My Cross Lake Experience
This story took place in the winter of 1971.  Or at least that's when I think it happened.  And maybe thats all that matters.  In my mind we spent the month of March in Cross Lake.  Some time ago my dad got me to put it in writing to include in his book.  The following is taken from that book.


One day in the middle of winter Dad got a phone call from Jim Benoit.  He wanted to know if dad was interested in hauling gravel up north at Cross Lake.  We were and the next day Dad, Jim Toews, and myself left for Cross Lake with the car.

We stopped for a snack in the afternoon.  Among the things we bought was a package of mock chicken.  It must not have been to good because all of us got sick on it.  We did not find this out till the next day though, each person got sick but did not mention it to any of the others.  The next day somebody mentioned that he had been sick the evening before and on comparing notes it turned out that all of us had been sick.

Somewhere north of Grand Rapids we went over a railroad track and the wipers on the car went on and wouldn't switch off.  Finally a stop was made and the car switched off to stop the wipers.  For lack of the proper tools we used an axe to remove the wipers from the car.  Then with the wiper motor running we drove on.

We went to Waboden first where we had arranged to meet Cecil Smith.  They had two pickups with which we went in to the bush on the winter truck road.  From when we left the main all weather road it took about 3 hours to get into Cross Lake.  At one place where the truck road and the cat trail ran together for a ways we met a cat train.  Each cat was only pulling 2 sleighs.

We went out of town to the place where we were to get the gravel from.  At this point it was not a gravel pit because there was no hole, only the bush had been cleared.  From Cross Lake it was about five and a half miles.  The road was not very good.  It had just been cleared.  There had been no traffic on the road and no dragging yet.  On the way back from the pit Cecil Smith asked Dad what he would want for doing the job.  Dad said we had never done work like this before and he wanted him to name a price that he would think was reasonable.  So Cecil named a price and Dad said that they should add 10% to that and he'd accept.  Cecil accepted and so we were in business.

We started right in to getting ready.  First we tried to find a building for us to stay in while we'd be working there. We looked at a couple of houses but no one was finalized.

The job consisted of loading and hauling gravel from the pit five and a half miles from town to the airport  and stockpiling it there for use in the summer.  There would also be some additional work loading and hauling rubble from a big stone building that was to be demolished and some work cleaning up the site.  Cleaning up the rubble was work that would be paid for by the hour at an agreed upon rate.

We would have to get started on the job right away because it was getting late in the winter and spring breakup was coming.  The equipment had to be out of the bush before that happened unless we wanted to leave it there for the summer.

We got home on a Friday.  Saturday was spent getting ready.  We had to anticipate what kind of break downs we might have and pick up those parts to take along.  We had to find barrels for fuel and gas and take them in with us.  We could buy fuel out there but it would be fairly expensive.  We got a barrel of hydraulic oil, a couple of pails of gear oil, and type A transmission oil, enough grease for at least a month.  We took our acetylene torch but not a welder because we did not have a portable one.  We took tools, propane torch, chains, jack, spare tires and tire patching equipment.  For road maintenance we loaded a drag on top of the fuel barrels.  We would be on our own while we were at Cross Lake.

Dad left for Cross Lake on Sunday with the International truck.  The Hough 30 was loaded in the box.

On Monday morning Lorne left with the Trojan 2000.  I left later in the day.  I loaded the pickup up with supplies like oil, tools, food, and our bedding.  I had to stop in Winnipeg to pick up a hydraulic hose for one of the loaders and also get a permit to drive on the winter roads.  Then I was to follow Lorne up PTH 6 and we were to alternate with driving the loader to Cross Lake.

At Ashern I started to worry about where Lorne was and stopped to phone home to ask if they had heard anything from Lorne.  They had.  He had just phoned from Moosehorn, the next town up the road, he was stuck with the loader.

I headed up the road to find Lorne and see what we could do to get on the road again.  He had slid the loader into the ditch when he left the road to make a phone call to see where I was staying.  He didn't realize the snowplow had rolled the snow well off the road and slid off the edge of the crossing when he went around the corner.  We went around to ask where we could get some help.  We were told that the government snow plow had been through earlier in the day and was expected back later on in the evening.  We stopped a lowbed truck with a wide heavy load on and asked if he could give us a pull.  He gave it a try but it did not work.

So next we ended up at the beer parlor where we phoned a gravel contractor who had a job in the area.  We wanted him to come and give us a pull but he refused to help us.  He said he was scared that he would get stuck too!

While I was in the beer parlor phoning Lorne stayed on the pickup and watched the highway for the plow.  He came running in while I was still on the phone with the contractor and said the plow had just gone through.  I just hung up the phone and ran outside and we took off after the plow.  When we pulled up behind him we flashed our headlights and got him  to stop.  When we asked if he would help us he said he would give it a try.  He had gone past the loader about a quarter of a mile so he backed up  and came to the loader.  He went onto the service road to pull from the front.  We decided to pull the loader in the direction we had been traveling rather than back the way it had come.  He did not have enough traction to pull out the loader even after he had scraped the ice off the road.  Then he put the blade straight across the road and put it down till the grader lifted up in front then we used the loader hydraulics to help it out.  It came out very nicely that way and we were on our way again.  We wanted to pay the guy but he didn't want anything.  We tried to give him $10 but he wouldn't take it.  He finally accepted $5.  It was 10 o'clock at night when we finally got out of the ditch.  It had been 4 o'clock when Lorne got stuck.  A loss of 6 hours.

We headed on.  The snow had been falling all day and it was not about to quit.  The road was two vehicle tracks in the snow.  Somewhere before Gypsumville Jim Toews caught up with us.  He was driving the 67 GMC.  He had a load of barrels full of fuel and gas. On top of everything he had the drag.  Just after he had passed us he met a station wagon loaded with parts.  The guy was too cautions and went to far to the side of the road and slid off the edge.  We were still only a quarter mile behind Jim and when we got to the car we got out a chain and pulled him out of the ditch.  He gave us $10.

We made a few dollars on the trip.  Earlier in the day Lorne had pulled a car that had run out of gas a couple of miles to a gas station.  The guy gave him a few dollars for his trouble.  We had given the plow operator $5.  We were now ahead 7 or 8 dollars.

We drove  till the Gypsumville turnoff.  We must have got there about midnight.  We saw a motel and decided to pull on to the yard to get some sleep.  Because of the snow we did not know for sure where the driveway was and sent the pickup on first.  If it got stuck the loader could pull it out but the pickup sure couldn't pull out the loader.  We parked the loader and the pickup side by side, switched off the lights, and both climbed into the pickup and leaned one from each side onto a pile of parka's on the middle of the seat and went to sleep.  We slept for 2 hours and got up and continued our trip.

We alternated between driving the loader and pickup every twenty miles.  Whoever was driving the pickup would drive ahead for ten miles and pull over to the side of the road and sleep till the loader got there.  Then when the loader went past he would move on another ten miles and sleep till the loader got there again.  At this point we would change places.

Close to Grand Rapids Lorne did not start driving with the pickup after I went past.  I finally stopped about an eighth of a mile past him and decided to backup to wake him up.  He was sound asleep.  He was quite disoriented when he woke up to see the loader coming backwards towards him with the horn blowing.

We got to Cross Lake with the Trojan close to midnight.   We did not know where Dad and Jim were staying so we started asking around.  We checked out a house that we had looked at when we looked at the job but it was empty.  The Indians offered that we could stay with them, but we weren't quite ready for that yet and kept on looking.  At Jim Benoit's cabin no one was home, but we did see the International truck parked close to a big white building.  We checked in the garage door and found the Hough 30.  We must be getting close.  We went into the main part of the building and looked around with our flashlights.  Sure enough, Jim was sleeping on a workbench by the window and finally we found Dad over on the other side of the building.  We got in our bedding and spread it on the floor by the oil stove.  We got under our blankets fully dressed, with our toques and socks and all.  It was cold in there!  Dad and Jim never noticed Lorne me come in.

We started right in with our work. Most days we started working at 6 o'clock in the morning and worked till around 8 o'clock at night.  We ate our dinner on the go.  After supper we went out and fueled up the equipment.  With making our own meals and work it was a long day.

One cold morning the Indian's school bus wouldn't start so they asked us for a pull.  Once they got it running the driver stayed in the bus to keep the accelerator on the floor while the other one took the chain off.  I'm sure the bus warmed up in a hurry!

We had wondered what we would do if we needed a welder.  We got our chance.  One cold day Lorne hit a chunk of frozen clay and broke the extensions we had welded on the side of the bucket.  We checked around and found somebody in the community with an aircraft generator driven by an 8 h.p. Briggs.  It got the job done.

Another day a hydraulic cylinder bent on the Trojan when the bank in the pit caved in.  The gravel was under a layer of clay that was frozen hard.  We could not dig in the clay or break it off so we were just undermining it and letting it break off in chunks and carrying them out of the pit.  This time the loader got caught. Dad phoned out for a charter airplane and took the cylinder home to get it fixed.

While he was home he also made arrangement for Ed Barkman from Landmark to come in with a truck to help us haul.  We knew we would not get the job done on time otherwise.

After the first two weeks my sister Marjorie, came out to cook for us.  She came in on the mail plane, which was a Twin Otter.  To give her privacy in the big one room building we were staying in we used sheets of plywood to put up two walls to fence an area off from the rest of the room.  For a bed we used the five gallon oil pails with a sheet of plywood on top.  Whenever we needed oil we had to borrow her bed props.

Marge seemed to think she had come up for a holiday besides cooking for us.  She became chummy with the local school teachers and went out with them for entertainment.  She went for Bombardier rides and even got a chance to drive one for a bit.  In the meantime we sometimes ended up making our own meals.  Only now it was complicated a bit by the fact that we had to look for all the things that we needed for making our supper.  She had put them away in cupboards, drawers and shelves.  And luxury of luxury's she got to take a bath at one of the teachers places, and she was only up at Cross Lake for two weeks.

One evening when Marge was preparing a pancake batter for breakfast the next morning Jim tried to give her some advise.  Apparently she was using milk leftover from making hot chocolate, and Jim said that would not work.  The pancakes would stick in the pan.  Marge figured she knew better.  The next morning the pancakes stuck in the pan and she had a bit of extra work cleaning up.

After the bank caved in on the loader Dad decided that we had to do something to keep it from happening again.  So Jim and I went to Thompson with the truck to get some dynamite.  We took along all the empty drums we could get into the box.  In Thompson we picked up three boxes of dynamite and one box of detonators.  We did not want to place them in back with the drums and so we piled them in the cab with us.  We placed two boxes between the seats and we each had one on the floor by our feet.  We stopped at Waboden on the way back to fill up the drums, eight with gas and fifteen with diesel fuel.

We were concerned about the bumps on the winter road.  How much did it take to set off the blasting caps or the dynamite?  We finally consoled ourselves that at least if it did blow up all that would be found would be a hole in the road.

About half way back into camp at a place where the truck road and the bombardier trail crossed we were stopped by the RCMP driving a Bombardier.  This was the last thing I had expected back here in the bush!  They wanted to check for liquor.  They did not want us to bring any into camp for the Indians.  I offered to get out of the truck while one officer looked around in the cab.  When he got out he asked the other one if they needed some dynamite.  That was all that was said about hauling the caps and dynamite on one vehicle.

Lorne had plenty of time in the pit between trucks.  Some days he made a fire and had a wiener roast for dinner. One day when he was cleaning up trees that had fallen into the pit the chain tore and part of the hook came through the window.  It ended up behind the seat and Lorne ended up with glass in his eye.  Marge being a newly graduated nurse decided that it should be bandaged up in case some glass was still in it.  This would give it a chance to flush out without aggravating the eye with constant use.  When the bandages came off a few days later a small sliver of glass came with.

In the mean time he was quite interesting to watch.  His depth perception was gone because he was using only one eye and he kept bumping into things like walking into the loader steps.  He had a hard time spotting the load on the truck, sometimes dumping to soon or to late.  It was kind of funny.

The road into the pit was only one lane wide.  We could only meet at certain places in the bush.  We tried to keep a mental track of where the other trucks were so we knew about when to expect them.  This worked fine, till one day I met Jim when he wasn't supposed to be in the bush.  He was supposed to be hauling rubble from the old school building and had caught up with the work and had been sent to pick up a load in the pit to fill in time.  I met him unexpectedly and we couldn't stop in time or steer aside and we ran into each other.  My truck had only a factory bumper and that got bent up pretty good.  The GMC had a homemade bumper made out of truck frames welded to make a box and only had the paint marked.  Another time Jim turned off the road to avoid hitting a truck and sheared off an eight inch poplar tree.  Again no damage except a few bolts needed some retightening.  That was a good bumper!

Towards the middle of March the weather started to get warm and the snow started to melt.  The road in the bush started to get muddy and driving was getting to be a problem.  We decided to give the road a break for a day or so and hope that it got colder again.  The lake had a couple of inches of water on the ice.  Dad and Jim took this chance to go out for some supplies.  They went with the pickup.  It turned out it was quite a day for them.  They got stuck at least twice, and ended up doing some waiting till someone came along to give them a hand.  It ended up taking 15 hours for a trip that should have taken about 8 hours.

We spent the time working on cleaning up the old school building that was located close to where we were staying. It was a three story building made out of stone.  The walls were at least two feet thick.  Jim Beniot and his crew drilled holes into the wall every few feet and put dynamite in each hole.  Then all the dynamite was set off at one time and down came the building.

The first step in cleaning up was to pull the steel rafters out of the pile of rubble.  This turned out to be more difficult that we had at first thought.  The loader did not have enough weight to give it enough traction on the ice to pull them out of the pile.  So we tried jerking on the cable.  This worked okay except that the cable did not last very long doing it this way.  It tore where we had it hooked to the bucket and then it had to be redone all the time.  The local help did not seem to be in a big hurry so this consumed a lot of time.  After a few hours of this we decided to try using a loaded truck.   This worked much better and this project was soon finished.

The rubble that we hauled away was dumped against the approaches to the foot bridge across the Nelson River.  This bridge went from one shore to an island and then on to the opposite side.  This bridge was a swinging footbridge and we were told that it had cost about $100,000.00 to build.  It had originally been built to serve the school that was being demolished.  The school had been fixed up inside about a year before after a fire had damaged it.  Now it was decided that it cost too much to heat and so it was demolished.  So much for the wise use of tax money.

The main part of our work consisted of loading and hauling pitrun gravel from the pit five and half miles from the town.  Two miles was on ice and the rest was on winter road that was used for the first time this winter.  At the start it took about an hour per load.  Later on we averaged 50 minutes per trip and even managed to get it as low as 45 minutes on a day when the road was in good shape.  The lake crossing took ten minuets when we were loaded.  I used to set the hand throttle and sit back and eat my dinner.  The road was smooth enough that the tea didn't even spill out of our cups.

We hauled about 5000 cubic yards to the airstrip.  Dad would push up the gravel with the Hough 30 to make a nice high pile.  A few times he thought that he would do every one a favor and drag the runway to make it smooth.  The surface had some ruts that ran across the runway and Dad thought that he could improve on it.  It was smoother but he left some ruts that ran the length on the runway.  The pilot of the mail plane that came was not impressed. Because the ruts ran along the runway the wheel wanted to follow along the ruts and tended to pull the airplane to one side or the other.  It might be smoother but control was more difficult.

We hauled about 200 cubic yards to the community center which amounted to dumping it at the skating rink.  We were asked by people in the community what it was for.  My standard answer was that it was for them and that they should know be cause I sure didn't.

Another 200 cubic yards went to the hydro station.  Manitoba Hydro had a diesel generator here for supplying the community.  To get to this yard we had to cross a channel of the river that we were told was 90 feet deep and was fast moving water.  Jim and I spent the evening before the first crossing arguing about who would be the first one to cross the ice with a load.

At the end of March the weather turned warm again and we started getting worried about getting the equipment out. The roads were getting muddy and some of the creeks had water in them.  We needed the equipment at home in the summer so we decided that it was time to go home.  We couldn't risk leaving it behind.

The day we decided to go home we worked a full day like usual and then started packing and loading to go home. We finished everything except our beds which we needed for one more night and went to bed at 11 o'clock.  We all lay quietly in bed till 1 o'clock and then someone said that seeing no one was sleeping we might as well get up and get moving.  I guess we were all excited about going home.

The loaders left right away with Dad on the Hough 30 and Lorne on the Trojan 2000.  The rest of us loaded up the bedding and tied the loads down and left about 3 o'clock.

Lorne and Dad drove the loaders out on the cat trail right into Waboden.  Jim drove the GMC and I drove the International.  Jim Benoit drove the pickup and Marge went with him.  The trucks and pickup went on the truck road. When we got to the gravel road Ed Barkman and his son David left for home.  Jim also went home with the GMC. From there I went to Thompson and unloaded Jim Benoit's jeep and air compressor.

In Waboden Dad and Lorne put an aluminum framed window into the Trojan for a windshield.  They drilled some hole in the cab and tied the window in with wire.  When they were done Lorne and Marge left for home with the Trojan and the pickup.

Dad waited for me in Waboden.  When I came back till there we loaded up the Hough and started home.

We caught up with Lorne and Marge south of Ponton.  I stayed with them and Dad went home with the International truck.

We drove home in 20 mile segments like we had done on the way to Cross Lake.  Marge was supposed to drive the pickup so that Lorne and I could get some sleep, but around 10 o'clock while I was trying to sleep I noticed Marge was having trouble and so I couldn't sleep because I was worried about her falling asleep.  Finally she said she couldn't drive anymore, the ditch was on all sides of her.  So I drove and she slept.  Later on Lorne drove some for her also.

It got very cold after the sun went down because the window didn't fit too good.  There was a small crack on either side.  During the day when the sun was shinning it wasn't too bad.  At the coldest part of the night we were wrapping plastic over our laps and legs and around the seat.  The heater was under the seat.  Then we would grab the steering wheel through the plastic and drive like that.  It was a long cold night.

When I traded off with Lorne just as it was getting light outside he was have trouble staying awake.  When I climbed into the loader he said he didn't know where he'd get the next load of gravel from.  When I asked him what he meant, he said that "I can't find any gravel here.  I don't know where I'm going to get the next load of gravel from." I told him that it was okay, we were on the way home and he didn't have to worry about it anymore.  I drove an extra 10 miles before I traded with him again to give him extra sleep.

We got home on Saturday morning at 9 o'clock and had breakfast and went to bed.  The only sleep since Thursday morning had been the two hours we tried to sleep in camp and then what ever we got on the pickup driving home.  It was great to be home.