted by
some mining company  that sent an  airborne magnetometer over
Paradise Lodge and  surrounding Boreal Forest.  The magnetometer
gave off some weird  blips in places.  What were these blips?  
Something weird  was  going on .  “Send in a ground crew to
check out those anomalies.  We might find veins of Chalcopyrite
intrusions  in the granite.   If we do, we could get very rich.
The world needs more and more copper.  Without copper electric motors
cannot be made.  Our civilization could collapse.  Bottom line?  We 
could make lots of money.”

No need to tell  the ground crew much about what seems to be happening
with the readings.  Interpretation is a job for geophysicists.  Getting
the numbers is a job for instrument men.   Can secrecy be maintained?
Tell the survey crew to keep their mouths shut.

So, finally,afer 60 years I have opened my mouth.  Yes, my words
are simplistic.  What do you expect from  an instrument man?

alan skeoch
August  2020





alan skeoch
August 2020

Early in the summer of 1964 I was  offered a job deep in a forgotten part of  Ontario.  
The only way in and out was on the ACR…the Algoma Central Railway.  A railway
that goes  nowhere really.  

The ACR runs from Sault St. Marie northward  to Hearst where it connects  with the
CPR transcontinental.   It is  a  railway of broken dreams.  The first builder only managed
to construct 58 miles of rail before going bankrupt.   Others completed the full 297 miles
but no one ever made  money.  Today the ACR is  a ghost line only going as far
as the mysterious Agawa canyon as a tourist adventure.  

There are people living along the line.  Not many.  Maybe fewer and  fewer.  The ACR
is  a rail line that links fishing camps.  Today, August 11, 2020,  I  am  not sure if the
ACR even reaches these lonely human outposts.  The current owner,  CNR, has
threatened to shut the whole line  down unless the federal government pitches in
and  bankrolls the line.

In 1964, my destination was  Mile 71 on the ACR.  A fishing camp from which we were
launching a mining exploration venture.  “Paradise Lodge”

The mist unusual characteristic of  the ACR was its public service to people like us…prospectors…
and others who hoped to catch a few fish.  There was no scheduled series of  stops.  

In 1964,  If we wanted  a  ride on the ACR, we stood in the middle of  the track and waved
a white flag or red  flag or old set of handlebar underwear or big bug net.  The huge train would  stop.

There  is nothing lonelier that the sound of  the ACR in a wilderness where the only answer is a  wolf howl.

Might I suggest you listen to Willie NeLson singing Arlo Guthrie’s  THE CITY OF  NEW OLREANS
…”the disappearing railroad  blues”

Arlo Guthrie – The City Of New Orleans Lyrics

from album: Hobo’s Lullaby (1972) 
www.lyricsfreak.com/static/images/txtstripes_large.gif); font-stretch: normal; font-size: 17px; line-height: 30px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; min-height: 598px; position: relative;”>Riding on the City Of New Orleans
Illinois Central, Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three Conductors; twenty-five sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey – the train pulls out of Kankakee
And rolls along past houses, farms, and fields
Passing trains that have no name, and freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobile

Good morning, America, how are you?
Say, don’t you know me? I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City Of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

Dealing card games with the old man in the Club Car
Penny a point – ain’t no one keeping score
As the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumbling ‘neath the floor
And the sons of Pullman Porters, and the sons of Engineers
Ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel
And, mothers with their babes asleep rocking to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel

Good morning, America, how are you?
Say, don’t you know me? I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City Of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

Night time on the City Of New Orleans
Changing cars in Memphis Tennessee
Halfway home – we’ll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness, rolling down to the sea
But, all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream
And the steel rail still ain’t heard the news
The conductor sings his songs again – the passengers will please refrain
This train got the disappearing railroad blues

Good night, America, how are ya?
Said, don’t you know me? I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City Of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done  

alan skeoch

PS   Our next stories  are framed by the ACR…that was 1964 when the line was privately
owned  for a  few years.  In 1965 it was sold and its survival was a question. A slow and sad decline ensued.