From The Scrapbook By Rev. Bill Randall

From The Scrap Book

March 9, 1990

Plowing Roads in the 1920s

“Willis do you hear that noise yonder? Sounds like maybe Charlie’s in trouble.” Willis leaned the fork up against the barn door and looked down towards the Henry place. It was a bitter, cold, blustery evening about 6:30.

Charlie Baker was the mailman and hadn’t come up from York Mills through the snow banks. Little wonder, he’d started out that morning from his home near the present day Lions Club hall, picked up the mail at the station, sorted it out at the Post Office and then headed for Brockway with a horse and sled. We’re talking about situations in the ’20’s, and hopefully we can present a picture of what the communications system might have been like in those days.

Charlie would leave a bag of mail at the end of the Tweedside Road at Sade Coburn’s. Dan McCullough, and before him his father William, would take the mail to South Tweedside. Charlie would drop off another bag at the Farmer’s Trading Company store (Watson’s 1990) where Sterling Little or his father Bill before him would take the mail down to Frog Lake Road and the Arnold Little Road. Imagine the long cold ride to Brockway, the old buffalo robe over his knees and the frost forming icicles in his beard!

At least the horse got a break when they got to Johnny Brockway’s. Charlie kept a spare horse there. After dinner the wind really picked up and Christie Ridge was essentially a white out. Still, the mail must go through! It was well after dark before Charlie got to Melvin Henry’s at Upper York Mills. Any sign of a roadbed had long disappeared under the 24 inches of freshly fallen snow. Charlie got out to walk, hoping to restore a little warmth in his numbed feet, trusting his horse to find the way up to the Swan Road. Even the horse lost its way in the darkness. The road would have been only a narrow build-up of snow and ice, for the road was used very little. So the horse sim ply fell off the road, tangled itself in a hidden pole fence and was down. “Willis,” said Harry, “We better go get Tom (Speedy) and tell him he better bring a shovel and an axe.” So Harry Swan, his son Willis, and neighbor Tom Speedy put their heads into the snowstorm carrying a smoking lantern. They had to chop the fence poles out of the way, cut apart the harness, shovel the snow away from the exhausted horse and help it to its feet. That was a long day for Charlie Baker but not particularly unusual for rural route mail drivers.

Winter snow removal in the 20s was not really snow removal. Basically it was an attempt to make a road on top of the snow. A snow plow looked like a great big box with runners under it, and between the runners, a blade which could be raised or lowered by levers. This would be pulled by two or three teams as the situation required. Sometimes it was simpler to make a road through a field rather than follow the road pattern used in summer. This got to be a lot of fun if there was a thaw, then travelling that snow road was like walking a tightrope.

If a horse missed its footing, you stopped and shoveled.

There were other rural  routes, Johnny Tracy went the Hanwell; a lady mail driver, Helen Bell, went up the Lake Road; a train left the mailbag at Prince William Station that Leonard Jamieson and later his son Evan distributed to Magaguadavic, Magundy and back to the Morris Post Office at the end of the Lower Pokiok Road.

Could they phone for help? Probably yes, at least in the ’30’s. There was a Farmer’s Telephone Company locally organized and owned pretty much by the same group of people who organized the Farmers’ Trading Company Ltd; the Farmers’ Insurance Company Ltd.; and the Harvey Jersey Breeders Association. The system had two units, one Central was at Sade Coburn’s store and Post Office at the end of the Tweedside Road, the other was at Frank Coburn’s home at the station where you rang for Lena. But there was no long distance. When Dr. Dougan needed an assistant to operate on Ben Swan he couldn’t phone Dr. McGrand in Welsford so Willis Swan had to drive to Fredericton Junction to make phone contact with the doctor who then came up for the operation — two doctors and a nurse. One hundred and four dollars!  

How  ever for local emergencies…  “Hello Sade. This is Geor gie Messer. Would you ring Dr. Dougan and tell him the wife’s about to have a baby, and you could ask him to tell Lloyd we gotta get the plow up here.” Get the snowplow up here! Up on Messer Hill in Tweedside? Lloyd will try anything. Even the night he had to make a road all the way to Fredericton for a medical emergency – no reserve gear, certainly no police escort with flashing lights. Of course, that may not have been as scary as the day Lloyd lost the brakes on the grader going down the Pokiok hill headed for theSt. John River. “What do you do?” thought Lloyd. “Bail out and let her go? Can’t do that, no telling what it might do when it intersected with Route #2.” The alternative – is there time to lower the scraping blade and drag her to a halt – and not snap the blade off.” Takes guts! but he did it. The roads stayed open, the mail went through. Sometimes it took three days to get the roads open after a winter storm. Lloyd remembers working 32 hours at a stretch. No helpers, no heat, no radio. Emergencies were met by neighborhood co-operation. They forged strong community bonds which enabled them to overcome anything life threw their way.

Source: Rev. Bill Randall’s “From The Scrapbook Vol. One.”

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