Back in the days of Chippewa One, the old barge, we faced a lot more risk and adventure. The Chippewas Bezhig you see down Simcoe was 6 feet narrower and 18 feet shorter, the wheelhouse was on the deck and we cranked the landing platform by hand. The improvements made in the winter of ’88 helped big time. Before then, we had to bring smaller loads of everything, no cement trucks. Concrete blocks and septic tanks had to be deck loaded and manually removed on the Island. The largest truck we could take was a single axle dump. We would land at the end of the steel dock, chain to shore as close as we could to the wall; you had to get the tip of the ship’s deck on top of the steel dock before you lowered the ramp. We had to clamp the chain tighteners “bear traps,” and work the boat back and forth to get every bit you could. Lower the ramp carefully because if your hand slipped off the crank, she could spin back and split your skull.
Now the fun part, there were two sixteen foot hardwood planks 18″ wide and 4″ thick, weighing over 200 pounds each. Chain loops at each end were used as handles to move them. Two men would drag the plank half on shore and line up with the truck tires and back it on. Very, very slowly centered it, left and right, once the rear tire got on the plank we had to readjust the end. If the truck driver turned his steering wheel after that, we would have to start all over, or worse. As the truck came back the weight was transferred onto the ship’s deck, nice and slow and you had to find a good place to stand. One guy on each side of the truck watching the plank, the barge’s buoyancy, the chains and the loading ramp; you had to be on the deck, away from the chains in case they snapped, and be able to see the other crewman and the truck driver because the barge motors were full ahead to help hold the wall. If the front tires line up, beautiful! Back her up all the way until the planks are fee, pull them onto the deck out of the way and bring the truck back forward almost to the centre of buoyancy.
As the truck was adjusting, the loading ramp would be flapping up and down like a fish on the floor. The ramp was made of steel about 12′ x 8′ and must have weighed 1000 pounds. I hoped no onlookers would get too close. As the truck adjusted, the chain may slacken and we would get the bear traps off and one chain. Crank the ramp up, remove the last chain, as the boats drifted over, climb back on and get away from the ramp. As we disembarked, the barge would slide off the dock and the gate would catch and slam all the way to the top, I mean WHAM! The barge would bob a bit, a little unsettling to first timers, and then we backed away towards the wind. Driving lesson tomorrow. Earned a break, half-hour to the island, smoke ’em if you got ’em. Landing on the island was very difficult in the wind. We landed on the end back then. The chain up moment was in relation to the wind, drift, buoyancy, dock, ramp and plank length. You’ll catch on. The planks would want to kick out because the truck tires push, but once started it usually came off nice. But stay away from those chains, the ramp and planks could kick out at any moment, so pay attention!
“I threw my right hand at the rail but the skidoo suit was too bulky for me to reach it.”
There were lots of challenges that first shipping season and into early winter. We could just squeeze four cars on and had to move the planks onto the dock near Christmas time. So the deck had more room for walk-on passengers. Those planks were heavy and when I lifted my end. Half the loop broke and I slipped at the edge of the loop in the other hand and plank was sliding away from shore and wanting to pile drive into lake. My right hindquarter was in the water completely. My left foot caught high. I let go of the loop and Rob Big Canoe, my fellow crewman, pulled the plank back. My left hand was slipping. I threw my right hand at the rail but the skidoo suit was too bulky for me to reach it. Thank heaven old Link Taylor was right there, caught my hand and pulled me just in time. A split second later I was fully in 12 feet of ice-cold water with a skidoo suit, rubber boots and a four-foot climb out with 50 people watching.
Meegwetch boys! Link was pushing sixty years old and I was over 200 pounds with all my gear on, but he plucked me off the edge like I was a little kid. Anyway. I think I like this kind of work; hopefully they’ll keep me on.