by Barbara Van Orden Campbell
Barb and Con Campbell were cutting survey lines in the bush north of Rouyn-Noranda, Québec, when they heard that Gold Belt Air Service was looking for someone to run their refuelling base at Bachelor Lake. They jumped at the chance to take over the year-round job.
The second part of Barbara’s journal recording their experiences ― “Bachelor Lake Daze” ― has already appeared on Flights of History. With this post, we go back to the start of her story.
To view all posts from “Bachelor Lake Daze,” just click on the Gold Belt Air Service category below the main title at the top of the page.
“You Guys Married?”
At our campsite in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue wilderness, the tent flaps were tied back and the long summer twilight seemed filled with peace and just a hint of sadness. Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” was obviously called for, so Con began to recite the poem in a sonorous tone. From the neighboring tent, a thousand feet away, a spirited version of “You Are My Sunshine” was being belted out on a mouth organ. The melody abruptly stopped and presently a pair of sun-tanned faces looked into ours.
“We have a question, please.” The Sunshine Boys looked sheepish but determined. “How long have you guys been married?”
“Us guys” looked at each other. While Con was apparently trying to do the calculations in terms of light years, I answered quickly as any wife would, “Two years, come November. Why?”
“We got to wondering. Paul here said you were on your honeymoon and I bet you weren’t married at all. Now neither one of us can collect. Darn it! Oh, well…. Good night.” A few minutes later the mouth organ resumed its cheerful melody.
“Nor married at all! What a carnal thought!” Con gasped in mock horror. “If you can quit simpering, how about a cup of coffee for your fancy man?”
My damask cheek diffused with maidenly blushes, I hastened to fill the tin cups from the soot-stained coffee pot. “Guess it’s a natural enough thought when they see a toothsome morsel like me skulking around in the underbrush with a virile-looking bush rat like yourself. There should be another can of milk in that orange crate somewhere…. Maybe we’d better light the lamp, we seem to be fresh out of daylight.”
A Night Visitor Brings News
Suddenly, on the old logging road that ran past the campsite beside the lake, the headlights of a car fumbled through the darkening woods.
“Now who in hell is that?” muttered Con, snatching up the flashlight as the car stopped below the tent and the horn bleated cheerily. A voice hailed us as we hurried down the hill. “Coffee on?” The flashlight illuminated the gaunt form of our friend, Clair, emerging from behind the wheel.
“Sure, Clair, we’re just having some,” Con assured him, “C’mon up to the tent. What brings you out here at this hour of the night?”
“I’ll tell you all about it when we get up there. Shine that flashlight in the backseat here ― I brought you some fresh meat. Steak, already! Ben* said he hadn’t brought any meat out for a week, says you work better when you’re hungry.”
* Howard Bengry was the one who had arranged the line-cutting contract for the Campbells.
“Now that’s right neighbourly of you, Clair… Here, let me carry it, I like to smell the blood,” I told him.
It was full dark by now and Clair commented as we started up the hill, “Your tent looks unworldly up there with the light in it.” And so it did. A cheerful globule of light against the blackness.
“Watch that log, Clair,” Con warned. “I nearly took a header over it on the way down. What’s the news in town?”
“Nothing much,” he replied. “They say the price of gold’s going up though!
Hollow laughter greeted this sally. That had been the first news to greet me when I came to this mining area in Canada four years earlier and I had soon learned to see it as wishful thinking.
When we reached the tent, I poured a cup of coffee all around. Clair lowered himself to a seat on a rolled-up sleeping bag, slopping coffee over his wrist as he did so. Grinning at us over the rim of his cup, he said apologetically “Hope coffee doesn’t stain this wall-to-wall sod of yours.”
Then doing a quick double-take as he glanced at me, he asked, “What on earth happened to your ear? You look like a taxi with one door opened!”
Barb and Con Run for their Lives
I fingered my glowing ear gently as Con explained about the hornets.
“We were cutting lines this afternoon in some pretty thick bush. First thing I knew she shot past me like a bullet, heading east, and making noises like a scalded cat!”
“How did you get her stopped, Con?”
“Headed her off at the pass and ran her into the river. Quieted her down some, but I couldn’t get much work out of her for the rest of the day. Flighty sort of creature.”
“For your information, Clair,” I protested, “he ran right past me before I’d gone more than ten feet and those hornets didn’t have a chance even though they were in passing gear. Now what’s all this news you’re holding back?”
Gold Belt Air Service Looking to Hire
“Well, it goes like this, friends. As you know, I’m the accountant for Gold Belt Air Service in Rouyn-Noranda. They have a man based at Bachelor Lake about a hundred miles north-east of here ― he lives there all year around. Refuels their planes, keeps the two-way radio operating, reports the weather, keeps the place open so planes can stay overnight if the weather’s bad ― all that sort of thing.
“He’s quitting as of the first of August and company manager Léo Séguin needs to replace him. I’ve stuck my neck out to the extent of suggesting you two ― to my mind a married couple would be the real solution. You, Con, can provide the necessary strong back and with your two weak minds working more or less in conjunction you’d make a fine team. Add in Barb’s cooking ― well, there has been the slightest hint of dissatisfaction with the culinary efforts during the present setup. Anyhow, I’ve got Léo fairly well convinced and he’d like to talk to you about it. Interested?”
He laughed at our loud affirmatives and went on to explain all the details. We were enchanted by the whole idea – it seemed too good to be true. We fired questions and answers back and forth for what must have been hours ― until the gasoline lantern blinked once and expired, leaving us sitting in darkness.
“Well!” It was Clair’s voice. “That’s as good a hint as winding the clock and putting the cat out. Light me down to the car, Con ― I’ll tell Léo you’ll be in Friday. That’ll give you four days to finish the line-cutting out here.”
I was outside in the bright moonlight refilling the lamp as they walked by. “Gosh, Clair, how do we thank you for setting us up for a thing like this,” I started, but he clapped me on the shoulder.
“Gold Belt doesn’t know it yet but they’re getting the break! Besides, don’t get yourself in a flap ― it’s not a sure thing yet by a long shot. I wouldn’t like you to be let down too hard. See you Friday, Barb.”
The full moon made a black and silver filigree of the trees bordering the narrow lake. The light was so bright and clear that I could see the pale plumes of smoke rising from the distant twin stacks at the smelter in Noranda.
Con came loping up the slope, the flashlight darkened in his hand. “Some night, hey kid? Any coffee left?” he asked.
“Cup apiece maybe. Let’s bring it out here ― this view is worth diamonds.” So we sat and eagerly planned how things were going to be at Bachelor Lake while the stars admired their reflections in the lake at our feet. There was not the faintest breeze but no mosquitoes dared invade our peace to blight the feeling of kinship we suddenly felt for all the world.
Watch for the next installment of “Bachelor Lake Daze” coming soon!