Before the summer ends, I thought I’d take you all on another virtual vacation trip with my parents. After we had bought that bank-vault on wheels, we took it camping in a variety of places. One summer, my Dad decided we would concentrate on the area near Bracebridge, Ontario. Since that fateful summer so many years ago, Bracebridge has installed a theme park called Santa’s Village. Nowhere near as large and all-encompassing as the all-Christmas, all-the-time town of Frankenmuth, MI., but it still draws its share of tourists.
We pulled into town and located the tourist camp. The town is on the edge of the Canadian Shield, so there is lots of rock. The camp itself nestled along the edge of a river at a big bend. Projecting above the campgrounds was a vee-shaped, hundred foot high, stone outcropping. After we got set up, my younger brother and I went for a walk. About a block back, where we entered the camp, the rock sloped down so that you could drive about half-way up the steep grade, and climb to the precipice.
We walked up and stared down at our tiny trailer. In today’s world, there would be steel railings, high mesh fences, air-bags at the bottom and so many warning signs, that you couldn’t see the magnificent view. Back then there was common sense and self-reliance, and a hundred foot drop. Having seen what was to be seen, we felt we should return to camp. Most people just went back down the middle, but we wandered around one edge. The front was so sheer that only a professional climber with pitons could ascend. Around the side, where it was merely 90 feet high, the wall was only an 80 degree slope and had cracks and little ledges. “Do ya want to climb down?” And down we started.
We made it down safely, although we could have walked back around and got home sooner. At the bottom was an eight foot pile of scree, which angled down to the edge of the road. I stepped off onto it carefully, but my brother dropped the last couple of feet into it, and lost his footing. He tumbled into me, and the two of us rolled right down onto the road, and nearly got run over. The fact that it would have been ironic wouldn’t have made the hospital visit any better.
The next day we packed the trailer back up and headed further north. I asked Dad where we were headed, but he just said, “You’ll see.” We didn’t exactly get lost, but we didn’t get where Dad wanted to be, and had to turn around and go back, and then onto a different road. Back before GPS and computer maps, I’m surprised that anyone ever got anywhere. Without Sacajawea, Lewis and Clarke would still be in the parking lot at a Wal-Mart in Montreal.
We finally turned off the paved road, and headed into the bush. After a couple of miles, the dirt road T-ed out. Do we turn left or right? Dad finally decided on right, and started to drive. After a while I noticed that there were steel rails not too far off the road. Dad finally admitted that he had heard from someone, that there was a miniature railway back here, which connected two lakes. We drove for another mile or so and came to one of them. The tracks went right out onto a concrete dock.
Apparently, by getting lost, we had come at this railroad from the wrong side, and should have turned left at the T-intersection. If we had gone the other way, we would have reached a nice little campground and village. On this end there were a few houses and a tiny general store. Because we drove the extra miles, we had run out of daylight. The sun was going down. No time to drive back through the bush to the other end. Dad talked to the store owners. They were heading for bed, but told us we could park on the tiny lawn at the end of the building.
There was no room to open the trailer, so we decided to just sleep in the car. Fortunately it was a station-wagon. We hauled the stuff in the back out, and Mom, Dad, and my brother slept (?) in the back. I jammed my feet under the steering wheel in the front. We had no mosquito netting and it was way too hot and muggy to roll the windows up, so it was doze, slap, doze, slap all night. I don’t want to say that the mosquitoes were big, but I saw two of them molesting a seagull.
We were out of the car at first light, and down to the lake with soap and wash cloths. These little lakes sit in hollows of solid rock, and their average temperature is enough to make penguins order take-out. The store finally opened at eight AM and we got some coffee and hot chocolate for breakfast.
The tiny train was sitting right across from us, so we went over to have a look. Unless it got lost when Mom died, we have a photo of me, as a twelve-year-old, stretching up to lean on the walk-rail around the front of the steam engine. Re-watch Back To The Future III to see Doc Brown, and how big the full-size model is.
Finally a couple of guys came from the nearby cabins and started the boiler on the train. By ten o’clock it was ready to make its first run of the day. A locomotive, a fuel tender, (I don’t remember if it burned coal or wood.) three flat-bed freight cars and a passenger car. The two lakes were only four miles apart, but, to get from one to the other by water, was over fifty miles. The little railway had been put in to haul lumber, small boats and other freight.
Off we went for a lovely ride through the woods. When we got to the far end, there was a two-hour hiatus before going back, but at least there was more civilization to wander around and look at while we waited. Finally, we huffed and puffed and chuffed our way back to the car. We drove back to Bracebridge and stayed at the same camp for another day to recuperate. Wrong turns and giant mosquitoes and all, it was an adventure I’m glad I didn’t miss. I hope you’ve enjoyed rummaging through my fading memories.