Regular readers will know that my favorite tree is the tamarack, otherwise known as ‘Eastern Larch’.

Tamarack is a different kind of tree; some botanists say not a tree so much as a plant relic of dinosaur days. Its wood is tough, flexible, and strong – old-timers used it in places where those properties were needed. It is almost as rot-resistant as modern pressure-treated stuff, and most of our pioneer buildings were built on a foundation of tamarack logs placed right on the ground.

It grows well here in the boreal forest, but it is not very popular, not much used, and certainly not propagated by those in charge. It doesn’t work very well for making wood pulp. Being neither softwood nor hardwood, it doesn’t fit very well into the lumber market. All the tamarack around here was killed by an epidemic of ‘Larch Sawfly’ in the 30’s; it is coming back now, but it is still a bit scarce. For all these reasons it is not treated as a commercial species.

What prompted this article was seeing a truckload of wooden fence-posts going through from west to east on the TransCanada. Tamarack makes dandy fence-posts; and I asked myself “why aren’t we producing them?” It is also dandy for decks and docks, no slivers, and doesn’t need to be pressure treated or sealed or painted. Space-age material.

Gordon Franklin was a local boy, grew up on a farm in Britton Township, and became a Forester. A good one, he worked in a number of places around North America and even in New Zealand for a while. With that background he had a solid grounding in what is good about what tree. Gordon’s favorite tree was also the Tamarack. He thought it was high time somebody developed the technology to grow it commercially.

Gordon had a strong sense of community, for example, he was a mainstay of the Dryden Historical Society. After he retired, he went to work on propagating the Tamarack as a community project. He collected seed in the bush. He did various experiments, including some using Osvalda’s oven, and she did not complain. He was successful in hatching some seedlings, and he enlisted his cousin Wayne to help him plant them on the farm he grew up on. Sadly, Gordon passed on before he could finish this project.

His plantations seem to be doing just fine, in fact, tamarack grows quite rapidly. I remember a Forester friend expounding that we ought to plant our entire country to Red Pine, because it will produce the most cords per acre per year. This is probably true in the sandy parts, but Red Pine doesn’t grow at all in poorly drained soil. Tamarack does.

The dominant species in much of our poorly drained country is Black Spruce, which grows slowly and doesn’t regenerate very well. So it seems there is an opportunity for better use of our forest land. Advance Gordon’s technology for propagating tamarack, and plant it in places where the black spruce is gone and what grows now is mostly weeds. Develop a brand or market for tamarack; fence posts, docks, or whatever, and create a new industry.

Of course the last time I stuck my Engineers nose into Foresters business, the District Forester advised me to stick to fixing potholes, and leave the trees to him. Still, just saying.

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Cell phone conversation, sometime in the future.

Hollow, tinny voice, slightly sing-song accent: “Hello, this is your 911 operator, what is your location?”

Agitated male voice: “Hello 911, you have to send the police and an ambulance right away, there has been an accident, a woman is laying in the road and might get run over, my wife is with her, I am running up the road to try to stop traffic —“

Hollow tinny voice, interrupting: “calm down sir, what is your location?”
Agitated male voice: “Right here on Sandy Beach Road, just past the 7th green on the golf course, there has been a car crash, a pickup is laying on its side, there is a woman—“

HTV: “Sir, one thing at a time, what country are you calling from?”

AMV: “What country?? Where the hell are you? Canada of course!! We need the police and an ambulance! Oh sh–, I hear a car coming fast around the corner up ahead!! I hope I can stop him—“

HTV: “ Now we are getting somewhere. Canada. What province?”

AMV: “You Imbecile!! Ontario, of course. Dryden. Sandy Beach Road. Hurry!!”

HTV: “No need to call me names. Spell Trayton for me, I can’t seem to find it in my Ontario directory”

AMV: “Omygawd, the gas tank on the pickup just exploded, you should see the fireball!! It’s Dryden, D-R-Y-D-E-N.”

HTV: “Now calm down sir, no need to use profanity, aha, I have found it, Dryden. What number on Sandy Beach Road?

AMV: “Number?? There are no numbers, you nitwit. It is a country road. Tell them just past the seventh green, they will know.”

HTV: “Calling me names does not help. There must be a number.”

AMV: “Oh-Oh, here comes that car, oh, he just blasted right by me, OMYGAWD, I think he ran over the woman, and maybe my wife! Now he has rolled over in the ditch! Get the police, you moron! Oh, never mind, I hear sirens, somebody must have seen the explosion!! Forget it you idiot” as he runs to wave down the police cruiser he hopes is coming.

HMV: “Calm down sir! What is the nature of your emergency? You will have to be more coherent if I am to help you”

AMV: “Have a nice day. “ Hangs Up.

There really isn’t any substitute for local knowledge.

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A PAGE FROM WILLY BRANTS DIARY — The girl on the radio goes “Do that to me one more time, once is never enough with a man like you”.

Now maybe I have a dirty mind, but it seems to me that this old song, and a lot more explicit new ones are nothing but a celebration of mechanical sex, sex which has nothing to do with love, sort of a mutual masturbation with somebody you might not even like.

My life has had its ups and downs, mostly due to my own character flaws, but I am here to tell you that the Victorian notion of romantic love, love without sex, is just as valid as the modern idea of sex without love, sex as a bodily function, something like going to the bathroom but more fun. Us old guys know that normal human development involves boys falling in love with girls, and girls falling in love with boys. People are happiest when we are in love with someone who loves us, and unhappiest if we fall in love with someone who doesn’t have the time of day for us.

I mentioned this line of thinking to Joe, my bachelor buddy who knows a lot and has an opinion on all subjects. Joe said this kind of music is all part of the socialist-feminist plot to remake the world with them as boss. So we have to get rid of families and have us all live as individuals, enjoying casual sex and having babies out of wedlock for the socialists to brainwash . So we can’t have people going around falling in love and getting married and raising kids to believe in traditional values.

Wow, Joe is cranky again today. He goes on to say they are attacking the church for the same reason. “Every Day’, he says, “there are murders and multiple deaths and bank robberies and all kinds of horrific things happening, but what makes the national news? Some guy claiming a priest did something immoral to him 30 years ago. That’s pretty terrible, but compared to all the other things going on in the world, it is not news. It is just propaganda, aimed at discrediting the church and religion in general.”

I did my time in the navy, and Joe is right, every night all kinds of perverted assaults go on in every city all around the world. But the, maybe most of the news is really just propaganda, and not news at all?

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Some events have a way of making outsize changes to local history, and one of them was the Eric Reilly Construction Company, who came in 1954 to build the TransCanada highway at Oxdrift.
Part of what made them different was their very young crew, and that they were very open to hiring inexperienced local boys, offering ‘on-the-job’ training and experience. Dryden’s social scene was pretty rough in those days, loaded with single young men with all the construction going on in the mill, Hydro, woods, roads. The only time I ever saw my friend Tommy Potter get excited was in the midst of one of the brawls in Oxdrift Hall parking lot during dances there. Tommy was the strongest guy around, for his size, and usually the most even-tempered. A couple of the combatants started ragging on him, and he lost it – he grabbed the aerial on a car near him, you know the kind, a whip solidly bolted through the front fender of most cars in those days, and ripped it out by the roots, leaving a jagged hole of torn metal, and waved it at his tormentors. They suddenly became a lot less aggressive; sort of like the Fonz intimidating challengers on Happy Days. Don’t know if anyone involved was a Reilly employee, but certainly the Reilly crew added a young man element to Oxdrift social life. They stole the hearts and made wives of quite a number of Oxdrift girls.
I was a skinny undersized 16 year old, so did not make Reilly’s list, but it seems almost all the teenage Oxdrift boys bigger than me were hired by Reilly, along with some Dryden boys and a contingent from Dyment led by Ed Swanson. Our boys learned something about heavy construction and heavy equipment which served them well in later life. They learned how to drive trucks; once they mastered piloting those 4 ton bobtails over the hills from Griffiths pit to Oxdrift, they were skilled truck drivers. This was in the days of unsynchronized transmissions and split axles and double-clutching, when a missed shift might mean an unscheduled trip backwards down the hill and often into the ditch.
There is a famous tale about a Reilly driver (name unknown) on the phone in Fotheringham’s store trying to tell the CPR that his loaded dump truck was stalled on the crossing at Oxdrift so they should stop any trains which might be heading that way. Hearing a train whistle, he told the phone “Forget it”, and went outside to watch the destruction.
Bill Blair recalls Eric Reilly as an older schoolmate at Ochre River, Manitoba, where they grew up – Ochre River is a small farm community east of Dauphin. Bill recalls when he was a boy his father had a threshing outfit which included a steam tractor. He remembers his and Eric’s fathers doing road grading projects with the steam tractor; perhaps the start of Eric being interested in construction.
Eric went away to war, and after the war he ended up on the tractor-train run on Lac Seul. Before there were ‘Ice Road Truckers’, there were ‘Ice Road Tractor-Trains’, consisting of a crawler tractor pulling a train of work sleighs over the frozen lakes. Possibly the biggest Tractor-Train operation in the world was from the railway at Hudson, down Lac Seul toward Ear Falls and on to supply the Red Lake gold fields. This service continued until after the Red Lake Highway was opened in the late 40’s.
Peter Jalkanen lent me an excellent book some years ago which told how the tractor-train idea was invented and perfected by his fellow-Icelanders the Sigfusson family, commercial fishermen on Lake Winnipeg, back in the 20’s and 30’s. Occasionally a tractor would go down through the ice – even the smaller crawlers of that day were pretty heavy. The story that most amazed me was that they were able to retrieve the tractor from the bottom of the lake, have it disassembled enough to get the water out of the engine, and have it running again in as little as 24 hours, all done right there on the ice.
Ochre River is not far from Lake Winnipeg, so it seems at least possible that Eric might have had experience with tractor trains in Manitoba before the war.

In the late 40’s, the country roads through the Dryden District were connected up into a basic highway, pretty much along the route of the present Highway 17. Bill Blair recalls that his friend Eric Reilly worked for Dufferin Construction on that work, on contracts in the Jackfish lake area, and in the Eagle River area, and so gained some local knowledge. This would be summer work, off-season for working the tractor-trains on Lac Seul. After that Eric started his own Company in Kapuskasing, Ontario, hauling wood for Spruce Falls Paper Company, and he invited some of his friends from Ochre River to join him there, including Bill Blair and Howard Oversby. He was using trucks pulling a train of sleighs, the same technology used on ice roads but with trucks not tractors; perhaps he was building on what he learned on Lac Seul.
Trucks in those days were tiny compared with the giant’s we see on the highway now. Before about 1955 or so, the single-axle trucks in general use could haul perhaps 5 cords of wood, often loaded by hand, stick by stick. Eric could put as much as six cords on a sleigh, and could haul as many as 8 sleighs in a train, depending in topography and conditions of course. Bill says the largest load he remembers hauling was 43 cords.
Kapuskasing is in ‘The Great Clay Belt’, quite a large, relatively flat plain where this technology might be more competitive than in the hilly country of most wood limits, although Bill recalls there was a sizable hill down to the lake where they were dumping their loads on the ice. He was going down that hill one trip when his truck kicked out of gear and of course ran away; those truck brakes were no match for a string of loaded sleighs pushing the truck down a steep hill. He remembers the startled/terrified look on the faces of the guys unloading on the lake as he hurtled by at an amazing speed, coasting far past the unloading area, and feeling lucky to have survived the hair-raising trip.
Eric then got into heavy construction; Bill recalls one of his highest profile jobs was grading and landscaping around the new DeHavilland aircraft plant in Toronto. His last job before Oxdrift was work on the Trent Canal at Washego.
Eric was awarded the contract to rebuild the highway at Oxdrift to TransCanada standards in 1954. He sent his Superintendent who arranged a headquarters for the project at Owen Fenwick’s garage. Bill says he was the first of Eric’s workers to arrive, and before road work could start, Owen had him running a swather on his farm! Serious construction began in 1955, and that’s when most of the local boys joined the crew.
The Oxdrift project apparently did not prove a financial winner for Reilly Construction. In those days of regulated monopoly trucking, floating his fleet of self-propelled rubber-tired scrapers from Wachego to Oxdrift looked awfully expensive. Eric opted instead to have his crew drive them all that way; unfortunately all that running at high speed with no load damaged the engines. Then they proved not the best choice for our heavy clay soil. They needed to be pushed by a dozer when loading and sometimes again when unloading, and at least one of the scrapers ended up upside down in a ditch, trying to place slippery clay on a steep fill.
At any rate, it appears Eric wound up his Ontario operation after Oxdrift, and moved out west. Ab Mackie says his last job working for Reilly was driving a derelict old truck with debatable steering and questionable brakes from Kapuskasing to a scrapyard in Toronto, still avoiding those excessive floating costs. But Reilly Construction left a legacy in Oxdrift, all those farm boys with experience in heavy construction and trucking!

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WILLY BRANT’S DIARY — Stopped at Joe’s on the way home from town the other day to drop off some parts I picked up for him at the bus depot. Getting parts for some of his ancient equipment is getting to be quite a challenge, he found these at a scrap dealer in Minnesota, but they came by way of a customs broker in Fort Erie, so it took a lot of time. Joe says as soon as FedEx or anybody like that sees Ontario, they route it to Fort Erie, even if it is going just across the border. “Just a small one of the problems we have”, he says.
Anyway, Joe glowered at me over the top of his reading glasses when I came in, he wears them on those occasions when he can actually find them and thinks about it, then forgets to take them off before he goes outside and leaves them on the workbench in the shop, or in the barn. So I ask “feeling kind of sour today?” and this prompts quite an outburst.
“Yes”, he grits out, “I am catching up on my reading, and as usual this issue of “Landowner” magazine puts me in a rage. I am already up on step halfway down the first page, should be good for a couple more rages and a tantrum by the time I finish it.”
“So what’s up this time?” I ask. So he went on to explain that a farmer in eastern Ontario has had a long-standing business, raising lambs for the ethnic market. Some of the folks from southern or southeastern Europe have a tradition where they buy a lamb and butcher it according to their own custom for some religious observance or whatever. So this farmer has been selling the lamb live, and allowing the buyer to butcher it while still on the farm property, then take the meat away. But this time an MNR official turns up and charges the farmer with operating an illegal slaughter plant, as the premises has not been inspected, and the animal not government inspected before and after slaughter.
I butt in “so other than you have to wonder how this gets to be the MNR’s business, this sounds just like business as usual in Ontario, bureaucrats taking away our property and our rights, enforcing ‘food safety’ laws which mostly just protect the big guys and keep us peasants down. So why would that get you all worked up? Just Ontario doing its thing.”
“They asked the officer why he charged the farmer, not the guy who did the butchering, and his reply was that we treat the farmer like a drug dealer, he is responsible and the customer is innocent,” says Joe, “that kind of over-the-top anti-business, anti-private property thinking has no place in the Canada I grew up in. Imagine, if the guy shot a moose or a goose and butchered it on the farmers property that would be fine, no inspection needed. But a lamb means the farmer is a drug dealer? I give up.”
Joe needs to cool it, no use stressing about something we can’t do anything about. We know the city is taking away our land and our rights, now get on with your day.

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My clever University-student grand-daughter asked “So, why do we even need teachers? Or even schools? All we need is proper computer programming, and they can learn by following along on their computer.”
Wooh, good question, why, indeed, given that our kids can graduate from high school without being able to do basic math, or understand basic grammar.
Or given that exploitation and abuse are rampant at the same time as teachers cannot even comfort a skinned knee for fear of persecution. Given that school is a convenient whipping boy for parents to blame for every kid not ending up a brain surgeon. Given that the kids psyches are warped by a rigid class system which primarily depends on how fast a child matures, and where the wrong brand of running shoes can consign one to perpetual purgatory as socially unacceptable. Given that sorting kids into even-aged groups when in fact they develop at different rates, thus forcing them into unequal competition for social standing, could be about as cruel a treatment as could be devised. Given that bullying and exploitation go un-noticed in the large herd that is the student body. Given that proper food and exercise are not even on the radar screen. Given that all these take away from the supposed benefit of learning to socialize in a healthy way.
Add to that how students time is considered of little value, hours routinely wasted while the bureaucracy grinds on. Decisions are made by bureaucrats far removed from the classroom. Good teachers are hamstrung by bureaucracy, while powerful unions mean that incompetents cannot be disciplined much less fired.
Why indeed do we need schools; little wonder the fastest growing trend in Canada is home schooling. And it would grow a lot faster were it not for government pressures; after all, how can we brainwash them if we don’t get control of them?
The problem starts with the ‘bigger is better’ mentality which has prevailed in the education bureaucracy for some 40 years now. After all, bigger schools mean more activities, more facilities, more choices and more specialization. Unfortunately, bigger also means more crime, drugs, bullying; more social segregation, less personal attention or even proper recordkeeping. It means more time wasted on buses, and of course more bureaucracy with more mind-numbing regulations.
So there has to be an optimum size for schools, a ‘goldilocks zone’, to use present terminology, not to big, not too small. Modern thinking is the optimum size is small enough so every teacher knows every kid by name and even something about him/her. It has been proposed this would be a max of 300 kids in one school.
Teachers would be able to relate to kids, one on one, as people, not as anonymous ciphers, and pretty much know everything that is going on, so crime and drugs would be minimized. Kids would learn to interact socially in a civilized fashion, not the jungle primitive way of our large schools. Helping and playing among kids of different age groups and maturity levels would allow them to learn leadership and be inspired to be all they can be.
Maybe in about 20 years our cities will see the 5000 student dens of evil and waste replaced with 300 student cells of education excellence. Or maybe not. In the meantime, we are fortunate in that our smaller towns mean smaller schools. We need to fight closing our smaller schools just to be fashionable, at the expense of ridiculously long bus-rides and waste of kid’s time. Just another Contrarian opinion

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