Hewing Ties For The Railroad

The Good Old Days by Doris Ray
[Fraser Lake Bugle Mar. 17, 1982]

In the 1930’s the main source of employment was hewing ties for the railroad. Roy Foote was one of the local lads who headed into the bush with a broadaxe. “I hewed ties when I was sixteen. I made ties for Alf Langley in the area where Mrs. Plowman [Enid] lives now [Near Francois Lake.]

“Alf Langley had a limit there and we got 20 cents a piece for them.  Any big spruce
that was suitable to make a log out of.  I think we got 20 cents for a log as well.”

“The ties were floated down the Stellako River into Fraser Lake. There is a place above a high rock face on the west side of the river that is still referred to as “The Old Tie-Shute.” The ties were turned loose on that shute and they shot down into the river. [When they reached the lake they were sorted into booms and towed to their destination]

“There was a jackladder west of the railroad station at Fraser Lake. It was just an endless chain on a shute. They had one man down at the boom putting ties into the shute and up on top they had, I think, four men, packing ties away from the end of the shute and loading them into the railroad cars.”

“The inspector sat there and when there was one that wasn’t good, they kicked it out the side. It went down another shute and shot back towards the lake.”

Roy says the only ones who made any money at the tie business were the loaders. They made up to 15 dollars a day (a lot of money at that time) but packing ties was “killing work” and they earned every penny. Frank Steiner and Joe (Steiner), Ed
Nolan… They packed ties, and so did Bill Levesque.”

“I remember down here at Encombe (where Fraser Lake Sawmills is now) Billy
Levesque, Ed Nolan and Bill Roberts were packing ties. They each had a car. I was hauling ties in there with a sleigh and team. One time I was in there unloading a
load of ties and Billy Levesque had a great big tie. They didn’t peel them in those days or square them… He had a tie with a face on it like that (almost 2 feet). He asked Ed Nolan to come and help him, this tie was so big. He could have swung it over the bank, you know. Didn’t have to load a tie like that…”

“Oh, no, Billy said, ‘Just help me stand it up’. So they stood it up on end and Billy
put it up on his shoulder, and packed it into the car.”

“He didn’t live very long, though…” (Bill Levesque died when he was only in
his forties.)

Ivan Ray has a favourite story concerning the young Billy Levesque. It explained
Billy’s lifelong dislike for bears. Bill was hunting for deer up on Nithi Mountain when he spotted a nice, fat bear cub. Just as he pulled the trigger, the bushes parted and an ominous “woof-woof ” sounded close by. He barely managed to climb a large willow tree with the mother bear “all set to eat him” at his heels.

The willow was part of a clump that ringed a dry slough . It had been burned
in a fire at one time and as a result its limbs were brittle dry. Bill carefully maneuvered his rifle so that it pointed at the bear and squeezed the trigger. He was not prepared for what happened next. The impact from the rifle shot snapped
the tree limb which supported his weight. To his horror, Bill fell headlong on top of the writhing body of the bear. The bear was dying but Bill did not know that.

Flinging his rifle aside, he literally threw himself down the hill. Ivan Ray remembers Bill coming down the open slopes of the mountain in leaps that “looked like they might have been fifteen feet long” ! When he reached
the bottom Ivan says, Bill’s hair “still stood on end in places’ ‘
He never did climb back up the hill to retrieve his rifle.

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