Prairie Grass Fire at night

A prairie grass fire is a beautiful thing to watch at night, as long as you are on the upwind side. Hundreds of years ago the sight of an approaching fire terrified Indians and Whites alike. The speed of its advance depended on the time of the year and the speed of  the wind.

If you could not get around either side and find safety in the burned grass, the best thing to do would be to head for the river or a nearby lake. The history books are filled with the details of fires many miles wide and a hundred miles long.

Indians set the fires to deprive the buffalo of food and control were they fed, so they could be hunted. The Blackfeet Indians in Southern Alberta got their name from walking across the burnt prairie.

When the first settlers arrived on the prairie, trees were limited to along the rivers. The regular prairie fires killed anything but grass. Prairie grass had dense roots that went ten or more feet into the ground. Any new seedlings of other plants or trees that did penetrate the grass roots, were killed by fire.

There are many old photos in the Kittson County Museum taken of homesteaders working on their farmers and there are no trees in the background for miles.

Our county has a unique type of oak tree called a Burr Oak.  It has a very thick cork like bark that protects the trees, young and old, and allows them to survive a prairie fire. To this day Burr Oak still grow in dense groves all along the river banks.

Blog World Statistics

My blog automatically keeps a number of statistics that allow me to keep track of how many people read it and what posts attract the most readers. The above list records the number of people across the globe that have accessed my blog in 2018. Naturally the greatest number of readers are in the United States, followed by my friends and relatives in Canada.

I have relatives in Ireland and Scotland (UK) so the numbers there are understandable.  What is amazing are the six countries at the bottom of the list.  I can only imagine these people used a search engine to pursue a topic that is related to the tabs posted with my blogs. Unfortunately I am unable to determine just what topics attracted my foreign readers. It will be interesting to watch the various statistics during the count down to the end of this year.

Minnesota roadside marker

Minnesota Highway #75 marker.

A number of years ago I drove passed this marker, and having not noticed it before, I backed up and took a couple of photos. This is the south side of it as you drive north and it sits on the west side of the road, just before you cross the railway tracks a few miles north of Humboldt.

View looking south.

The highway sign/monument is built of stone and wood and is tastefully done.  I wish more road signs were built in this manner, but the rockwork would be costly.  I wonder what year it was built.

Ingolf, Ontario

In the spring of 1949 I applied for a summer job, posted in a Winnipeg Newspaper, and went for an interview along with a school chum of mine. The owner of Tall Timbers Lodge was a widow named Lil Hayes. Her husband had died a few years back so she managed the tourist camp by herself. It was the first time I had gone for a job interview so it was a new experience.

I was thirteen at the time but was tall for my age. Later, that July I turned fourteen.  My pal Bill Lutz was not as big but he was strong and wiry. The job entailed lots of physical labor needed to operate a tourist camp. We tended to the rental and maintenance of a number of fishing boats but our biggest task was to travel down the lake two or three miles to the Railway station at Ingolf and pickup all the supplies needed to sustain the camp all summer long. It required a trip once or twice a week, depending on how many guests needed to be fed.

Bill and I got the jobs and were suppose to start work as soon as school was out.  We were in grade nine and for some strange reason I did very well in that grade and was exempt from exams.  I was able to start work before Bill.

Ingolf was located in North Western Ontario a few miles east of the Manitoba border. It did not have any road access but was limited to regular travel by train. Lil got me a ride with a couple of guys who had a cabin nearby. We were able to drive to within about a half mile of the lake and then had to hike in. The boys had a boat and motor at the end of the trail and were able to haul me right to the camp dock.

A arrived before any guests were at the camp so I was put to work right away cleaning the dust and dirt that had accumulated in the various cottages spread around the property. There were lots of trees and branches that came down during the winter and they all had to be cut up and hauled away for firewood or burned on the brush pile.

I got a crash course on the maintenance of all the boats and motors stored in the big boat house. Lil was a very capable woman and quickly taught me all I needed to know. The guests rented the equipment to go fishing or just joy riding on the lake. The smaller fishing boats were flat bottomed and strongly built in order to haul all the supplies from the railway station.

In time Bill arrived and helped ease the load on me.  We slept together in a big old bed on the second floor of the lodge. No matter the weather, there was no heat on the second floor. Once the weather improved we spent the summer wearing a bathing suit and rarely wore shoes. We were soon tanned a dark brown and people were amazed that even when it got chilly we never wore a shirt. Later in the summer a former guest sent the camp  photos she had taken of people grouped in front of the lodge.  Bill and I were burned so dark we looked like a pair of Indians.

At least once a week Bill and I would each take a boat and motor down the lake to a small dock and then walk up the trail to the train station. When the train arrived they unloaded all the food and supplies on the platform, along with 25 gallon steel drums of gasoline. We had to wait for the train to leave before we could cross the tracks and start hauling items.

The trail between the station and the dock was at least five or six hundred feet in length and consisted mainly of bed rock along with sand and gravel. It was too steep to use a wheel barrow and too rough for any kind of wagon. Bill and I would spend a couple of hours hauling boxes and cartons down the hill and loaded them in our boats.

The worst items were the barrels of gasoline. They were far too heavy to lift so we had to roll them carefully down the hill. As the weeks went by we began to hate the gasoline drums as they left us exhausted after each one was manhandled down to the dock. Eventually, if we picked the right route, we could let go of the barrel and watch it roll down the slope until it was stopped by a rock or a depression in the ground. We then walked down the hill, rolled it to an open spot and kicked it on its way. We tested our method many times and soon learned the barrels could take a very solid blow on a rock with out blowing up or even leaking.

We learned to move the barrels last because that way most people at the train station or at the docks were long gone and we had no witnesses to our methods of moving heavy gasoline drums.  By the end of the summer we would simply kick the barrels over the edge of the hill and head back to the depot for another one.  On a few occasions the damn things took off on a new route and we would waste time hunting for them on the hillside or even in the lake. Fortunately they floated like a cork.

Because of the size and weight of the barrels they were very difficult to roll off the dock and into the boat. Depending on whether we each had three or four barrels, their positioning in the boat was critical.

Another curse was cases of bottled pop. Sweating in the sun and carrying a large case of pop caused us to break out in a sweat and almost die of thirst. Only once did we fall to temptation and slosh down a pop. We of course replaced the tops and everything looked normal as seen from above. When someone was served a fresh cold empty pop from the cooler we were ratted out and the pop was deducted from our slim pay.

Once the boats were loaded, we pushed off from the dock and the fear factor kicked in. The old flat bottom boats sat so low in the water no more than two inches of the boat side sat above the water.  Early in the summer we learned that if we loaded the boat lightly, it meant we had to go all the way back down the lake for another load.

Boat travelers on the lake use to be amazed to see us plod by with groceries piled high on the boats. They learned that we had so little free board they had to slow down or their wake could sink us. In calmer moments they claimed they could not see any part of the boat as we went by.

Each boat was equipped with a little four horse power motor so we moved at a snails pace with our over loaded boats. We traveled together just in case a boat went under. Before we  went to the train station we always checked out the wind and waves on the lake.

On one occasion, when about half way home, the wind picked up and we knew the waves it created would sink us for sure. We motored close to a little bay in the shore and each tossed out a barrel of gas and safely made it back to the lodge.  That evening when Lil was busy serving her guests we went down to the boat house and took the large launch that was used to haul guest to the station. We drove away from the boathouse at slow speed and then once far enough away, where we could not be heard, we raced off at high speed.  Our barrels were still floating hidden in the bay.  We carefuly loaded each one so we did not damage the fancy launch.  Once home and in the boat house, we unloaded the last two drums of gasoline and no one was the wiser

The summer just flew by and by the end of August we knew we would soon have to return home to school. In our free time we were allowed to use the rental canoes and it was at this time in my life that I began a lifelong association with canoes and canoeing.

Grand Beach – Part 2

As the day warmed up, more and more people gathered on the beach. Far out on the lake boat traffic increased. After lunch and a rest I went back out onto the lake and paddled along the shoreline to the north. As the temperature rose the wind switched until it was blowing off the beach and into the lake. At one point I watched a young couple in a rented canoe launch from the beach and head west out into the lake. Both paddlers were very awkward as they zig zagged into deeper water. The boy at the back was about 17 years old while the girl in the front was a few years younger. 

The beach was slowly filling up with more swimmers and sun tanners and I was considering hauling my canoe out and heading home home. At some point I realized I could no longer see the pair of young canoeist on the lake. Since the wind  and waves had decreased considerably, I stood up in the middle of the canoe in order to see farther out on the water.  In the distance, almost out of  sight I could see about four or five boats but no canoe between us. Luckily I saw the heads of two people in the water, holding onto the upside down canoe.

Because of the waves, no one on the beach nor boaters farther out on the lake noticed the two people in trouble. I quickly sat down in the canoe and started paddling further offshore. At first I was unable to see the heads in the water but they were directly west of me so I eventually got close enough to spot them clearly.

When I reached the canoe the boy was scared and did not know what to do. The girl was terrified and crying and had trouble swimming. Their life jackets were floating in the water nearby. The canoe was upside down with only a small portion of the bottom showing as both people in the water were holding on to it is keep their heads above the waves.

At first they seemed relived to see me, but when I tried to give them instructions as to what to do, they ignored me. I had to shout at them to listen to what I was saying or I was going to leave them and go back to the beach.

I got the boy to grab one side of my canoe in the middle. I had a harder time to get the girl to let go of the upside down canoe and grab my canoe on the side opposite to the boy. I instructed the boy to hold down his side of the canoe while I helped the girl climb into the other side.  We shipped a little water but soon the girl was sitting in the bottom of my canoe and starting to calm down and not look so terrified.

The boy could swim enough to follow my instructions and we soon had the nose of the upside canoe pointed at a right angle to the side of my canoe. With the help of the boy in the  water I raised his canoe nose until it sat on the edge of my canoe. From there the two of us dragged the upside down canoe onto and across my canoe until it was completely out of the water and balanced across the sides of my canoe. During this time the girl sat paralyzed the the bow of my canoe.

After the water had drained out of their canoe I rolled it upright and then slid it back into the lake.  Once it was positioned alongside my canoe, I held one side firmly while the boy climbed into it from the far side. When the boy was out of the water I told him to calm down and rest while I padded my canoe around the scene of the accident and picked up the two life jackets and two paddles as they slowly blew away. As each item got within reach I had the girl lift them out of the water.  When she was so occupied she seemed to accept that she was now safe and calmed down even more.

When all the items had been collected I paddled back to the boy’s canoe and gave him a life jacket and a paddle.  I made sure they each put on the life jackets. The young woman was having trouble with her life jacket so I just sat and patiently waited until she finished tying it on. It was then that I turned around and saw the other canoeist determinedly paddling his canoe out further into the lake?

I quickly realized that without his passenger as ballist, he was unable to control the canoe and the wind from offshore was blowing him further out into the lake. He was trying to turn the canoe around but the harder and faster he paddle the further west he went.

I had to yell at him to stop paddling but he was so traumatized by the entire situation that he just ignored me or failed to hear me. I ended up having to paddle as fast as I  could until we pulled alongside and I used my paddle to knock his paddle out of his hands.  As we sat there with the two canoes bobbing up and down, all three of us were breathless and highly agitated.

Eventually I had the girl grab the nose rope of his canoe and we dragged it around until it faced the beach. I followed him to the beach and each time he started to lose control I would paddle along side and force his canoe to point towards the beach. When we got closer to shore I noticed about a hundred silent people were standing and watching our activities.

As the young man ran his canoe up onto the beach he was so embarrassed by all the attention he was almost in tears.  I helped the girl out of my canoe and she stormed up the beach glaring at him with disgust. I hauled my canoe to my vehicle and tied it down for the trip home.

The last I saw of the other so called canoeist, was him dragging his canoe all the way back down the beach to the rental shack, no doubt telling himself he would never go canoeing again. On the drive home I realized that in all the excitement neither of the rescued parties ever thanked me.

I doubt they ever forgot their trip to Grand Beach.

Grand Beach – Part 1

Lake Winnipeg is a very large lake which lies about 50 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. My father was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway and had a railway pass so we road the trains for free. In the 1940’s we made regular trips to Winnipeg Beach, which lies on the western side of the lake in the southern basin. The CPR developed the town and beach about 1900.

The Canadian National Railway, not to be outdone, developed Grand Beach Manitoba on the eastern shore of the lake. Grand beach got it’s name from the fact that the prevailing north west winds built up huge sand drifts, more than ten feet high all along the beach. Today, Grand beach can be reached by car in about a hour and a half.

I was familure with both beaches but I was particularly attracted to Grand Beach because the north west winds during and after a storm produced very high waves at Grand Beach.   The lake is about twenty miles wide between Winnipeg Beach and Grand beach and average depth of the water was about 39 feet deep. The strong winds and shallow water produces waves of four six feet in height. Canoeing at Grand Beach in the waves is  similar to surfing.

When I was in my mid twenties I watched the weather forecasts and waited for the right rain storm over Lake Winnipeg. After the storm had passed it took a day or two for the waves to die down.  Timing was everything. You had to wait for the storm to pass and the sun to come out but not wait too long and miss the large waves crashing ashore.

One morning I made the drive to Grand Beach with the canoe on the roof of  the car. As I untied the canoe I was very pleased to see four foot waves crashing onto the beach, under clearing skies. I soon had the canoe in the water and was paddling with all my strength to get through the waves and get about a hundred feet off shore.  I then quickly turned the canoe around and headed for the beach, driven by the wind and waves. Each time I came ashore the canoe was driven high and dry high up on the beach. It took all my skill as a canoeist to stay in control and not be swamped by the high waves.

I was on a portion of the beach that was unoccupied, but further south I could see fifty or so sun bathers or swimmers in the water. I also noticed a life guard in a small boat, patrolling back and forth in the area of the swimmers.

After I had made a half dozen trips out into the lake and back onto the beach I suddenly found the life guard and his boat beside me.  I  was informed that I could not paddle out into the lake when the waves were so high as it was not  safe!

As we bobbed up and down on the storm tossed water I politely explained I had a right to go where ever I wanted to on the lake but was particularly staying away from the beach occupied by the swimmers.  I explained that I had extensive training as a life guard and had traveled many miles to be on the lake as the storm was dying down.  After convincing the 17 or 18 year old life guard that I was in no danger and had no intention of leaving, he motored back to his duties further down the beach.

About an hour later as I sat out in the lake and made preparations for another dash ashore, I noticed the lifeguard in his boat. He was heading in my direction, parallel to the beach with the wind coming from his left.  Suddenly a strong gust of  wind snatched his baseball cap off his head and it landing in the water on the beach side of the boat.  Without a second of hesitation he swung the boat towards the beach and cut the speed to zero.

I sat there amazed as I watched the next large wave climb up the back of the boat and over the transom. The boat instantly filled and started sinking. I turned my canoe and stated paddling towards the sinking boat. Just as I neared the boat the heavy motor at the back of the boat sank out of sight. I pulled alongside the boat as it sank and helped the lifeguard into my canoe. at almost the same moment all but the nose of the boat sank out of sight.

There was no way we could recover the boat so I paddled my passenger toward the beach and landed him before a large beach audience who were standing transfixed aloong the shoreline. The waves eventually drove the boat into shallower water where it could be recovered and dragged ashore. The drowned motor prevented any more life guard patrols that day.

I felt sorry for the soaking wet and embarrassed lifeguard as he dripped up the beach to his shed.


Boys will be boys

In the early 60’s I was assigned to investigate the death of an eight year old boy who was hit and killed on a rural road in south west Manitoba. The site of the accident was a section of paved road that ran north to south in rural farmland. The road was straight and level for about a mile and lay between two small hills. The hills gave a driver an excellent view of the flat section no matter if it was approached from the north or the south.

On the sunny summer day of the accident two school chums were walking north on the west side of the road. A golf course was situated to the west of the road and the boys were searching for golf ball that fell in the wide ditch that lay between the golf course and the highway.

As usual their search was successful and they each had two or three golf balls in their pockets. Their search led them in a zig zag pattern along the flat wide ditch. At the time the accident occurred they had moved up onto the gravel shoulder of the highway. As boys do, they were pushing a shoving each other as they walked along what was normally a very deserted highway with very little traffic.

The boy closest to the pavement shoved his classmate towards the ditch. When his friend tried to shove him back, he took a step backwards onto the pavement at the exact moment a car was passing by at highway speed.
The car struck the boy and killed him instantly. The two boys were with in arms reach of each other when the accident occurred.

The driver of the car had his wife and two children in the car with him. He was returning home from a trip to Winnipeg. None of them were injured. I arrived at the scene the day following the accident and interviewed the surviving school boy and then the driver of the car.

The scene of the accident was unusual as it was a flat and level stretch of highway in a very rural area with nothing but cow pastures on one side and a golf course on the other. When traveling south, the view from the north hill allowed one to have an excellent view of the mile of highway that lay ahead. It would have been possible to see the two boys on the side of the road from at least a half mile away.

When I interviewed the surviving boy in the presence of his mother he was still in a shocked condition. He had a tendency to stare off into the distance while talking, as if he was reliving the accident, over and over again. He had a clear memory of what occurred and obviously felt responsible for the accident as his friend had jumped backwards, while trying to avoid getting shoved by him. They had been walking for over an hour and no other vehicle had passed them. They failed to see the approaching car because they were searching for golf balls and were distracted.

The worst part of the experience for the surviving boy was not only seeing his school chum hit by the car but the force of the impact was so sever the boys spleen was torn from his side. The dead boy was sent flying down the road ahead of the car and left a bloody trail as he bounced two or three time on the pavement before coming to a halt. He was killed instantly. The witness ended up in shock and almost paralyzed by fear as he stood frozen to the spot.

The investigation determined that the driver had a perfect view of the highway and boys ahead of him and failed to slow down or even move onto the opposite side of the road. It is important to note that visibility was unobstructed between the two hills so the driver could see no other traffic was approaching or following him.

While it was confirmed the boy had stepped backwards into the path of the car, it was also determined that the accident could have been avoided had the driver simply slowed down and or moved over. He was never charged but realized he could have avoided the accident had he been more alert.

The Babysitter

In the winter of 1968 I was assigned a house fire case, while working as an Insurance Adjuster. The house was situated on a rural road north of Kenora and had been totally destroyed by fire.

I interviewed the husband in the hospital where he was being treated for serious burns to his face and hands. He had been babysitting three children while his wife drove into town to the laundromat. His youngest child was only a few months old while his second child was about five years old and she had a neighbor child, a similar aged boy visiting with her.

The father was a hard working pulpwood cutter and fell asleep on the downstairs couch. He was awakened by his daughter and her friend and found the house filling with smoke. The children had been playing in the upstairs main bedroom. The baby was in the children’s bedroom down the hall. The investigation later determined that the two older children were tearing up pieced of newspaper and using matches to set them on fire on top of the bed. When the quilt on the bed caught fire the room quickly filled with smoke. The children panicked and rushed downstairs to awaken the father.

He was awakened from a deep sleep with the children tugging on his arm. It took him a few moments to realize there was a fire upstairs and the baby was still it its room. He rushed up the stairs and rushed down to the end of the smoke filled hall. As he grabbed the baby and headed for the stairs the fire in the bedroom burst into flame. It was at that moment he realized the other two children had fallowed him upstairs. The smoke was getting very bad and he yelled at the children to follow him as he carried the baby downstairs to the living room.

Once he had the baby outside and he has stopped coughing, he saw the boy was safe but his daughter was missing. He immediate rushed backed into the smoke filled house and rushed upstairs. By then the flames were spreading out of the bedroom and into the hall. He had to push past the flames to reach his daughter’s bedroom but could not find her. By the time he escaped past the flames and smoke in the hall, his face and hands were badly burned and he collapsed on the ground in the yard.

By this time a passing motorist had gone to a phone and called the volunteer fired department. The flames quickly spread and house was totally burned to the ground. The father was taken to the hospital and the baby and young boy were uninjured.

Later it was determined that when the father went to rescue the baby, his daughter must have followed him and was left behind when he escaped with the baby. The little girl would have been suffocated by the smoke, before the fire reached her.

I was at the scene of the fire the next more and everything was reduced to a pile of ashes, contained by the walls of the basement. An Ontario Provincial Policeman was on the site and I was there when he located the remains of the little girl. All her extremities were burned off, leaving only the small body. It is one thing to read about a fatal fire in the newspaper but a dreadful reality to be present when a body is recovered.
While the father eventually recovered from his burns, he never really recovered from the loss of his child.

New Drapes

In the mid 60’s I moved to Kenora and rented an older house for my family. High on the priority list was the purchase and hanging of the living room drapes. Starting a new job complicated my life so hanging drapes “was not very high on my “to do list”

Once the new drapes arrived the pressure on me increased, so one Saturday morning I took on the challenge.  After gathering my tools I realized that I would need a stepladder. The woman I rented the house from lived next door and had a teen age son who I was not impressed with.

A quick visit next door produced a new step ladder and a long proud dissertation from the teen ager who had just finished building the stepladder in shop class. It was a typical five foot stepladder, all freshly painted and it appeared strongly built.  I soon had it home and set up.

Anyone who had ever hung drapes knows that installing  the hardware is the hard part.  I was busy measuring and screwing the hardware in place when one of our new neighbors down the  block decided to come and visit. She and  my wife (1st marriage) sat talking in the kitchen and then decided to inspect the new drapes.  I was instructed to hold a section of the drapes high into proper place. To do so I sat on the top of the stepladder, holding the drapes in a perfect position.

What happened next was hard to follow. The ladder suddenly split in half, with one pair of legs going north and the other pair going south. I landed on my right side on my hip which hit the top step of the ladder, which was now lying on its side.  I was aware of a lot of noise and screaming and a sever pain in my hip.

As I crawled off the  debris and over to the couch I was almost certain my leg was fractured near the hip. I can remember someone asking me it if was hurt and if they should call an ambulance.  I kept saying, “just give me a moment to gather  my wits”

Eventually the worst of the pain subsided and I realized nothing was broken. I stayed on the couch for a couple of hours then managed to survey all the damage and figured out what had taken place. The hinge for the new ladder had been jury rigged out of some soft heavy wire rather than a commercial hinge. The feet of the ladder slid on the hardwood floor with the result the poor hinge simply pulled out of the holes and the ladder collapsed.

As I fell, the section of the drape I was holding hit the floor first and was under the ladder when it hit the floor, resulting in two large rips in the new faboric.

The south pair of legs skidded across the floor and struck a record player and sent it flying, before punching a hole in the living room sheetrock wall.

The north pair of legs went north across the room and sheered off a leg of a large TV.  The top of the TV was home to a number of china figurines which slid off and onto the floor. Before hitting the floor they bounced off my head which was in their path. The scene was strewn with smashed china, sheetrock, a TV leg and abused curtains. As I lay on the couch, waiting for the pain to subside, my wife stepped forward and said,

“I suppose this means you won’t be putting up the drapes today?”

George Lee

George was an electrician who lived and worked in Kenora, Ontario for many years. He was born in the Lake of the Woods country, but never learned how to swim.

One day he allowed himself to be talked into a boat ride to a cabin on the lake, in order to fix an electrical problem. The property owner picked George up at the main dock in an old home made flat bottomed boat. George was not impressed with the boat but he felt committed to the job so jumped in.

It was only a few miles to the cabin on an Island and the weather was good when they left town. Once out on the open lake the waves were much higher and the boat trip became a lot rougher. George sat near the front of the boat hugging his tool box.

Within sight of the beach the boat suddenly nose dived into a large wave, filled with water and instantly sank. George lost his tool box but managed to grab the outboard motor fuel tank that was half empty and floating.

The owner of the boat, who was a good swimmer, swam for shore. Once on the beach he ran down the shore line where a family was picnicking with their boat dragged up on the beach.

Without asking permission he jumped into the boat , started the motor and raced back to save the electrician who was having trouble keeping his head above water.

George was saved, and later in the day a diver recovered the boat and the tool box. When the boat was on the beach it was discovered that the old boat had been constructed with iron screws which were badly rusted. The last big wave had caused the bow of the boat to spring open so that it rapidly filled with a torrent of water.

George continued working as an electrician, but stayed on the mainland.