Column: Life at shake camp near Seymour Arm never dull

Shuswap Outdoors by Hank Shelley

A cold north wind whistled down the snowmobile trail.

A raven swooped through the snow laden timber above. Heading up the North Fork, the old Ski-Doo twin track chugged along, the two rider’s bundled up against the cold. The woman steering and the young man hanging on behind, didn’t realize what was about to happen.

Although the events happened a few winters back, she still smiles, thinking about the giant 400-lb snowball that tumbled down that cold winter day. It just missed them as it shot past into a deep ravine below. It’s a rare phenomenon but happens when a chunk of frozen snow, from a tree branch, falls on soft snow on a steep incline. This starts a snowball rolling effect. Several more came crashing down that day, snow snails rolling along the trail caused by the wind.

Feeding a crew of seven guys from an old school bus made-kitchen on a large shake wood camp in Ratchford east of Seymour Arm was never dull. Other customers showed up for supper each evening included eight cow moose. Eight bowls were laid out in a row and the moose chowed down on dry dog food. That is, until the wolves in the distance, began to howl. Like shadows, into the timber they went. Shaker, the camp dog, wouldn’t cross that invisible line in the snow either.

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The camp’s cook had many pails of meatballs, pasta’s etc being kept cold in the deep snow, but always had time to make cakes and pastries for Randy, the helicopter pilot/forest service officer who would snowmobile in for inspections. A favourite was the pineapple upside-down cake and coffee.

One winter’s day, one of the young crew came down the road to camp. Only problem was, there were eight cow moose and a wooden bridge in his path. He stopped the machine,and hollered for help. The camp’s chef told him to shut the machine off and back away. But it was too late. The old matriarch moose charged, putting her hoofs through the hood of his machine.

From helping zipline hundreds of shake blocks from the bush down to landings, to loading “B” trains, to almost drowning in the ice-covered Perry River, to making hundreds of shakes with a froe and mallet, to doing double shifts at a local shake and shingle mill, fond memories remain.

It was a sad day for us all when, in 2010, 340 or more dedicated Forest Service employees, including office staff were laid off. Loads of shake blocks still roll down the highway from time to time. It just doesn’t feel the same!

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