Thanks Jeanette…left handed scrawl others call it.
Re: Speech of 20 women I admire…giving it on April 4 in afternoon while
you are at work…speaking to a church group (free), original speech given
to large teachers group last fall (and they paid me which was a surprise…I gave
part back to support their charities)
Marjorie wants my name to stand for Martys…but I think that would be rude as
we will take off for England that morning.
Thanks for reading the long story of the Groundhog River…I have been wanting to
write it for decades but never had time…so I made time this winter.
All these stories go to a blog my cousin set up… Alan Skeoch …see address beside your name above…
I never look to see the blog … Our sons want me to put stories in some kind of book form but that
seems to be a pain in the ass … wrote and co wrote a bunch of history books…an ordeal for sure.
And, yes, the company I worked for in the summer had a military like character…some
science guys were veterans at the time…you would have liked them.
On Mar 29, 2019, at 10:20 PM, <email@example.com> <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
You were right. This was a very long one, but well worth it.
Fascinating. Quite like the military. Tough, but great experience.You have very neat handwriting in your notebook pages.Cheers.Jeannette
From: SKEOCH <email@example.com>
Sent: March 28, 2019 9:03 PM
To: Alan Skeoch <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Marjorie Skeoch <email@example.com>
Subject: 1958 BUSHMAN’S THONG…: GROUNDHOG RIVER JOB 1958
ALL I WANTED WAS A ‘BUSHMAN’S THONG’(What is a Bushman’s Thong? That, my friends you will find at the very end)
LOCATION: GROUNDHOG RIVER: SUMMER OF 1958WILDERNESS NORTH OF TIMMINS AND SOUTH OF KAPUSKASING
PURPOSE: TO CHECK OUT ANOMALOUS SIGNALS PICKED UP BY A CANSO FLYING BOAT DRAGGING A MAGNETOMETERTO DO SO AS SECRETLY AS POSSIBLE
alan skeochMarch 22, 2019
Three men I will never forget…Floyd, Bob and Walter. We were thrown together by accident in that summer of 1958.Floyd Faulkner was our crew chief. Bob Hilkar was our instrument man. Walter Helstein, was our soul. I think of his sad ending often.Me? AIan Skeoch, a 19 year old blank slate, just a few days out of high school.“So you are a Boy Scout, let’s see how you handle a real wilderness. No badgefor this job, Alan.” jeu said/ “No, you are wrong, there is a badge.” And we all laughed.
July 2 – 5, 1958
And so the adventure begins. I reported to company HQ at 1950 O’Coinnor Drive with my bag packed for the summer. Never knew how long…did not knowwhere I was going…had no idea who I was going with…had no idea how we were to get there. Did not really know why I was hired in that summer of 1958.“We needed a Boy Scout to baptize into the real world,” commented Floyd or Bob. One of them. They intended to make a man of me. And I think they didthat. The events of that summer are still crystal clear in meh mind now…61 years later in my 80th year.
Mom and dad were a little concerned as the whole plan seemedsort of loosey goosey Who were these men that called themselves ‘geophysicists’?Right from the get go there were problems. Our Land Rover had not arrived nor had the canoe which was to be strapped to the Rover’s roof. And the two way radio wasstill being overhauled. If we needed a two way radio that meant we were heading into the wild unknown. No telephone booths.
“Go back home, Alan, gear not ready quite yet.” Fine, I thought, for I was already on the payroll.
Floyd Faulkner and Bob Hilker Both seemed nice but a little distant .They were veteran bushmen. I was just a high school kid. First day we drove to Oshawa where the company had a fleet of Canso double engined aircraft.Vintage World War II submarine hunters.One of the Canso’s had already overflown our target dragging an airborne magnetometer. The mag readings indicated several anomalies worth detailed groundmapping. We were that three man mapping team. “Keep your mouth shut about the job, others are interested.” said our big boss, Dr. Norman Paterson. Hemade me feel like a military hit man being sent on a mission.
Dr. Paterson gave us a final briefing on July 3. “This is a rough job, you will be dropped by aircraft as close as we can get to the anomalies. Virgin forest.No people, no trails, no transport except the canoe and your feet.” Dr. Paterson was a bit intimidating…long and lean…a serious scientist who had beena student under Dr. Tuzo Wilson…the man who put the expression Plate Tectonics in the dictionary. I felt we were doing something important…somethingthat would change the world. I was part of the team… on the bottom rung of the geophysical ladder. “What is my role?”, was a question that I was afraid to ask. As thing turned out I should haveknown when Dr. Paterson mentioned a blazing axe. A blazing axe differs from a regular axe. It is smaller, lighter and is used to blaze trails through virgin forest.the idea is simple…lop a chunk out of both sides of trees ensuring that the line of blazes makes sense…i.e. going somewhere. Why both sides of the treesare hacked should be obvious…one way into the wilderness and to get back out follow the alternate blazes. That was to be my job. It was never fully explained.As things turned out all the jobs were shared. This was to be a real learning experience. Could I handle the job? I thought and was comforted by a linefrom Mr. Fred Burford, our football coach at Humberside Collegiate Institute…”When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That line was called uponmany times in the following two and a half months.
July 6, 1958
“Al, meet us at the corner of Bloor and Jane…bring what you need for three months…but all in one bag.” Mom and dad got a little worried. Who were thesestrangers? They were not even coming to our house but asking Alan to meet them on a street corner. So dad came along. My dad is a tough customer so heplanned to check ‘these assholes out’ before allowing me to crawl into the Land Rover. Dad knew the difference between normal assholes and dangerous assholes.Floyd, my crew chief, was gruff but solid. So dad helped stow my rucksack in the back of the Rover and waved me off for the summer. This was a rite of passage.
We headed north to Gravenhurst where we ate a huge dinner on the expense account. The Food was heartburn hell but cost was on the company tab. Then we carriedon northward to South Porcupine. Floyd and Bob knew each other so they gabbed away. At some point Floyd gave me a nickname that stuck like a turd on a boot.“Fucking Al will do the blazing…ever blazed a trail Al?” Conversation ebbed and I got a little tired of straddling the gear shift. “Floyd, could you stop and let me crawlin the back on top of the gear…that would be more comfortable.” “Fucking good idea.” I learned that Floyd used fucking as an adjective for just about everything includingme…as in Fucking Al with a grin. It was not a term of derision…sort of a term of endearment. Sort of. So I spent the rest of the long long journey folded like a jackknife on our tents and rucksacks.I even slept a bit. I was a little scared. Wondering just what the hell I had gotten myself into. At North Bay we got a canoe and strapped it to our roof. Lots of rattling.I was determined to make the best of it…something to remember.
In Schumacker we visited our contractor, McIntyre Mines, where the geologist handed over a large sheaf of aerial photographs that pinpointed the anomalies we wereto find and map. “You guys will be the first mining persons ever to explore the wilderness northwest of the Groundhog River.”. Was that true? Wow…real wilderness. We renteda Beaver float plane from Austin Airways in South Porcupine for a flight on July 9 at 8 a.m. McIntyre Mines did not want us to use their plane lest other mining peoplegot wind of our project. Mining is super competitive. The cloak of secrecy made the job seem all that more important.
Floyd drove us to Timmins where he handed Blahey’s Food Market a grub list that was to last three weeks. After that our food supplies wold be replenished b Blakey’s andAustin Airways.. The word “grub” or to use a more familiar ‘maggot’. We would se lots of them on this trip, maybe even eat a few by mistake.July 8
Today we hired Walter Helstein to help with the line cutting. Walter seems a little too fat and a little too old for what we are about to face. I know that seems unkind. Sorryto say that but he has a fatherly…even grandfatherly manner. He speaks of the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties as events he has experienced only yesterday.Hard to say why he was hired. Then again I have no idea why I was hired. For the rest of the daywe lounged around South Porcupine…in the bright summer sunshine. Then in the evening we went to a small circus in Timmins.
In the morning We loaded the Beaver float plane with all our gear and our instruments. We had so much gear that we needed two trips as the Beaver could onlycarry 1100 pounds. Walter Helstein and Bob Hilkar went with the first load. “Fucking Al and I will come later.” My seat for our flight was a crate of oranges someof which got crushed since we had a rough landing an hour or so later on the Groundhog River. The river is tough for a float plane because it is so muddy thatobstructions cannot be seen. We bounced hard a couple of times throwing huge chevrons of water as we powered down. “Water’s high this time ofyear, but water level will drop fast. Future landings will be difficult.”, said the pilot.
We parked our Land Rover beside the South Porcupine hotel for the summer. Entered the bush in early July, returnedon September 10. Naurally, The spare tire was gone as was any loose item after all this was Timmins, a tough miningtown. I guess we should have expected that.
Strapping our big four man canoe to the Beaver pontoon seemed a trifle dangerous to me but normal to Floyd and Bob…and the AustinAirways pilot. Bob, Walter and the canoe would go first . A lopsided takeoff.
Floyd and I were wedged in among our gear and food supplies. Not much spare room. I wondered how the pilot would knowwe had reached the 1100 pound limit. He had no scale. Just guessed.
we began Erecting two tents even before the Beaver took off on its return flight…. first our sleeping tent and next our cook tent and then Floyd looped a long rope over a high tree branch on which would hang our meat supply “because otherwise the fucking bears will get it.” We did not know that a bear was watching us. He gave us the once over and planned a visit.The little ‘bite ums no see ups…sand flies…are really ferocious. I get the feeling that we will be fly bate this summer. Later in the evening Floyd and Bob showed mehow to use stereo scope on the aerial photographs. Suddenly a flat surface become three dimensional. And our trip took on a cloak and dagger character. We werecommandoes on a mission.
We cut trees today and lashed a dock together. Banks are very steep and we expect water level to drop significantly. Currently the river isabout 300 yards wide. Seems immense. We also erected our radio antennae. If anything goes wrong this will be the only way get help…if the radio actually works. Floyd and Bob took the canoe down river and were caught in a terrible storm…drenched. Then we had our first big camp supper using our most perishable food. As dusk settled I wrote a letter home. Do not know why… the letterwon’t get out for at least three weeks.
Rained all morning so survey start delayed until afternoon when we piled in the canoe…four men in a single canoe is a challenge. River current is super fast. Drove us at speed into a rock whichripped the canoe open but not fatally so. Two of us bailed while the other two frantically paddled us back to camp. Patched the canoe with a piece of canvas. Then Floyd gave me a lessonon setting a survey line. That was going to be my job.And this, Al, is blazing axe…smaller, lighter than a regular axe…Don’t cut your hand off with it…that float plane costs money, you know.”
Flies are voracious. Hard to say which is worst. The little black flies that crawl in our ears or slip behind our belt bands and munch. Or the Moose flies land gently and tear a piece of skin if they have time. These moose flies are big yet able to make silent landings on exposed skin then chew holes.
Another day of heavy rain so we did what we could to improve our campsite. We have chosen a Rough spot really quite high above the river. Stupidly decided to test our Mae West life jackets in the river. That was like swimmingamong ice cubes…noted that the Groundhog River flows north to James Bay. In other words this river was not like the Humber or Don or Etobicoke creek…sweet and warn, We then took the canoe, hooked on the outboardengine, and motored down river for a spin. No sign of human habitation. Slight concern that our two way radio was not working. Who gives a damn? Good to be alive and young and healthy … watching a beautiful sunset.
image013.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image013.jpg>Some of our camps and anomalies we tried to locate…last camp was Kapik Lake
Nice sunny day…motored five miles down the Groundhog River to check out our first anomaly. Walter Helstein and i set and cut line while Floyd and Bob followed with the EM…principally two great hoops oftightly worn copper wire…looked like a hoop skirt without the underwear. Heavy. And a console with earphones to pick up the signals sent from one to the other. Coils had 100 foot separation each attachedto a heavy cable. Walt and I hadto mark these separations with pickets. As mentioned earlier, this job was for the young. Walter was about 59 years old and by five o’clock he was exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Walter butdid not expect him to keep up.
When we got back to camp and made preparations for supper we found that others had been in camp. Blow flies had laid their eggs in the meat a few days earlier and the maggots were hatching. We cookedthe meat anyway…and ate what we could. Boiled maggots tasted okay if they were eaten unseen. Our radio is still not operating so any crisis will not be known to the outside world.
We cut 3,000 feet of trail for the E.M. unit today.
image014.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image014.jpg>Bob and Walter with loaded canoe on Groundhog River
Hot and windy day.We motored back to the River anomaly. Walter and I blazed another trail for the E.M. unit…North East compass reading. Walter having a very tough time. Blazing sounds easy but that isnot the case. There is always dense brush that has to be cleared so the compass shot will be straight. Best to blaze trees that are on the compass line but that is not always possible. The line must be straight.Big obstructions must be climbed over, waded through, or slashed and thrown to the side. Today we cut and marked 8,000 feet of line.
Today we checked out another anomaly whose location was confirmed by aerial photographs. Our base camp is located at the junction of a smaller creek or river where it joins the mighty Groundhog River.We travelled by canoe westward along this tributary to get as close to the anomaly as possible. Not easy. The canoe bottomed out regularly as the creek was quite shallow. A giant bull moose startled usas we came around a bend. Or did we startle him? We were more surprised I think because he just stood there for a few moments looking at us and then wandered leisurely out of the water and intothe forest. His antlers were so large that they spanned the creek.
Really tough day blazing trail into the anomaly and then cutting formal lines for the EM (Electro Magnetic) unit. Nothing worse than a cedar swamp with tag alder shrubs. So much slashing that the blisters on my hands are gettingblisters beneath blisters. To make matters worse we we’re unable to find the anomaly.
image015.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image015.jpg>image016.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image016.jpg>image017.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image017.jpg>Our crew…living together for the duration of the job. Lunch break in the bush with pot of tea…see if you can find the billy can.
When we stop for lunch there is a danger that few new people in the bush know. The danger is piles…”your ass gets pulled out…the sphincter muscle bulges…bloody painful” “So, Al, donot sit on those lovely soft spongy piles of moss. Wet. Wet underwear can cause piles. Sit on a dry log or anything other that wet moss.” “You can get piles from constipation so keep the greasyfood coming.” What about heartburn? “We have some tummy pills. Lots of things can go wrong on these jobs, Al” Nice to be on a 2.5 month camping trip with know-alls that tell me after the fact.
Tough day. We went back up the tributary then followed our previous trail and extended it in a vain search for the airborne anomaly. Half of my time was spent working with the E.M. transmitterwhich was nice. Creek is getting more shallow each day. Canoe struck bottom often today whereas yesterday we hit bottom only a few times. We startled a family of hell diver ducks who submerged aswe got close then popped up some distance away. we blazed and traversed 18,000 feet of line criss crossing what should be the anomaly. The bush is incredibly dense with cedars and tag alders…andswamps. Cutting through cedar swamps is like trying to cut rubber bands…the branches seem to be elastic and cause the axes to bounce back…must be careful. Much of the time we are standing inshallow water. Boots tend to leak.
Radio is full of dire news suggesting chance of another world war since the United States marines have landed in Lebanon.
image018.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image018.jpg>Gum Rubbers tend to leak which means wet socks which means boiled feet which mean white pock marked feet. Not niceI could peel skin from my feet as they were pomogranates. (sp?)
Wildlife is sure abundant. Just today we startled moose, mink, ducks, hawk, partridge and lots of little red ground squirrels. These creatures were the only nice thing about our day. Hard cutting butno luck finding the anomaly. The creek is so low now that we decided to give up the search for the anomaly. We did our best. And there were many more blips picked up by the airborne magnetometerand only so much time to confirm wether the blips were real or just a mistake.- Finding these anomalies will be no easy task.
I am bothered by Heartburn often these days likely due to too much fried food. Sickness has to just be accepted as getting to a doctor or even a drug store is impossible. I dread having a toothache.The black flies seem to love crawling through my hair just to get a little blood with a bite of my flesh. Maybe I should shave…easier to crush the little devils with a clean face.Of course escape from the flies is impossible. Seems they love tight places such as under my belt. That’s where most of my welts seem to be. Keep clothing as loose as possible.
We spent an hour or so burning maggots in our garbage pit…thousands of them infested our rotten rolls of bologna.
We changed the position of our radio antennae in an attempt to establish contact with Austin Airways. Radio silence.
Even though we blazed and surveyed 20,000 feet of line we still had no luck finding the anomaly.
We followed an old blazed trail westward from our camp re-blazing as we went. Mystery who blazed original trail, perhaps some mining sleuth or maybe a trapper. When the trail petered out we blazed a new trailin North West direction for 6,000 feet. A heavy rainstorm struck around three catching us several miles from our Base Camp. Arrived back about 6 p.m. soaked to the skin. Depressing. Later I skinned a mink thathad been trapped and killed recently. For some strange reason the trapper who spent his winters here left all his traps set. Killed animals for no reason. Floyd suggested He may have died here last winter. “Histrappers shack must be somewhere nearby.” The forest west of us seems loaded with partridge…they show little fear as we approach.
Today we travelled 32,500 west from base camp to a beaver dam we spotted on the aerial photos. Right on target proving we can pin point the anomalies.
image019.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image019.jpg>Trappers Cabin found on river bank. Very rough place with heads of small animals nailed to logs. Some skinning method I guess.
Ferocious Storm all night and morning prevented trail blazing so we stayed in base camp. It was my meal shift so I had a chance to make breakfast rather extravagant. French toast with thick slices of sowbelly baconand lots of maple syrup and coffee. Each of us has meal duty days in rotation. In the afternoon the sun came out…an opportunity to wash clothes and sun dry them on the tent ropes. We cut a lot more scrub brushfrom around camp so we now have clear view up and down the river. Water level is dropping rapidly…down a foot since we arrived and going down each day in spite of the rain.
Walter Helstein sunbathing in the nude. He has the ability to ignore the blood seeking flies.
Any notion that our campsite was built with military precision should be wiped away by this shot. Clean dry socks are the most importantitem of clothing but the task to keep them so is impossible. Wet socks help to boil our feet in wet boots. As mentioned earlier,Boiled feet are pock markedand peeling. Anybody believing this job was a luxury rich man’s camp has to be daft. Many days were just constant agony.
Today we trekked one hell of a long way to reach Anomaly site Number 3 and the days ahead will be even longer. Walt and I cut linesfor the E.M. unit to traverse using 100 foot stations (see map for Sites 2 and 3). To reach the site we had to cross a big active beaver damabout 200 feet wide and 8 feet high in places. Six feet thick.These beaver have been here for a long time.
At lunch we found the bones of a young moose killed by a bear or hunter…or perhaps a cougar if stories of their presence can be true. Maybeit just died for the bones have been here for some time. Collected the teeth for what reason I do not know.
We returned to base camp very tired and went directly to bed.
Eureka! A successful day even if tough. We found the anomaly…high readings on the magnetometer and the E. M. unit just north ofthe beaver dam.
Anomaly site #3: Eureka, we confirmed the airborne anomaly. Set up a grid patternas indicated above. Site #2 was less successful.
We retraced yesterdays’ trails then used compass to cut new trail North. Very slow progress due to the damncedar and alder swamps and their thick vegetation. I was point man using the compass and made a terrible mistakehaving my heavy belt buckle too close to the compass. We had spent a couple of hours going in the wrongdirection…deflected. When we realized our error, Floyd and Bob made fun of my stupidity. Laughed at me.So I threw a temper tantrum and began slashing the brush and heading nowhere really. Which made themlaugh all the more. Made me laugh too. Not my best day but iguess I provided some entertainment. The compass error may not have been my fault for there werestrong indications of a body of magnetite below us. Floyd decided we should strike directly east through unblazedbush towards the Groundhog River … far to the east. “Walter, you go back retracing our blazed trail to Base Campthen get the canoe to meet us somewhere up river.” Well, things did not go well when sun got clouded overand we got lost…strange how when lost in the bush we travel in circles. Eventually we reached theGroundhog River around 8 p.m. as darkness was descending. Walter had been on patrol and found us thankfully.Arrived at camp dead tired. Floyd and Bob told Walter about my temper tantrum.
As things turned out the errors may not have been my fault. The anomaly upon which we stood was likelya whopping big magnetite find, confirmed by the aerial photo. Magnetite is strong enough to deflecta compase…even confuse a compass giving one false reading in one spot and another a few feet away.Were we standing on a future copper mine? If we were it was going to be one hell of a place for minefamilies to live. Swamp…swamp…swamp. I read somewhere that certain plants like magnetite. Couldn’tbe true.
Today we traversed 39,500 feet finishing the beaver dam anomaly. Distance is a guess though due to beinglost for hours. Tomorrow Floyd decided to reconnoitre the territory east of the Groundhog River.
Today Floyd decreed we would all have a day of rest. Wonderful. To top things off a moose appearedclose to our camp at the rivers edge. I stalked him with the canoe in order to get within camera range.Then towards evening another moose appeared. Floyd and I chased him by canoe along the river bankuntil he found a gap to scramble up and get away. Moose around here seem interested in us as they moveaway slowly if we approach. One moose even seemed to like music for he stuck his head out of thebrush behind our camp when we had cranked up the music as loud as possible. The moose seem almosttame. A shame really for they are easy game for hunters.
Walter has become valuable in a totally unpredictable way. He is our berry tester. Lots of wild plantsare bearing berries but we have been cautious about eating them lest they are poison. Walter has nosuch caution. He eats any berry he can find…well not any berry but most berries. He even hasnames for them. Walter is colour blind so all berries look the same to him. We even named oneberry a ‘Walterry’ as we had no idea the true name. If Walt could eat it, then it cannot be poison.
We always carried a cup or some other thing that would rattle. Bears do not like humans. the rattling sound wold alert the bear and he orshe would move away. Bears were present but I only saw one bear on the river bank. In the picture above my cup has been filled with berries. Rather thana tight hat which black flies loved to slip under and chew my flesh. I found a bandana with knots at the corners wouldwork better since the black flies had no place hide in secret.
Today we again retraced our trail to the beaver dam and then corrected our compass error and cut a more accurate northerly trail for 2800 feet heading towards whatwe called our Arctic anomaly since it was the farthest north we would be going. Hardly the Arctic. Worst kind of trail yet as alder and cedar seem to be interlocked to keepus from making much headway. Not sure about he anomaly. Hot sweaty day…terrible really for the flies zero in on our sweat drenched bodies to suck our blood.
The Groundhog River is falling fast…getting dangerously low. Maybe even too low for the float plane to land.
Two more moose near camp tonight.
Walter Helstein if in very poor shape and a source of concern to the rest of us. We all love him and his stories about the Depression years but a man 59 years old shouldnot be doing this type of work. Walter won’t knock off though. He insists on keeping up with the rest of us even if far behind.
Distance covered today was 57,800 feet
We landed on the Groundhog River early in July. By late July the water level had dropped more than four feet making any landingby float aircraft a problem. Look at our dock … what a difference.
Floyd postponed the scheduled arrival of our food supplies over concern about river level. We will do a test of water levelto ensure no dead head logs are lurking where the Austin Airways Beaver must land. On our way down river we came across a cow moosewith its calf. Both feeding in the shallows unaware of our presence. Bob and I let Floyd off on shore where he would try to scare them intoan attempt at a river crossing. Both began to swim across the channel. Bob and I paddled madly putting our canoe between cow and calfforcing the calf to turn back. This was not a nice thing to do for the mother bawled and bawled and the calf was very frightened. We took acouple of pictures and got out of the way so the calf could make a safe crossing.
After the separation of cow and calf we were able to get quite close to the terrified calf. None of us felt good about our little game so wenever pressed the issue by getting close enough to touch the calf. Momma moose was bawling throughout.
Today was a great day. The Austin Airways Beaver circled a couple of times and then set down perfectly. Jeff the pilot announcedhowever “that he could not get down again if the river drops much more.” Fresh food at last. Three days of fresh meat before theblow flies lay their eggs. Big time trouble though since we will not be in Base Camp for next few days. The meat will be a gift tothe blow flies. The cooked ham might last longer. We stuffed ourselves.
Then spent the afternoon packing all we would need for the next two weeks in pack sacks with tump lines. No luxuries as Floyd haddecided to set up a fly camp two miles west of our Base Camp. Those anomalies north of the Beaver Dam could not be surveyedproperly if we had to spend most of the day hiking. What ‘luxuries’ had to be rejected? Lots. Take our beds for instance. “We will besleeping on spruce boughs boys.” Even then the loads on our backs were really heavy. To make matters worse the skies turned greyand rain began to fall as we lumbered along carefully stepping over windfalls while keeping our eyes on the tree blazes which had fadedsomewhat.
Our new camp is in the centre of a swamp. Nothing better nearby. For fresh water we dug a deep hole and let the swamp water percolatedown. The flies are as thick as ticks on a cow’s nose. Fly nets protect our ears and eyes but the rest of our bodies are fair game forthe little and large sons of bitches.
As dusk began to fall we built a large bed frame out of spruce logs and then filled it with a huge pile of spruce boughs. Room for allfour os us … if the lashed bed frame held our weight…which it did not. Try sleeping on a corduroy road…same as this bed. No, we donot snuggle together. Who farted?
Distance travelled 10,500 feet
image031.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image031.jpg>Floyd and Bob constructed this pine bough bed before erecting our tent. All four of us were expected to sleep on it. They lashedspruce boles together and used the stumps to keep the bed two feet above the watery ground. It worked for one night then collapsed.
We made our way two miles on the new trail to the anomaly north of the beaver dam. Damn transmitter failed. Likely moisture in the coil.Floyd and Bob took it back to Base Camp while Walt and I cut 6,000 feet of new line. I wonder if anyone understands just how difficult livingin the bush can be. Just the simple act of walking is a chore because the surface is littered with obstructions. Moss covered windfalls are particularlydangerous as they are tempting to step on yet super slippery. Falling with a sharp axe is never worth the risk. Even more lethal are the sharpenedalder shrubs after they have been slashed. So the trail is one continuous sequence of sharp spikes capable of going with through a boot, or foot, or hand orface. No help available.
I managed to bring my copy of ‘Rovering to Success’ which makes amusing reading. Linked to my plan to get a Bushman’s thong.
Distance covered 30,600 feet (six miles)
This is our fly camp Number 1. Very rough. In the middle of a moss covered swamp. We dug a pit for our water source.
Floyd and Bob got back with new coil and we all took off for the north anomaly arriving in mid afternoon. Damned if the E.M. transmitter didn’tfail again. Since I was designated to use the transmitter today the boys reasoned I would have to be the person to get it repaired. Soundseasy? Not so. That meant I had to walk all the way back to our base camp…through our fly camp…about six miles from start to finish. A longdistance over broken ground. Of course no reader would ever believe just how hard walking here had become. Wet socks and wet boots madethe walk even less enjoyable. Then there is the matter of Fear. Hiking alone in a dense forest can raise the hackles on a person’s neck. I imaginedsomething was tracking me. I would walk then stop abruptly and listen. Whatever was tracking me did the same thing. Was it a bear or evena cougar? Or was it just my imagination. Silly. But try that kind of hiking yourself before you make a fast judgment.
Reached base camp in late afternoon. Took a swim in the river then cooked a good sized meal. Meat was already becoming questionable.We had a package of weiners that looked OK except for the gloss of white stuff that had oozed out. Sticky stuff. It was possible to pick upa weiner with one finger and drop it in the pot. One finger? Yes, the white glue like stuff was very sticky. The weiners did not kill me so Imust assume the white glossy stuff was some kind of preservative.
Packed up the new coil plus some extra food for the boys and headed back to our fly camp arriving just as the sun was setting. Scared?You bet I was scared on that lonely hike.
Distance covered 45,800 feet (about 9 miles)
The E. M. (Electro Magnetic) instrument consisted of two heavy coils of copper wire as above. The signal passed from one coil to theother was an indicator of magnetism below the ground. Where there was nothing magnetic the signal was steady. When over amagnetic anomaly the signals increased. That was fine when the instrument worked…not so fine when it did not work.
We were all glad when a full day rainstorm hit us. What a wonderful feeling to be wrapped up in a sleeping bag for the full day alternatelyreading sand dozing. Floyd slid a Mickey of scotch from a brown paper bag in his pack. “Enough here for all of us to have a sip, boys…thatincludes you Al if your Boy Scout training will allow.” I did not drink up until that point. The small cup of Scotch made our lazy dayeven better.
We used our old trails as much as possible then cut an extension to our northernmost anomaly…the so called Arctic anomaly. Once againa nasty bit of swamp and twisted cedars. Blazing and slashing brush can be dangerous at best of times but when the branches have elasticity thencare is paramount. Hit where a branch can be cut…solid contact. Hit the notches. Hitting free swinging branches is pointless because the axe cannot do a thing exceptpossible fall in a full arc and cut the axeman. Gnarled wood is also problematic for it resists the axe more than expected.
Another afternoon rainstorm caught us and soaked us. Back at camp we lit a big fire in a vain attempt to dry our clothes for tomorrow’s labour We onlyhad one set of clothing since anything considered extra weight was discarded when we packed. Whatever we carried had to be on our backs and thatincluded the heavy Ronka Electro magnetic coils, our food, our tent, our sleeping bags and Floyd’s secret brown bagged bottle of scotch.
image033.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image033.jpg>image034.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image034.jpg>image035.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image035.jpg>These pictures are not terrific but they clearly show just what burdens we carried to our fly camps. This job was no bed of roses and thatis for sure. Remember these loads were carried on blazed trails criss crossed with windfalls and bedded with sharp alder spikes fromour slashing. Another pain in the ass were the swamps whose surfaces were disguised by a thick bed of spongy moss and muskeg.The job was so exhausting that we vented our discontent with four letter words until even swearing was just too much wasted effort.
Distance today 38,200 feet (about 7 miles)
We were too wet to work so we sat around the fire in our miserable wet clothing. I feel dirty but probably not so bad sincethe wet clothes gave me a kind of sponge bath. Floyd volunteered to trek out to ourGroundhog River base camp for some more food. He made sure we all carried similar weight on the job…and equal responsibilitiesincluding poor Walter who was overweight and seems to have spent a lot of time in Timmins socializing with unemployed cronies.I give Walter full marks. He turned out to be a very tough customer…hope he was paid more than the rest of us but expect thatwas not the case since he was the least experienced.
Our water supply, believe it or not, is a problem in spite of the rain. All water we use is in our little pit and the rain did notact as a filter so the drinking and cooking water is cloudy.
We had a real tough grind today lasting a cool 12 hours from seven to seven. We did, however, manage to finish work on the Arcticanomaly…laid out 6,000 feet of line in three two thousand feet length parallel to each other with four hundred feet between…a grid. Thearea is lively … some magnetite … as my compass was thrown off by 12 or more degrees. So this is a really important anomalyI think.
We got a nice fire going and lounged around listening to Walter reminisce about his life as a hobo in the Great Depression years.Sad at times…comical at others. “The trains were loaded with men going nowhere…anywhere…hopped into cattle cars. Policein towns and cities wold not let us out. They did not want any more welfare problems than they already had…so we had to jumpand run if we could. Back and forth across Canada. In winter we yarded up in freight yards…hobo jungles…with the starving,the degenerate, the desperate, the dying. These were not good years…Begging for garbage”.Floyd had different stories. He had been a cageman in a Kirkland Lake mine. Took miners and machines up and down the shaft.Quit that job when a friend’s cage broke and hurtled down the shaft killing him. “Scraped him of the bottom of the cage’, as Floydput it. He decided to stay in mining but work on the surface.Bob talked about the beauty of the foothills of the Rockies and the girls he had met. Then he was offered a job as a geophysicaltechnician complete with room and board. Sounded good until he discovered what that meant really. Wilderness life. Room isa tent…board can be blow fly corrupted meat. Afterthis job he is heading back to a mining college in Michigan. My life experience was quite uneventful compared to theirs.
The flickering fire made the whole evening very dramatic.
Distance covered 38,200 feet plus 6,000 lines…44,200 feet (about 8.5 miles)
AUGUST 1, 1958
Walt and I cut 6,000 feet of line south 20 degrees west from swamp camp. I think we hit our destination within 100 feet of spotlocated on our aerial photo. We struck a creek at the precise place on the photo.
In the evening I patched my clothes with medical tape and canvas patches (plus some glue). It’s getting difficult to distinguishpants from patches.
Distance 12,200 feet (around 2 miles)
August 2, 1958
Although the northern anomaly is not quite as detailed as desirable we cannot spend another day working there.
I caught a baby rabbit this morning and we placed him in a bag and hung it on a tree intending to keep him as a petbut while we were away he escaped.
As we returned to camp a hurricane-like storm hit suddenly. The sun was completely blackened out and then came highvelocity winds strong enough to tear trees out by their roots throwing them around as if they were match sticks. Someof these new windfalls blocks our trail. I have never in my life seen such a storm. Ferocious. Nature weeding out thesick and the dead I suppose.
Distance covered 30,000 feet (6 miles)
August 3, 1958
The storm railed all night…including lightning and torrential rain. Frightening but wonderful at same time. Good thing too for nowour water supply has been replenished and, more important, the supply plane will be able to land back at our base campon the Groundhog River maybe although not expected until August 8.
In the afternoon Walt and I hiked out of the swamp camp to our base camp for more food. So many trees across our trail thatwe had to cut new bypasses.
Distance travelled 21,000 feet (4 miles)
August 4, 1958
Completed Ronka survey of anomaly 18 south of swamp camp #1. Sure must be something beneath us since the compass seemedvery slow and contradicted itself on the backsights. Probable magnetite ore body as airborne mag suggested. We cut 5,000 feet ofnew line.
Tired at night but relaxed as we traded stories around the campfire. There is a feeling of exhilaration when living this close to nature.
Our plotted data profiles showed clear presence of something since both instruments reacted…the X ray magnetometer and thehorizontal loop Ronka EM unit. “How did the Ronka get its name?” “Inventor guy…physicist…works for Huntec…his machine.”
The Ronka Electro Magnetic Instrument was the most important part of our survey work. And it was heavy consisting of two largehoops of closely wound copper wire (see below) . Both hoops were attached together by a 100 foot electric cable and signalswere received by a console carried by one of the men. On ordinary surveys this instrument was heavy. Our survey work meantwe had to carry a hell of lot more than the Ronka…tents, sleeping bags, food, clothes, first aid kits, axes, a buck saw, pots and pans…etc.
August 5, 1958
Walt and I began blazing trail west 248 degrees but rain began after we had gone 600 feet forcing us back to camp.
“Your turn to hike back to base camps for food, Al.” I wonder if the other guys get scared when they are alonein this dense forest? Do they imagine wild things are watching them? Do they hear strange noises? Do they run?Do they stop and slowly rotate around 360 just in case there is something? They never say, so I best keep my mouthshut as well. Back at base camp I tested the radio transmitter which receives fine but just will not transmit. If weever have a serious injury, how the hell are we going to get help? Since Walt and I are swinging blazing axes almostevery day, the odds of an accident are falling from long to short.
Arrived at base camp about five and cooked myself a big supper…2 cans of stew, 1 can of peaches, 1 box cookies and 3 cansof orange juice. Then packed up a lot of dry goods to carry back to Swamp Camp #1. No canned goods allowed as theyare too heavy so the guys will have to make do with a lot of rolled oats and pancakes and my favourite French toast. Oneheavy item is allowed. Peanut butter…we eat lots of that.
Slung the pack on my back and headed west again hoping it would not get dark before I reached Swamp Camp #1.Arrived at 9 p.m.
Distance travelled: 22,200 feet (4 miles)
August 6, 1958
Walt and I continued blazing our trail to Anomaly #16…west 248 degrees from Swamp Camp #1. This section of the bush iswoven with windfalls like a broken box of pick up sticks. At western edge we struck two creeks needing bridges. Constructiontook a long enjoyable time. Enjoyable? Yes, weather was perfect so we took our time. Waded in our bare feet. Then wecontinued to point of the anomaly.
That night I collected some very strange luminous wood that we had been noticing all around Swamp Camp #1. Eerie effect lookingout of our tent at the pin pricks of light. It seems to be some kind of fungus acting upon rotting wood. Dark nights give our campa ghost-like appearance. My luminous collection was a failure though.
Distance covered: 13,000 feet (2.5 miles or thereabouts)
Walt and I built two of these bridges. The construction project was enjoyable … especially for our feet.
August 7, 1958
Tiring day as usual.
Finished blazing grid for Anomaly #16, then did survey with the Ronka which gave us some high readingsthat checked out with the magnetometer.
Distance covered: 20,500 feet (about 4 miles)
August 8, 1958
Big day today. Austin Airways Beaver arrived. Floyd and Bob packed out to Base Camp to meet the plane whileWalt and I were left behind to break up Swamp Camp #1 and follow them later. We had to sort things into two piles…thoseworth taking and those to be abandoned and burned.
We arrived in afternoon and were shocked to find Floyd gone. He was being sent to a new projectin Michigan. That changes things. We will be leaderless it seems. But Bob will take over. I have been elevated a notch to second in command which means darn little.
During our absence from Base Camp a black bear paid a visit and managed to get our twenty point ham which we had strungup high in a tree. Then for some reason the bear decided to get into the cook tent and rummage around. He did not usethe front door of the tent but ripped a big hole in the side.
This was a really eventful day for not only did we get a new supply of food but also a big pile of mail.
Why did I get so many letters?…huge pile of them. Most had American stamps and I do not know that many Americans.Some smelled of perfume. At first I thought they had been sent to the wrong person but opening the first one read“Dear Alan”. These were some kind of love letters…maybe 30 or 40 from all over the United States. One girl, writing inpencil, wanted to live with me if I could send her the fare to get here. That was a laugh. Imagine the shock she wouldfind. Perhaps I would have the greater shock though. A lot were from nurses and some of them were damn interesting…well written…lonely hearts stuff.Some of the girls told horrifying stories about their living conditions Abuse, poverty, desire to escape no matter what.How come? Why send these letters to me? Mystery was solved. In the mail pack were two letters from Russ Vanstone and Jim Romaniuk…they had sent myname and address to a lonely hearts club in the U.S. Bob, Walt and I enjoyed all the letters…read them over and overagain for the rest of the summer. Most of them made me feel sad…there were strong overtones of desperation.
Distance Covered: 10,500 feet
Pilot delivering mail and taking Floyd out of the bush to a new job in Michigan.
A black bear managed to get our 20 pound cooked ham even though we had strung it high up in this tree. How did the bear do it?
The bear also ripped this hole in our cook tent and then rummaged around for food. He did not pop open the canned goods thankfully.
August 9, 1958
Bob Hilkar spent the day reorganizing our targets while waiting for a newman to be flown in from South Porcupine. This gave us a chance to do our washing…clothes and bodies. We were all covered withlayer after layer of fly repellent along with smoke from our cook fires. The dirt is not all bad since it seems to make us less appealing tothe flies…moose flies, deer flies, mosquitoes, black flies, sand flies, ground wasps, blow flies.
What a great day. We gorged ourselves on the fresh food knowing it would not last once the bear and the blow flies got wind of it.So we had steaks, fresh vegetables, some bananas and one whole watermelon.
The bear must have been watching close by on the opposite river bank. There he stood for a moment like a big black rock.I got a shot of him with my camera but he was too far away andtoo quick to clear out.
August 10, 1958
We packed the canoe and headed downstream…i.e. north for the Groundhog River flows north to James Bay which is part ofthe huge Hudson’s Bay watershed. “Another swamp camp, boys, pack lightly.” We cut line eastward from the river for half a milewhere we struck a trap line and decided to follow it in the desperate hope we would reach the new anomaly without the work ofblazing. But we were disappointed for the trappers trail began to angle north rather than east.
This must be the trapper who left his traps open for some reason when he took his first out in the spring. Or he had died. We wereconstantly finding open traps on the creeks and beaver dams. Some had the skeletons of dead animals and a couple hadbeen recently snapped shut on the legs of a mink and a muskrat. Why do this unnecessary killing? Leg hold traps are reallyinhumane for they hold the animal in great distress. Some animals chew their own legs off to make an escape.
We retraced out steps and went back to base camp #1 resolved to try to reach the eastern anomaly again tomorrow…this timeblazing a trail as we packed in. No easy task to blaze while carrying everything needed in huge packs.
As we returned up river we noticed something large and white on the river shore. It was a large moose head complete witha perfect set of antlers. “You want it, Al?” “Sure do.” So we wedged the thing in the canoe and I planned to get it back to Torontoone way or another.
Distance covered: 16,000 feet (mostly wasted)
My trophy from the Groundhog River job…a moose head found on the banks of the Groundhog River.
Photo was taken earlier in summer because my hair is short and no beard. But picture makes point that Walter and Bob and me are nowa three man crew after Floyd was taken from us. We needed a fourth man and got Hopkins on a return flight.
By midsummer, I was a darn sight thinner.
August 11, 1958
Walt and I were sent upstream (southwards in other words) about a mile and half with orders to extendthe trail we had cut back on July 24. Almost immediately this became extremely difficult a we hit an alder swamp about 800 feet widewith water at various depths. Alder shrubs are very difficult to slash on dry land as they are thin andelastic like. A swipe with a blazing axe does nothing unless the cut is aimed close to the ground. And when severed the decapitatedalder remain as a giant spike capable of penetrating our gum rubber boots. In this swamp cutting was super difficult asthe alder roots were under the water. Swinging an axe for an underwater cut is just about impossible. To make matters worsein the centre of the swamp was open water…a large stream. So we had to bridge another bridge.
As if these problems were not big enough, we came across a number of water snakes of various length.
While returning to camp we startled up another bull moose. More moose in here than people.,
Distance travelled: 16,000 feet
August 12, 1958
Stormy weather until late afternoon when sky cleared and Austin Airways sent in the Beaver with our new man, Robert Hopkins.First bush job for him…he is about my age…hope he can handle a blazing axe.
August 13, 1958
We packed food supplies and placed them in a cache using trail cut on August 10. Then we extended the trail for a mile and a half.Robert Hopkins is nice enough but has never handled an axe before and keeps swinging at thin branches. Axe bounces back…verydangerous. “Hit where the branch joins the tree.” Wish he would do this as his actions are dangerous.
The swamp apples are ripe…big orange berries on a small ground plant in the swamps. Sweet taste…too sweet really.
Water on the river is low again so many areas have rapids. We got caught in a cross eddy which turned us broadside tothe river flow and then jammed us on the rocks. The canoe did not overturn as we pushed and pulled it back from therocks and shot down a kind of chute. Only damage was a punctured bow.
Distance Covered” 21,000 feet
August 14, 1958
Rain again…all day long until 8 p.m. at night. Spent day reading and talking.
August 15, 1958
Today we moved our cache of food two miles deeper towards future Swamp Camp #2 then blazed new trail another mile to our objective which isa branch of Hicks Creek. The temperature hovered around 35 degrees all day. Damn cold, especially so since leaves and trees are still wet fromthe rain yesterday. Absolutely miserable. Shivered from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. End result was a trail to our new fly camp. We trekked out to the GroundhogRiver and back to Base Camp. Tomorrow we will pack in our instruments, tent, sleeping bags and cooking gear to Swamp Camp #2.
Distance covered 31,500 feet
August 16, 1958
Packed canoe with essentials and motored north on river to strike point of departure eastward on new trail to Swamp Camp #2. Three miles.We passed by our earlier food Cache in order to set up tents as fast as possible then Robert and I went back for the food. Bob Hilkar andWalter built large elevated spruce bough bed for the four of us to try to sleep upon. “Try to sleep” that is.
Weather has become much colder. Frost in the morning.
Distance covered: 22,000 feet (about 4 miles plus)
Swamp Camp #2 is miserable
Rain and extreme cold weather kept us in our sleeping bags all day. This search for an anomaly is going badly and will take longerthan expected so we decided to ration our food supply.
August 18, 1958
This terrible forest collected its pound of flesh today as we succeeded in cutting two miles deeper to the east. Our clothes were soakedby showers twice. And we had to wade across a creek once. Sun came out later thankfully.
Compass problems again as the Brunton and Silva compasses give slightly different directions. Our error or compass defect?
Distance covered: 24,000 feet (nearly five miles)
August 19, 1958
Hard day. Seems all the work days are hard days and this one is no exception. We cut line in a generally southern direction.Then all work stopped when Robert Hopkins cut his hand with a blazing axe. Bad cut. I wrapped it with a rough tourniquet and stoppedthe bleeding. Will it heal? Or will we have to get him out by bush plane?
Distance travelled 29,000 feet
August 20, 1958
Twelve hour trips on our blazed trails are not easy. No one, and I mean no one, will ever understand how hard this job has become.We thought Robert’s injury yesterday would heal but today he sliced himself again…right to the bone. He had never handled an axe beforeand chose to ignore instructions and kept swinging at twigs and light branches. His axe bounced back of course and this second timecut himself damn close to an artery. Looks like some tendons may be severed. We washed the blood from the wound and then applied anothertourniquet made from strips of my shirt…picked the cleanest parts we could rip.
By evening his hand had swollen up and he was in severe pain. Gave him some sulpha hoping that would help him sleep. Nothing we coulddo until dawn and then we must make fast tracks back to the river and motor down to our Base camp where we could radio for an emergencyflight to get Robert out to hospital. Getting out of this camp will take all day. No hope for an emergency flight until tomorrow.Infection is a big worry.
Distance covered 29,500 feet…very difficult terrain peppered with tag alder and windfalls.
image049.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image049.jpg>image050.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image050.jpg>Robert Hopkins was hired to replace Floyd but just did not work out. He cut himself badly twice when his blazing axe bounced of some light branchesof tag alder. He was warned not to hit light branches but to aim his cuts at places where branches joined the main trunk. Getting him out was areal exercise for us…Took 2.5 days and by then infection had set in. Looked like tendons were cut as well. Our tourniquet stopped the bleeding butwe could do little to arrest infection.
August 21, 1958
Robert’s hand is now discoloured which is a sure sign of infection. First Aid kit is little use at this point. We must get him out.So began the long hike to our canoe at the river and then motoring five miles upstream to our base camp where we sent an SOScall. Plane arrived and Robert Hopkins was no longer part of our crew.
Walt and I spent day cutting line south 1,000 feet and east 3,000 feet to a new anomaly. With only three of us progress is going to be slow.
We were startled to discover an old trappers shack deep in the bush. About as primitive a building as can be imagined….Pyramid shape.The trapper must have used this as a very temporary home because it was really only a pile of logs leaning into each other.
Distance Travelled 7,400 feet
We came across tis trappers shack in the middle of nowhere. It must have been used for overnight habitation. Hardly liveable.
August 22, 1958
Bob Hilkar returned by float plane bringing good news. I passed my Grade 13 departmental exams …enough to gainentrance to University of Toronto. All the money earned on this job will just pay for my entrance fees.
Walt, Bob and I retraced our trail south to the farthest anomaly. Bad news! Our cable joining the two Ronka coils broke which meantthat all the walking to get to the site was wasted effort. We returned to camp and soldered he broken section back together.
Came across an abandoned beaver dam. Looked like it have been abandoned for a long time but it still managedto dam up a large basin of water. Amazing little creatures.
Distance travelled 25,000 feet
August 23, 1958
Another attempt to run the Ronka over the southern anomaly failed when the big cable got severed where it joins the console.This was not easy to repair. The break in the cable meant we had to retrace out steps once more. Hours and hoursof wasted time.
Walt and I did manage to cut a little more of survey line to the east.
Distance covered: 25,000 feet walking and 7,500 feet of new line cut
August 24, 1958
Rain! Wonderful rainstorm. No work on the anomalies. Our survey situation is getting serious though for we are running out of time.We plan a big push tomorrow and will try to finish the entire area in next couple of days. Must do so because a relief plane isdue on August 27 when our Base Camp on the Groundhog River will be abandoned and a new base camp built on Kapik Lakefar to the west. We will get there by air with all our gear.
We had a bit of a laugh in the evening when Walt salted all our tea thinking he was adding sugar.
August 25, 1958
Somehow between 7 a.. and 7 p.m. we managed to finish the remaining two anomalies. Not easy to do but then again nothing onthis job has turned out to be easy to do. In spite of it all we felt nostalgic as we sat around the campfire knowing that this campwould exist no longer. No one said very much really. We just sat there feeling we were leaving a home in spite of all the adversities.
Distance covered: 44,700 feet (almost 9 miles)
August 26, 1958
If I had to pinpoint the worst day on the job it would be today, August 26, 1958, when we abandoned the eastern fly camp. There were onlythree of us now…Bob Hilkar, Walter Helstein and me. When this camp was set up there were four of us and we made three tripsinto the camp with gear and food from caches along the way. To get out was going to be difficult so we began to pile absolutely essentialgear in three piles…one for each of us. “Discard everything you can, boys.” said Bob. So we did…the discard pile contained rope, food,Robert’s backboard, books, some cooking gear, even spare clothing. In spite of that the piles we had to carry were back breaking.The tent in particular was a load in itself because it was still wet from the rains.
I am not proud of my behaviour this day. My load was so big that each step was a problem. Would I make to the river? I becameconvinced that my load was much heavier than Bob Hilkar’s and I said so. “My load is unbearable while yours is light.”“Why don’t we switch loads then?”, said Bob. We switched. I was wrong…terribly wrong. His load included the wet tent…heavierthan my load. He was our point man so I could not see his face but I felt he was grinning. He knew how heavy the tent had become andwas glad to switch. I could hardly start to whine again so had to grin and bear the situation. Forget about the word grin. The painwas excruciating. The end result was hard to believe. My load had been tied to a sturdy metal pack frame. By the time we reached the riverthat pack frame had bent into a circle and had to be discarded. The other pack frames were also ruined. Somehow we all lived throughthe trek. Bob Hilkar did not say much but the look in his eye was an ‘I told you so’ look.
Our bad day was not over. When we finally reached Base Camp #1, we found it to be a shambles. The black bear had returnedonly this time he ripped his way into our sleeping tent. Nothing to eat in there so his or her decision was a mystery. Any foodleft in the camp was gone except for the canned goods some of which had been crushed but not opened.
Distance covered 15,000 feet (nearly three miles)
image053.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image053.jpg>This was only part of the load. On top of the rectangular pack was placed one of the Ronka hoops made of wound copper wire…a super heavy load. what we leftbehind will never be found for no one will return to the eastern anomalies since the readings were low compared with the westernanomalies. Then again maybe the trapper is not dead and will return to his trap line late in the fall and find what remains of or cache.No, the bears will get there first.
August 27, 1958
I woke late tonight with a funny feeling. Did not know why for a few moments. Admired how the moon lit up the inside of our tent. Then a cloud passed byblotting out the moon. Only it was not a cloud. it was the bear…he was on the other side of the tent wall…maybe three feet from my body encasedin my sleeping bag. His shadow blotted out the moonlight. I held my breath. Then his shadow just moved down the tent wall and out of ourlives. He stole no food that night. Probably he could smell us and I am told bears do not like the smell of human beings. Our smell was particularlystrong that night.
In the morning we tore apart Base Camp #1 and packed everything on the dock and shoreline. Late in the afternoon the Beaver float plane arrived and wasloaded for the short hop to Kapik Lake a few miles to the west where we set up our new Base Camp. What a difference. The new camp is nestled in climax forestof birch and poplar trees high on a hill where fresh wind blows. We were out of the swamps.
A strange thing happened the day we left Base Camp #1.. Something not really relevant but strange all the same. Our makeshift dock began to attract great clouds ofdeer flies. Deer flies are nasty creatures that like human flesh and human blood. Chevrons on their wings. They had been torturing us every day since our arrival. Yet thisday, August 27, 1958, they were not biting. Instead they were clustering in pods under the dock. Wedging themselves into a great pack of their brethrenand dying all pressed together. Hundreds of them, maybe a thousand. Made no sense but it is a clear unusual memory. We did not try to dissuade them from this mass suicide.
We had a new employee arrive to replace Robert Hopkins. Mack Deisert is a tough man who is familiar with heavy tools. For a time he worked undergroundin the gold mines of Timmins. Why he no longer was a full time miner became evident as we talked around the camp fires. “There were all kinds of ways tohigh grade gold from the Timmins mines. Lunch pails worked for a while but stealing gold that way was a little too obvious…small amounts under fingernails or in false teeth speciallymade by local dentists. Some gold was smuggled out in shoe heels…sounds stupid I know but remember just an ounce of gold was worth money…high graders got 50% of the face value of gold. Lots of buyers in Timmins. A miner or a shift boss sees a streak of raw goldin a hunk of rock…not common but occasionally appears…he slips a chunk in his pocket then gets to a place where he hammers the chunk and get smaller piece with more gold…then has to figure how toget it out. A wink to a foreman might do it. Most of the high grade gold is ground down right in the mine. A miner comes upon a vein with raw gold… he just chips out a chunkknocks of the crap and keeps a bit of gold for himself. Small pieces are easy to hide. Some say millions worth of high grade gold hidden and sold in Timmins. Miners today are checked by security guysevery shift. Big signs in the mine condemn high graders. Those signs would not be up if there was not a problem. Illegal gold…common knowledge aboutwho to contact.” Mack seemed to know a lot about high grading gold…maybe he got caught and that was why he took a job with us. Or he was bull shitting a goodstory around a campfire. Whether his stories were true or not , Mac was certainly an entertaining character.
To Mack a blazing Axe was child’s play. He was unlikely to hurt himself for he knewthe consequences of a wilderness injury.
image054.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image054.jpg>Our new fourth man was Mack Deisert standing on the pontoon while the pilot clears up a few details, perhaps related to money.Mac was quite an entrepreneur. No fucking around with him.Mac arrived just as we were moving to Kapik Lake with all our gear…August 27, 1958
Supper was special. Fresh food. We dined on veal cutlets, string beans, potatoes, tea and ‘fresh bread’. Our bread was soon stale…druor mouldy…god bread got verycrusty as time wore on in camp. Mouldy bread was garbage. The only way to soften dry bread up was a French Toast concoction we made regularly…water, powdered milk, a couple ofeggs while they lasted, some butter and a hot frying pan. French toast could be stretched out and become a bush lunch when lathered withpeanut butter. It Got to taste really good. We could do the same thing with porridge. Hot in the morning. Then a slab of cold oats as a jelly like lunchIf firm enough the cold porridge could also be lathered with peanut butter. All this was washed down with tea boiled in afruit can tin with a wire looped over so the billy tin could hang on a stick over an open fire. When we ran out of real tea we used Labrador tea, alocal plant whose leaves were fuzzy on the bottom. Easy to find. Questionable alternative. No alcohol on the job. Beer would weighfar too much anyway.
August 28, 1958
Rain…wonderful rain. So we got a day of rest…well not quite that for we had to get our new campsite ship shape. Kapik Lake is notbig, just enough room for the Beaver to take off and land. “What’s that over on the other side?” “Looks like a canoe.” Sure enough, someperson had abandoned a canoe on the lake. No sign of a cabin so it might have been a fisherman or trapper. We rescued it. complete withpaddles and had transportation for leisure evenings to tour the little lake. Maybe this was here for fly in fishermen. Maybe Kapik Lakewas full of fish. Little good that would do us for we had no fishing gear.
Kapik Lake was inhabited by some strange mole like creatures on one of the little islands and a family of Loonswho serenaded us regularly.
Maybe Kapik Lake was one of those fly in fishing lakes that rich people use which came complete with a cook to fry upwhatever they catch. Our use of the lake was far less fancy. Rich fishermen, if hey arrived while we were, would havebeen flabbergasted at our basic diet of porridge. I cut these carrots our of a local paper after the job was over. Mademe laugh.
image056.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image056.jpg>Our Kapik Lake Campsite
Kapik Lake aerial photo taken by Huntec Canso aircraft
Walt put the tea bags in with our pork and beans tonight which gave us all a good laugh. Then Walt asked “Do you want toto know how to speak Eskimo?” and proceeded to teach us the language which I think he made up as he went along. Then againhe did work as a diamond driller at Rankin Inlet.
August 29, 1958
Walt and I cut line south 221 degrees. Easy work this time because the big trees shaded out the brush. What a luxury…we could slap ouraxes on one side of a big poplar then the other and move by easy line of sight. Summer was over suddenly and the trees were changing colourThe bush forest was becoming a land of red and gold. The down side of this season change was the arrival of cold weather. All summerwe had been complaining about the hot sweaty days. Now we complained about the cold.
Distance covered 12,000 feet (easy day)
August 30, 1958
Rain again. Spent most of the day in our sleeping bags. I planned my short term future. University bound. Thoughts of the University of Toronto mademe very nervous. Dad was a tire builder and mom was a seamstress. Most my other relatives were farmers. So the prospect of a university educationwas novel and made me nervous not that I told anyone. My good friends Russ and Jim would be doing the same thing and were probably nervous as well.Money made on this job would pay my first year fees of $400.
Our radio weather report warned of heavy frost tonight so we started to assemble our new air-tite wood stove. The hole in the tent left by the bear was the exitpoint for the stovepipe. The big birch trees in this climax forests means we have lots of excellent firewood that splits with ease. Comfort! And the smellof the wood stove is like the best perfume imaginable.
The only bad news today was that our fresh meat had already gone bad. It would not pass the nose test.
September 1, 1958
Cold … really cold all day. Just above freezing which meant the raindrops on the forest leaves were like little ice daggers penetrating our clothes.Wespent the day extending Bob And Mack’s trail to the northern anomaly.
Distance covered 33,000 feet
September 2, 1958
Another long hard 12 hour day. We finished blazing our trail to where we figured the anomaly was located then did the survey with the Ronka and magnetometer.
My gum rubber boots have holes big enough for my socks to poke through which means I am working every day in wet feet. Each night we pull off our bootsand peel down the wet socks then massage our feet. Bad feet would mean no work.
Distance covered” 37,000 feet (about 7 miles)
September 3, 1958
Another brute of a storm night and day. The tent is billowing in the wind like a great hot air balloon.
September 4, 1958
Bob and I finished the north anomaly with both the Ronka EM unit and the magnetometer.
In the evening Walt and I stalked a crane in the shallows of Kapik Lake then stayed out on the lake to watch the sun set. Magnificent.
Distance covered 33,000 feet
September 5, 1958
We finished cutting trail to south anomaly ten did reconnaissance survey with the Ronka EM unit and the magnetometer. No conductorwas discovered or confirmed.
Well, we are in food trouble. All our staple foods have been consumed…bread, meat, potatoes, fruit and butter. So we have to make do withwhat we can concoct which tonight constituted a can of peas and carrots, big pile of rice topped with bacon fat gravy and followed by cookiesfor dessert.
Mack and Walt really entertained us with fascinating stories of the ‘high graders’ operating in the Timmins gold mines…Dome Ming Company and MacIntyre Mines, etc.
Distance covered 32,000 feet
September 6, 1958
Stayed awake all night as lightning flashes and thunder made sleep difficult. Very dramatic. We kept the wood fire burning most of the night and as a resultfelt really cosy in our tent. In the morning I began packing my rucksack for the job is nearly over. Trans Canada Airline has Viscount air service to Toronto whichsounds exciting. This was my last day as cook so I made a large stew of whatever odds and ends I could find including the bacon rind on our slab of porksowbelly. Not such a bad dinner. To give it a little more body I slipped in a cupful of rolled oats. Inventive.
September 7, 1958
Tragedy struck today when we came upon Walter Helstein unconscious on the trail with an alder spike driven through his hand. We think he waslying there for an hour or two with this very serious wound. We revived him and helped him get back to our campsite where the wound waswashed and bandaged. Walter took some sulpha pills to numb the pain. Not sure if that works. Pain is severe. We were afraid this would happenfor Walter had a habit of stepping on moss covered windfalls rather than stepping over them. Slippery rotten windfalls are dangerous.
Walter has been with us for the whole summer which surprised us all for he seemed too old and too out of shape for the kind of work we weredoing. But Walt persisted and turned out to be a joy to work with. He is 40 years older than me yet we worked as a team blazing trails thatcriss crossed some very nasty parts of this wilderness. We radioed for an SOS service but failed to make contact. Weather is bad withheavy cloud cover.
image059.jpg@01D4E67D.AED56C70“><image059.jpg>A terrible picture but maybe that makes it more authentic. Walter was badly hurt.
We left Walter in the tent for the day and set out to find our last underground conductor. We failed to find it.
Distance covered 34,000 feet
September 8, 1958
Walt was in severe pain all night. Moaning. By morning his hand was swollen and red fingers of infection were apparent. When the Beaver arrived Walt andI boarded. Walt was stretched out in the back. Both of us were finished. As soon as we landed at South Porcupine Walter was taxied to the Timmins hospital.Sad. I doubted we would ever see each other again and wanted to say how much I had enjoyed working with him. There was not time for farewell though.The taxi was waiting as soon as we got tied to the dock. I could see the pain in Walter’s face as he waved good bye.
There are some people that are unforgettable. Walter Helstein is one such person. We worked together in one of the toughest jobs I have ever had and this picture of Walter will give you some idea of whatthat job was like. Look Closely Walter is standing in water…over his boot tops. His blazing axe in his hand and his tea cup tied to his braces with the stub of a cigarette in his mouth. Much of our summer wasspent in such conditions. After his tragic accident I never saw him again but heard that he spent 8 months in the hospital.
Although this picture does not look like I was enjoying myself. And much of the time i was not. But actually I was quite proud of myself.I had survived and done my job faithfully with just two temper tantrums when the job got unbearable. Walter never threw a tantrum butinstead laughed at me along with Floyd and Bob. Actually I came to love the job…to love the battle with nature…too find I could survivein the worst of conditions. My success in this job led to another six years working for Hunting Technical and Exploration Services.In retrospect the jobs were a great privilege…something that few human beings will ever experience.
Our Kapik Lake camp…by this time I had fallen in love with the job complete with the trials, loneliness, failures, successes andeven the Spartan food. There is a term for that condition…”Bushed” I remember as if it was yesterday as the plane circled thelake coming to get us out. That circling meant the end of the adventure. But I did not want it to end. Such an experience couldnever be replicated. Maybe we should just send Walter out. He needed help urgently. Maybe the rest of us could continuesearching for anomalies until freeze up. Thoughts only. I knew it was over. No more carving trails to places where human feet hanever trod before. No more comradery around a night campfire with stories, obscenities, laugher. No more contact with any ofthe crew ever again except for Floyd Faulkner who next summer insisted on calling me by the affectionate term , Fucking Al.
By the end of the summer Walter and I had walked and blazed 206.3 miles on our owntrails through the bush. That is almost the distance from Toronto to North Bay. Hard tobelieve? Even today, March 27, 2019, I find it hard to believe myself.
The clerk in the Airport Hotel hesitated when I asked for a room for the day only. Little wonder…two months growth of hair and beard, pantspatched with Canvas, Gum rubbers with my socks poking through holes and a packsack that looked like I had been living rough for a long time (which’is true come to think of it.) Had my first real bath of he summer and then called Timmins airport to reserve a flight this evening. Next was a littletricky. I asked CN Express to ship my baggage back to Toronto. Why Tricky? Because a big part of the baggage was the skull and antlersof that bull moose we found on the bank of the Groundhog River. Phoned home…mom and dad surprised. “Be home tonight.”Then got a shave, haircut and a big ice cream sundae.
Bob and Mack arrived shortly after 12 and we loaded our equipment in the Land Rover. which had been stripped of all easily detachedequipment…hub caps and spare tire. Bob drove me to Timmins Airport where I got my first restaurant meal since July. Huntec hadpromised to cover room and board for the duration of my employment with them. No luxury involved, that’s for sure.
I boarded the Viscount just as the sun was beginning to set on the western horizon. “Would you like a Peak Freen biscuit and glassof lemonade, sir?” Wow! This was going to be a great flight. I nursed the lemonade for a long time and just nibbled at the shortbread…lovingthem both. Now, decades later, I can still place myself on that Viscount rolling and lifting into the sunset.
We landed at Sudbury, then North Bay and finally Toronto about mid night. What a greeting. Russ Vanstone, Red Stevenson, Jim Romaniuk andmy brother Eric along with mom and dad. Eric had a huge hand printed sign saying “Go back, Al.” Jim Romaniuk asked about thelonely hearts letters. “Let me have them Al, Might find a girl friend there.” “Try the girl from Florida with the pencilled note…she’s ready tomove up here if you send her the fare.” Russ drove us all home to our place where mom and dadhad prepared all kinds of food. After that I fell asleep in a real bed.
September 9, 2019
Dr Paterson phoned early in the morning. “Can you come to the office, Alan, maybe help with the results…there are things we need to know urgently.”So everyone was gathered around the aerial photos hoping I could remember where the top anomalies were located. I am not sure how muchhelp I could provide. “McIntyre Mines want to know right away.” That comment reminded me that our summer living rough was really a big secret.I really could not spot all the anomalies where we got high readings but did the best I could. Dr. Paterson was very serious and professional…a bitintimidating. I am not sure that he knew my job had been swinging a blazing axe most of the summer. I certainly did not say that. I did put a wordin for Walter Helstein hoping that the company would help out or totally pay his medical bills. Not sure what happened to Walter but heard bythe grapevine that he never fully recovered.
There was onenice outcome of that last meeting. Dr. Paterson looked me in the eye and said, “How would you like a job next summers an operator-Technician ona job we have lined up in Alaska?”
Now after reading this account, would how would you have answered Dr. Paterson?
my answer was short and simple. “Count me in.”
What about the BUSHMAN’S THONG? Good question, keep reading. You may think it is some kind of underwear but that thoughtis about as far from the truth as possible. Who is proud of underwear? I am very proud of my Bushman’s thong.
ALAN SKEOCHMARCH 2019
NEW BOOK: “MINING GEOPHYSICS: A CANADIAN STORY” by Dr. Norman Paterson
P.P. “From 1950 to 1960,…127 mines were discovered, of which 40 were credited to geophysics.” (P.6, Paterson)
In March 2019, just as I was transcribing my journal memories from the Groundhog River job, a book arrived in our mailbox. Dr. Norman Paterson, my boss way back inthe 1950’s and1960’s had just written a book titled “MINING GEOPHYSICS: A CANADIAN STORY…The people and events that made Canada a global leader in mining explorationin the 20th century.” ($20 plus $12 postage, published by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, 2019) It is a wonderful record of those heady daysbetween 1957 and 1975 when big changes were happening in the search for orebodies within the rock mantle of our earth. Personally…I was flattered to be included hereand there in the book for I had no idea at the time that we were on the cusp of scientific breakthroughs. I was a very small part of the story. Was Dr. Paterson even awareof the difficulties we faced translating theory into practice? Of course he was. He did lots of field work.
WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR CREW?
Walter Helstein spent eight months in the Timmins Hospital…from September 1958 to March 1959. At one point amputation was considered but Walt, true to form, was justtoo tough to lose an arm.Floyd Faulkner became the chief field man for Hunting Technical and Exploration Service. He retained his gruff manner behind which was a great sense of humourBob Hilkar returned to CalgaryRobert Hopkins returned to Elliot LakeMack Deisert stayed and married in South PorcupineAlan Skeoch returned to Toronto as a first year student at Victoria College, University of Toronto. For the next six summersalan worked for Dr. Paterson and his assemblage of top geophysicists. Alan became an historian with a specialty inEconomic History eventually doing an M.A. in machine design.
DID WE FIND A MINE?
Nothing happened. All those anomalies were ignored even though some of them were very promising. The client, McIntyre Mines. concluded the area was toorough for a diamond drill crew to operate so the project was abandoned in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I am unsure of its status today in 2019.
HOW ARE MY MEMORIES DIFFERENT?
DR. Paterson tells some of the humorous things that happened in those days. My journals hopefully reveal even more of the human face of mining exploration. Some details may make you laugh, others will make you cry. Still others will make you say ‘he must be kidding’. Truth?..it all happened.It was a very personal Odyssey for me. A privilege really. Alaska, Ireland, New Brunswick , Timagami,Niagara Falls, Chibougamau, Marathon, Paradise Lodge, Merritt BC, Yukon Territory…not as a tourist but as a person probing the surface of the earth and marvellingat the characters I met.
WHY DID I KEEP SUCH A DETAILED JOURNAL?
I was a Rover Scout, the senior part of the Boy Scout movement. Some Boy Scouts were and are badge collectors. There was only one badge of honourthat excited me. It is called the BUSHMAN’S THONG. My journal detailing the Groundhog river job was submitted and I got my thong. I am not surethe official readers of my application really believed everything written in my journal. There was some scepticism. But what I have written did actually happenand my Bushman’s Thong still hangs on my old scout shirt.