• Turpentine Engines


    I feel somewhat like Ronnie Corbett telling this story, as it reminds me of the part on The Two Ronnies when he would tell a joke while sitting in an arm chair, and take forever, rambling to many stories and jokes along the way, before getting to the punch line.  This story, while not really funny, will ramble the same way.

    Random Island apparently had many pine trees in times past, at least so I’ve been told. But near home at least I think I only remember one still being around in my memory. Most of the forest in back of Apsey Brook was fir and spruce, mixed with lesser juniper (larch, but the common name was juniper), birch and maple.

    Fir trees have blisters of resin, or myrrh, or as most of us called it, turpentine.  This was annoying when handling as it was sticky as hell, and could squirt inadvertently into your eye.  Gloves were a must for handling it.  It could be very useful as an emergency bandage when you cut yourself though, forming a seal to stop any bleeding.  Spruce trees also leaked resin, but without the bladders.  It would often harden into knobs on the tree, which we called frankum.  Dad would cut these off, and skim off the overgrown bark, and chew it like gum.  I’ve tried it, and while I’ll never like it, after some chewing you could have something that resembled gum in texture, if not taste.

    Like most rural areas of Newfoundland, there were a couple saw mills in Apsey Brook, one mainly used by my family, Dad, Uncle Hay and Uncle Luther.  As a kid, Saturdays were often spent down on the beach near the mill while Dad and family sawed fir logs into lumber.  Of course that led to an abundance of fir around the mill, with lots of little bladders for a kid to break and get into a mess with.

    One of the by-products of sawing lumber were millstrips.  These were produced rarely on purpose, when needed as spacers, but more often as left overs from the sawing process.  They were thin strips of wood, usually less than an inch thick, and the mill yard usually had tons of them.  We’d use them sometimes as splits, others as spacers when storing wood to allow air to circulate, or sometimes, just garbage.

    As a kid though, on those summer Saturdays, one of the past time was to take a portion of a millstrip and play with it in the brook or sound as a boat, tying a string to it, pulling around.

    Tying this whole long rambling post together now, one of the neatest things to do with a millstrip, was to take it and break several turpentine blisters from the fir logs on one end, and then release in the brook or even better a standing pool of water.  The turpentine would release its oils into the water, leaving that familiar prismatic color effect, and also drive it forward like a little engine, amusing this little kid at least for hours.

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    5 thoughts on “Turpentine Engines

    • Glen says:

      Oh my yes! I remember doing the exact same thing.Oh the memories.As matter of fact I now have a cabin in Deer Harbour exactly where I used to play.Catching tom cods,conners,flatfish and such off the wharf.Used to use codfish hearts and wrinkles for bait.
      I remember floating around in the cove near my wharf on ice pans(ferry pans)which is in the exact same spot where my grandfather had his.Get my feet wet up to my knees and get a good “lacin” when I got home.Oh what a time we had.Almost brings tears to my eyes now seeing how simple things were back then and how complicated they are now with the younger folk.
      I also remember back then there were a lot of sheep and goats that we used to try and ride,but to not much satisfaction……getting caught,and you guessed it,another “lacin”.My grandmother,( great aunt) broke off a lot of splits across my behind I can tell you.Getting back to the splits,millstrips were mentioned.We used to call them “ribbons”.
      I could go on and on but I digress.Think I will go down on my own wharf here in Hickmans’ Harbour and catch a few “tomcods”. Oh wait……..we’ not allowed…….

      PS.I guess life does go full circle and I have certainly come back around.

      Glen Bailey,
      Memories abound.

    • Darlene Parrott says:

      many memories of doing this growing up in Petley Random Island 🙂 thanks for sharing

    • […] wish I had pictures of it now, many a summer day was spent down there, playing with turpentine boats made from mill strips. And of course lugging up slabs as part of the winters wood and for […]

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