The Alouette

“Alouette, gentille alouette”

We probably all sang that song in elementary school, though I’m sure I massacred it worse than most.  The song isn’t the only memory of that name though!

Back in the…umm..80s? and maybe before, as he had it a long time, Ross Smith had an old Alouette Snow mobile, very like the one pictured.

Later on he sold it to Dad, I hope for not very much, because to be honest it wasn’t worth very much! I did get to have a few adventures on it, one I’ve documented before.  Though more of a great memory of Uncle Hay than an adventure really. We went out on the sound on it fishing one year when it froze over, you can read about it by clicking this sentence.

I’m sure the machine in its time was a good one, but it was, if memory serves, a 1974 model, and weighed about 4 billion pounds.  For those who know such things, it had a 2 cylinder Kohler engine, it was probably very like the one mentioned in this article.  The 440cc that is.  It also had a center drive track that we had to replace, was pretty rotted out when we got it.  I think we had to order it in, and if I remember correctly, from Parts Unlimited (Thanks Dennis, I couldn’t remember the name) that was just in past Murphy’s as you went in around Shoal Harbour.   I remember Elvis Cooper and I stopped there too on our trip down to his cabin one winter.

It had a speedometer on it, and god knows how accurate it was, but I once took it on the ice up to Snook’s Harbour, and though it wasn’t running on both cylinders correctly, the thing was clocking 80mph.  I’m sure that was inaccurate, but it could definitely bang along!

But like I said it was heavy, you needed to be a lot stronger than me to deal with it to be honest.  Also was a pull start, and that could strain the guts out of you just getting it going.  I once took a ride in to Island Pond path behind Apsey Brook (which if you know the area, wasn’t a very good path to begin with), and when on the way out, slid off the track a little right by a goowitty scrape which sloped down to the brook.

Of course I couldn’t budge it, and of course, like always, it flooded, I ended up walking all the way out and having to ask Sam Kelly to come in and help me get it out.

After that, I honestly don’t remember much about it, which is probably for the best.

Afterthought: Lorne Patey also had an old Ski-Doo once.  A 1972 Evinrude I think it was.  Another name you don’t associate with snow mobiles anymore!

Keepin’ Yer Feets and Hands Warm!

Yesterday I posted about the old loom, and it reminded me of another staple past-time/skill of the older generation of ladies; knitting.  I bet nearly all my generations Moms knit, and perhaps many younger still do.  We all had ugly cardigans and fisherman’s knit sweaters, and the ugliest of all the Christmas one with the deer and snowflakes (thank god I never had one of those!).  But the best thing of all, and something we often got at Christmas were our vamps and double mitts!

Darning Needle

I know from experience if you tell someone from outside Newfoundland that you’re wearing vamps they won’t have a clue what you are talking about.  But I still wear them to this day to keep my feet warm on the basement floor here. What are they?  Well they are over-sized socks, not like store bought wool socks which are a finer stitch, but more like a sweater for your feet.  Often well worn, and holes darned up with the old darning needle, making them a patchwork of multiple colors, but like comfort food, they are something that just makes you feel cozy.

Another staple we wore back in the day was what we called a double mitt.  Rather than the traditional mitt, with a thumb and larger section for your fingers, these had a thumb, index finger and then the larger space.  There’s probably a reason why, but darned if I know what it is.  These were almost always (except in my picture of course) had a different square pattern on the back of the hand from the rest of the mitt.  If anyone has a picture, I’d love a copy!

Besides keeping yoru hands warm, though these often had another use, and maybe that was the reason for the index finger.  If you think back on watching the older fisherman in their stage at the slitting table, you’ll likely recall at least some of them wearing a double mitt on one hand, to better get a grip on the slippery fish!

For whatever reason, likely nostalgia, these in my memory seemed to keep our hands warmer than anything store bought.  I can remember now, coming inside with balls of snow stuck to them from making forts and tunnels, throwing them in the warmer, or on the oven door of the old wood stove, and hauling on a dry pair of vamps after a day outside.

Rovin to the Dunrovin

A few years before I moved away from Newfoundland, I took what for me was a memorable trip on ATV.  I’m sure for many it wasn’t so special, but I was working in St. John’s and didn’t get to make as many longer excursions as I would have liked.

Anyway, this one weekend, at some unknown or at least not remembered prompting, Elvis Cooper and I decided to head to his cabin, which was in behind Burgoyne’s Cove, several miles in the road. It was winter however, and this wasn’t a maintained road, so we couldn’t go by car, which was a big part of the reason for going!

We drove the ATV and Elvis’ Skidoo over the road and ditches to Elliotts’s Cove, and filled up our tanks and some extra gas cans.  Then we drove across Random Sound on the ice and got on the old railway bed.  We made a little detour to Shoal Harbour as Elvis needed some skidoo part, but then we drove the railway bed down the Bonavista Peninsula till it hooked up with the private road on that side, near Lethbridge, then drove several more miles in that old road to the cabin. According to Google Maps, its about 43 km just from home to Burgoyne’s Cove, not counting the convoluted way we went, so I’m sure we added on nearly as much again if not more.

When we got there, his mother, Joyce, had been there for a day or two, and had a big turkey cooked, which we devoured.  After supper we all got on our machines and drove back out that road to the Dunrovin Motel to a dance, and a few drinks.  Later that night we all made our way back to the cabin to sleep, and made our way home the next day.

In some ways it was nothing special, but in more, such a long ATV trip, to a quiet cabin with a feed and friends was awesome.  A memory I’ll always look back fondly on.

Damn you Sheila!

It seems every year, right around St. Patrick’s Day, we have one last blast (well we can hope its the last anyway) of winter.  This year is no exception with a snowfall warning for tonight.  Growing up, and likely still, people called this storm Sheila’s Brush.

I’m sure there are many variations on the legend of Sheila, but the one that stuck with me is that she was Paddy’s wife, and tired of his drunken partying on his namesake day, gets her brush and cleans up after him, stirring up a storm of bad weather for those mere mortals like us.

In any event, after all these years I wish the two of them would learn to get along, I’m sick of winter already!  Stay warm everyone, and if necessary, make like Paddy and have a sip of Bushmills :).

Wood for the Winter

There’s no heat that’s as cosy as a wood heat.  I posted before about the old wood stove, and how comforting a heat it gave off.  While the old stove has faded from use in favour of the electric range, many people still use wood for their wood furnaces or 24 hour burners.  Back home, getting your wood usually means do it yourself.  There’s not a ton of hardwood on Random Island, a few stands of birch and maple, so most people’s winter wood is fir and spruce.

Bucksaw (Picture by Eric Cooper)

Bucksaw (Picture by Eric Cooper)

Typically we’d go in in the fall of the year and cut what wood we needed for the upcoming, or perhaps even the next winter. We’d lay a few sticks length wise to keep the major portion of the wood above the damp ground, and then stack it as you see here to start the drying process.  We’d leave it in the woods until winter, as there was no easy way to get it out before.

Once winter came, we would hook up the horse to the old slide and off we’d go.  Of course the horse has been mainly replaced by the ski-doo and atv’s now, but the slide remains pretty much the same.  Once it was out, it would again likely be stacked closer to home, but left untouched till spring and summer.

Once it got warmer, we’d break out the old saw horse, and start cutting the wood into junks.  When I got older I used the chain saw, but before I was allowed to handle it, the old bucksaw had to do.  It was actually more fun, if slower with the bucksaw actually, just something about using it.

We’d then usually stack the wood outside again, maybe on a few slabs to keep it off the ground, and let it sun dry for the summer.  Once it was dry, we’d split the larger junks with an axe, and stow it all in the woodhouse.  Typically we’d have piles going right to the beams.  I can still remember dad’s admonishments to alternate big ends and small ends so it wouldn’t tip.

Am nostalgic for it now, but I have to admit it was hard work, and there was little I hated more as a kid than the chore of filling the woodbox and cleaving splits every evening. Oh yes, splits! Well I guess nowadays people call it kindling and buy it in bags at Irving! But back then we took slabs (a topic for another day) and propped them up and split them into, well splits for our kindling.  I actually enjoyed making those, just not so much bringing the wood in.

Tunnels and Forts

I grew up, well as much growing up as I did anyway, back in the 70’s and 80’s.  We had a pet rabbit back then, named Flip Flop, because of his habit of flip flopping which ear he had up and which he laid flat.  As he was terrified of being out loose, my dad made this long cage for him to run, and it was connected to our woodhouse with a little hole to an inside cage in the warm.

In winter Flip Flop would make tunnels in the snow in this cage and you could see him running flat out through them.  Us kids too loved to make tunnels in the snow, I was a small brat of a boy, and didn’t need a lot of snow for them, but it also seemed we had more snow back in those days.  I can remember wiggling through tunnels in the snow banks both short and long.

Just to the left of this picture would have been a clothesline stand dad had made, attached to the woodhouse, climbing up a few steps nearly to the roof, with a clothesline mounted a pole from it, with a pulley to string out the clothes.  In winter this would usually drift in, and it was my favorite spot to tunnel.  I could dig a hole under the bottom step, and get under the wooden stand, digging it out and wiggling myself into a cozy warm little house.  Being a loner even then, I could spend hours in there making my plans for world domination in my captain Nemo submarine, with my underground fortress buried in under Granny Walters Hill.  Somehow that fortress still needs to take shape 🙂

Don’t forget being a kid folks, go play in the snow when you can!

Blasty Boughs and Boil Ups

A cup of tea always tastes better in the woods.  I’ve heard that statement said so many times over the years and I guess I have to agree, because from my perspective anyway, it can’t taste worse!

One of the best things about a winter day on the pond trouting, or out on atvs and ski-doos though, had to be a boil up.  We’d clear out a spot on the shore of a pond, or by the side of a path, and gather up some dry brush, birch bark to start it, and of course blasty boughs and tops.  A blasty bough is something you know when you see it, but kind of hard to describe.  The best ones were the top of a fir, dried to a bone gray with needles clinging to it, ready to give off a tremendous heat, and easy to burn even when covered with snow once it was shook off.

We’d likely have an old graves apple juice can with the top cut out of it, wire strung in it, filled with snow and hung over the roaring fire to make a cup of tea.  The needles and twigs dropping in the water probably added flavour.  And of course, kipper snacks and sardines to eat, put on a forked stick over the fire, or eaten out of the can.

If we were lucky enough to catch a trout, it might be on a stick over the fire too, eaten with our fingers, burning the tips and jabbing them in a snow bank.  Tea was poured into an enamel or tin cup, (or for me anyway coffee, yes I’m different), drank scalding hot.

Ah yes, memories of times with dad come fresh to mind, times with Eric and Rod too, trouting on Smith’s Long Pond.  Good days.