Four Wheel Drive Truck Trip to Island Falls

Flin Flon, Manitoba

February 11, 1933.

Mr. W. A. Green,
Flin Flon

Re: F.W.D. Truck Trip to Island Falls

Dear Sir:

As per Mr. Phelan’s request, I rode one trip through to Island Falls in stormy weather to see what performance the F.W.D. truck could give.

We left Flin Flon at 3 P.M. with a load of approximately 3¼ tons, partly on the truck and partly on the trailer in tow, with three passengers including the driver, brakeman and myself. We were until 9 P.M. getting across the 14 mile portage to Mari Lake. We had the misfortune to tip over once on the 14 mile portage, due to the narrow sleigh which they were using. We were fortunate enough to reset the sleigh without completely unloading, but this caused us a delay of about 2 hours. We found the roads entirely drifted full on Mari Lake, making it necessary to plow the entire distance. We arrived at Camp 4 at the north end of Mari Lake at 7 A.M. About 2½ hours was lost at approximately Mile 30 due to motor trouble which was caused by heavy snow drifting and the carburetor sucking the same in and freezing the jets in the carburetor. Before full repairs were made, the radiator was frozen solid so that once our motor trouble was corrected it was necessary to thaw the radiator before we could proceed.

We left Camp Four at approximately 7 A.M. and arrived at Mile 38 at 10 A.M. where we cooked a warm meal and left there at 11:30 A.M. We proceeded on to Island Falls, plowing continuously and arrived at Sandy Bay Portage into Island Falls at 11 P.M. This being a very hilly portage, and the roads drifted, it was decided to leave the trailer at this point, the passengers and myself walking in from there. We arrived at Island Falls at 1 A.M. The truck followed us and arrived at 4 A.M. The driver and the brakeman slept until 11 A.M. They then serviced their truck and went back after the trailer, arriving back into Island Falls about 6 P.M.

As soon as the load was unloaded and the truck reserviced we left Island Falls, at 9:30 P.M. Tuesday.

We proceeded as far as Lake 5 where we ran into an air hole, dropping the front axle 2 ft. below the slush ice level. This threw the entire front end weight of the truck onto the snow plow and front end of the frame. Their snow plow was so designed that when it is in fully raised position it is impossible to crank the motor or raise the hood of the engine. When the truck dropped into the air hole the engine died and the starter was not working. We were therefore unable to crank the engine and could not even raise the hood to do necessary work on the motor, or drain same as we wished to. After partially dismantling the snow plow we were able to get the engine running and make the necessary repairs. We were in this hole making engine repairs and getting ourselves out until 9:30 A.M. Wednesday.

We then proceeded to Mile 38, arriving there at 2:30 P.M. We encountered continuous engine trouble due to ice forming in carburetor and vacuum tanks, and also from snow drawing in through the carburetor intake. It was necessary to drop our trailer about 1½ miles out of 38 and go into 38 light as our gas was running very low. The driver and brakeman went back and pulled in the trailer.

We passed Wednesday night at Mile 38 and left there approximately ten o’clock Thursday morning. It was necessary to plow continuously after leaving 38 and we ran into considerable slush on Golden Lake, but got through with no difficulty, and found it necessary to plow all the way to the south end of Mari Lake. We met the team swing at a mile above the lower narrows and found that we could follow their trail which they had plowed and sideswipe running in third gear. We arrived on the portage at about 4:30 P.M. and the truck arrived in Flin Flon around ten o’clock.

The truck as a whole has many good points, and I feel that if properly supervised from the early part of the season, would work quite successfully on that run. But the drivers, like most drivers, only consider the particular trip which they are making and do not consider the roads for future use, with the result that they have traveled in the same ruts, on portages particularly, and built the road to such a height that it is now impossible for them to stay on it with the result that repeatedly they slide off of the road, making it necessary to do considerable shoveling to lead the truck back onto the road. This has developed to a very serious point and I really know of no way that the road could be satisfactorily rebuilt for the truck at this time.

I feel certain that the truck will take care of itself very well on the lakes. The plow which it is equipped with is apparently a make-over from the type used by teams, and when plowing out in virgin snow on the lakes the speed is not sufficient to throw the snow in the clear with the result that the sugar, or granular, snow runs in behind Wings of the plow, whereby the wheels are traveling in approximately 1 ft. of loose snow which has not been shoved far enough to clear the truck wheels. Once a trail has been broken and they can travel with sufficient speed, say in third gear, the snow can be thrown many feet to the side. But for heavy plowing in slush the snow plow should be widened by all means to give the wheels clear traction on the ice.

I also feel that they are making a mistake by attempting to overload this truck, either on itself in weight, or attempting to pull a trailer before they have ideal road conditions, and when roads are such, there is no doubt in my mind but what it will readily handle a trailer of one or two tons.

Also the truck should be equipped with racks in body whereby perishable goods could be carried without freezing, allowing air currents to pass under and along the sides.

Improvements should be made to carburetor whereby all air drawn into the carburetor would be drawn immediately around exhaust pipe and eliminate possibilities of fine snow being drawn in with the cold air under its present intake.

In summing up the entire matter, I feel that if consideration is given to the future use of the road in the early part of the season, and the truck is properly handled and not overloaded, it should make a round trip nicely in 30 hours. I believe that it could work out our transportation problem between here and Island Falls.

I trust this is sufficient information.

Yours truly,

W.P. Joy

Sask. Archives Board, S-A465, C.R.P.Co. Fonds, VIII, 210, R.W.Davis, Personal.

Click here to see Superintendent. R.W. Davis's response to the above report.

It so happened that due to a medical urgency, Irene and Harry Olson were passengers on the return trip which left Island Falls on February 7th at 10 P.M. They were hoping, along with Mr. Joy, to catch the afternoon train to The Pas, which was the only way out to civilization -- there was no plane service and no road in those days. Irene recalls that the temperature overnight was expected to drop to perhaps minus 50ºF .

The Olsons rode in the "caboose" behind the truck. Their assignment was to keep a little stove going so that the men working on the truck had a place in which to warm up and exchange their frozen mitts for dry ones. Irene still remembers the smell of the steam coming from the melting mitts hanging above the stove.

It became particularly unpleasant when, at 5 A.M., they became stuck in a slush hole in the ice on Lake 5. Once free, they became stuck again on Golden Lake, in blizzard conditions, and did not manage to get clear until 2 P.M. One of the men, trying to clear a plugged pipe in the engine compartment, put his lips on the pipe to blow on it. Of course his lips stuck to the cold metal. It was a shocking sight when the poor fellow came into the caboose, blood all over his chin. All the group had to eat was bread fried in moose fat. Luckily, they were able to find shelter in Bill Jonasson's cabin when they arrived at Mile 13 at the south end of Mari Lake. Bill prepared a meal of sliced moose meat for the whole exhausted gang. They spent the night in the cabin, the men on the floor and Irene in the only bed.

Irene recalls that one of the men had been wearing high leather boots while working in the slush, and they had frozen solid. That evening in the cabin, while they chopped the boots off his legs, he said, "If I every go on one of these trips again, you can take me out and shoot me!"

Irene noted in her diary that afterwards she slept for 15 hours straight. Bill phoned ahead for alternate transportation. The passengers left Mile 13 at noon and completed the journey in an old Ford half-track which had been sent for them. They arrived at the hotel in Flin Flon at 8 P.M., having been on the road for 48 hours. To sum it up, Irene said, "It was a horrible, horrible trip."