Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Nipigon Highway Bridge, 1937


Recounted by Lorne Oliver, Nipigon, Oct. 1, 1974

Four Young Men

It was a beautiful early morning in April in the year 1937 when four young men stepped off a freight train at the highway bridge construction site.  These men had spent the winter in Geraldton trying to obtain employment in the gold mines in that area but were not successful in obtaining steady employment.

Nipigon Bridge Construction Site

The foreman of Rayner Construction was approached as to job vacancies and they were asked if they could handle a wheelbarrow and all answered in the affirmative; the foreman said , “ I mean run with it”,  and he wasn’t fooling.

We were all hired at 30 cents an hour to wheel cement from a gasoline cement mixer to the river bank where a coal fired steam hoist lifted the cement to the peer site.  The construction of the steel coffer dams around the peers was quite a nerve racking chore.  Blocks and tackles were fastened to the top of the steel piling and the ropes held around the waist of 4 or 6 men while the steam driven pile driver hammered away driving the piling into the river bed.

Lesson Number One on Gambling

The foursome were well equipped with tent and camping out gear so the site selected was on the hill at the east end of the cemetery.  After one week of wheelbarrow running three of the lads decided to pack it up and travel elsewhere to find an easier way of making a living.  Now this created a problem as the ownership of our equipment was by individual contribution of various items.  One of the lads must have been a gambler for it was decided to cut cards and the winner take all.  Yours truly, of course was the loser as one of the three won and I was left without anything which is understandable when you look at the odds.  Lesson number one on gambling.

Single Living

There was a boarding house in the area, where the Legion Cenotaph is now located, run by an elderly couple from the prairies;  cost was room and board country style $1.00 per day including laundry.

All the single men on the bridge received a letter from the town advising they had to pay poll tax.  I had never encountered this before so naturally ignored it.  Not to long after, as we were collecting our weekly pay in cash at the shack used for an office, there was a tall slim fellow standing just inside the door, - I believe it could have been Bill Wade.  As we tried to exit this fellow had his hand out, poll tax, please or else.  No argument we paid it which I believe was either $2.00 or $5.00.

Mr. Everett, Salesman

Young people in those days did not dress too differently from those of to-day.  Our favourite attire for the weekly dances was a clean pair of jeans and T-shirt.  Here is where I ran into my first experience of high pressure salesmanship.  E.C. Everett’s Store was the place to go and this particular Saturday I visited his store to buy a new pair of jeans for the dance, expecting to spend around a buck.  Boy did I get the full salesman treatment, such things as appearances, clothes attract girls and all that stuff.  The net result was a three-piece fawn flannel suit with large outside pockets and half back belt, black shirt, yellow tie, and two-tone brown shoes.  Mr. Everett told me the shoes would probably out-wear the laces so I had better have an extra pair of laces and darned if he didn’t charge for them! What happened to my buck expenditure, well when I walked out Mr. Everett was $45.00 richer.  Don’t remember how I paid him but knowing Mr. Everett, paid I must have. Don’t recall the suit helping much with the girls.

Bridge Completion

The bridge was completed that fall and the highlight was the ribbon cutting ceremony, Sept. 24, 1937 and a motor ride to Rossport over a road that left a lot to be desired.  My transportation was with the couple who ran the boarding house.  They owned a Chev touring, the kind with the snap-on side curtains.  The road into Rossport was not too much different than now except it was gravel.  Cars were parked both sides of the road from the village to the bottom of the hill near the highway.  As we started down the hill the brakes failed so at top speed 20 miles per hour we parked the car in the bush. When we were ready to return to Nipigon a bunch of guys picked the car up and set us back on the road heading towards Nipigon.  Return trip to Nipigon, no brakes, however, we were able to navigate the hills with hair sometimes standing on end.

This I thought was the end of my stay in Nipigon at that time, however I was able to work a little longer of Claydon Construction pouring the basement floor in the Post Office.

How to end this story, well automation hasn’t changed things very much.  The old bridge (1937) with manual labour and primitive equipment was built in less time than the new on now under construction. (1974)

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