Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part XV
The two young hired men not only jumped ship taking a good portion of what was left of their summers grubstake. The desertion was the cause of Violet having to go down into the boiler room and fire it with wet pulp, she was proud that she managed to keep the steam up. All they had to eat were beans and not much of them though she did bake bread to go with them. Because of the poor diet, Orrah had yellow jaundice and was very sick, though he manned the steam tugs wheelhouse. At one time he left the wheelhouse to check on Violet’s boiler adventure, he managed a weak smile and said “sweetie, you are doing real fine”. Violet fed the boiler all day and at night too, if they had a head wind they could only make one mile an hour. It was an ordeal that Violet thanked god for bringing them through. They arrived at the mill with their boom of logs only three days before they were going to shut down for the winter. Their efforts allowed them to get a “grubstake”, which consisted of several hundred pounds of potatoes, three hundred pounds of both carrots and onions, two fifty-pound drums of powdered milk, a dozen one-hundred pound bags of whole wheat kernel for the grist mill, several pounds of white flour, several hundred pounds of beans, bran, lard and other stuff, they even bought a few forty-pound boxes of apples to put in the cellar with vegetables for the winter. Something Violet and Orrah had never been able to afford before was fruit. Violet was anxious to get back to her children, as the steam tug rounded the bend Orrah blew the whistle loud and long. The kids tumbled down to the beach, and Violet knew that the kids had been very lonely.
Winter was near, so Orrah and the boys hauled the boats out of the water with a hand winch. He laid down log rollers which sank into the ground making the job very strenuous. They were set knowing that they would have enough food to stave off winter’s hunger.
The Spring of 1943 saw Orrah and Violet take the steam boat to Fort Frances, accompanied by Orrah Jr., Floyd, and Frankie; they left thirteen year old Wesley and eight year old Elnora in charge of Violet who was four and fourteen month old Tony. They bought their summer’s food supply and headed for home when unexpectedly they were hit with what Violet termed a typhoon. The tug was tilted way over on its side and water appeared likely to rise over the gunwales; Orrah had them all get on the high side of the tug. According to Violet she thought “they were all goners, but for some miracle the boat righted itself and all during the ordeal the steam engine kept-a-chugging”. They arrived back home to find all the kids safe, she was quite proud of them.
The summer of 1943 Orrah and the boys worked salvaging logs. One day they spotted a bull-moose standing in the water near shore, Orrah shot it, they hauled it onto the bank, dressing it out and then towed it five miles across Stokes Bay to the Kettle River home where they butchered and processed it for their summer’s meat. The latter part of August saw them heading for the border Border Mill with a boom of logs, it always took days and even weeks to get it to the mill. According to Violet, Orrah had the bright idea of having eight year old Elnora stand on an apple box to steer the boat, all Orrah did was wave his hand outward to a point of land telling her to steer the tug toward that point. Elnora at times misunderstood and Violet would have to tell her to steer away from piles of rocks and reefs. As soon as the logs were counted J.A. Matthew paid them and they purchased their winters grub stake. Next to where they were docked was Mr. Matthew’s big white houseboat. It was gorgeous and ornate with a two story house on it, the entire roof was part of the overhead veranda which covered the walkways. Violet longed to have that houseboat but didn’t dare tell Orrah about her dreams. The day they pulled away from the dock Orrah said “I am going to buy that houseboat for you Vi” but she didn’t believe him after all those years of work and just scraping by.
Up next, Mr. Matthew’s decides to build another houseboat, it had cost him $10,000 during the depression to build the first one.