Marianne - Author and Historian

Excerpts from A Mill Behind Every Stump

Dempsey Lake

“In 1943 the Ruth Lake Lumber Company finished up the timber sale on Houseman Road. We took the mill apart. We’d say it wasn’t a portable mill, it was a partable mill. We hauled the parts to Dempsey Lake and put the mill together on property owned by Mrs. Nogues.

“We went to Klofer Hardware in Vancouver and bought twenty-foot lengths of steel rod in several diameters: three-sixths, one-half, five-eighths and three-quarter inches. We bought boxes of hacksaw blades and nuts by the bagsful. It would all be shipped up by rail.

“We built the mill with a top saw because the timber was so big. We put in two fifty-two inch head saws, one above the other. I made almost every bolt that went into that mill by hand.

“I set up a vice on a stump and anchored it good. And this was my whole day, making bolts. I’d put a thread in each end of the rod. It was then cut as close as possible to the length of bolt you needed. One end was threaded just enough so that the nut would go on the bolt the full depth of the nut. On the other end I’d put a one-and-half inch thread to use to tight it up. Ed Jamieson taught me to do that. He’d spent a bit of time in stir where he learned a few things.

“We made twenty-foot skids to set the mill on, with timber crosspieces. Then we bolted the mill down to the skids with the bolts I made. I did a good job considering I was only nineteen.

“We cut enough lumber to build cabins. It was really hard work then. It was all hand felling and there was an awful lot of hand bucking. We were also cutting nine feet for UK ties. They were cut to eight feet-six inches. You were lucky if you could skid four thousand feet in a day. Less if you were further from the mill.

“Another thing we did was cut timbers and other materials the Abrams needed for this big lodge they were building on Dempsey Lake. The structure was massive for those days. We cut twenty-six-foot rafters and floor joists that were two-by-twelves and two-by-eights.

“About that time I was hired to put in a telephone line from the highway to the Nogues place. I was the boy climbing the trees and nailing on the insulators and hanging the wire on them. No hydro poles then. After a couple of miles a day, I could hardly walk.

“By then we owed quite a bit of money to Dunbar and Dubois who did the financing. We were running the mill with the two gas motors we had used on Houseman, side by side, belted to the arbor shaft. By spring we had cut enough lumber to clear up our debts and to buy a 671 Jimmy. We worked long hours, non-stop.

“We were hauling out on the 111 Road to get to the station at Lac La Hache. There was a lot of work to be done on that road. It was pretty undriveable. Basically it was pretty much a mud hole. We corduroyed some spots and put in two-by-six wooden culverts to run water off. We had to re-do the bridge across the 111 Creek. It was heavy, heavy work, all pick and shovel. Then we built a loading ramp at the station in Lac La Hache.

“One time I was heading out, almost at the highway, and there was this guy who stopped me and asked me if I could pull this big house across the road to a new spot for him. I couldn’t believe how that house was pegged together. It was all hand-augured. Holes were drilled in the logs and pegs were put in to hold them by every door and window. It was sure heavy. It was tough to pull it over but we got it done.

“About this time I had a really interesting experience. We needed a team of horses so we rented one from Bob Parkin and Archie White at the Forest Grove store. On the way to their place I stopped at the Wilcox farm for supper. When I got to the store later, I tied the horses, each one to the other’s tail and then to the one I was riding. Of course a horse will pull about as much with his tail as he will with his collar so that was fine.

“Anyway, we headed out on the trail to Dempsey Lake through Lake of the Trees. It was getting dark. We were heading along the Lake of the Trees trail, where it starts to go along the lake. The trail was narrow and dropped off to the lake. Soon it was pitch dark and pouring rain. I was having trouble holding on to those three horses.

“Suddenly, one of the horse’s hooves kicked a chunk of dead birch. Sparks flew everywhere. The horses panicked and tried to bolt and got wrapped around a tree. What happened was, on a muggy, warm night, it has to be just right, decaying matter such as dead birch will produce phosphorescence that creates sparks when it is disturbed, like when the horse kicked suddenly. That phosphorescence is known as foxfire.

“Well, here I was in the total dark, not a bit of light and the horses were wrapped tight around a tree and kicking and fighting to get loose. All I could do was to feel around and untangle them one by one, bit by bit. It took me an hour or more to untie them and calm them down. Luckily I had the horses tied to each other. Finally I got back to Dempsey Lake, close to midnight.

“After that the Ruth Lake Lumber Company began running into a few rough spots. Dubois brought his wife’s brother, Archie Stonehouse, out from Saskatchewan to drive team. But he wasn’t a bush guy at all and there was a tiff. After that we became really good friends. He and I’d buy .22 shells by the carton, five hundred to the carton. In the evening we’d throw milk cans up and shoot at them. I became quite the crack shot. I could even hit the half-size cans.

“Ed Jamieson had been drinking a lot and his end in the partnership was falling apart. It was too bad because he was a very good mechanic. Dubois sold his and Dunbar’s shares to Bud and Cliff Macintosh. The cheques for Ruth Lake Lumber Company were going to him instead of the company so my dad and I sold our share to Chester Stonehouse. He gave up shortly after and Macintosh ended up with our share after all.

“At that point Archie and I decided to move on. There was another fellow working with us named Adam Achlie. He had an old Chev touring car which he had made into a pickup. I packed my trapper nelson backpack, the three of us crowded into the pickup and we left the mill behind.”


Louis and Archie headed out on their great adventure. A bit of cash and a trapper nelson packed with a change of clothes, life was grand!

“We were going to Kamloops where Adam’s family lived. On the way down a bearing went out in the motor of the old car. As we pulled into Clinton you could hear the clattering echoing through the night. We got a room for three bucks. So we bedded down. In the morning we pulled the motor apart and found a bacon rind at a cafe. We put a bacon rind bearing in the old Chev and we drove carefully on to Kamloops.

“Archie and I had a couple of tarps so we set up camp in North Kamloops. There was only sand and russian thistle there. We made a makeshift tent so we could get out of the weather. Adam gave us a ride from there across the bridge in that old car.

“Not far from the bridge on the right was the Royal City Cannery where they canned tomatoes. There was a hostel there like a bunkhouse for the girl workers.

“The pay was okay and Archie and I worked all the overtime we could get. Our job was scrubbing out this big wooden vat that was used to boil the juice out of the trimmings from the tomatoes. There was a two-inch copper pipe running from it. The juice ran into square four-gallon cans. They had a warehouse down along Seymour. We hauled truckloads of these four-gallon cans of juice to the warehouse. On the weekends, some of them would blow up from the gasses in the cans. It would build up from the fermentation.

“There were three grades of tomato juice. They would test it for mold content. The one with the most mold went for fox feed. Not sure about second grade. Third grade was used for soup and ketchup. One time we packed in a bunch of boxes of labels. They were changing their labels from Royal City, which was known as a cheap brand, to the Empress brand which was ten or more cents higher than Royal City. The only thing changed was the labels.

“We didn’t get much time off but when we did we’d go up this stream in Tranquille on the north side of Kamloops and we’d do some panning. We’d come upon a log jam where we could hear clink, clink. We looked under the tangle of trees and there was a wooden water tower. I’m quite sure there was a ramp, kind of a sluice for washing gold from gravel. It was quite an operation but it had been abandoned. Maybe young men had built it and gone off to war.

“Archie and I were talking one night about a fellow who had been at the mill at Dempsey Lake. He told us a lot of stories about riding the rails. He told us what to do and what not to do. Like don’t grab the ladder at the back end of a rail car as it went by as it would throw you in between the cars.

“That actually happened to me later on. The train was on the CN line somewhere between Banff and Jasper. They were making up a train. I had my pack on. I grabbed the ladder at the back of the car as it went by, thinking it wasn’t going very fast but it threw me around. I lost my grip and landed under the train beside the wheels. They were about six inches from my nose. We heard quite a few guys were killed that way or got their nose cut off.

“He also told us to jam the door and tip the handle down on a boxcar. This was so no one could lock you in a car. Of course there were times when they had opened a car and found dead bodies inside.

“It all sounded great to a couple of young guys. We decided to ride the rails.”

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