Sturgeon, Freeman part 1 - 2

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                                         Freeman Sturgeon
                                         By Margery MacRae

For 87-year-old Freeman Sturgeon, these long hot summer days bring back memories of many years ago when he worked in the saw mill. Operating only during the summer months, the mill was located in the center of the village and was operated by Tim Bamford, hence the name Bamford Mill, although it was actually owned by Nashwaak Pulp and paper.

“The best part of my life was working in the pulp mill during the summer and going to the woods in the winter,” the elderly man recalled at his home in Blackville. Freeman and his wife Greta (who passed away in February 1994) were married in 1927 and raised a large family. Although times were hard in those days, Freeman always managed to find employment and provide for his family. “When I first started at the mill I think the men got one dollar a day and the boys 50 cents. We worked 12 hours a day at first and later it got cut back to ten. We would start working at 7 a.m., but five minutes before seven, the whistle would give a short toot as a signal for us to get ready. Then at seven it would give a long blast and everyone would be ready to start. Quarter time would be at 9:45. We had an hour off at noon.

“It was hot working inside the mill and outside as well,” Sturgeon said, as he recalled some of the difficult jobs that most of the men did. Canting was the hardest job of all, which meant turning the log so that the sawyer could take more slabs off it. Then there was the man who had to guide the logs from the pond up to the slip where another man would put it on a carriage and up to the saw.

“The sawyer knew just by looking at it how many board feet there would be in every log. A 16 foot log would have 40 board feet in it when it was sawed. Then it would go to the edger-man who would remove the rough bark and sides off it,” he explained. “Next it went to the planer and it was ready to use. Just before it went down the chute one man would trim the edges and mark the length and width on it.”

Since the railway tracks ran straight through the mill-yard the lumber had to be carried out to the siding to be loaded on box cars and this was done by men who carried it on their shoulders. “All the lumber was put in piles according to its length. Mind you, it was a long walk out to the point for those men carrying heavy lumber on their shoulders.” Stickers would be put on it to let the air dry it between each tier, Sturgeon said, and then it was ready to be loaded on box cars.

“A lot of work for $1.50 a day Sturgeon says with a smile, adding that he just can’t picture anyone doing that today. “I know a man who gets $21 an hour for doing little or nothing,” he says, shaking his head.

Another part of summer mill work was done by three or four men with horses and carts who delivered their loads of slab wood to villagers who had ordered them. “Everyone burned wood back then so it was all cut in stove length and cost about 25 or 30 cents a cart load. I think it went up to a dollar at the last of it,” he said.

Not all the wood would be delivered at the same time, usually not more than one load a day. “Most people generally ordered 25 or 30 loads to do them through the winter and it fell to the young lads to pile it up during the summer. Sometimes the piles would fall down and that meant piling it up again so that it would dry out.” That wasn’t the end of handling the wood though, because it had to be put in the shed before winter, from where it had to be carried to the kitchen wood-box as it was needed.

The Bamford Mill was not the only mill at which this Sturgeon spent so many years.”I worked too at one operated by Otto Grady in Blackville and another one at Colepaugh’s in Renous which was operated by Victor Dunphy.

I remember in 1922 working with a cross-cut saw. There was a law they had that you had to cut 12 inches up from the bulge of the roots. You might get three logs out of some trees. The last one at the top would be smaller. There was one man we called the ‘stumping top man’ who would always do the tops of the trees.

Like most everyone else the Sturgeons gave up using only wood in later years, but couldn’t really give it up completely. “I have an oil-wood furnace now so I always get a load of wood every year so I’ll have something to work at,” he says with a smile.

Freeman Sturgeon is very lonely now since he lost his companion of 67 years six months ago. However, there is one thing which does brighten up his days a bit and that is when people drop in to hear him talk about the ‘olden days’.

“Most of the people of my age are gone now,” he says, “and I find that younger people just aren’t interested in what it was like in Blackville when I was young.”

Source: Miramichi Leader – August 02, 1994

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                  We couldn’t saw logs on cornflakes, so we let the cook go
                                  By Margery MacRae

Freeman Sturgeon, of Blackville is 87 years old, and spends a lot of time talking about "the good old days." Every winter he likes to recall the many winters he spent working in the old lumber camps on the Miramichi.

In 1927, Sturgeon had been married for just a short time. "That was when I started to work for Bert (J. Albert) Underhill who was the boss of the Miramichi Lumber Company in Taxis River," he said. "When we first went to the woods in the fall, we had to stay in a tent until we got our camp built, and that was a big job. My job was to dig the moss and carry it back to the camp. It was cold work. Sometimes you'd have to wait until the sun thawed the moss."

When the camp was completed, Sturgeon said, 60 men would stay there. They worked in six-man crews. "We would be up at 5:30, have breakfast, and time for a smoke for those who wished to do so, and then off we'd go in the dark. It was really too dark to work, and sometimes we'd light a fire." Sturgeon said the men would work until 10 a.m. and then it was time to boil the kettle for a lunch. After lunch they'd work until 2 p.m. and have another lunch. "The boss told us we had to work until it got quite 'shady' before we could go for supper. We'd sit at three tables set for 20 men each. Suppers were good - we'd have lots of meat and potatoes.

Wilton Burns was a real good cook - real down-to-earth. One fall, another man came to cook for us, but he wanted too much fancy stuff, like cornflakes and peaches and pears. Bert said you couldn't saw logs on cornflakes, so he let him go."

The men used tin plates and dippers for their eating utensils. Sturgeon recalled that there were always three dishes of prunes on the eating tables. "We were allowed to eat all we wanted of those prunes, because they were so cheap," he laughed.

"Bert ran a good clean camp. He didn't allow card games or bad stories. You had to be careful of what stories you told. They had to be the kind you could tell at a church meeting." As for entertainment in the evenings before bedtime, which was 9 p.m., well you just made your own. "I remember one fellow who liked to sing, and once he started you just couldn't get him stopped. There was no turnoff button on him. I remember too, of some fellows playing the violin. Some of the men would put long aprons on, and we'd pretend they were women, and then we'd have a square dance."

Sturgeon said he remembered when they had their first battery-operated radio in the camp. "We were supposed to be in bed with lights out at 9 o'clock, but on the weekend, Bert would let us listen to Gabriel Heater giving the news at 10 o'clock. (Heater was a newscaster from Boston).

As for sleeping quarters, they were good. There were bunk beds, Sturgeon said, and the men would sleep on these in long rows with great long blankets stretched over them. This was good, except for the men on either end who sometimes had a struggle trying to keep enough of the blanket to stay warm. When it was very cold, one of the men would get up and stoke the fire in the night.

Sturgeon recalls working in camp

Freeman Sturgeon, 87, of Blackville likes to talk of the good old days. He likes to recall the many winters spent working in the old lumber camps on the Miramichi. For most of the men, an average monthly wage would be around $30, Sturgeon recalls.

He suddenly remembers he had stored away a stub of one of his pays among his possessions. "This one is dated Feb. 8, 1937, and I earned $35.80 that month, but $4.08 was deducted for 'wanagan'." Wanagan, he explained, was anything you had purchased during the month, such as clothing or tobacco.

By comparison, money went a lot further in those days than it does now. Then too, people were more careful about how they spent their money which they had to work so hard for.

"When we went to the woods in the fall, we wouldn't be home again until Christmas when we came out for a week or so. Of course there was lots for us to spend our money on then," he said. As for their families managing to survive when the men were away for so long at a time, you just depended on the local grocer to "carry" you, until you returned and they usually did, he explained.

Fortunately, there weren't many of them, but Sturgeon recalled one man getting hit by a falling tree on their last day before leaving for home. "I remember another man getting caught between the logs in the spring drive, and another one being hit by a log. There was only one fatal accident that I remember. Most of the time it was just this way, if you had an accident - if you were lucky, you got up yourself, if you weren't, it was just too bad."

After the Christmas holiday, the men returned to the woods where they continued to cut logs until nearly spring. Then they would go home for a little while until time for the spring drive. Sturgeon worked on the landings which, he explained were piles of logs piled on the bank of the river in the winter. The logs would be rolled out and skids (two fir poles) put under the first tier at the bottom. They continued this until they got to the top of the hill. "In the spring we would cut the face of the landing down, and all the logs would roll down into the river. That is where we had to be very careful to not get hurt," he said.

"The drive was the most horrible place there was in the spring of the year. The landings were high and the water was high. If you weren't quick on your feet, you might get a ducking.

Drives started up in Dungarvon - some in March and others in April. It just depended on what kind of spring it was. When the logs were put in the river, some men had to follow them down, setting free any that got caught on rocks or anything. That is where the Miramichi Sniper came in. He was one of your key men.

The Miramichi Sniper, Sturgeon explained, was a man named Nick Underhill who had the ability to land on a log and stay there where others might fall in the river. "He was smart and sure footed," he laughs. "A lot of the younger fellows had never worked on a drive before and didn't realize how dangerous it could be."

Freeman is very lonely now that he lives alone since Greta, his wife of 67 years passed away nearly a year ago. Freeman and Greta had seven children; Maxine, Alonzo, Percy, Joan, Marilyn, Hayward and Debbie, many of whom live on the Miramichi and drop in frequently to visit with their father.

One thing which has brightened the elderly man's life is a stray cat which happened along about a month ago and was immediately adopted by Freeman. "I call him Charlie, and he is a lovely friendly cat - I can't understand why anyone could abandon him."

Source: Miramichi Leader – January 31, 1995

This text is available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. For more information, select the following link:

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