1942 Journey to Island Falls

Story and pictures by Archdeacon R. B. Horsefield

Ed's note: This article, from the recollections of Rev. Raymond Horsefield, former rector of St. James Church here, will be of special interest to the large number of residents in this area who had the occasion in good weather and in bad to make the trip to Island Falls. Rev. Horsefield has resided at the West Coast for many years, presently in Ganges, B.C. [This article appeared in the Spring, 1971 edition of the Northern Lights magazine -- DR]

"The journey to Island Falls lasted all day. We left home by taxi at 7 a.m. and rode to a little bit of a shed by the railway tracks, two miles out of town. There at 7.30 we were picked up by the "dinky train." The dinky is an electric locomotive and the train consisted of a dozen sand trucks and a caboose. It took us to a little junction at Mile 10 and then down a little spur for two miles, stopping with a shudder on the shore of Mari Lake.

"Here was a steel launch with a gasoline engine in its little cabin. We boarded this, and only then realized that the captain had been left behind in Flin Flon. There was a primitive telephone line beside the railway for the convenience of the dispatcher, and we called up the town and a gas-car came rocketing and banging along at a great rate, with the boat captain and a railwayman hanging on for dear life . . . and we were away.

"After half an hour's run we came to a cabin occupied by one of the hydro linemen, who came down to greet us and told one of our party, a company official named Mcintosh, that he was wanted on the phone. He hurried into the cabin and soon returned with an expression 40% consternation and 60% laughter. 'They were asking where the office keys are', he said, 'and they are right in my pocket!' I don't know what they did at the office — whether they declared a three-day holiday or merely broke the door down, but Mr. Mcintosh came along with us for the excellent reason that there was no way for him to get back.

"Another half hour and we saw the power line come striding across a narrows on its great pylons, and thence forward we caught glimpses of it in the distance, looping from tower to tower on some high skyline.

"After three and a half hours on the lake we landed at the north end and found there the skeleton of an old Ford car. There was nothing left but the four wheels (with solid tyres!) the chassis, an ancient motor which was both heard and seen — especially heard — and a steering wheel sticking up like a daisy in a field with the old Ford gearbox at its roots. A home-made flat rack covered the nakedness of the rear end, and on this we piled as much as we could of our baggage and freight, but two great coils of rope, which could not be loaded, were cheerfully left behind with the intimation that they might go forward next week or the week after. The passengers, mindful of 'safety first', walked the short portage while the ancient Ford snorted and rattled its way behind.

"Across, we embarked in two canoes — passengers in the slower, freight in the larger and faster, and soon crossed a 2-mile lake on the far side of which we found the twin brother of the first Ford.

"Once more across the portage we traversed a lake in one huge freight canoe, 24 feet long and wide enough admidships to seat three people abreast. And this ran us right into a boat-house. Outside this stood another strange contraption, a great, primitive two-wheeled farm cart attached to a very old tractor. The stuff was piled into this tumbril and the more prudent of the passengers walked, though Mr. Mcintosh and I rode for the fun of it.

"Across again, we found another steel launch, that seemed to have been made in the boiler shop, on a biggish lake that took two hours to cross. It was wet, cold and windy and we took shelter in the cabin despite the noise of the 4-cylinder marine engine that reverberated deafeningly between the steel walls and decks.

"Beyond this lake we found another 'railway' — just such a narrow-gauge light affair as one might find in a quarry; made up of short lengths of straight track, so that one goes round the curves in a series of jerks. The locomotive was a diesel-powered affair with four very small solid wheels bunched together in the middle as if it were about to spring into the air, and the rolling stock consisted only of one small flat car attached to the engine by a sturdy farm-wagon tongue. On this little trolley we piled all our gear and perched ourselves atop it as best we could; and then came a ride that would have cost us four bits at any respectable midway, and brought us almost to hysterics.

"The little line ran steeply downhill at the far end, and the engineer (still our boat captain, who had been operating all these strange devices all the way without the least uncertainty or hesitation) shouted to us to jump off, because, said he, the week before he had been unable to control the little locomotive on the hill and had unceremoniously dunked the entire and dignified Welfare Board of the Company!

"Mindful of the fact that at every stop there had been a bluntly-worded notice to the effect that the Company was not in the transportation business, and if anyone chose to ride on their equipment he did so entirely at his own risk and responsibility — and we signed a "release" to that effect before we set out — we obediently jumped down and walked behind the little engine, over the front of which the captain's mate was hanging, pouring sand on the track from an enameled coffee pot!

"Another crossing in a canoe, another tractor-and-tumbrel portage, and we came to the last and strangest craft of all, a big, flat-bottomed barge with an aeroplane propeller mounted at the stern, for this lake was so shallow and weedy that it would have been impossible to use an underwater propeller. This clumsy and fearsomely noisy contraption safely ferried us across the lake to where a truck from the Falls met us and took us the last mile. It was 8.30