All those over 70 will remember cinders.
The old steam trains burned coal, and the ash would form into ‘cinders’, these were lumps or agglomerations of a black substance rather like spun or blown or foamed glass, generally between a pigeon egg and a chicken egg in size, with sharp, broken edges and a porous surface. I remember them being available for free at the CPR yard in Eagle River, sometimes a big pile there, sometimes not much depending on demand. They were used for all kinds of things, mainly road building for local or low speed roads, as their sharp angular shape would nest together and make a stable, dust-free surface.
The cinders themselves were not very strong and would break up and disappear too quickly under heavy or fast traffic, especially trucks, so they were not used for the main roads. But they were free, and being quite light in weight compared with gravel, they were easy to haul and place, and many, perhaps most private driveways were surfaced with cinders. Perhaps people feel comfortable with the new black stone chip driveway cover because they remember black cinder driveways.
Change gears. Dams like the one in Dryden generally have as their first line of defence gates consisting of slots into which timbers fit, one on top of the other, up to the desired water level. So if the river was getting low, and the weather dry, another log would be put in to hold back more water, and if the river got too high, logs would be taken out. We can all remember times when the river would be a rushing torrent through the subway, that meant a number of logs were out.
Everth Moline was the Foreman of the mill crew which did this kind of work, and I remember Ev lamenting the difficulties he was having after the CPR retired all the steam trains, and his stockpile of cinders was exhausted and no more could be found. As he explained, when the logs were put back in the dam, of course being rough timbers they did not fit tightly, and a considerable amount of water would be spurting out between them. The time-honoured way to seal up these leaks was to trickle a stream of cinders, broken up to just the right size, into the water. Cinders are quite light, and would sink slowly enough that they would be drawn into the leaking stream, and plug up the leak. It was a matter of some frustration to Everth, who took great pride in whatever he did, that it was so difficult to get a perfect seal after no cinders were available.
Cinders was the material of choice for walking paths and running tracks, providing a very stable, easily graded surface, open enough that water would quickly percolate away, and as noted, free. The running track at the high school was built back in the 50’s with cinders, probably among the last to be available in Dryden.
The track fell into disrepair and disuse some decades ago, perhaps in part due to no cinders being available for maintenance. I think we should all applaud Mike Wood for taking the initiative and starting a fundraising campaign to restore the track. He will need many thousands, modern track materials are not free like cinders used to be, and as we are repeatedly told, government is now broke.