Quest in Roots:
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MUNICIPAL ROAD WORK
As a very young lad, I can remember my father sending a man with a four-horse team or sometimes a man and a two-horse team to do some kind of roadwork for the municipality. The outfit might have to drag the road, or help build up a road (sometimes called a grade) or fill in washouts or even deepen ditches. For moving dirt slush scrapers or two-wheeled scrapers were pulled by two horses while the fresnos (a bigger style of scraper) needed four-horse teams. At times the men and horses had to draw gravel and bridge planks in wagons or mow the weeds along the roadsides. In those days, the 1930''s, ragweeds grew like forests and had to be cut every summer. The farmer generally used his own mower as the municipalities did not own machines.
Tom Martin and Fresno In the early 1900''s men were hired for many different jobs such as building wooden culverts, repairing bridges, brushing along the roadsides, shovelling and spreading gravel, burning Russian thistles which were plentiful in the dry years, picking big stones off certain areas, ploughing and many other jobs.
You may laugh when I say that men were paid to spread straw on the roads in sandy areas to prevent wind erosion, especially on the hills and knolls. Well, it''s true! Ifa road was to be built or even built higher the ditches were ploughed by farmers and their horses.
This way the slush scrapers or fresnos could fillup with dirt easier and quicker. This dirt was then used to build the road or make it higher. The culverts, wooden and steel, were sometimes put in the hard way - with men on the shovels. They would measure the width of the culvert and dig a trench across the road at the desired depth with picks and shovels. The culvert was then lowered into the trench and covered over packing down the dirt after each shovelful. Sometimes if a fairly large culvert was to be put in a scraper and horses were used to dig the trench. Nowadays a machine called a "backhoe" does the job. Times have changed for the better for man! Big graders, large powerful tractors with scrapers, huge bulldozer blades and earth movers, snow ploughs mounted on trucks and tractors, also tractor mounted mowers have made horses and manual labor a thing of the past.
Having lived on the dividing line between two municipalities, I have had experience in road building in both of them. My two close neighbors, Lyle Thorn and Harry Byram, and I first became involved in building roads in North Cypress Municipality. In May 1929, that municipality advertised for applications for the operation of its big grader outfit for the summer. The outfit included a Aultman- Taylor tractor, a leaning wheel-grader, a caboose and a fuel wagon. The operator was to get all his own help and board himself. The council was to furnish the gas and repairs for the outfit. The councillor of each ward was to be responsible for ordering repairs for the outfit when it was working in his ward. Well, Lyle, Harry and I discussed the idea of tendering for the job and the wages that we would want. Our tender had to be into the municipal office before the end of May. On June 1, 1929 the council accepted our tender for the rate of $3.75 per hour for the summer. Our wages were actually only $1.25 per hour for each of us while we were grading or building roads. We were to receive 50<1:an hour per ''person while overhauling the outfit which had to be done first. We were to begin work immediately. It was decided that I would be the engineer, Lyle, the grader man and Harry was to be the cook and choreboy - in other words "the jack of all trades".
We had seen the outfit only at a distance. However we gathered up what tools we had - wrenches, etc.
and headed for the outfit east of Carberry in Thomas Rogers'' yard. There was no one home except the lady of the house. She told Lyle where the battery was and also told Harry how to get the water for the engine from the barn.
I walked around and climbed over the massive pile of iron which was the engine. Harry made three trips to the barn for water with a 35 gallon barrel to fill the radiator. We poured oil and pushed grease into the needed parts until noon. Then we had our first dinner in the provided caboose. It needed housecleaning badly. Harry was responsible for that work later. After dinner we went out to start the engine. Harry and Lyle pulled on the crank and the engine started without any trouble. Soon we were on our way to Oberon, our home town. Harry began to sing, "We won''t get home until morning".
He was right! We camped at Petrel, a little place north of Carberry, for the night. We ran over nothing or nobody during our trip. The engine travelled about two and a half miles per hour and made lots of noise.
The next morning we left for Oberon, getting there on time. We started overhauling the outfit in the late afternoon. This work lasted a week. We changed rings, poured babbit, ground valves etc.
Just as we finished the overhaul job, three men from the North Cypress Council came to find out when we would be ready to start work on the road.
We said, "On Monday. What kind of a road do you want?" The councillors quickly replied, "You fellows were hired to build roads and should know how." I answered, "No, we were hired to run the machinery." The councillors finally decided to get a road building expert from the Adams Grader Co. out to tell and show us how to build a road. He was knowledgeable and told Harry where to put the stakes, then he told me where to drive the engine. He rode with Lyle on the grader, showing him how to operate it and how to build that first mile west of Oberon. He was a very nice man and a good instructor. We were a happy gang! The council was satisfied with our road job and happy to see the old outfit working so well.
Everyone was so good to us. The ladies who lived near the road would bring us raisin pies and coffee in the afternoon. We sure loved those pies and so did that expert! That summer we graded the road from west of Oberon to the boundary of Elton Municipality.
From there we went south to three miles south of Ingelow; we graded and built up roads. Owing to poor crop prospects, we had to shut down the end of July. The winter of 1929-30 we camped at the Evans brothers farm, southeast of Brookdale and completely overhauled the outfit again. The second year 1930 we tendered again for the job at $3 per hour and were accepted. We moved to the corner two miles west of Wellwood (Ross Freeborn''s the east side of Wellwood (Martin McRae''s corner).
Then we came back to the Wellwood-Carberry corner and graded the Carberry road to Henry McLeods. Once again money was scarce and we were forced to quit in August.
The third year, 1931, Harry left us and Lyle''s brother, Earle, took his place. We tendered once again and were accepted at $1.65 per hour. We overhauled the outfit again ready for summer.
However the "Dirty Thirties" struck. The council had to call it quits and we never turned a wheel.
Fortunately the council was able to pay us for the repairing of the outfit. We were a sorry gang. We enjoyed working together, loved the outfit and missed those delicious raisin pies.
The municipal wages of today are tremendously high compared to those of the 1930''s. In those days a foreman was paid 25q:per hour and a man 20q:per hour. A man and two-horse team were paid 30q: while a man and four horses received 50q:per hour.
From 1935 to 1940 the wages rose 5q: an hour.
During the First World War the municipal wages per day were: man only $4, a man and two horses $5, a man and four horses $8.
Unlike machines, horses could work only a few hours and then had to be fed, watered and rested.
Nowadays machines can run for many hours at a time before refueling or greasing - as long as the operator can last before having a rest or some food.
We had some amusing and learning experiences that remain in our memories. One day while working on the Elton boundary road, we stopped for dinner. Lyle had just opened a new can of cup grease. There were a few cows grazing along the roadside. When Harry called us for dinner, Lylejust set the lid on the grease pail. When he came back after dinner, the cows had licked the grease pail out clean.I will never forget working near the people''s lanes and seeing the lady of the house coming out with cake, pie etc. No wonder we made good jobs of the approaches to their lanes. Harry always needed wood for the caboose stove. He would pick up the broken snow fence slabs from the railroad and lay them down in front of the big engine wheels. It was a slick way of cutting stove wood with those wheel cleats.
We boys knew nothing about stones and were not familiar with the land west of Brookdale but we soon learned. About two and a half miles west of Brookdale there was a big stone a little larger than two 45 gallon gas drums in the middle of the road. It was sticking up just enough to interfere with grading. The council hired men and four horses to remove it. Some men dug around it and put some chains on it. The horses were able to roll the stone out onto the road but could not pull it offto the edge of the field. Our Aultman-Taylor engine soon removed it to the fence line.
We drove a Model T Ford truck on our job and it was our truck and the best one Henry ever made.
We had lots of fun with that vehicle. One night after Harry had done some chores, he informed us that the low gear band wouldn''t work and that we wouldn''t be able to go to the dance. I suggested that we could take out the low band and move the reverse up into the low band place. I figured that we could get along without the reverse, wejust wouldn''t back up. While Harry was in the process of changing the bands, he dropped a nut into the oil inside the gear case and couldn''t get it out. So we all helped to turn the truck over on its side and fished the nut out. While we were doing this, a car drove up. An elderly couple came running over and asked, "Anybody hurt?" We said, "No, no, we are just getting ready to go to a dance at Oberon, no problems!" When our job ran out, we were faced with a problem as to what to do with the truck - we all had a share in it. So we rolled a dice. The low man was to get the truck and pay the other two $50 each for their shares in the truck. Lyle Thorn got the truck. We boys certainly enjoyed our work in those years, even if they were depression years.
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