Grattan, Billy

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                                  BILLY GRATTAN
                                By Cathy Carnahan


As the ice breaks up in the river, memories of early guiding days come flooding back to Billy Grattan. The Americans came each spring and the White Rapids fishermen knew just where to take them. It was a way of life for 40 some years.

The sportsmen still come and guides are still needed, but Grattan goes guiding no more. “I had a heart attack see in 1986-87,” he said in a Friday morning interview at his home on the Southwest Miramichi. “It’s three years ago I think since I quit guiding, but I often think of poling that old heavy boat across the river and a lad inside with a ton of clothes on him,” he added with a grin.

William Grattan, best known as Billy, was born on April 23, 1912 and tomorrow he marks his 80th birthday. Family and friends celebrated the occasion with an open house on Saturday at the White Rapids church hall near the Grattan home.

“I think it was 1946 when I first got interested in guiding,” Grattan said. “A bunch of Americans came over and bought an interval in the river just across the road from here. They came early in the fall of 1945 and said they wanted to build a sports camp. We built two camps that fall. Then spring, we started guiding. I never guided before, but I could use a boat,” he said. “I’d been in them from time to time I could stand up.”

Grattan took a photo from an envelope. It shows him proudly holding up a big salmon. Standing next to him was Dr. Clarence Potter, an American friend and sportsman.

“We took them to where the fishing was. Of course, in the spring there was fish everywhere, but it was hard guiding them times. They’d drive the logs them times and that made crossing pretty hard. Lots of times you couldn’t see no water, just logs,” Grattan said.

“I had nothing but a wood boat I made myself. It was so heavy – two great, big, thick, old pine boards. It took two men just to pick it up. There were no motors either,” he said. “Oh, it was quite a time, but we didn’t seem to mind then.”

Grattan smiled as he reminisced about those fishing and log driving days which remain vivid in his memory.

The logs went to booms and then they were separated, he recalls. “Every company’s logs were put by themselves and then tugboats took the logs to the mills. The mills were all on the river banks them times,” he said.

             Grattan sat in a big, beautiful burgundy chair as he told his story.

Some people think the log drive hurt the fishery, but he disagrees, he said. “They quit driving the logs, but they didn’t help the fishing none. I always claimed the log drive was a good thing. It cleaned the river as it went.”

He went on the drive a few times, but didn’t stay. He ran a small farm and preferred his job of guiding. “The guiding was a good thing because there wasn’t much other way to make money that time of year, and it was quick money. When the day was done, they’d hand you your money.”

“I think we started over here at $4 a day,” Grattan said gesturing to the river, just across the road and down over the bank from his home. “Four dollars was a good day’s pay back then.”

                            ‘I wouldn’t live nowhere else’

Billy Grattan turns 80 on Thursday, and looking back, he has few regrets. “I wouldn’t live nowhere else for one thing,” he said in an interview at his home in White Rapids on the Southwest Miramichi. The old man started across the room deep in thought. “I wouldn’t change nothing very much.

“I liked horses and I always had them. I had a small blacksmith shop, too, and I did all my own shoeing,” he said.

Grattan was also a husband, father, farmer, lumberman, guide and livestock dealer, but he’s too humble to do any bragging. “Yes, I did some things, but they don’t appear that important,” he said.

“I was born just up the road here. There was a big family of us.” William and Elizabeth (nee Roy), formerly of Bathurst, had 13 children and Billy was the second youngest. He was christened William like his father, but all his life people have called him Billy. Now only he and his sister, Jennie Tucker, who lives in Fredericton, remain of the large family.

Grattan has a large family of his own which he’s extremely proud of. He and his wife, Dorothy (nee Ryan) formerly of Minto, had 14 children – eight boys and six girls. “They’re slowly leaving us, though. We’re down to five boys now,” Dorothy said.

Their son, Vincent, died just a couple weeks ago, so it’s been a sad and difficult time for all of them.

Billy remembers when Vincent and his siblings were small. He also remembers the first time he saw their mother. Dorothy worked for the railroad foreman, Mike Cando, and his family in Minto and when they were transferred to Quarryville she moved with them. “That was when I spied her,” Billy said with a grin. A couple years later they married.

“I don’t remember much about it,” he said winking and nodding to the kitchen, where his wife was busy knitting. “We were married Feb. 27, 1935,” Dorothy said. “Yes, that’s right,” Billy said with another big grin. “Now he remembers,” Dorothy said. Billy smirked. “Yes, now I remember,” he said.

                        ‘I can’t keep him out of the barn’

Billy Grattan wasn’t too old when he found out he had a natural love for horses. Now almost 80 he drives a car, but he fondly remembers the days of transportation with horse. “I was around them as soon as I could walk,” he said in an interview at his White Rapids home.

A smile spread across his face as he remembered his father, William, who the locals often called Bill. “People used to say, ‘Bill, you’re going to have to keep that boy out of the barn. Them horses will kill him.’ “But Pop said, ‘I can’t keep him out of the barn. I can’t stand here and watch him all the time. He’ll just have to take potluck,’ but they never hurt me. “It was a funny thing about them horses. They tried to kill everyone else, but us…they never bothered,” he said as he stared off across the room and smiled.

“I wasn’t too tall. Of course, I’m still not, but I’d have to get in the manager to put their collars on…and their bridles,” he said. Prince and Fred were Percherons, enormous work horses, and Billy remembers them both with fondness. Prince was brown with a white star and Fred was almost black. “Pop bought the mare and she was in foal when he got her. That one was Prince. The next year she had another colt,” Grattan said. “Prince, he was the same age as me. Oh, he was some good horse. God, he knew everything. They were cross horses though. No one could go near them, but me and my father.”

                He kept them until they were pretty well done work and finished.

“Every year he logged with that team. I didn’t drive them on the logging roads, but I did drive them hauling gravel on the roads, probably when I was 14 or 15,” Grattan said.

“You seldom seen a grader when I was young. They used a split log drag, they called it, and a team of horses. My father used to drag it from the turn down here at the graveyard to up the road about another mile above here. Each lad had two miles to do,” he said. “It was quite a job in the spring of the year.

“There were hardly any cars when I was in my teens. I’d say, it’s just a rough guess, but there might be five or six cars between Quarryville and Blackville,” Grattan said. “Quite a few bought cars in 1928-29, then the Depression came in 1930 and nobody had money to run them.”

                                        Hard times

“Them was hard times during the Depression. You couldn’t earn nothing. There was four years in that Depression there was no work. If someone wanted some wood cut or something, you’d get 50 cents a day.

“Then in the fall of ’34 the companies started to get some lumber cut,” he said. He recalls he and some other men from the Rapids community got a chance to cut some logs up on the Northwest Miramichi. “It was a hard looking place when you went you know. The companies hadn’t been doing anything for so long, eh. They had to build new camps and everything. Trails had to be made to get to work,” he said. “There were no machines, not then. Some places later, they got big tractors to clear the roads for winter.”

The old man shook his head as he reminisced. Piling logs with horses and piling blocks remain fresh in his memory. “You mostly yarded with one horse,” he said. “They brought in train loads of horses from the west and they were good horses, but they were awfully stupid. They were used to walking on level ground and, see, they were mostly used out there in four and six-horse teams. You’d take one out and he really didn’t know what to do alone.”

                                          Avoid school
                        Grattan was also used to horses like Prince and Fred.

“Pop would get a chance to go on the log drive and I’d go drag the road. Of course, that was great. That was my excuse not to go to school,” he said with a grin.

He recalls he went until he was 12 and then quit. “Still I didn’t learn much,” he added with another smile. “My mind was always on the horses.”

Prince and Fred were his long-time friends. “I had a lot of horses after they went. Yes, I had a lot of good horses,” he said.

“I had a favorite mare to work. We called her Queen. She was a reddish brown – a bay, I guess. She was ugly around other horses, but the reason I say she was my favorite she could haul anything any other horse could haul… and she was also a good driving horse,” Grattan said.

‘See, them times we drove horses a lot. Me and my father often went to Newcastle with a load of potatoes. It was a long drive in an old rough wagon… about 20 miles,” he said. Grattan’s smile turned to a laugh. “That Queen, she was good at anything you put her at.

“I raised a colt off her, too. She wouldn’t let another horse near her, but she never bothered him. “Oh he was a lovely colt, too. He was awful kind. “We called him Trigger, but we didn’t have him very long. He got a nail in his foot and blood poisoning went all through him. He was six then.

“After that I never really got attached to any horse,” he added. He bought, sold, and traded them, but there were never any horses quite like Prince, Fred, Queen or Trigger. Those were the ones that Billy Grattan loved best.

“I worked most all my life in the woods. My father cut a bit of wood and I’d twitch it with the horse. Yes, I was wild about horses,” he said with another tremendous grin and a deep chuckle.

“I was 16 the first year I stayed in camps all winter. We worked up at the north branch of the Renous.


Source: Miramichi Leader – April 22, 1992

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