alan skeoch
Dec. 2020

“ALAN, Sunny and Elizabeth and the kids are sitting on the street.”
“Because Santa  is  coming….get a chair.”

“Now these are dire days.  Nothing good seems to be happening.  Dreams are being dashed. Hard to believe that
Santa Claus would have the time or the energy to pay us a special visit.  

The street, Glenburnie Road, looks empty to me.  But if I look way up the street at the stop sign there
seems to be a bunch  of kids waiting  for something.

And Thomas and Serena Kim, our neighbours, seem to believe Santa  Claus will come up the street.   Hard to 
believe he would have time for us.   But the kids see something strange moving towards them.

“Santa Claus is  coming…he  is really coming up the street…with two horses because there is no snow today.
He is  coming…He is really coming.”

Now  that is the closest thing to a miracle I have ever seen.  Santa Claus took the time to come and see Thomas  And  Serena
even though his reindeer were not available.  He really came…came up our street.   He really did.

alan skeoch
Dec. 2020



alan skeoch
Dec. 2020

Global warming has made free skating on Lakes and rivers less and less common.   There  was a
time when  our river, the Credit River, was strung with coloured lights and the ice strengthened with
flooding.  Ice so strong that a tractor with snow blade could clear long stretches of the river 
from the Port Credit Bridge north into  the wilderness beyond the railway bridge where the 
Go Train thunders by.

Was it global warming that ended the river skating?  Or was it some insurance executive who
pointed our the City liability?  

Good news.  There are still chances to skate up the Credit River in certain
years when the temperature drops  and the snow does  not drop.  Marjorie,
the Kids and I have grabbed these moments for they are ephemeral.

Now that is real skating.  An adventure.  Unlimited  solid ice that seems to have no end.   

A hockey game with no boundaries.

I am not the best skater.  Not a Gretsky/  More a dreamer…loving the open ice with no need to stop.

My last time on the river ice was not so pleasant.   I was  not as alert as others.  I revved up my speed
and was just flying over the ice.. No speed limit posted.

Then,  WHAM!…I DID A HEAD FIRST DIVE AND LET MY NOSE BE  A RUDDER AND A BRAKE.   What happened? The wind  had blown 
sand on piece of ice.  Enough to stop my skates … Dead stop.  My body flew  parallel to the ice for a bit then
my head  angled down and  my nose got the worst of  it.

There have been a few days when the Fifth Line of Erin Township has become one long
skating rink…as Marjorie and  Kevin enjoyed one winter day before the plows arrived.

Glare ice on the Fifth line is less and  less  likely these days.  Sand and gravel is spread
as soon as  the road  gets  icy.  And the snow plows stir it all up.   Must be so, I Guess.

FOND MEMORY:  Suppose you are  Given the chance to skate on a river or lake.  Make sure the ice is solid of course.  But grab
the chance.   Long long ago Russ Vanstone invited a bunch  of  us  loving couples to his Georgian Bay
cottage when the weather was bitingly cold.  We could  hold hands  and  skate into the blackness of the night.
“From here to Eternity,  Marjorie.”   We  had that moment.  We did not let it slip through our fingers.

alan skeoch

EPISODE 198: Spare Bed for Andrew

Begin forwarded message:

From: ALAN SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Subject: Spare Bed for Andrew
Date: December 19, 2020 at 2:26:09 PM EST
To: Marjorie Skeoch <marjorieskeoch@gmail.com>, Alan Skeoch <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>, askeoch@bellnet.ca, Julie Skeoch <julieskeoch@yahoo.ca>, Kevin Skeoch <kevinskeoch@hotmail.com>


  alan  skeoch

 Dec.  2020


“Could we rent a room for the night…with a spare bed  for our son?:
“yes, we have a room with a cot for children.”

That  was the night we realized that Andrew had grown up.

alan skeoch
dec. 2020


Begin forwarded message:

From: ALAN SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Date: December 18, 2020 at 9:24:11 AM EST
To: Alan Skeoch <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>, Marjorie Skeoch <marjorieskeoch@gmail.com>, John Wardle <john.t.wardle@gmail.com>


alan  skeoch
Dec.  2020

I was startled one  day last year when registering for another Jim Mccartney auction sale.  His wife,

Kate, said. “Just a  minute, I have a surprise for you.”  And she gave me this charcoal drawing of  myself.  Framed.

So here  is my return picture of  Jim McCartney in action with Marjorie modelling some pretty hats.
Sometimes auctions  go exceedingly well for everyone…owners, auctioneers, bidders.   Jim and  Kate
try to make every auction go smoothly.   




alan skeoch
oct. 2018

         updated  Dec.  2020

Earlier I related  the heart warming story of Jack the Clydesdale whose home in Dr. Richardson’s barn is secure in spite of the auction sale. The new owner
of the farm wanted  Jack as much as she wanted the farm.

There was another unusual facet of the Richardson auction…which  is the subject of this  story.


OCT. 2018

Seemed out of place.  Two heavy  copper cylinders sat on a table outside the Richardson Barn at their Sept. 8, 2018 auction sale.   Something  clicked

in  my mind  when I noticed them so I took a quick  picture and hustled to the other auctioneer who was selling a coyote pelt and  a  horse trough that looked better than
those cylinders.

“Marjorie, you might throw a bid at those cylinders if the  price is right.”
“What are they?”
“Not sure but those  cylinders are out of place…not something found in Ontario barns…wish
I could  remember what it is about them.  Important.  But don’t go crazy in your bidding.”

“Here they are, Alan, Happy  Birthday.”
“ Now I remember…  These two copper cylinders are…
“Jim McCartney, the auctioneer called them ship’s lanterns.”
“Well he is wrong.  These  are miner’s lanterns…designed to give a very little bit
of light in the dismal  darkness of  coal mines  in South Wales.”
“Why so  big and so heavy…allow just a flicker of  light.”
“The real purpose is  to detect dangerous coal gas…explosive.  These lanterns 
were invented  after hundreds  of British  coal miners had  died from gas ignitions
underground.  A spark. A candle.  A  match.  Enough to blow a coal  mine  into a
mass graveyard..  In the 19th century these underground detonations in coal  mines
were regular events.”
“What gas are you talking about?
“Lots  of  different gas in coal  mines…I suppose the  worst was  methane trapped  
in pockets in the  coal…ignites easily,”
“How did  methane get into coal?”
“Coal was once ferns, trees, plants of  all  kinds…most once grew in the Carboniferous Era 359 million of years  ago to 299 million years  ago in
the  Paleozoic period when the earth was  really swampy and oceans were  hundreds of  feet
lower because so much water was trapped in arctic and  antarctic polar ice.  Plants  lived and
died, their  bodies  forming thick blankets  of decaying matter.  Gas was  part of he process of  decay.
These thick beds of plants eventually got covered with sediment in later  eras forming coal which 
is  a sedimentary rock formed by pressure and the absence of oxygen.   Thick  beds of coal are 
found in pockets all over the world…lots  in Canada and  the United Staes and  Britain and a massive
amount in China.”
“Slow down, Alan…do you mean this coal which  we  can buy in the store is 300 million years  old?”
“Correct…ancient as time…measured  in millions of years…that one chunk of coal.”
“So coal is plentiful but not infinite…what happens when we use all  the coal?”
“Good thinking…dreadful thinking really.  It took millions of years to press those ancient plants  into coal.  Yet
we  have  only been burning  coal for about 300 years…consumption big time.   When the coal is gone there will beNo more coal made
unless a catastrophic even happens and our trees and plants are once again covered with sediment and pressed into new coal.”
“You scare me  at times.  Get back to that methane…where does it come from?”
“Methane was  identified  back  in  18th century by  a scientist who  noticed  ‘swamp gas”
bubbled up and smelled bad.   Produced by rotting vegetation.   Deep coal mines trap
methane  pockets of  CH4 (Methane) that is released by miners. Mix methane with oxygen
and the chance of  explosion occurs.”
“Has that ever happened?”
“Don’t play around  with me…of course coal mine explosions have happened…lots  of times.
Some truly devastating.”
“Name one.”
“Universal  Colliery, Sengheydd, Wales…massive underground explosion on October 14, 1913, killed 439 miners
of the 1,000 underground at the time…and 100 horses…worst mining disaster in British  history.

Black and white photograph of the Universal Colliery, taken from a raised position, and showing crowds waiting for news
Families waiting for announcement of deaths in the Universal Colliery, Wales.  Nearly 
half  of the 1,000 coal  miners died  in the  explosion…and 100 horses.

“You mean there were 1,000 men digging coal deep  in the bowels of Wales and nearly half were killed.”
“Right.  And that is  just one example.  Coal miner was killed or maimed  every  six hours. Mining
is a dangerous business.
“Did you say there were 200 horses  down there as well.
“I did.  So  many stories…where to begin?”
“And  what about those copper cylinders…how  do  they fit into the story?”
“Good comment…let’s deal with those things.  Look at the pictures below.

Pit Ponies, Pit Horses, pit pony history, miner Ceri Thompson, Canadian Coal Mining history, Sable Island, underground stables, Underground haulage, Coal Mining Canada

Pit Ponies, Pit Horses, pit pony history, miner Ceri Thompson, Canadian Coal Mining history, Sable Island, underground stables, Underground haulage, Coal Mining Canada

“Your lamps…I see them in those miners hands…same thing”
“Designed  to sample the air…lamp gets brighter if explosive air in the stope…gives  miners warning to get the hell out fast.”
“What about those horses?  Just leave them to get killed?”
“Most miners loved their horses…living company for them in the near absolute darkness of the mine stopes  and alleyways.”
“You said  ‘most’ which means some miners were not so kind.”
“Correct.  Just like any collection of human beings there are always ‘not so nice’ miners  who abused  the horses.”
“Beat them.   There is  an amusing story about one miner who abused his horse.  The horses bolted and ran through the mine
tunnels while the miner chased after him.  Eventually the horse just disappeared much to the chagrin and anger of the miner.
“How could  a grown horse disappear in a coal mine?”
“That’s what the miner said.”
“Was the horse ever found?”
“Yes, a while later.  The horse had jogged into a side tunnel where a coal cart had been parked.  He hid  behind the cart while 
the angry miner ran back and forth cursing no doubt.”
‘How   could a horse hide in a coal mine?”
“Easy.  You have forgotten that coal mines were pitch dark most places.  The horse knew every twist and turn in the mine even
though he could not see.  Amazing.  If horses  could only laugh and whinny softly, ‘You son of a bitch, you won’t find  me here no
battery how you yell and  swear.’”
“God, must have been awful down  there in the darkness.”
“No one knows really except for the men deep in the pits.”
“Some of those coal seams were not very thick…no room for horses for sure…I saw pictures  of men pick axing coal seams while 
lying of their sides…maybe only three feet of clearance.  Horse no help there.”
“That’s where the miners kids  proved useful…small people needed.”
“Children in coal mines?”
“:Sure, some as young as six years old.  Some children spent their lives deep in those pits.  A lot of them died  in explosions and roof collapse 
and accidents…and then there was black lung…dreaded killer when sharp bits of coal dust builds up in the lung.  Terrible death.

“You exagerate, Alan, little children were not miners.”
“Sure as hell were…as a matter of fact children were used in coal mines before horses.  The horses, most of them, replaced the
children when child abuse scandals became general knowledge in the 1840’s in Britain.  Children were prohibited in mines.
“Not completely.  Who would know if a kid was deep in the mine.  Absolute darkness except for slivers of light from these lamps.
Miners were poorly paid…needed the extra cash from their children.  Many payed rent for company houses and  had  to shop in
company stores…wages barely covered expenses.  Mine owners were not always humane…they wanted  profits like any
Note re: Miner’s lamps/  left: kind of lamp given to foremen and mine execs
right: kind  of lamp given to miners and children, obvious wear, has number
which was checked off as  miners  left shift…a  way of checking who was still below.
In mine collapses and explosions this system gave identity of men still in
mine, either dead or alive.


“The first coal seems were found  on the seacoasts…thin bands  of coal…this led to problems.”
“yes, the  deeper the coal was  mined  the smaller the tunnel?”
“So , small people were best as miners…and agile people who could easily crawl on hands and  knees.”
“So, who are the smallest people?”
“Right.  Children were very useful as miners.  They did  what they were told.  They were small.  They were cheap. And they were
expendable.  Who cared what happened deep in the dark of a coal mine?”
“Surely , you exaggerate, “
“Nope, check the records.”
“I do  not have time to do  that.”
“OK, here are some comments by child miners in the 1840’s…part of a British government  investigation after a  mine
accident that killed children deep in a coal mine.”

In the 1840’s the Welsh coal  mines were investigated by a British Commission and  child labour was reduced as a result.  Some  of the  reports sent the 
government authorities were very graphic.   “I got my head crushed…by a piece of  roof falling.” (William Skidmore, aged 9)…”I got my legs crushed some
tme snce, which threw  me off work some weeks.” (John Reece,  aged 14)…”Nearly a year ago there was  an accident and  most of us were burned. I was 
carried  home by a man.  it hurt very much  because the skin was  burnt of my face.  I couldn’t work for six months.” (Philip Phillips, aged 9)
Philip Davies had a horse for company. He was pale and undernourished in appearance. His clothing was worn and ragged. He could not read:-‘I have been driving horses since I was seven but for one year before that I looked after an air door. I would like to go to school but I am too tired as I work for twelve hours.’ Philip Davies, aged 10, Dinas Colliery, RhonddaDrammers pulled their carts by a chain attached at their waist. They worked in the low tunnels between the coal faces and the higher main roadways where horses might be used. The carts weighed about 1½cwt. of coal and had to be dragged a distance of about 50 yards in a height of about 3 feet.

“We are doorkeepers in the four-foot level. We leave the house before six each morning and are in the level until seven o’clock and sometimes later. We get 2p a day and our light costs us 2½p a week. Rachel was in a day school and she can read a little. She was run over by a dram a while ago and was home ill a long time, but she has got over it.”Elizabeth Williams, aged 10 and Mary and Rachel Enoch, 11 and 12 respectively, Dowlais Pits, Merthyr
Some horses were abused, more   often though horses were loved and  well cared for…but all the horses used in coal  mines led a  trouble filled life.  Mine ceilings collapsed  on them, picks  and shovels cut them, some miners beat them, horses suffered from black lung like the miners, explosions  killed them…In 1876, the RSPCA (Royal Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) urged protection be provided by law.  In that year alone  there were 71,396 horses working in British mines, 2,999 of them were killed, 10,878 were injured.  “
Pit Ponies, Pit Horses, pit pony history, miner Ceri Thompson, Canadian Coal Mining history, Sable Island, underground stables, Underground haulage, Coal Mining Canada
“That’  not a horse, Alan…you said horses worked deep  int he cola mines…that’s  a pony, small one at that
“Pit ponies, often Shetlands, and full draught horses  such as Clydesdales worked underground…all sizes.  Low ceilings favoured small ponies such  as that one above.  The  animal  does not look abused…looks loved  by those teen age boys. “
“Imagine the terror felt by that horse being lowered deep into the cola mine.  Folded into a ball and lowered as much as 1,000 feet in mines that had the besthard  anthracite coal.  Miners tried to rescue the horses in mine disasters  but often could not do much
(I wish this picture was  larger.  Here is a boy, perhaps nine  or ten years old, sitting in the darkness beside a ventilation door which he had to open and  close as cartloads  of coal  drawn  by horses came by   Lonely?  Scared?) “Not a tough job, right?”
“Not tough, I guess, but would  you want to sit all alone in the darkness for twelve hours opening and closing the curtain when a horse camp by with a cartload of coal.  Lonely, perhaps frightened, perhaps proud to be part of this strange world of adults.”  The passageways  were not lit.  Pit horses soon got to know their way through the mind  passage in the absolute darkness.  Horses even knew when an eight hour shift was over and then made their way to the underground stables for their supper.  
“Lots of girls were sent underground in the early years.   Working class kids.  Pulling cartloads of coal from the coal face where men hacked at the coal or set small explosive charges in hand drilled holes.  Some girls pulled big boxes of coal using carts that had no wheels.  The use of girls in the mines ended before the use of boys ended.  Law eventually prohibited children.  “
“Any mine owners  cheat and  use children despite the law.”“Sad to say…many kids  still worked underground.  Hard for mine owners to resist the attraction of cheap labour…payed  children  a couple of pence a day…two cents a day.  Of course a  cent had a lot higher value then.  But the pay was  never enough for a working man and his children to ever treat the poverty cycle.  As the song Sixteen Tons said they ‘owed their soul to the company store’.

(Source 25) 12 year-old John Davies at work in the Rhondda (1909)
12 year old John Davies comes  up from Rhonda mine carrying his miner’s lantern, lunch  bag and jug of water.

More than  a  century later, in 1960, I had an opportunity to visit the Welsh coal fields near Aberdare.  I had read ‘How  Green  Was  My Valley’* so had  some
idea of the  difficult life coal miners faced  n the past.  Only in 1960, however, did I become  aware that my great uncle Frank Freeman lived there in a 
place called  Ysgeborwen.    He  was a butcher and our meeting was brief, perhaps an hour, but the ambience of that coal valley cannot be forgotten.  Some of the
coal ‘pits’ were still operating and  I distinctly remember miners coming off shift singing.  Singing!  Really singing.    And  I also remember
being given a  brokeN clay pipe that had  been excavated when an old  1840  era coal seam was  being converted to an open pit mine. “The old carts
were still down there…scooped them up…that’s where this  pipe  stem came from.  Odd.  Pipes and  matches were dangerous things to
have in an underground coal  mine.”

*How  Green  Was  My  Valley” made  the Welsh coal fields famous.   Even became moron picture.  The  book was thought to 
be an accurate history of the  brutality of coal mining.  years later the book was determined to be fiction.  Based  on overheard
conversations of Welsh families living in  London.  

OCT. 2018



“Did you ever wonder where coal came from?”
“Plants … millions of plants I think…sort of hard  to believe.”
“Really hard  to believe…
“But true…millions of  dead plants over millions  of years…plants, mostly giant ferns, from the Carboniferous 
Era when the earth was warmer and the atmosphere had lots of carbon dioxide….plants love CO2.  By chance
thick beds of dead plants got trapped under water that was eventually covered with thick bands of mud.   Piles  of mud
which became slate and other sedimentary stone…heavy…the heavier the overburden the more those bands of
plants  were pressed…pressure so great that the plants became beds of  coal.  Anthracite coal was the best 
kind of hard  coal…also buried  the deepest …anthracite coal mines are often more than 1,000 feet below the surface.


Ahhh. I’m so tired. How long can this go on?
Said if you see me comin’ better step aside
A lot of men didn’t and a lot of men died
I got one fist of iron, and the other of steel
If the right one don’t a get ya then the left one will
I was born one morning when the sun didn’t shine
Picked up my shovel and walked to the line
I hauled 16 tons of number 9 coal
And the straw boss said “Well bless my soul.”
(Melody 2)
Sixteen tons what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don’t you call me cuz I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.
Nobody knows my sorrow.

Dark As A Dungeon, song lyrics

Song: Dark As A Dungeon
Lyrics: Merle Travis(1)

Music: Merle Travis
Year: 1946
Country: USA

Come all you young fellers, so young and so fine, 
And seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mine. 
It will form as a habit and seep in your soul, 
‘Til the blood of your veins runs black as the coal.
This song was originally posted on protestsonglyrics.net 
Where it’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew, 
Where the dangers are many and the pleasures are few, 
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines, 
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.

It’s many a man I have seen in my day, 
Who lived just to labor his whole life away. 
Like a fiend with his dope or a drunkard his wine, 
A man must have lust for the lure of the mine.


I hope when I’m gone and the ages do roll, 
My body will blacken and form into coal. 
Then I’ll look down from the door of my Heavenly home, 
And pity the miner a diggin’ my bones.
This song was originally posted on protestsonglyrics.net 

The midnight, the morning, the breaking of the day, 
Are the same to the miner who labors away. 
Where the demons of death often come by surprise, 
One slip of the slate and you’re buried alive.



alan skeoch
Dec. 2020

This  is one story about Kate and Jim McCartney.  Auctioneers.  The story 

Marjorie and I have attended hundreds of auction sales…farm  auctions.   Episode195 is the story about one of  he nicest auctions

we have ever attended.  Sept. 8, 2018.  The auction  on the David Richardson farm.   The tone of the auction was upbeat…happy.   Which

is not always the case.  There are many factors that make an auction enjoyable.  The key holding everything together is held by auctioneer
Jim Mccartney snd his wife Kate.  Jim keeps the auction moving and has  a bucketful of comments that makes everyone laugh. 
With their leadership several  stories unfolded.   Perhaps the happiest story revolved around the new
owner of the farm and a big black Percheron names  Jack.

alam  skeoch
Sept. 8, 2018
near Peters Corners, Ontario

Jack, the Clydesdale, dominated the auction sale but we didn’t meet him until the next day.  This is  a happy story.  Dr. David and Dorothy Richardson decided to

sell their farm and have this  auction sale to diminish their pile of ‘this and that’.   Much of the this and that had the smell of a  Clydesdale.  Not the real smell….the mental smell.  

“Must be hard to sell your horse, David.”
“It is and it isn”t”
“We are leaving the farm but Jack is staying right here in the stable he has known most of his  life.”
“How come?”
“Simple…the young lady who bought the farm wants Jack…she will be riding him.”
“Where is Jack?”
“Out in the field…we’ll get him over  for you. He likes  people.”

“Welcome, my name is David Richardson.  I retired as a doctor a long time ago…way
back  when I fell in love with Clydesdales.   Do you want to meet Jack?”

“Everything here was new at one time…Let’s get the auction underway.”

“What is this?  Must be used  for processing grain in some way…or maybe a ship porthole?”

“I once collected cast iron implement seats.  This is  my last one.  Made into a seat…fine place to sit and
watch the sale…my sale.   I am at ease with it because I know Jack is going to stay around.”

“Hi Woody, what’s up?”
“Just saw  the biggest horse I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“Did  he step on you?”
“Nope…just bent over and gave me a  nuzzle…says to call him Jack.”

“Alan, what did you buy?”
“Bought this apple dress…cast iron marking say  patented  1872,,,”
“Planning to make apple sauce?”
“I’ll make it if you’ll eat it…be a  little gritty with the dust and ash of a century and a half.”
“Must you fill the truck at every suction sale?”
“That is the purpose of a truck, Marjorie.  The truck would be
very disappointed if it never  carried  a load.”
“But what are you going to do with all this stuff?”
“Remember King Tut’s tomb?”
“Remember when Carter peeped through the first hole and  was asked  what he say?”

“Sure, ‘he said  “I see wondrous things…wondrous.”

“So  what?”
“So that is why we buy these things.”
“For a tomb?”
“No because they are wondrous…WONDROUS.”

“What else did you buy?”
“Nice old chicken crate for $20, two railway baggage carts, a kitchen table and chairs, and this cement land roller.’
“Are you nuts?”
“what purpose do  you have for that stuff?”
“Purpose?  Purpose?  Does  everything in life have to have a purpose.?”

“Bought the table and six  chairs, Marjorie.”
“We already have a table and chairs.”
“May need spares some day.”
“Rock maple…heavy as all get out.  how will we move that table.”
“Let me give Andrew a call.”
“He must have better things to do than lug your stuff around.”
“He never complains.”

“See if you can find  Woody in this picture;”

“Every farm sale has a bunch of stories.”
“Sad stories often”
“Afraid so.”
“But not this  story…no sireee.”
“Because this  is the story of Jack the Clydesdale who really owns the farm…and the people that love him.”

alan skeoch
Sept. 2018


Note:  “A little too much about us, Alan.”   Which is true.  Writers are  encouraged  to write
about what they know…not about what they do  not know.  I suspect a lot of writers clothe
their stories in things about themselves then tell the stories in the third person to escape 
that trap.  I like writing in the first person.  If you find that a bit too personal the answer is simple.
as I have said often,..just press delete.


alan skeoch

Spartacus was a pinto gelding.  He was Marjorie’s horse shortly after we had the boys.  Sprtacus was
foaled from an Estrogen mare stabled in a secluded barn somewhere in Wellington County.  In the 1960;s
there were many such barns  filled with pregnant mares.  Why”   Because estrogen could  be distilled from
the urine of pregnant mares.   Profitable.  Estrogen was a key chemical that relieved women’s experience
with menopause.   Little if  anything was said about the source of estrogen in the last half of the 20th 
century.  The source  was the urine of pregnant mares…called  PMU (Pregnant Mares Urine).

When Marjorie got Spartacus  I had  never heard of the word estrogen.  What we did hear was
that Spartacus was  one lucky animal.   The fate of foals from PMU horses was grim indeed…they
were  expendable…slaughtered.

That was why we called him Sparatcus. Like the Roman slave who entertained Romans.  “Sparky” for 

Anyone who buys a horse takes on a  big responsibility.  Horses require care.  Horses cost money…
often lots of money.  In our case we were spared the big costs because my Uncle and Aunt ,  Frank
and Lucinda Freeman agreed to board Sparky with their two horses both of which were still used
for transportation in winter months when the roads were impassable due to snow drifts.  A team
of horses could take a bob sleigh over and through the deepest of drifts where a car or truck could
never go.  If a horse got stuck, he or she could be unharnessed and  get out.  A car stuck in a
big drift was stuck, really stuck.

Later Sparky was stabled  with Lorne and Carole Ssunders with their two horses.  Both barns 
did not have electrify.   I always got n unsettled  feeling in those dark  barns just knowing that
horses  were standing in  the stalls looking at us as  we moved through the stable inside our
little circle of lamplight (Naptha gas lanterns).  Uncle Frank  feared electricity…linked it to many
barn fires. He  was correct.

I was  a failure with Sparky.  Never trusted him.   My fault rather than his.  Animals know  when
a human is nervous…distrustful…scared.  Just as they know when a  human is at ease…trustful…
confident.   My fear seemed justified  when Sparky tried to kick me in the balls with his back left 
hoof one night in Uncle Frank’s dark barn.  I was nervous but tried to keep a stiff upper lip
and be friendly.

“Good Evening, Sparky, nice  winter night…warm in here.”
And I patted him on the left bum at which point he shot his shod left hoof at
an angle aimed at my thingamabob.  Lucky.  I was in the next stall so  all  he got was a wooden plank.

“Marjorie,  Sparky tried to kick me…to neuter me.”
“What did  you do?”
“Touched him on the flank and said Good evening…or Hi, Sparky”
“You startled  him Alan.  Never strike a horse on the back flank unless
he knows you are there.”
“Bloody nearly castrated me.”
“Not his fault.”
“I thought you were counting on my 50% involvement making babies.”
“Did you say 50%?”
“I did…goddamn nearly lost my works.”
“Did you say  50%?”
“I did.”
“I hate to say this Alan.  The role of men in raising children does not
come close to 50%.  More like 10%   But we will see.  “

My nervousness with Sparky never changed.   I just could not trust him.
One autumn day Marjorie asked me to give her a boost up on to Sparky.

“That means I have to get close to him, Marjorie.”
“He won’t bite you.”
“Not sure about that…he’s looking at me.:’
“Just give me a boost.”
“OK, here goes…:
“Where did you go?”
“You boosted  me so  hard that I flew right over Sparky…landed
on pile of rocks…I think my arm is broken.”

Her arm  was  broken…cracked.   Marjorie never asked for
another boost as long as we had  Sparky.

Sadly, one day Marjorie said we would have to sell Sparky.  She was 
having difficulty getting pregnant so  Sparky was sold  to a Doctor’s
wife, Dr. Kunica , who had a big farm down near Hornby.  Marjorie
rode him down there.  I think she cried  all the way.

The end result was OK  She got pregnant with Andrew almost
immediately.   My role, as she figured, was closer to 10% in
the business of child  rearing.  Never did get on to the business
of changing diapers.  Goddamn safety pins.

I much preferred being the third male child in our family.
No diaper duty but lots of fun.

Sparky may not have liked me.  But I cared for him.  Glad he
had been rescued from the hell of an Estrogen barn where mares
stood chained for six months of every year with some contraption 
that collected their urine.

Farming is  not all  sweetness  and light.  For some farmers life
is a very nasty treadmill that demands life and death decisions
with each step.  Imagine your life as an estrogen producer;

alan skeoch
dec. 2020

alan skeoch
Dec. 2020

Below is a short version of the Estrogen story.  In the 1990’s these mares got more attention.  But the business
of collecting Mares urine continues.   The barn below is much cleaner than the barns where mares were
kept in the 1960’s.  All the same it is  a very bad  life for them.  Do not read  the story below.  It is not nice.

Pfizer cuts demand from Westman PMU producers

The Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) Industry: What you need to know

Marie, in her former life as a PMU horse, before she was rescued by the Ark Watch Foundation and eventually brought to Duchess where she lived out the rest of her days in comfort and peace.

The Pregnant Mare Urine or PMU Industry produces pharmaceuticals containing the urine of impregnated horses. Many consumers are unaware of the cruel and inhumane treatment these horses often endure. They are routinely impregnated and confined to stalls for the sole purpose of facilitating the collection of their urine. The products are used to treat symptoms of menopause, but the advertising doesn’t mention the source of the ingredients.

Between our Duchess Sanctuary in Oregon and the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, The Fund for Animals is caring for and providing lifetime sanctuary to more than 150 horses saved from the PMU industry.

Read on to learn more about what’s currently happening in the PMU Industry.

A: PMU stands for Pregnant Mare Urine. The hormones in the urine are used to manufacture Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) products for women. The most commonly known drug produced with equine urine is Premarin®, now manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (Pfizer purchased Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the original manufacturer of the drug, in 2009). Other products include Prempro®, Premphase® and the newly approved Duavee®—a combination osteoporosis-menopause drug. In 1990, Premarin® was the most widely prescribed drug in the United States and in 1997 it became Wyeth’s first one billion dollar drug.

Q: How are the horses used?
A: Pregnant mares are often kept in narrow tie stalls for approximately 6 months of the year with a urine collection harness in place. It’s an inhumane life for an animal designed to be in near constant motion. While in theory they have room to lie down, they cannot turn around or take more than a few steps forwards or backwards. In addition to the hardship for the mares, many of the resulting foals end up in the slaughter pipeline because they are considered by-products of this industry.

Q: How many horses are affected?
A: Although the number of mares in PMU barns has decreased significantly from an estimated high of 55-60,000 in the late 1990’s, and there are no farms operating in the United States, right now there are reportedly 2,500 to 3,000 mares on PMU farms in Canada. In addition, Pfizer is now contracting with PMU farms overseas in countries like China, Poland and Kazakhstan.



alan skeoch
dec.  2020

A strategic location


The moat that surrounded the castle has long gone but the location at the western end of theGreat Glen and natural defensive postion against the River Lochy gave Inverlochy castle a superior advantage. The old Military Road built by General Wade passed right by the castle and can still be followed back in to Fort William.

Originally dating back to the 13th century, Inverlochy Castle last played a part in Scottish and English history during the Civil Wars of the 1640’s. In 1645 the royalist Earl of Montrose routed the roundhead forces of the Campbell Chief Duke of Argyll at the second Battle of Inverlochy.



We had a lot of good times in Scotland a few years ago.  Touring.  Those carefree times that
Covid 19 has relegated to the deep past.  However, One of our trips startled me a bit.  

“There it is…Inverlochy Castle…a high end five star hotel and dining room…tops…let’s 
have High Tea.”  said Gabriela.
“Sure…can we afford it though?”
“High tea…scones, clotted cream, tiny sandwiches, cakes, marmalade…we can afford that.”

And it was a grand visit.  As we drove off…about 40 miles north…I offered to pay
the bill.  “How much?”  Gabriela gave me the bill.

“Holy Cow!   You gave them a 40 pound tip for a cup of tea.  $100!”
“I did not, I gave 4 pounds…$10”
So we turned around , drove back…and  the hotel staff were not the least bit
upset and corrected our error.  They were quite used to big tips though.  This was
a high end place.  Distillery money built the castle.

Gabriela is  gone now.  But her memory lingers on.   Memory should  be joyful.
Remembering the good times.




alan  skeoch
Dec. 2020


Possibly one of the worst days for anyone to work.  Covid 19 was spiking.  Hospitals across 
North America were bursting.   ICU’s were above capacity and the death toll in the United
States was above 3,500 … in just one day.   In Ontario, Toronto and Peel County were in
lockdown and the worsening situation made further lockdowns very likely.  This  was a
dark day like no other.  And the pandemic  seemed out of  control.

It was also a big day for the movie industry.  Two huge 5 ton trucks had just arrived at the farm followed
by two smaller trucks.  December 10 was loading day.   Marjorie and  I were nervous…only Woody
the dog was relaxed.  He liked visitors and there had been precious few  of them.

“Alan, wear a double mask and  keep away from the loaders…social distancing.”
“Marjorie, I will not have time to document the loading…I will be on the ATV all day…could you keep a record with
your iPhone?”
“I will…but I will also be making hot chocolate and a snack for the men.”

(She did make the hot chocolate but Woody  got the great chevron of  cheese and the cookies)

But first:

“Gather round everyone…socially distant but within earshot…I would like to make a short speech.”

Seven men, all masked, formed a loose circle.

“This is a dangerous day  for all of us.  Covid 19 is raging.  Hospitals are overflowing.
The day is Particularly dangerous for Marjorie and  me since we are in he
most vulnerable age group.  We have two 5 ton trucks to load with a huge number  of objects
that you may find questionable. This will take the full day.  I know  it  is hard to work with
the masks but it is necessary.  Please  respect both us and our collection…and be careful.”

“OK, Rob, you are now in full command,” And the loading began. Really we had three movies
to deal with.  Large objects were returned with big pieces from other movies.. while we  spent the day filling the two five tons.
Only one man ignored the rules and kept his mask below his chin jeopardizing us all.  He must
have been a believer in Donald Trump.   Should I say something?  I did not. It is impossible
to speak to believers in Donald Trump.

The day before I had spent several hours putting green markers on the items to 
be loaded.   The day was cold but thawing.

Movie people  are  quite secretive lest the story gets out before the movie is completed.   Therefore  I cannot say much about
the script.  My job  was to provide objects that made the movie set believable.  In this  case a  semi-derelict building with
long forgotten objects from the recent and  distant past.   This was certainly not a beauty contest.  Nothing pristine.

Those of you who have been following my stories…my adventures…about the decade in the mining exploration budiness
might like to look closely at these caribou antlers.  A First Nation friend,  Moses  Lord,  gave them to me on the Yukon job.
I crated  them and shipped them bak home much to the amusement of all including my Toronto boss, Dr. Norman Paterson.
“At my expense, Norm, not yours…although you probably would not have complained”.   This is the first movie job  for the
antlers…shipped in 1962…first earned their keep in 2020.

In the late 1940’s, my brother and I built our own scooters from orange crates, 2×4’s and roller skates.
When  the scooters got bashed  up…splintered…we just went to the back of grocery stores and
got another orange crate.  Kids do not do that any more .  Why?   Oranges come in paper boxes.

We worked  from 8.30 until 2.30 on the job.  Heavy work at times.  It is harder to breathe through
the masks doing hard work but the crew followed the rules (with that one lone exception).  Breakage?
yes, I heard  a loud crunch when crates of clay flower pots were put on the loading ramp.  Made me wince.

“Alan, how do you know that our things will come back?”
“We can but trust, Marjorie.”
“How would our lives be different if  we were minimalists?”
“Life would be pristine but bloody boring.”

alan skeoch
Dec. 2020


Begin forwarded message:



Jack and Sean were paid for this  job.  

alan skeoch
may 2020

This is a story about rock  picking.

THERE is a very moving  film called  THE FIELD with Richar Harris  as  a hardscrabble  Irish  farmer whose field  is  all he  has
in life.   And  he is prepared to die to keep his Field.  I can identify with him.  There are 25 acres on our farm where meh grandparents
made a living somehow.  7  o 8 acres are swamp or a term used  more fashionably the water acres  are called a  pond.  Another 10 
acres are bush some of  which  we planted 60 years ago.  Red  pines…worthless for anything but pulp and hideaway locations for
wild Turkeys.  

There are two acres of sandy loam at the front of the farm but one of our sons  decided  to plant oaks and maples there
one week-end.   Our garden soil disappeared.  Now, 20 years later,  he is scooping out the trees to be replanted on fancy avenues.
Maybe we will get the good land  back but I am not holding my breath.   I will likely have to rely on My Field behind the swamp.

That leaves my  two acre field…as seen below.   Our best crops are rocks.   Every year more rocks…and more rocks.
Backbreaking work with a stone boat and  pull tractor.  Even with the bobcat the rock picking is  back breaking.

Ten years ago i bought a  special hydraulic tractor for Marjorie for her  birthday.  She has  never driven  it but I try 
to harrow our rock field with it annually.  Take a  look.  These rocks  come up every single year.

How did  our grandparents ever make a living.?  Simple answer is they did not make a living.  They existed…house 
with no indoor plumbing,  no electricity,  dirt floor basement, lots of small creatures living between the single layer of  bricks
and the split lath pleasured walls.  Hiding place for snakes and mice and bugs.  

Why send this?  Just in case one of you readers longs for the  good old days and are thinking of  buying a small farm.

alan skeoch
may 2020

Now the field  looks a little cleaner.  How did it get this way?   One  summer day Jack Skeoch 
and his  friend Sean were cycling by our house.

“Hey,  boys, do you want to earn a  few bucks?”
“I will  pay minimum wage  or better…”
“Doing what?”
“It’s a secret.”

And that was the way I got the rocks picked  before we got the rock picker implement attached
to the Bob cat.  Better than sending the boys to some sweaty  gym.  Outdoors.  But no girls
which was a bit of  a  problem.

The Big Snapper looked  like a rock.  She was burying her eggs…

Now what to do with the stones.  My Cousin Eleanor and her husband  John built a large farm house with stones like these.
That skill I do not have.   So we just dumped the stones  in the rock pile.  Every farm has  a place for stones.

alan skeoch
Dec 2020