Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cabin Fever

Time passes quickly when you are having fun – at least that’s what they say.

My family and I lived in the little cabin in the woods with the stream in the back well into the month of November when the frost came.

It got cold at night.  But we were very hearty folk – and early in the morning – Paula and I would get up before the kids, break the ice in the wash basin and light the fire to warm the cabin. It was cold!

Okay – the kids were not as hearty as Paula and I.  They complained that it was “freezing” at night – I guess the ice on the wash basin was a good indicator that it indeed was freezing.

There was another cabin in the woods that was more of a luxury model than ours.  It belonged to my cousins Doris and Russ Speers from Toronto.  Well, to be exact, the cabin was built by Russ, but I owned the land and I’d often remind him that if he didn’t behave we’d have the cabin towed to the road.  It was a luxury model as there was a propane-fired stove, fridge, and heater in the cabin. The kids insisted that we “move up” to this model – and so we did.

I think the kids thought they were in Heaven as there was heat.  I think Paula thought she was in the big leagues too as she had a “real” stove that did not require wood!  We actually had a fridge.

Remember that we only lived in the cabin(s) while our own house was being built.  I couldn’t wish that date would come fast enough. It was difficult to shuffle working full time at Canada Manpower (now the Employment Centre on Owen Street), raising two children, and trying to keep the home-fires literally burning.  I guess I didn’t check in on the home construction often enough.

One Saturday morning I awoke in the frigid cold to see my breath in the crisp autumn/ soon to be winter air.  I decided to check in on the house.

Well – as I approached the house I saw the vent from the furnace spewing vapours – the furnace was on – there was a furnace!   I walked into the house and saw, much to my chagrin – the workers asleep on the floor of MY NEW HOME snug in their heated residence.

I hit the roof – kicked them all out – moved my family in – and that was the end of that.

I always insisted to the kids that they would look back on their “Duff’s Pond” experience fondly and to this day we do all share a few chuckles at the experience.

Stacey and I return to the scene of the crime – the cabin of frost – every once in a while and remember why we appreciate modern conveniences so much.  Still – there is no place like Duff’s Pond!

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Night Bandits Strike Again

I guess I should have known that the racoons would eventually figure things out, but who knew they could be so clever?

Life in the cabin in the woods, as I had mentioned previously was quite rustic.  Since we had no electricity (which also meant there were no utilities bills to pay) we also had no refrigeration.  This gave us quite a challenge to overcome as we lived in the cabin during the summer months of July and August and the nearest store was a 15 minute ride to Barrie.

I rigged up a big “ice-box” kind of contraption just outside the cabin and kept it full of ice.  It was here where we stored our fresh produce, meats, and any other perishables.

Paula used a wood-oven stove to cook our meals on.  It was Jamie’s job to gather and split the wood to fill the wood-box so Paula could literally keep the home fires burning.  She boiled water on the stove to wash the dishes and was even able to bake fresh bread in the oven.  I’ll admit it got a little hot in the summer, so we ended up moving the stove outside.  I made sure it was well enough under the trees so that if it rained, Paula wouldn’t get too wet.  She really didn’t like this idea too much – but it worked and it brought both of us back to our childhood.  Paula even used “flat irons” that she heated on the stove to iron my shirts.  We were really living in the lap of luxury then.

Anyhow, back to the cooler.  One night I awoke to a terrible clatter.  There were loud screams and banging that sounded like the clash of pots and pans.  I threw on my house coat, got the flashlight and headed out the door to see what was the matter.  There – on the cooler – were a set of raccoons staring right at me.  I’m not sure who was more stunned – the raccoons or I.  I guess they must have figured I was some sort of menace since they eventually took off into the woods.

I told Paula the next day that we would have to pay special attention to that cooler as raccoons were clever and could usually figure out how to get into things.  She told me not to worry – just put a heavy rock on the top.

The next night – once again – I awoke to loud clatter.  The raccoons had knocked off that heavy rock and were working on the locks of the cooler.  I shooed them away once again.

“I’ll fix them, ” I said to myself and I went and bought a lock.

The lock did fix them  – after all it is a pretty fool-proof security system for even the best of thieves.  They tried to get it open.  They tried, and they tried, and they tried.  They pounded on the lid, they cried, they jumped all around that tin box until I couldn’t stand the noise anymore.  The lock worked, but the noise kept me up all night.

My colleagues were a little worried about me the next morning when I crawled into work looking a little haggered.

“What happened to you?”, they asked.

Wearily I replied,  “I was up all night listening to a pair of raccoons trying to break into my cold – storage box.”

They looked at me at little stunned.  “What do you mean your cold-storage box?”.

“Where we keep our food.”

I think to this day some of them believe that we must have been flat broke and out of luck – and that must be why we had no refrigeration.

I ended up exchanging the tin cold-storage box for a plastic cold-storage box and that ended the night escapades with those raccoons.  They eventually gave up  trying to break in to the food.  But then, I heard them on the roof trying to get down the stove pipe which was connected to the wonderful smells radiating from the oven.

We never did serve up raccoon soup, but we all appreciated the episodes brought to us courtesy of the night bandits.

The Luxury Cabin in the Woods

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On Duff’s Pond – Life in the Woods

The trees, each fall, offered a vibrant display of colour.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

– Henry David Thoreau (1854)

When I retired from the forces in 1967, Paula and I purchased a tract of land just north of Barrie and just west of Craighurst.  It was on this tract of land – half maple trees and half field – where we spend nearly 25 years of our lives.  It was here where our friends came to gather and we all grew old together.  This property was the backdrop for all the animal and farming stories I have blogged about in the past.  This was our oasis – it was our Walden Pond.

There was no hydro, running water, or services on that piece of land.  There was no house.  What there was, however, was a rustic little cabin way back in the back with a dirt floor.  And it was here where we moved while our house was being built on the land.  It was here we stayed from July until early November – four of us, Grandpa on week-ends, and a dog.

The cabin was small, but once the floor and bunk-beds were added it did in a pinch.  We all moved in and got used to having no hydro, phone, cable, or … indoor privy.  The out-house was only a small jaunt down the road – far enough for privacy, but not too far to make the jaunt onerous in the middle of the night.

A small stream ran behind the cabin.  My Dad, Jamie, and I set to work that summer trying to create a swimming hole by damming up the stream and digging out a depth from the mud where the water began to flood.  There was a fantastic supply of fresh water springs that fed that stream so the stream-bed on the other side of the swim hole never ran dry.  The frogs may have wondered what the heck was happening, but they were always kept well saturated.

The swimming hole – aka Duff Pond, named after Walden, was quite a hit.  I admit it was cold as it was spring-fed, and I’ll admit a bit muddy as there was no concrete base or clean pool liner to smooth things out, and I’ll admit there were a few critters who liked to join us for a swim including frogs, snakes, and fish… but all in all the pond was popular.  I even rigged up a slide that the kids could climb up on and slide down into the pond.  They had a blast.

Our good friends would join us for a visit.  The kids would, without hesitation, climb up the slide and zip down into the cold, muddy waters.  They’d then haul off and hunt frogs, chase water spiders, and collect the swift little minnows.  They’s always try to convince their parents that any one of these forest friends would make a good pet.

On one occasion, though, the pond level dropped.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening – there was no leak in our dam other than where the overflow fed back into the stream.  But it was definitely lower than usual.  If the problem wasn’t the dam itself, then it had to be up-stream.

I took a walk.  Sure enough I found the problem.  I guess the beavers felt that if I could build a dam – they could build one better.  And that began the battle of the dams.

I’ll leave that story for another post!

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The Half-Way House

The Duff family has always taken care of its own.  Some families will give each other the shirt of their back… my family gave away half of our family home.

Aunt Lizzie was my Dad’s sister.  We all lived in New Lowell growing up.  The Duff’s farmed much of the land there and as you know, my Dad owned the general store and operated the post office.  Paula, when she moved there, became the nurse that did home visits.  (She even delivered a set of twins once!)

In any case, Aunt Lizzie needed a home – I don’t remember why or the circumstances surrounding the house, but I remember she needed a house.  We had a house, we being my Mom, Dad, sister Peg, and myself.

The best thing to do, it seemed was to chop the house in half and give it to her.

And that’s exactly what happened.

My Dad literally sawed the house in half.  Build a foundation for Aunt Lizzie’s new half and moved the house down the road.  It took 10 horses to draw the house to its new location down the street- but it ended up getting there.  We patched up the open ends of both houses and that was that.

I guess you could say that was the first half-way house that ever was in New Lowell.

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The Mad River

It has been rumored that theMadRiver was given its name by a woman in Angus who fell into it and nearly drowned.  It has never been very clear, though, whether it was the river or the woman that was mad.  My buddy Reg Rowe and I, however, would conclude that it was indeed the river that was mad… at least the time it ate my car and my shoe.

The Mad River is undoubtedly one of the prettiest rivers inSouthern Ontario. It starts as a narrow stream with high mud banks near Angus, and continues north past Creemore and Glen Huron.  The water rises in various places as it meets various streams along its course and drops in others as it travels along the Niagara Escarpment area.

In Devil’s Glen Provincial Park there is a steep-sided gorge that theMadRivercarved.  It turns into a shallow stream with cedars and rare ferns along the shore. The upper portion near Singhampton babbles over a gravel bed and is shallow enough in spots that you can cross it in rubber boots without getting your feet wet.

Shortly after Hazel had torn through the area, Reg and I took at trip to Angus to 13 X.  To get there we took Highway 90.  The Mad River had flooded and the water had risen above the highway.  Reg thought we could get across.  I don’t know why my buddies always had so much more faith in getting across raging bodies of water than me.  So, I listened to Reg – inspired by the story of success the previous night – revved the engine and tried to take her across.

This time, we weren’t so lucky.  The engine stalled.  “Now what do we do?”, inquired Reg.  I think he felt kind of bad, but not bad enough to be the one to volunteer to get out of the car and get his feet wet.

I said, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to get some help.”  I knew that Ken Kernan’s farm was just up the road and so I thought I could walk there and see if he could pull us out of our mess.   I opened the door to the car and “whoosh” – in flooded the river.  The current was stronger than I had expected and it had chunks of ice in it too as it was still only March.  The worst thing about it was that the current took one of my good shoes with it.  Frustrated because they were expensive shoes, I threw the other one directly after it.  I guess if anyone was lucky enough to find the shoes at least they may end up having a pair.

Off I went – to the other side of the river.  It was quite a challenge to not be swept away myself and the chunks of ice hurt as they struck my legs.  With a great deal of effort, I made it to the other side of the river and to Ken’s farm.

Sure enough, Ken was good to bring a couple of his horses.  We hooked the horses up to the car and pulled the car out of the flooded area to safety.

Weeks later, when I was driving home, I found one of my shoes stuck in a fence.  It was wedged in quite good from the strength of the current.  There was only one shoe.  For years I waited to find the mate to this shoe – but I never did.  I guess you could say I lost my sole on the Mad River that day. 

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The Bridge over Troubled Waters

My friend, John Hepplestone and I were having dinner at the  Mess Hall in Edgar,  Ontario the night that Hurricane Hazel roared through Southern Ontario.

The Hall is abandoned now but in its heyday it was quite a place.   It was built in 1952 and was home to the 31st Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron.  Three giant white globes once sat on the hill at Edgar Station.  These globes housed powerful radar units that were used during the Cold War.  It had been part of the Pinetree Line of radar stations established in the 1950s and one of the early-warning detection lines against Soviet air attack.  All Pinetree stations were equipped with one search radar, one height-finder radar and a third back-up radar.

It was in operation from 1952 until 1964 when it was sold to the provincial government.  Funnily enough, my daughter Stacey ended up working there when the base was flipped into an Adult Occupational Centre for developmentally disabled of handicapped adults until 1999.  Odd that both she and I worked on the same location, although our roles were quite different.    Nonetheless – I did eat some very delicious meals there and met some good people.

John Hepplestone and I would often have to travel out to Edgar to work – and as I mentioned earlier, to play.  This one evening, I remember leaving and it was raining, well, raining really hard.  In fact, it was one of those nights when the wipers just couldn’t keep pace with the rain.  John and I would have to pull the car over often.   The night was black and the winds were fierce.  I don’t remember what bridge it was, but there was a bridge that we had to cross to get home.  I remember thinking, “Geez, that water looks pretty high under the bridge”.  The river was really swollen.  Back in those days, there was less faith in bridges than there is today.

“John”, I said, “What do you think?”  “Do you think we ought to give it a try?”

John, who had had a couple beverages, replied with all confidence, “Sure. It looks good to me.”

So – we began.  I held my breath and hit the accelerator.  I could hear the water rushing below and the rain pounding on the windshield.  We kept on – and as luck would have it we made it to the other side.

I have never breathed such a heavy sigh of relief as when we actually crossed that bridge.

After a very long, and dark ride home, we remarked how terrible the weather was.

I heard the next day that the bridge had washed out – it turns out only hours after we had crossed it.

There were many more damaging effects to come as a result of  Hurricane Hazel – but I let this story flood your imaginations and whet your whistles for now.

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The Night Bandit

There was never a dull moment on the farm.  New, unexpected challenges would often arise and they would often be centered around animals.  So, this next story takes us away from the tame partridge and onto the tame raccoon.

One summer week-end morning I awoke to Paula’s screams from the kitchen.  She was frantically trying to sweep a raccoon out of her kitchen and back into the great outdoors.  “Shoo, you silly thing!”, she hollered.  I didn’t know what the heck was happening, but I rushed out to see her with the broom.  The raccoon was not interested in leaving.  It appeared to be quite comfortable in her kitchen, but not liking being scolded.

Paula and I finally got the thing outdoors, but it didn’t want to depart.

I put two and two together to recall the previous night when I looked out my bedroom window to a set of eyes staring back at me.  This raccoon must have been on our window – ledge even the night before it was enticed by Paula’s farmer’s breakfast smells.

So we ate our breakfast of potatoes, sausages, and a slice of tomato and prepared for projects that lay ahead of us that day.  I was planning which trees needed to be cleared to help fuel our furnace for the winter and where in the back 80 acres I would start.

That evening we were entertaining Gary Norwood and his family.  Stacey was sitting on the hearth in front of the fireplace.  I had closed the damper to the fireplace and stuffed pink insulation up it so that it would be more efficient when we weren’t using it during the winter.  There were strange cries coming from the chimney.  They sounded like a baby – crying.  We couldn’t figure out at first what the heck the noise was. Truly, we figured out something had come down the chimney and the only way to get it out was to unpack the insulation and open the damper. I got my work gloves on and gave a set to Gary so that he would also be prepared for whatever sprang out at us.

We were so surprised when the damper opened and down came that raccoon!  It scuttled up around Gary’s neck and started Gary as one may expect.  Gary was worried the thing may be rabid, but it cradled his neck like a long-lost baby.  The thing was cuddling with Gary.  “I’ll be damned”, said Gary.  “This thing thinks I”m it’s mother!”.

Someone must have domesticated the raccoon and then dropped it off at our door in the night.  The poor little thing was lonely and only wanted company.

Stacey wanted to keep it – but Paula had had enough.  Naturally, Paula won and Gary and I took the raccoon to a local animal reserve where it could meet more of its own kind.

I know why raccoons are nick-named bandits – as this little one really did steal our hearts.

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Beetle Juice

When I was a boy, my family and I lived on a large farm in New Lowell.  Onc of the things we grew were potatoes.  I swore when I was an adult I would never, ever farm again!  And certainly I would never grow potatoes.

As it happens, one of the things I planted first when we lived on the farm at RR # 1 Barrie we potatoes… acres of them.  The soil was sandy and I knew potatoes would grow well there.  Besides, I loved potatoes and there is nothing as good as those early little golden nugget ones that now cost and arm and a leg to buy.

In spring, I would purchase some seed potatoes from a farmer in Craighurst, rig up my tractor with a harrow I purchased from a local farm, and tilled and harrowed the land/ sand.  It was quite an event – and Paula and Stacey and I would drop the potatoes in the furrows I had created in anticipation of a bumper crop.  I remember when our little cousins Jason and Adam would come to visit and help us plant too – of course everyone wanted to ride the tractor- the “SS 15” (Simpson Sears 15 horse-power model).

The one problem I had was that everyone loved the potatoes – and some even loved the plants!  The plant lovers, of course were the potato beetles.  They would chew the young spring leaves and then the plant would die.  I tried to keep them under control without using any pesticides or harmful spray – but squishing them between my fingers became rather gruesome as they aged – and well, there were just too many of them.

I used to subscribe to a magazine called, “Harrowsmith”.  I read an article once that bugs had their own poisons in them and one of the remedies for potato bugs was to blend them up in a blender and spray them back onto the plants.

Well, Paula didn’t want me using her blender – so I bought myself a used one.

Stacey and I went out to the potato fields and harvested a jar full of bugs.  I added some water, put the blender on fine chop and voila …. bug juice. I put the juice into my sprayer and wouldn’t you know it – the juice worked.  Well, I think it worked.

Paula wasn’t very impressed when I told the tell of my bug juice to company as we dined on some early golden nuggets – but we all enjoyed mashed, baked, and boiled potatoes for the entire season.  I guess I was one of the first “organic” farmers in Simcoe County – and made the best beetle juice this side of Lake Simcoe.

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George Duff’s Great Adventure

George Duff was my father.  He lived in New Lowell for the best part of his life and became quite a cornerstone of that community.  The George Duff Memorial Legion was named to honour his memory and recognize his contributions to both his country (he fought in World War I ) and his community.

We were quite close, my Dad and I, but Dad never really understood that I flew planes.  For some reason it had never really made a connection.  I think my flying remained something of “theory” to him…. until the time I picked him up at the Edmonton Airport – by plane.

I had been posted to Cold Lake, Alberta to work in air traffic control.  Since it was a posting with the Air Force, we lived in PMQs.  Dad had never been to Cold Lake before and so when I invited him to visit Paula, Jamie, the twins, and I, he agreed. He was flying in from Toronto via Air Canada and we were t o meet him at the airport in Edmonton.

I was president of the Cold Lake Flying Club at the time and so I was able to arrange to pilot a 152 myself to fly to Edmonton.  I took my son, Jamie, with me.  He must have been no more than 8 or 9.  In those days, one used headsets to talk to the air traffic control tower.  As we approached Ed airport I put on the headsets so I could negotiate our landing.   Jamie, on the other hand, couldn’t hear what I was saying.  I asked the tower for landing instructions.  I was #2 behind my Dad’s Air Canada flight which was landing in 10 minutes.  I told the tower I was over the run-way and I could take a “straight in” and land  in 5 minutes.  The tower cleared me provided I could clear the active run-way in 5 minutes. As soon as I got clearance, I pulled full flap down and power off.  Naturally, the airplane nose-dived and Jamie, not knowing what the heck was happening,  hung on for dear life as the plane rapidly descended.   I think the marks of his fingerprints must still be in the plane!

We were clear in 5 minutes and told the tower – they were relieved.

We parked the plane and went into the terminal to meet Dad.  We saw the passengers get off the Air Canada flight and spotted Dad quickly in the crowd.  We picked up his suitcase off the carousal and he turned and headed to leave for the  car park – assuming that we had driven to get him.

I said, “No, Dad, we’re parked the other way.”

Dad look confused.   He said, “There are only airplanes out there.”

I said, “That’s how we are getting back to Cold Lake.”

Dad again, looking confused, said, “Okay.  I see the planes, but where is the pilot?”

“I’m the pilot, Dad.”

“Can you fly one of these things?”

Of course, by this time I had logged over 2, 000 flying hours.  I replied to my Dad, “I think I can.”  This didn’t appear to reassure him.

So we boarded the plane and he said, “Its raining a bit – can you fly in the rain?

“Yes”, I replied.  “It’s raining here, Dad, but the sun is shing in Cold Lake”.

He inquired,  “How do you know?”

“Dad, when I filed the flight plan back in Cold Lake, I had to find out the weather.”

He seemed to be getting that maybe I knew what I was doing and the “theory” of me flying was quickly turning to “reality”.

We put Dad in the back seat.  Jamie was in the right seat.  I had never flown from the right seat before and I didn’t want to start then. About 1/2 way there he remarked that I only had one engine.  He was also quite concerned that it has been raining and there were puddles all over.   ” What if the engine stops?”, Dad inquired again with concern.

“You look for a dry spot and try to land there.” I assured him.

The rest of the flight seemed to settle him and he almost appeared to enjoy the flight.  I think he may have actually been impressed.  Imagine, a farm-boy from New Lowell flying to Cold Lake!  I guess he wasn’t too impressed, though,  when I let Jamie take over and fly the plane for a while.

When we approached Cold Lake, I put on the headsets and called the tower  to let them know we were arriving. It was rather late in the day – there were no airplanes flying.  There was no answer from the tower.  I called them again.  There was no answer.  I thought, what the heck is going on?  I knew the emergency procedure for no radio was to circle over the oil tank.  This maneuver must have scared the pants off my Dad  since he was looking out the back seat at the wing as it rose when the plane tilted as we circled the oil tank.   Finally, the controller finally looked out the window and saw us, gave us quick permission to land, which we prepared to do.

Later, we discovered later that the controller and his assistant had been playing chess and had the radio turned down low so they could concentrate.

Dad had some great tales to tell when he got home to New Lowell about his great adventure in the sky.

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George Duff’s Great Adventure

George Duff’s Great Adventure.

Categories: New Lowell | Leave a comment

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