Working in the bush

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Tony Cybulski, playing the violin. He would take his son Lornie with him to the bush in the 1940s.

by Lornie Cybulski                                                                           

Around the age of 10 or 11, (in 1946-1947) sometimes on weekends, I would go to Dad’s farm at Quadeville because I really enjoyed riding on the horse sleigh on our way to the logging site in the bush about two or three miles from the farm house. 

I can still remember the squeaking of the metal runners on the frozen snow as we travelled along. There were about six men and watching them work was something else. Seeing them fall a large maple about two feet across the stump with a long cross-cut saw with the sweat rolling down their foreheads gave me a great respect for what they produced in a day. They then would cut the tree into log lengths and use a single horse to skid them out to the landing area. 

The teamster would hitch the chain to the log and make a sound like a kiss that would signal the horse to pull. Most times the horse would go on his own all the way to the loading area and stop there until the teamster came and unhitched the log and then go back for another log. My job was usually to keep the fire going for lunch time. I’d place pine and cedar branches on the flames to hear them crackle and the smells from this fresh burning in the crisp air made you feel good to be outdoors.

Lunch time was something else. I’d have a gallon can of tea boiling away on a wire across the fire. All the men would sit around the fire and we would eat huge slabs of fresh pork on homemade bread and butter and sometimes we had baked beans. Some of the guys would cut a branch and toast the bread. 

After a cold forenoon in the bush, you cannot imagine how good and wholesome this tasted. Once when we were all sitting around the fire my brother, Andrew (Gander) noticed a large buck deer with a big rack of horns standing on a knoll about a hundred feet away watching us. The deer stood there for about three or four minutes and then slowly walked away. Needless to say the next topic around the lunch fire was how to prepare venison steak but no one had brought a gun.

Other sights and sounds were equally amazing, like blue jays flitting here and there, and the odd woodpecker, some species over a foot long attacking a tree making a rat-a-tat sound like a machine gun firing. Then there were red squirrels jumping about and screaming their heads off because we were invading their private area. Sometimes I saw flying squirrels. They would jump off from high up in a hemlock tree and glide about two or 300 feet to a different branch.

Most of the work was done with hand tools, axes, cross-cut and swede saws. They also had an old gas chain saw, one of the first ones on the market. I think it was a Hornet, and must have weighed a ton. Anyway, Leo Kargus was having trouble getting the saw going and was cleaning the spark plug. In my curiosity I tried to help him and when I was attaching the wire to the spark plug I tightened it too much and it snapped off. Leo was a very patient man. If someone did that to me I would have gone berserk. All he said quietly was I would have to go back to the farm house for another plug. So away I went in the sub-zero weather for two-and-one-half miles back to the farm to retrieve another spark plug. It wasn’t bad because with the constant movement, my feet stayed warm and I actually enjoyed my trek.

Door from the 1940s truck.

At the end of the day the horses were hitched on to the sleigh and some of the tools and equipment piled on, plus our whole gang and the ride back to the farm house began. It was pretty to see the red glow of the setting sun shimmering on the snow through the trees as we slid along. One thing I noticed was whenever we had to go down a hill the horses knew how to dig their steel shoes into the frozen snow to prevent the sleigh from gaining too much speed. At the farm, more chores, wood to bring in, and water pails to be filled. There was a trough beside a pump that was usually half filled with ice. The horse team was brought there to drink, and you would have to pump and pump and pump until they quenched their thirst. Then up to the stable to get the harness off and give them oats and hay. If it was around 40 below zero we would cover them with huge horse blankets. After the odd snort and fart, the horses seemed to be content and I often wonder how they slept while standing up. Only later in life I realized some humans could also do this while at work.

The house was cold with the water frozen on the top of the drinking water pail. After a roaring fire in the stove the place got cosy warm and then more pork, beans, homemade bread, cake and pies my Mom supplied to the gang. 

Being very tired we slept until an alarm clock was ringing downstairs somewhere signalling for us to get up and take turns outside visiting the cold frozen outhouse with its Eaton’s catalogues. After a hearty breakfast, eggs, bacon and all it was off again to the bush just as the sun was pushing its rays over the hills.

On Saturday evening Dad, Andrew (Gander) and I went back to Killaloe for more supplies. Some of the men went home and a few usually stayed at the farm for a three-week stretch or more. I really liked it at the farm and felt bad that I had to be in school Monday morning for the week.

Editor’s note: Mr. Cybulski, who died in 2011, wrote these memories for his family who graciously shared them with our readers.