Boyhood Jobs

                         Fishing Schooner at Anchor – Newfoundlnd

        A lot of us more industries chaps found ways to make a few pennies and sometimes even dollars when we were young. I was always quite good and lucky at this even while very young. In 1945/46 Old Skipper Jim Hardy from Rose Blanche, NFLD used to tie up at Johnny Fraser’s (my uncle Johnny) wharf. He had the typical “Newfoundland Jack” which was a two-masted schooner which normally slept three or four men and he fished codfish out of the gut. Nights before he was going to go out and set his trawls he and his crew would be baiting their trawls. He used to get frozen herring from Nickerson’s in North Sydney and hired me to cut bait for them. In the fish house at the end of the wharf  lighted by an oil burning torch for light I cut and they baited the trawls. I would get home late in the evening and Momma made me stand outside on the step and change my clothes because of the smell of the bait. I got around a dollar with some change at times for the evening’s work. I was around 11 or 12. Old Captain Jim took me out with him a couple of times to set the trawls and even allowed me to man the tiller while he went below to prepare a “mug up.”  Eventually “Uncle Bill” put a wheel box and steering apparatus in for him. Uncle Bill was my uncle Willie R. Fraser. Captain Jim gave me a few instructions and cautioned me to keep my head below the main boom in case a shift in the wind would change our tack. In no time he was back up with a big thick sandwich and a steaming mug of tea. His other crew members were asleep in the foc’sle getting a bit of shut eye before setting time. He only had a very small engine in this vessel so we were obliged to go out with the tide and come back in with the tide. It was a wonderful experience and one I shall always remember how Newfoundlanders fished codfish in these Atlantic coastal waters.


                              Working Pick and Shovel on the Highway – This is the Foreman

             Probably the most formal job I had prior to leaving for the Great Lakes was in the spring of 1949 I was hired to work on the highway rebuilding the road out to Little Pond. I worked there pick and shovel for about three weeks when I received my telegram that I had a job on a ship on the Great Lakes. I saw the foreman and was off like a bat out of hell. I don’t know if my mother received my wages or not but I don’t recall ever being paid for these three weeks of work.

          I liked working for Uncle Johnny (Johnny Fraser) because even though I was only 11, 12 or 13 when I worked for him he paid me a full wage as if I was a man. I remember my father saying to Johnny, “you don’t have to pay that fellow a man’s wages he is not expecting that. To which Johnny would say, “he does a better job than half those guys I have had working for me in the past.” He worked in the Point Aconi boot leg pits for Russell Bonnar before they were owned by Earl McNeil. (Note: how ironic as I was writing this I just learned of the passing of this good man Earl McNeil July 27, 2007 – what a fine man he was, he shall be missed not only by his family but all who knew him. He was truly a citizen of the community without doubt.) I would leave Alder Point early in the morning and usually called at Johnny’s place where Edie Mae would give me fresh eggs and sometimes a big bannock to take over to Johnny. I would row across the gut and start walking back to the pits. Usually a truck would pick me up. I would drop into Johnny’s shack with the eggs and bannock and we would head for the pit. If I had a truck looking for coal and Johnny too rushed to cook breakfast he would break 4 or 5 eggs into a bowl, stir it up and drink them raw and give me a wink and off we would head for the pit. The coal haulers stood there in awe at this. This was early spring and summer so there were not many trucks hauling but we had a few steady customers. It was hard slugging with most of my time spent walking back and forth and rowing across the gut. In the latter part of winter and very early spring I often walked across the frozen gut with a very long pole to help save my ass in case I went through the ice. I was lucky. Along these same lines if it was a Friday or Saturday and Johnny was heading for home via Bras d’Or to I am sure to impress the truck drivers would in the middle of winter stick his mirror in a branch of the tree outside his shack and in his undershirt shave and wash up before getting dressed and a ride to Bras d’Or. Often it would be well below zero. He was indeed a card. Some of these truckers from North Sydney and Sydney and Sydney mines would look at him in wonderment.

          As a 12, 13 and 14 year old I got a reputation for being able to shovel coal onto a truck off the ground. Some drivers knew about this and would park their truck at the pit head where the coal had already been hoisted and dumped onto the bank head often hoisted by Cyprian LeBlanc. I would be asked to go down and shovel the coal onto the truck sometimes two, three or four tons. You were paid by the ton normally a $1.00 per ton. It was back breaking work but for some strange reason I enjoyed it. It was a feeling of accomplishment and a response to praise by your elders. You would just get finished when the truck owner showed up usually in another truck and would pay you and give you a drive home.

          On Saturdays normally during the winter months Daddy took me to the crop pit with him and I pushed out and hooked on for him and Russell or whoever was working with him at the time. I was about 10, 11 and 12 during those years and normally made a dollar or two for a Saturday. I got to get black and dirty and ride on the top of the last loaded truck and be dropped off at your gate. That was enough pay in itself just to have your friends see you looking like a bootleg coal miner wearing your carbide pit lamp. The job title for a young fellow working in the crop was, “hookin’ on.”

                              Delivering Bootleg Coal to Customers with Old Bonnie

          Denny Pickup married Mary Plant (Doucette?) who lived at Arthur Plant’s farm. Denny and Mary had a very nice horse by the name of Bonny. They got me to look after this horse; to feed it and water it and exercise it. As a result I during winter months would harness her up in the sleight and haul coal to different customers around Alder Point. For each trip I made $1.00 and didn’t have to buy and sell. The load was normally already bought and paid for and I was paid to deliver it. On a good Saturday I could make $8.00 to $10.00 dollars which was a lot for a 10, 11, or 12 year old. At the end of the day enroute for the barn I always stopped at Angus McNeil’s store and bought a bucket of oats for Bonny after which she would fairly fly down the road for home.

          Someone hired me to deliver the Halifax Herald one year and it lasted for a number of months. I didn’t like it for a number of reasons the most important of which was the difficulty of collecting the money and I was afraid of big dogs and everyone seemed to have one. I spent much of my time skirting around people’s homes and trying to deliver the paper without being attacked. I didn’t last long at this job probably less than a year at most.

          Phon Plant had a nice farm across the road from us and had a very early model farm tractor. That is what I learned to drive on. He taught me to drive it and then I was able to use it to plant and harvest as well as take in the hay. I loved it and was over there at every opportunity. I might have been 8 or 9 when I learned to drive it. I remember the gas was on the steering column and if you were holding it and hit a ditch or rock in the field you could either accelerate or stall it. I don’t remember ever getting paid other than some very fine lunches, and lemonade and cookies which was all the pay I wanted. Getting to drive the tractor was pay enough.

          During the harvesting of potatoes, I got hired to pick potatoes by Archie MacKinnon. He was and still is a great man to work for and is still farming. It was a long walk very early in the morning to Archie’s farm. You got there early and started picking and then broke for a short lunch. At first you thought your back would break bent over picking spuds and putting them into burlap bags. You better have had packed a lunch or you were out of luck. After a short lunch break you started picking again and this lasted until dusk when you headed for home. For that you earned $1.00 per day. We thought we were in heaven to get paid cash money. I was about 13 when they were building the new Alder Point School. It was actually the administrative building from the Army #7 Base in Little Pond. Jack MacLellan was the super and offered me a job working a wheelbarrow carrying mixed cement for the foundation. This was a fun job because you followed a raised wooden track across the foundation and dumped your wheelbarrow and returned on a different route to get a refill. This job lasted for a few weeks and I don’t know what we earned but it was good pay and in cash.

                                                 Crossing the Gut – Rotten Ice

          We didn’t know whether we were religious or not but we attended mass regularly, went to stations of the cross and often attended Sunday evening services. Sunday evening service was a great place for boys to meet girls and for girls to meet boys. It was the closest thing to a club that we had in those days. We piously attended the service all the while eyeing these attractive young girls from Bras d’Or, the Crick, Millville, Alder Point and surrounding areas. Once out of church we gravitated to those considered most attractive – good clean fun it was as I recall. A lot of walking and talking and very little else. We studied and practiced and dutifully made our first communions and were confirmed. We looked forward to Lent because it got us out of school and required us to walk to and from Bras d’Or church. It was good fun because we got the afternoon off school and walked as a large group to St. Joseph’s in Bras d’Or. At first many of us were very scared to walk past “The Shacks” because those who lived there had a reputation of being a bit rowdy. We soon got to know many of them and became good friends. In fact Uncle Willie R. Fraser and his family lived there for a long time and we used to visit them there and knew many of the Shackers. We would walk up no matter whether it rained or snowed and attended stations of the cross and walked back home. I don’t know what the Protestants did nor do I know if they got the time off or not. I know some of them were envious of us getting to hike to/from Bras d’Or on these Thursdays.






One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Louise Theriault on November 25, 2009 at 00:53

    I enjoy your stories,especially when you talk about the Plant family.
    Arthur Plant’s wife Mary was my husband’s great aunt.
    I’m learning a lot too as I work on my husband’s family tree.
    Thank you for your work


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