Novel Shipwrecks

Treasure Island

I read a trivia blog about shipwreck novels, and left a comment about Great Lakes shipwrecks, including Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and one that was found in the sand of my home town’s beach. When the writer asked for details, I emailed him this double-barreled story.

65 years ago, there were a couple of boards which protruded from the sand, at one spot on our lovely beach. We kids tried to pull them out, but they were obviously attached to something heavy. Eventually, they disappeared – storm damage? Town works crew cut them for tourist safety?

Lighthouse

About twenty years ago, a couple of residents became interested in history and restoration. The abandoned lighthouse-keeper’s house on the offshore island was repaired, and little boat tours began. Someone must have remembered the boards on the beach. A group of archeologists from the University of Toronto arranged a dig. They had to design and build a coffer-dam to keep the waves out as they dug up that section of beach.

Sure that they had something physical, they began searching the written records. Soon they found the story. Once upon a time, my home-town was a bustling Lake Port. Prairie grain for bakeries, iron ore for steel mills and lumber for construction were unloaded and shipped by train below Niagara Falls.

The wreck on our beach turned out to be an 87 foot sailboat freighter. “She” was the ‘Sir Robert McAllister,’ making what might have been the last trip of the fall, before the lake iced up in 1887. Unloaded, they set sail ahead of an autumn storm. Heading back north, they barely got outside the safe harbor when the winds raged. Unloaded, top-heavy, empty and bobbing like a cork, she couldn’t maneuver, and was driven onto the beach.

No hands were lost, but the storm pounded her to flinders. Our Lake is not an ocean, but I remember body-surfing 6 and 8-foot storm waves. Little was left above the keel. She held no cargo, and what was left wasn’t worth salvaging. She was just left to rot, and subsequent storms piled sand over her.

The other local shipwreck that I wanted to tell you about – wasn’t – quite. There used to be a prosperous fishing trade out of our river harbor, until they overfished themselves out of business. Each day, six days a week, 4 forty-foot, enclosed, steel fishing boats would go out a couple of miles.

One spring, the lake ice had broken up and had moved offshore, drifting slowly down the middle of the lake, toward Detroit. Finally, two miles of ice on the river broke up, and thundered out to join it. One fish boat owner, whose craft and crew of three had been unemployed for almost 4 months, got the boat winched back into the water, with plans to go out the next day.

The weather was clear, if cold, and away they went. They set nets, waited for fish migration, and pulled the nets back in. While all this was happening, a spring gale blew up, pushing all that ice back in past them from the west. By the time they headed for home, it had piled up against the shore in a wall 15/20 feet high, a mile out from the river harbor.

As they looked for a solution, more ice piled up behind them, wedging them against the barrier, ice floes 4 – 5 – 6 feet thick, as big as the boat. Soon, the increasing pressure tilted them, to almost 45 degrees. Fearing that the boat would be crushed or capsized, they decided to unship the lifeboat, and push it like a sled across the valleys of the ice-field.

About halfway to shore, the youngest crew-member, a 19-year-old nicknamed Zip, lost his footing – and his hold on the lifeboat rail – and plunged through a small gap into the freezing water. Two days later, when the weather had cleared, and the ice had moved offshore again, the owner used a motorboat to chase his fish boat two miles out, and 8 miles south, with a cargo of frozen fish. It was slightly dinged and scraped, but the rudder and propeller weren’t damaged.

Zip’s body was found a couple of weeks later. The ship didn’t even sink, but still cost a crewman’s life. The town has a small park, where the river meets the lake. They added a memorial to all those lost to the lake, and specifically, Zip.

***

Somehow, I conflated the stories of the lumber freighter that I researched for an earlier post about the decline and fall of my home-town as a Lake Port and the change from a transportation-driven economy to a manufacturing-based one, with a previous War Of 1812 warship-turned freighter, named H.M.S. General Hunter. The light-as-a-cork lumber boat was repaired and refloated. The repurposed warship, still heavy with cannon, got buried. Click above to read her story.

 

A Humor Test—See How You Do

Divorces………………..Not yet….
Children………………….2
Surgeries………………..I didn’t know there was going to be a test. I didn’t study. Let’s see…. Tonsils, hernia, shoulder, same eye twice…. Makes 5 – so far, with one little laser touch-up to come.
Piercings………………..1, an ear stud, that a dog pulled out, and has now grown over
Tattoos………………….0 – chicken-shit procrastinating
Shot a gun………………yes – Hell Yes, rifles, shotguns, pistols – May I have some more please?
Quit a job………………..yes, 18 months after I didn’t get my 3-month probationary raise
Ever been on TV………..no – well, maybe CCTV, but I was never identified. I’ve been mentioned on radio several times.
Been in a fist fight……No! Getting in a fist-fight just proves how stupid, unprepared, drunk, and/or testosterone-fuelled you are.
Hit a deer………………..No. I fed a few deer that almost climbed into the back seat of the car, in a Provincial Park.
Watched someone give birth……..I barely showed up for the conception. That’s someone else’s job.
Watched someone die……not quite – recently visited a sister-in-law in a hospice – she died the next day.
Ridden in an ambulance……….yes, the day I fell off my motorcycle and smashed my shoulder
Visited Las Vegas……no – I’m poor, and Canadian. I’ve visited Niagara Falls, it’s kinda Vegas-Lite
Sang karaoke………….no – I don’t frequent bars, especially karaoke bars.
Rode a Jet Ski…………no – I was young and stupid daring before jet skis were invented. I have walked on water with 2 large Styrofoam ‘boots.’ I’ve run an 8-foot hydroplane boat up and down a river. I’ve helmed a 22-foot catamaran for 5 minutes in calm, lake water, and piloted a 4-seater plane for 15 minutes, managing to keep it in a clear sky. I’ve also piloted several snowmobiles, both in virgin snow, and on hard-packed trails.
Ice skating……………..yes, of course. This is Canada. We’re born with skates on.
Surfing…………………… yes and no – Never with a surfboard, but I’ve body-surfed 8-foot rollers coming in off Lake Huron after a big storm.
Ridden on a motorcycle…………yes, a dozen or more, both as a passenger, and as the rider, including 5 of my own.
Stayed in a hospital…… yes – The visit after I fell off my motorcycle and had my bionic shoulder installed.   It was supposed to be a quick three-day stay. I was trying to man through the pain, but my wife and daughter both urged me to use the pain-pump, because they thought that it held Demerol. It didn’t! It was morphine sulphate, which lowered my normally low blood pressure even farther. After three days on my back, I crawled out of the bed to get dressed, and sank to the floor. I was sentenced to another three days, while they subjected me to every test to find out why.
Ridden in back of police car ……………no – I have voluntarily entered police cars, both in the front, and the back, but was always allowed to walk away. One night, I sat in the back with a cat-and-dog (him/her) team, giving a report about a theft from a car in a hotel parking structure. I was offered a beer from a six-pack on the floor in the front.

Now u know everything – or as much as I’m willing to fabricate admit.

Copy & paste, then change with your own answers.

This was interesting, nosy, and a better way to get to know a blogger on a personal basis than most of the other lists. This is more like an eye test after my second eye operation. If it was a test to find the humor in it, then I have failed. C’mon, have a go! I’m particularly interested in the responses to ‘Ridden in the back of a police car.’   🙄

 

The Day I Almost Went Over Niagara Falls

Niagara

Dear (un-named deity), how did I ever survive childhood, to become the Grumpy Old Dude that I am today??

Early in the 1960s, my Father took our family to Niagara Falls. We rented a little cabin in the village of Chippewa, 5 miles above the Falls. I don’t know what it’s like there now, but back then you could stroll along the Canadian-side bank of the river, like a continuous park. Having been told of a picturesque picnic area, one day we set off downstream to take advantage of it.

If I was 6 or 7 years old, my brother was 3 or 4, and my Mother was busy holding or carrying him. Dad was laden with a box, full of food and drink, and I wandered along behind them. About halfway to our destination, there was a gnarly tree, growing out of the bank at a 45 degree angle, out over the river.

Someone had tied a rope to a branch, and a group of 13/14 year old boys were using it to swing out, and splash into the river. One lad would climb/walk up into the tree, and flick the end of the rope up to his compatriots. One by one they’d launch themselves, swim back, and one of them would take the spot in the tree.

I had a tree at home. It had a rope in it. I liked trees. I liked ropes. I liked swinging. 😯 When all had plunged into the river, I asked the kid in the tree if I could swing from the rope. Sure! And he flicked the end up to me.

I launched myself off the 8-foot high bank, and enjoyed a magnificent swing. I didn’t learn to swim until I was 14. When I reached the extent of the outward swing, I realized that I couldn’t let go – a little late! Holding on for dear life I swung back in, but the arc of the inward swing is never as long as the outward one, and it was nowhere near long enough to put me back up on that bank.

Actually, the point nearest the bank would have been the best time to let go. I’d have smacked into the clay and rock, and would have been able to scramble up the bank, dry and safe, but my Grade 1 brain was busy trying to figure out the physics of this whole thing.

Back out I swung. These guys wanted their rope back, and were shouting, “Let go! Let go!” Once more I swung back inward, this time again the arc becoming much shorter. As I reached the inner apogee – right or wrong – I let go…. and splashed down three feet from dry land.

I was used to a well-mannered Lake Huron, where you could walk out 100 feet before it got chest deep. In this river, three feet out put me in chin-deep water. Still, I scrambled out, and rejoined my family. If either parent noticed that my shoes, shorts and tee-shirt were drenched, neither of them mentioned it. Only later did I realize that I could have climbed up the rope, and down the tree, safely. At the time, I was a bit too busy to think of that. What do you think?? A young fool became an old one??  😕

’17 A To Z Challenge – R

Challenge2017

The word ‘Roundhouse’ has two, very different but connected meanings, so, for the letter

letter-r

I’m going to tell you about them.

Roundhouse Slang. A punch in which the arm is typically brought straight out to the side or rear of the body and in which the fist describes an exaggerated circular motion.

This is a type of punch that is usually not thrown until a jab or a hook has stunned an opponent, and his defenses are (slightly) open, because it opens the defense of the fighter who is throwing it. The large circular motion is necessary to accumulate speed and striking power.

At the height of his career, I saw Bruce Lee demonstrate, what he called ‘A One Inch Punch.’ He stood before a sparring partner, tightly clenched his fist and held it 1 inch from his opponent’s chest.  He then wound up his ‘punching muscles’ while holding back, like a dragster revving the engine, but standing on the brakes.

When he had achieved maximum dynamic tension, he suddenly extended his arm, and the victim went stumbling backward. But that was not a punch! That was a push, a powerful push, but a push.  Even a dragster cannot achieve its top speed in its own length.  A punch requires time and distance to amass its total potential

Roundhouse II

a building for the servicing and repair of locomotives, built around a turntable in the form of some part of a circle.

My home town was the end of a railroad line. Another spur on the other side of the peninsula extended all the way to the northern tip.  Train engines can push backward, as well as pull forward, but pulling is more efficient.  Normally, at rails’ ends, and any other place where locomotives have to turn around, roundhouses are used to give them a 180° spin.

My town though, grew up because it was a Great Lakes Port. Besides the river docks, a long stone pier was built out to the offshore island, offering storm protection.  The railroad was used to carry freight from Lake Huron, to Toronto and Lake Ontario, before the building of the Welland Canal, to get past Niagara Falls – grain to flour mills, lumber to the factories, iron ore to the steel mills.

As the railroad came north into town, a spur line branched off, and ran west, out to the end of the dock. The spur line branched back, and joined the main line ending at the station, forming a giant Y, with an empty triangle inside it.  The engines and cars which needed to be reversed, were merely backed up, and run forward around the Y.

We never needed an expensive and maintenance-intensive roundhouse. We did have a big railway building that was large enough to house a couple of locomotives, and cars which needed repair, out of the weather.  We called it ‘the roundhouse,’ but no engines ever got dizzy on a roundabout.

Now, the trains are all long gone, the tracks ripped up, the right-of-way is a hiking trail, and all that’s left are my fond memories. That feels like a roundhouse punch.   😦  😯

I Found A Feather Today

Feather

I found a feather today, and along with it, I recovered a piece of the peace of my childhood. I found a sea-gull feather.  I found nostalgia, and I wallowed in it.

I was born and raised in a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. The sand-bar island, half a mile offshore was/is a sea-gull nesting-site protected Provincial Park.  We had sea-gulls!  Lord, we had sea-gulls.

They loved the 4 or 5 fishing boats that went out each day. Swimming at the beach, late in the afternoon, I could watch a fish-boat heading back to the river harbor, towing a 100-yard kite of gulls behind it.  The fishermen gutted the fish on the way home, and dumped the offal in the lake.

Actually, of course, these were ‘lake gulls.’ Few, if any, ever saw salt water.  Their deep squawks were a constant summer background sound-track.  Later in life, I found that the gulls on Lake Erie were the same breed, but for some reason they cried like they had sinus infections – their calls much higher and shriller.

The simple discovery of a feather brought back childhood memories of fun, freedom, warm summer sunshine, tourists, fast-food and nothing to do, but hundreds of things to do.

As innocent children, we found many things to do with a feather. We could wedge it in our hair, or tie it on with a string or an elastic, and be an Indian in the games of Cowboys and Indians….before it became politically incorrect, and an insult to Aboriginal Rights.

I’ve cut the bottom off larger feathers at an angle, and split the longer edge, to create a quill. Sadly, all too often, instead of elegant writing on a sheet of paper, all I produced were ink-blots that would make Rorschach proud…or curious.  There’s a real art to it; one which I never mastered.

As a teen, my friend and I would split several lengthwise, and glue them to a piece of dowel we’d bought at the lumber store, ‘fletching’ it to produce an arrow. For a tip, we’d add a filed-down sliver of split-off railway track.  We could have just bought a target arrow from the hardware store, but what’s the fun in that?

Aside from fish guts, another thing that seagulls clean up is edible human waste. They keep down infections by keeping down the rat population; it’s why they’ve been declared a protected species.  In my warm, fuzzy home-town, they kept the streets cleaned of dropped tourist (and native) hot dogs, French fries, ice cream cones and popcorn.

My current home is, sadly, much closer to Lake Erie than it is to Lake Huron, so the gulls shriek with a nasal twang. There’s a landfill site behind the plaza where I found the feather, and at least 12 eating establishments inside it.  With the help of some sparrows and chickadees, they keep the grounds clean.

When I found the feather, it took me on a lovely flight of retrospective fantasy. I didn’t even pick it up, but left it, hoping that another young Archonoid would jam it in his hair, or take it home to tickle his sister with.  Perhaps even, an adult would see it, and be winged into some pleasant thought or memory.

Remember, sex involving a feather is a fun fantasy. Sex involving an entire bird is perverted.   😉

Feather 2

2017 A To Z Challenge – L

Challenge2017

Look out!  This is going to be one

letter-l

of a post.

Now listen, you lot.  Don’t start ladling out blame, and labeling me a lax lout, or a lazy lump, who should have got the lead out, and composed a better post for the letter L.

I have my linguistic limits.  I’ve been lying around on the porch lanai of a little cabin by the lake, and it got too late.  I’ll tell you no lies; I bet you hoped there’d be none of these loopy posts this year.

Well, you’re lucky.  This should be the last.  I wish to leave you laughing, and look forward to seeing you here again, later.   LOL   😆

2017 A To Z Challenge – B

Challenge2017

When I sieved out the following list of B-word prompts, I was struck by how many of them could apply to me.  Rather than choosing only one, here are some random thoughts about a few of them.

Bibliophile
blood
baggage
belief
bold
books
beach
barn
blog

Letter B

My home town is halfway up the East coast of Lake Huron, in Ontario. It has 3 miles of lovely warm, soft, white sand beach.  It has become a vacation haven, and tourism is a large part of its financial wellbeing.

The town to the south gets only 1 mile of shoreline. The tiny tourist village to the north sits in the center of 10 miles of sandy shore.  Access to the water is good, and the swimming is wonderful but, in both cases, the sand barely reaches above the water level, and their beaches are flat, hard and damp.

My mother constantly read to me as a child, and I learned to read quite young. I became a bibliophile, a lover of books.  I am also a logophile, a lover of words, but all the wonderful words are in the wonderful books, so we’ll discuss that later.

Ray Bradbury said, “Libraries raised me.” My tiny little town had a tiny little library, about the size of a medium house.  It was only open two days a week.  The volunteer librarian was a former teacher.  It was here that I learned early, the value of linguistic precision.

The fine for late books was 2 cents, biweekly.  The intent was for 2 cents, per book, for each of the 2 weekly open days.  I stood beside a man who went and got a dictionary to show the librarian that ‘biweekly’ also meant ‘every two weeks.’  He would pay 2 cents, but not the 8 cents that she demanded.

A local man became a mining engineer. He located an ore field in Northern Ontario, staked a claim, and sold the rights to a mining firm which would extract the minerals.  With the initial payout and ongoing royalties, he retired early, as the town’s richest resident.

He and his wife were great readers, but they never had children. When his wife died, and he was facing his own mortality, he donated a large portion of his fortune to the municipality, to be used to build a library in memorial to his wife.  We got a fairly large (for a small town) new library, right beside the Town Hall.  His bequest bought lots more books, and an annuity paid for hired staff.

When I moved 100 miles to Kitchener for employment, it was easy to pack my luggage. I had very little.  I also had to pack my baggage – my propensity for procrastination, my learning disorders, my neurological syndrome which causes poor physical control and lousy short-term memory, as well as my autistic-type inability to read social cues, and make and hold friends.

I am more methodical, determined, and tenacious; I would never be described as bold. Having survived an interesting, if not terribly thrilling life, now in the twilight of my years, I can put these thoughts and remembrances down, and publish them in my blog.   😀

 

Housecleaning Memories

This post will be a sort of guest post from Granma Ladybug.

Recently she has assisted me with our Fall Housecleaning.  She has been reluctant to do so, not because of the labor, or the allergies, but because of the need to divest ourselves of many things which bring back strong memories.

Some years ago, when she was downsized out of a job, she took advantage of a government grant to return to school and upgrade her computer and English skills.  To assess incoming students’ language abilities, the English teacher asked them to write a one-page essay.  She recently came upon a file with hers, along with some other submissions.

The prompt was, “Write about something which strongly affected you, hopefully pleasantly.”  Her mother died when she was only three, and she was raised by a succession of older sisters and an evil sister-in-law.  When we engaged, my mother took her in like her own.  Read how this affected her.

A SUNDAY AFTERNOON DRIVE DOWN THE
SOUTH SHORE OF LAKE HURON

“Welcome to Bruce County!”  This is a sign that, over the years has come to mean a homecoming to me.  Unfortunately, this spring my mother-in-law had a stroke that affected her short-term memory, and she had to be placed in a nursing home.

Every trip home means visiting my father-in-law, who still manages to live at home, and fitting in three visits with Mom over the weekend.  This trip home, my husband and I decided to take Mom out for a Sunday afternoon drive.

After getting Mom settled in the car, our first stop was The Chip Shop, for French fries which we could enjoy during the drive.  Our journey took us down the main street to Lake Huron, and a view of Chantry Island.  We then travelled along Huron Street, taking a right onto Adelaide Street, down to Lake Street, left on Lake Street past the tennis courts, and another right to Beach Street.

Lighthouse

 

 

 

 

At the end of Beach Street is Chantry Park, where the Long Dock was.  You can still see the rocks which made up the dock, stretching far out into the water.  We then continued down Front Street, which turns into Harmer Street, then becomes Harmer Road, paralleling Lake Huron.

Lighthouse II

 

 

 

 

 

The road winds along the shoreline, curving to accommodate Mirimachi Bay, where a lower water level reveals mud flats with pools of murky water that house bulrushes, and other aquatic life.  We pulled over to the side of the road and watched two sailboats rounding Chantry Island, the sailing conditions being absolutely perfect.

mini-railroad

 

 

 

 

As we continued down the shore road, the brightly shining sun made the calm water sparkle with diamonds….almost too brilliant for the eyes.  On we meandered, past the miniature gauge railroad tracks in the lakefront park, past Port Elgin’s marina, up to the main street and to the Tim Horton’s, to pick up Timbits for Mom and her roommate, Christina Eagles.

Returning Mom to the nursing home was very difficult for Mom and us; however, Christina was glad to see Mom, as she has become very attached to her, and is frightened to be left alone for too long.  We brought out the Timbits, which are Christina’s favorite treat, and had a small party to celebrate the end of an enjoyable day.

While it was pleasant to take Mom out for the day, it brought to mind past years when Sunday meant putting on a roast and loading the car with grandparents, parents and children, to take a tour of the Bruce Peninsula.  We have, in past years, gone to the flea market at Mar, seen the spring and fall colors at Lion’s Head, and investigated many, many garage sales that dot the countryside during the fine summer weather.

Outings that were taken by the Smith family include a litany of small town names such as Chesley, Tara, Allenford, Wingham, Oliphant etc.  These were memories in the making, something to bring out later, and to let the remembering heal the hurt that adverse changes can bring.  To make pleasant memories is a very important detail.

This was the bitter-sweet last time we were all able to enjoy such a get-together.  Mom remained in good physical condition, almost until her death from a virulent case of flu when she was 92.  Soon after this day though, the mental light in her eyes faded, and there was almost no spark of who she’d been.

While we may be forced to jettison some of our physical things, we hold our memories dearly.  They remain almost as bright and strong as the days they were created.  They take no room to store and, not only can we pull them out and enjoy them at any time, but we can share them with others.   😀

Digging in – Digging Out

Snowplow

 

 

 

 

The recent ‘lake effect’ snowstorm which buried poor Buffalo, yet again, has served to remind me of a similar piece from my past.  Lake effect snow is caused by (relatively) warm winds blowing across still-unfrozen water, and then over much colder landmass, which causes the moisture to condense and freeze.  Once the Great Lakes freeze over completely, snowfall is greatly reduced.

In November and December of 1957, Lake Huron, warmer than usual from a hot summer had not yet frozen over.  Storm after storm came rolling across the lake from Michigan, so that we could blame the Americans, as they often do Canada, for the terrible weather.  A 150 mile swath of lakeshore and inland towns were buried under feet of snow.

Now being bused to a high school five miles away, I experienced my first ‘snow day’ on a Wednesday, when the bus couldn’t get through.  Before our days of television, I was at home with my mother, when we heard on the radio that the roof of an arena in a town 50 miles southeast had collapsed, killing several children and a skating coach, and injuring several others.

On Friday afternoon, as we dismounted the now-running school bus, the town’s Police Chief informed several of the members of the Boys’ Club, that there was a BYOS party being organized.  At 10 AM Saturday morning we were to bring (Y)our own shovels, and assemble at the town’s (natural ice) arena to shovel snow off the roof to prevent a similar disaster happening in our town.

Before the advent of aluminum scoops and shovels, snow was moved with heavy, awkward, steel garden spades, or square-mouthed coal shovels.  The next morning, about 25 of us showed up with an ill-assorted mix of tools.

I hadn’t thought about our task, or the reason given for it, until I arrived at the arena.  The collapsed one down the road had a low-domed roof, which allowed the accumulation of a significant snow load.  Our arena had a 90° roof, with a 45°slope on each side.  Snow just didn’t accumulate.

After it had been built, a two ice-sheet curling rink had been added to one side.  It was this annex, with its 7° roof, that we were assigned to save.  Not many school-kids at risk here, but many of the privileged members were also the well-off citizens and business owners who donated to, and supported our club.  That was as good a reason as any.

Snowbank

 

 

 

 

The snow on the roof was 3 to 5 feet deep.  It needed to be cleared off.  A ladder was leaned against the side of the building.  If it had been up to me, I’d have sent one guy up to reduce the weight, and clear a space for another shoveler, and so on, and so on.  It wasn’t….so the Police chief went up, kicked his way into the snow and called the rest of us up to join him.  Soon we had 25 teenage boys, and two adult men on the roof.  If it was going to collapse, this is when it would have happened.

My fisher-boy schoolmate attacked the piles of snow like a Tasmanian Devil, his sharp steel shovel and snow flying in all directions – except actually off the roof.  He was a safety hazard, not to be got too close to.  Within five minutes, he rapidly tired, and really accomplished very little, but he was the one who impressed the Game Warden enough that he was the only one mentioned when the tale was told, for years.

The rest of us soon organised a much more efficient system.  Starting at the roof edge we cut 2 foot square blocks, like for an igloo, and slid them off the smooth roof. Then others would move up and cut more blocks, and slide them down, to be pushed over the edge.  Soon we had several crews cutting, pushing and dumping.  The roof was cleared and our civic duty done by noon.

The side of the building that we dumped snow from was a town works-yard, with piles of sand and fine gravel that crews used to cast concrete water culverts, as well as dozens of finished units.  By the time we were finished, these were all covered, and there was a 20-foot high, 50-foot wide pile of snow about the same slope as the now-clear roof.  I don’t know if they did any water work before June.

Do those of you who live in snow country have white horror stories?  Will those of you who don’t, stop snickering!

Horse-Drawn History

I’ve done a few “Remember When” posts about growing up Oh-so-long-ago, and in a small town at the end of the universe.  I’ve written a post about the development of roads, and if I don’t get my numbering mixed up, it will already be published.  What I haven’t put together is the horse and buggy combination.  Anyone want to go for a wagon ride?

I’m still a long way from being a suave, sophisticated, city-dweller, but, as a kid, I was far more urban than rural.  I don’t know if my little town helped make me so, or if I was just of that bent, and lucky to be born where I was.  When I got old enough to visit the next little town down the road, I was quite dismissive.

Our town had all the interesting, up-scale social amenities that they didn’t.  We had a movie theater, a bowling alley, and a pool-room.  They had none of these.  They did have a United Co-op farm supply store, and a Western Tire store, even back here in the east, not even a real Canadian Tire store.

Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, it was not unusual to see horses pulling wagons around their town.  Local farmers hauling hay, bringing milk to the dairy, or stopping in to that Co-op store to pick up seed or fertilizer.  My town was not exempt from horse and wagon combos though.

When I was a kid, we still got milk delivered to the house by horse and wagon.  I don’t remember seeing milk taken to the little dairy in my town by horse; it was picked up by truck from farmers who set it by the side of the road in five-gallon pails.  It sat out in the winter cold and summer heat until it got back to the dairy.  Thank God for Pasteurization.

This was all back when every little town had its own little dairy, before the economies of volume caused all the milk in North America to be controlled by a dairy-products company in Italy named Parmalat.

The milk guy delivered right to the door.  If it sat on the porch in the winter, it froze, and expanded.   Milk wasn’t homogenized, so an inch or two of cream would raise the cardboard cap out of the glass bottle.  The frozen cream would have to be cut off and saved, or it would melt and run off.

Later, the delivery schedule changed, and the wagon didn’t arrive till just after lunch.  Sometimes I would ask my Mom for a nickel to get a half-pint of chocolate milk.  The deposit on the glass bottle was another nickel.  We could have paid it once, and just kept exchanging bottles, but it was far more fun to climb into the delivery wagon and ride a couple of blocks while I sipped it finished.  Then I’d walk back home.

Townie boy learned a little about driving horses.  “Gee” meant turn right, “”haw” meant turn left.  I’ll leave “giddy up” and “whoa” to your imagination.  “Gee” was a crossword puzzle solution to the clue, “right to a horse,” last week.

We didn’t have an electric refrigerator for a number of years.  We had an icebox, which sat in a shed, attached to the back of the house.  Every couple of days in the summer we put a twenty-five pound block of ice in a top compartment.  The ice would melt, so there was a hole bored in the floor, where the melt water ran out.

Each winter, a businessman and his assistants would go to a small cove of Lake Huron, and cut blocks of ice out by hand, using large human-powered saws.  When the cove refroze, they would come back for another harvest, and another, until they filled a barn-like warehouse.  The ice was covered by a thick layer of fine sawdust, which reduced thawing during the summer.

The ice was delivered to most homes in town by horse and wagon.  Their blocks were about fifty pounds, and had to be hacked in half with a trowel-like hand-tool with a toothed edge.  I would often run out and grab a large sliver of ice, and suck on it like a no-cost Popsicle.  Occasionally I got to ride along for a couple of blocks, as I did with the milkman.  It takes a village to raise a child.  Since I was almost the only child in my neighborhood, these village men protected, entertained and educated me before I went to school.

The third horse and wagon for many years was the garbage-man’s.  The town’s work-crew was small and, immediately after WW II, trucks, and the money to buy them was scarce.  The garbage-man seemed ancient to a small child, but he was probably in his fifties.  He and his patient horse would make the rounds, and he would dump loose garbage from metal cans into the wagon.

When the wagon was full, he would take it to the south edge of town, about a half-mile from the lakeshore.  He would have the horse back the wagon into an open area, and then pry up the loose boards which formed the bottom of the wagon, and stand them on edge, dumping the garbage.

About the time the old man, and his horse, retired, and town employees using a truck took over, a real estate developer wanted space to build more cottages for the burgeoning tourist trade.  Suddenly all the garbage was compacted with a bulldozer and covered with clean fill, and the site was sold.  I wonder how many of the cottage-owners know what’s under their summer palaces.

Horses and wagons….as Benzeknees’ quiz proved a while ago, I am older than dirt.  At least this tale of long ago and far away didn’t contain any dinosaurs or woolly mammoths.  Be careful as you walk away from the wagon.  Don’t step in that stuff!