Me and the Road Crew

This spring and summer I helped our daughter and son-in-law work on centerpieces for their Canadian wedding. (They were married in India back in February, but had a Canadian celebration on August 10th.) They wanted their centerpieces to be reasonably priced and as sustainable as possible. I was impressed. I get so tired of seeing dozens of glass thing-a-ma-bobs at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop that are filled with marbles or purple stones that were obviously used at a wedding and it’s like, “Now what?” What happens to them now or are they destined for the landfill?

Katie and Dhruva sketched out a design for an angled table number designator/ program holder. I cut them from birch since I have a lot of it encroaching on the cleared areas of the property. Plus it made for a very pretty stand. They burned the table numbers into the wood. It was a nice effect. They also needed a wooden base for each table. The base would hold the birch holder and a mason jar of flowers and a lantern/candle holder. I loved their idea for these wooden bases because at the end of the wedding, I was able to bring them back home to use them to heat my house, carbon-neutrally!

good-centerpiece-FINAL

Photo courtesy of the amazing wedding photographers (www.strokesphotography.com)

I made up some prototypes with poplar when they were here one weekend and once I got the thumbs up I picked a maple tree to use. It was in a very wet area of the property and was already on a pretty extreme lean. So since it was just a matter of time before it toppled over, I helped it along. I actually cut it down while there was still ice in the low spots around it. Then I cut it in lengths as large as I could drag, and piled them on a little island in the middle of the water.

maple-just-cut

In the spring I returned to start cutting them into discs, about 2” thick. This is easier said than done with a chainsaw. I never realized how rough a chainsaw cuts, but I’ve never had hundreds of people sitting around tables staring at my work to have really worried about it. Eventually I got the hang of it. One of the keys I think was the fact that I treated myself to a brand new chain. A new chain cuts like butter and make the job so much easier. Once I had the discs ready I had to carry them 250 meters (yards) or so out to what we call the “east road.”

This road was the result of the township getting a right-of-way through our property in the 1940s. Our property has a really boggy area on it, where there was once a floating bridge. No really. It was a bridge made of logs lashed together with wire that people would either drive their vehicles over, or take their horse and buggies over. Can you imagine? I spoke to someone who worked on the road crew when the new road was put through 20 years ago, and he said they kept dumping load after load of rock (that had been blasted nearby) in to this bog and it just kept swallowing it all up. So I’m presuming the prospect of falling off the bridge into the abyss wasn’t a positive one.

So the township made a road around the bog through our property. When the new straighter road was put through a couple of decades ago, the temporary road on our property was abandoned. I use it to drag all of my firewood out in the winter since it allows me to get in with my pick up to haul it all out. And it is a spectacular place to walk through the property. It is enchanting.

Hauling the fresh cut maple “slices” out to the truck turned out to be a grueling task since the spring day that I picked for the job ended up warming up to more summer-like conditions. With the unending jobs that I needed to accomplish for the CSA and the gardens I decided to just “get’r done ” regardless of the temperature.

It took me about 20 trips to haul the discs out. I tried carrying 6 at a time but 5 worked better. Turns out that wet maple can be pretty heavy. I knew they wouldn’t need as many as I cut but I knew some would crack and some wouldn’t be right and some would get chewed up as we figured out how to smooth one side, so I cut it all and brought it all back.

rough-cut-bases

I took the same route every time. Past the same trees and rocks. The exact same route. On the 20th trip, the very final trip, something shiny caught my eye. So I stopped and found this bottle. It was with a whole bunch of broken bottles a short distance from the road. In fact it would have made a great place to have lunch if you were one of the crew of workers building this road. The bottle is from “Thompson Beverages” in Kingston, the largest city near us. The word “Beverages” uses a font that was available on the first Macintosh computer in 1984. I used that font on everything I did, thinking it was original, but it wasn’t. What’s weird is that the graphics on this 70-year-old bottle is pixilated like the original Mac screen.

Thompsons-Beverages-bottle

The label says, “The Crown Tells You The Flavor.” Can you imagine a time when a company would have just one refillable bottle for all of their products and would just use different colored caps to differentiate the flavour? Michelle has researched the company online but hasn’t been able to find anything about it. Maybe we could find something in the archives in Kingston but we haven’t had time to look.

This was one of the greatest discoveries I’ve made yet on the property. The bottle is from a small beverage maker in the days before the world was dominated by corporate behemoths. And some people left the bottle there decades ago on their lunch break, building a road around a bog. It was a time before the threat of nuclear war or climate change. It was before anyone had really conceptualized computers, or cell phones. The first thing people notice when they visit us here is that “there’s no cell phone signal out here.” This is right after they lock their car doors. Really? Who do you think is going to be wandering around this place stealing stuff out of your car? The closest other residence is 3 miles away.

I’m thinking this crew was probably happy to have the job since the depression would still be part of their character. They’d have heavy natural clothes as opposed to wicking synthetic fibers. They would work long days, maybe 6 days a week, and have no healthcare, no antibiotics, no pension, no unemployment insurance, and no disability insurance. Just the strength of their backs. And I’ll bet a cool pop on a hot day would have been a pretty big deal. I love this pop bottle. It speaks to me. It tells me amazing stories of another simpler time. Maybe it was simpler. Maybe it was better. It seems like their time held such promise. Humans have achieved some awesome things since then.

I wish one of the bottles had been salvageable. I’d fill it up some of my corporate Dr. Pepper and take it out with me next time I’m cutting wood in that area and summon up the spirit of that road crew. On second thought, I’d better take water. I hear that there is an epidemic of diabetes!

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8 Responses to “Me and the Road Crew”

  • Jim:

    The road building exactly as you described it, also occurred here in Australia in at 2 places that I know. It was called “corduroy” here. One example would have been about 100 years old when the local council decided to upgrade the road across the floodplain and when trying to dig down to get a better foundation were astonished to see the row of logs buried deep down running for about 2 kilometres. The foundations had to be larger and the cost blew out in no time.

  • Musia:

    Hi I wanted to piste a comment to your wedding dance post -my right was out of commission for the past month due to a very freaky accident a month ago – my palm got impaled by a small golfing pencil and I have only recently been able to get back to reasonable error free typing – I was not able to comment to that post -has this changed?

  • Ed:

    The label seems to have been standard, “The Crown Tells You The Flavor.”
    Check out some of these bottles (none from Thompson though)

    http://www.ecbw.ca/tim_maitland_collection/

  • farmgirlwanabe:

    Yes I would like a disk too! A memory of when we came to one of your workshops – another incentive for me to book that retreat I talked about last year (then I could pick up the one of a kind unique and autographed Sunflower momento :)).

  • Neil B. (Orleans):

    LOL! Cam, great minds must think alike…:-)

    Our son got married in October 2012 at Watson’s Mill in Manotick, Ontario. This 153 year building is a working mill and still makes floor from water power. Anyway, our daughter-in-law requested wood discs exactly like you have, Cam and Michelle. Even though we live within the city boundaries of Ottawa, our little 1/5 acre property had 2 Norwegain red maples on it that were dying. I cut these down (with my electric chainsaw) and used the trunks to make the discs. Cam, “I fully appreciate” how hard it is to make those discs. I had a few “samples” that never made it to the “big show”. However, all the discs that were cut were recycled and worked quite nicely in my airtight wood stove this past winter.

    The “extra touch” with the burnt in numbers on the birch, makes your centre pieces look very professional.

    Congratulations once again on your daughter’s wedding!

  • My SIL and I both have daughters getting married next spring – one month a part. As she began describing the table decorations to me yesterday (they are nearly identical to yours)I thought – hmmm..that sounds very similar to what we want to do. As it turns out I have lots of canning jars and she she will supply the candles. What we need are the wooden slabs! So if you haven’t burned them yet…we’re in the market for them! Imagine all your sweat equity beautifying the tables of not one but three weddings. On the other hand – don’t imagine the sweat part too much or your price may go up! Let me know 🙂

  • Susan:

    The locking the car is funny. I live on an island in the PNW and every time I get on the ferry there is inevitably some tourist that locks their car to go topside. When the ferry starts moving the alarm goes off then the captain has to announce that they need to go take care of their car. It also always seems to be a BMW, Porche, or Mercedes. Really people. It’s a 15 minute crossing. Where is a thief going to take your car? And if you are harboring diamonds in the back seat perhaps you should stay in the car. 15 minutes isn’t even enough time for a potty break. You can spot the locals. They stay in their cars and read.

    As far as a simpler time, I love that concept but not everything was better. I still love my flush toilet and the fact that all my kids have survived their childhood illnesses due to vaccines or antibiotics.

  • Don’t burn ALL the wooden disks! I want one please! 🙂

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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