The Drayman



Lew Goddard




 
© Copyright 2020 by Lew Goddard



Photo of a dray.

My Father was a Drayman. As long as I can remember my Dad was a hardworking man.

According to Webster a dray is a low cart without sides used for carrying heavy loads. My Dad altered the definition by placing long planks embodied with twelve-inch metal steel bolts that were flattened with two bolts attached to the planks. These metal fasteners were inserted into appropriately located holes in the bed of the dray. In the event of a loose heavy load the one-foot sides kept the load from falling off.

When I was five years old, we lived in a small house that had a hard-earthen floor in the kitchen and dining area. The rest of the rooms, a large bedroom and another room that we would now call a living room were provided with one by four-inch unfinished wood. Two sisters slept on cots in the “living room” and I slept on a hammock shaped cot in the bedroom with my parents. This was a house provided by the Farmer/Owner of the property. It had no indoor plumbing, water supply system or furnace. The cook stove was the only means of heat. My Mother baked fabulous home-made bread in the oven with huge slices that covered a plate.

Laundry was accomplished by hand using a large metal tub and a scrubbing board. This board held a rippled glass surface surrounded by a wooden frame. The clothes were scrubbed using up and down motion with Lye soap to help remove the stubborn soils. It was hard physical labor for my Mother and older sister. Sometimes I would get a bath in the left-over laundry water outside when the weather was warm.

Looking back at that after some seventy years I’m sure that’s why we usually find it necessary to indulge in a daily shower to remove that accumulation from bygone years.

We moved about fifteen miles south to the next farm that same year. With a horse pulling a small wagon and a milk cow tethered behind it took most of one day.

Upon arrival it was noted that the cow’s belly was bloated and it was suffering. I first learned of some of my Dad’s knowledge and ability that day. It seemed odd to me when he reached into his pocket and opened his jack knife and plunged it into the side of the cow while it was lying on its side. The odor expelled from this opening was indeed not very nice. The insertion of the knife must have hurt but obviously it was compensated by reducing the belly pain that the unfortunate animal was experiencing. The cow survived.

Housing was much better and larger. This time my Mother and Father utilized the “living room” with their double bed and dresser on the main floor. The second story contained two bedrooms and I had one to myself and one for one sister. At that time my older sister left school and went to work away from home.

Otherwise living conditions were not much different from the previous place with the old cook stove being the principle heating facility. My Dad would come home from work and he would immediately pick up the axe and begin to chop wood at the ever-existing wood pile. A supply would be brought in to the “wood box” for over night and the next day of heating water in the reservoir and cooking.

One day my Mother approached my Dad from the rear at the time he was chopping wood and touched him on the shoulder. It startled him just at the time that the axe was at its highest elevation. The story was reiterated for a number of years afterwards that Dad attempted to take the axe to my Mother as she told it.

Eggs provided the main staple with the delicious home-made bread taking second place. Meat was scarce as well as vegetables until the early fall harvest. Potatoes and carrots along with a few other garden vegetables were savored at that time. There was a cellar cold enough to keep some until the next spring.

Flour was hauled by horse and buggy once a month from town five miles distant. Because my parents were far from wealthy the government provided 100 pounds of flour per month that was termed “relief.” In today’s language it is social assistance.

During the winter the chickens had to be cared for on the other side of the barn. It seemed to be a long distance in my young mind. Again, my Father showed his ingenuity by stretching a thin rope from the house to the barbed wire fence that travelled to the barn to guide him in the times of winter storms and darkness.

There were no street lights and no yard lights--- no electricity. Winter nights were pitch black unless the moon was shining. It was said that farmers could become lost in storms on their way to and from the out buildings if they didn’t have a system of guidance.

I turned six the next year in March and attended the Red Fox country school with my sister. Until the snow was gone, we travelled to and from with the horse and buggy. Later in warm dry weather we hiked the half mile across the field.

That summer we moved to the small town of Sintaluta in Saskatchewan that changed my Dad’s occupation to a Drayman.

Mr. Jackson sold the only business of drayman to my Dad along with two work horses and necessary equipment to perform the duties as determined by customers.

Every week day morning found the drayman at the railway station to load groceries, beer in bottles and kegs, freight and vehicle parts to be delivered throughout the town. Mr. Jack Stewart was the station master. In stature he was the exact opposite of my Father. Mr. Stewart’s girth was estimated to be in excess of eighty inches and he carried it proudly. On a certain day he would buy a dozen stout as it was taken off the train and give the money to Dad for the hotel beverage owner.

I remember tasting stout when I was older but it didn’t appeal to me and still doesn’t.

Beer and perishables were to be delivered first to the hotel and to the three grocery stores on Main Street. The kegs were very heavy and were left at the rear entrance to the beverage room. There was no beer in cans at that time, only glass bottles. Perishable groceries were taken directly to the coolers in the stores.

These duties were usually completed before eleven A.M. in a matter of three hours.

If the weather was extremely hot the horses were taken back home and frequently watered. Feature a two-gallon pail of cold well water! I used to watch the horse consume this so quickly that I’m sure that he never took a breath. The look of satisfaction was obvious. Then back to work.

On Wednesday of every second week it was garbage collection throughout the entire town. Census stated that there were about two hundred and fifty residents in Sintaluta but the number of homes was never made known. Considering that the average family consisted of 3.3 occupants placed the number of houses in the neighborhood of seventy-five. Each household had some refuse, some in galvanized metal containers and some in paper bags that originated at the grocery stores, and some just lying on the ground. Plastic grocery bags were not existent in 1942.

Everything was thrown away to be collected by the drayman. This included old mattresses, old lumber, used oil filters and vehicle parts, tree limbs, newspapers and magazines, household appliances some as large as wood and coal heaters to name a number of items that were loaded on to the dray and taken three quarters of a mile south of town and dropped in the “dump.”

It wasn’t until some time in the 1960’s that refuse was more carefully controlled and covered on a regular basis and the disposal site became known as “The Landfill.”

As you can imagine this task was not completed in a few hours. Often the remainder of the homes and the commercial buildings were serviced the following day.

One hot long day my Father arrived home obviously sweating and worn out sitting on the side of the dray with his feet hanging down. Held between his knees was an open metal can that probably had contained canned corn or peas but now housed two perky ears and big round eyes. While my Father was realistic about wild animals and pets, he just couldn’t see why someone would be so cruel to abandon a one or two-week old kitten at the “dump.” I was ecstatic of course.

We nurtured her and a little to my surprise Dad enjoyed her playfulness when he removed his son, she would viciously attack them and move on to Dad’s long underwear and his toes. He even picked her up on occasion.

Then she gave birth to four kittens. Heaven on earth! No, Dad said that we couldn’t afford to feed five cats. I suggested giving the kittens away but he sadly said that they had to be disposed of. Naturally, I was heartbroken. It was even worse when he showed me the disposal method and put me in charge.

The horses were stabled in the barn belonging to Mr. Jackson. I don’t know if Dad paid for the use of the facility. We walked over to the barn each night to make sure they had enough to eat and drink. Arrangements were made with another owner whose property was comprised of two regular town lots that were fenced with barbed wire. The owner was pleased to have his fence repaired and of course it was an easy way to keep the grass and weeds to a minimum. Sometime during a stay in the “pasture” the horses had a disagreement and one placed a hoof on the others flank with a very distinct shape of the horseshoe. It must have hurt but she didn’t seem to limp or favor that leg. What really hurt was the liquid dressing that we placed on the wound to prevent infection. The horse was securely tied to the manger and we stood behind the huge timber that also helped to hold up the barn as Dad reached out with the disinfectant rag wrapped around the end of an old hockey stick. As he slapped the solution onto the sore, she kicked back and hit the wall of the barn and the old building shook. This application was administered twice each time and twice a day. Fortunately, the wound healed over in a couple of days leaving a huge scab but no infection.

During the winter ice was hauled for the butcher’s ice house in town. The ice was obtained from various dugouts in the area and when it was convenient time and weather wise, we would haul ice in the dray with the horses. One such cold sunny day about a mile and half south of town Dad had a problem lifting a chunk of ice out of the water. As I remember it was more than a foot wide and a similar size long and all of eighteen inches thick. He slipped and went into the water up to his waist. Together we managed to get him back on solid ice. I picked up the ice saw and tongs and helped him on top of the ice on the dray. He always brought a cushion to sit on but that day at twenty below zero he needed something else to protect him so we covered his legs with my parka. I grabbed the bridle of one horse and ran beside until we reached home. By this time his dentures were rattling like a John Deere tractor and he was cold! My Mother placed a couple of wool blankets for a brief period in the oven and made some hot tea. Dad never drank coffee just tea. He was English. It seemed like it took forever for him to get warm with the blankets over him and his feet on the oven door. He mentioned that it took a couple of days before he really felt warm.

We moved again to a somewhat larger home. The real reason was that the property included a barn and the horses would always be at home. The house was a one and half story complete with one large bedroom on the upper level. Now that my sisters were both gone to work the bedroom was shared by me and my parents similar to the first home, I recall on the farm north of town. That arrangement didn’t last long Dad fashioned a bedroom on the main floor for him and my Mother. Nothing wrong with that now I had a bedroom all to myself. I found out that there was no insulation in the sloping walls and it was nipply cold in the winter.

The following year Dad hit a bump in the road. Business had been good and he was always thoroughly played out each day. That may have contributed to his suffering from Hemorrhoids that led to surgery to relieve the growths. I still shudder to think of that time and sometimes I felt physical phantom pain when I knew that Dad was in severe pain.

On the day that surgery was planned my Mother and I waited in the hospital room for Dad to come back from the operating room of the Indian Head hospital. There was no hospital in our home town.

It was evident that he had under gone Ether as an anesthetic. It certainly has a distinct odor. He roused and opened his eyes and his words were slurred, “What is it, a boy or a girl.? I knew Dad was going to be all right.

Recovery was quick and he was soon back to work.

It was spring and vegetable gardens had to be prepared for the townsfolk. Nearly every one had a garden of varying sizes and Dad sharpened his single plow. He didn’t actually sharpen it he just shined it so that it would slide easier through the soil. It had handles much like a wheelbarrow and connections at each side for traces so that one or two horses could pull it. It always seemed awkward to me at each end of the garden where a 180-degree turn had to be made. However, my Dad made it look easy even with the weight being in the neighborhood of one hundred or more pounds. He would continuously speak to the horses and they would move just as if they knew exactly what he was saying. Plowing kept him busy for up to a month with all the other work. In the fall it all started over again once the gardens had been harvested.

During the summer months the grass in the boulevards was cut with a horse drawn mower. There were several pointed blades mounted on a long flat shaft that when the two heavy metal wheels tuned forward the gearing prompted the shaft to rapidly move back and forth. Hence, grass was left at the point of cutting. After a suitable time of drying the grass, (hay), was gathered by hand and thrown on to the dray. It was then delivered to the barn loft. I think I was about twelve when I started helping with the hay gathering.

Late one afternoon after collecting a full dray load, we were throwing it into the loft and for some reason the horses were startled with something and jerked forward. I happened to be at the rear end of the wagon where the upright caught me about a foot up on my leg and toppled me on to the ground. There I was lying flat on my back with Dad looking down at me. He questioned if I was hurt and I said no before he burst into raucous laughter. He said that was about the funniest thing he had seen for a long time. Arms and legs flying with the pitch fork thrown over the fence into the garden. What a wonderful memory.

Toward the end of August into early September a few railway cars arrived filled with coal. Most residences were heated with wood and coal because natural gas had not been trenched throughout the town. This meant that moving the coal from the rail cars to bins beside the railway was part of Dad’s job. Can you imagine the magnitude of this endeavor? Twenty ton of coal, 40,000 pounds had to be moved. Prior to my coming of age my Dad used to accomplish this all by himself. I later helped until I graduated from high school and coincidentally my Dad retired at that time.

We started moving coal after the delivery of materials to stores was complete. A slide was provided in the rail side bin so that the coal would approach the far wall as closely as possible, Planks were removed from behind the sliding door of the car and they were taken one at a time until we had an entrance to the floor. We must have walked miles, back and forth, with a large lump in out arms or a shovel full. Once we had space, we took turns filling and emptying a wheel barrow. About thirty-two hours later all the coal was in the bin. Even with a small volume of oil spray that was provided on the coal it was very dust clogging work. Our appearance at the end of the day was very different. That’s where the comment “black as coal” originated.

The school was equipped with a stoker feed furnace. That meant that the coal was converted to small chunks that would move through the stoker and maintain a regular temperature as set by a thermostat. Loading and unloading was by shovel only. The railway car held about the same tonnage as lump coal but it meant considerably more walking with shovels and wheel barrow. Five tons were immediately delivered to the school. A metal slide was placed in the basement window and the coal slid down into a concrete room. At about half full it was usually my job to crawl into the bin and move the particles back until the room was full. Once that was completed, I was in dire need of a bath.

The remainder of the coal was shoveled into a rail side bin next to the lump coal.

Dad always made sure that the horses were well cared for, plenty of hay, oats and water. At the end of the day he would brush and curry them. The bond between man and animal was obvious. Dad vary rarely imbibed alcoholic beverages but one day when my Mother and I were away visiting relatives in another town, he was persuaded to have a few beers in what was then called “the Beer Parlor.” How many he consumed is still unknown but the horses brought him home and he managed to unharness and feed them. Some time later he awakened lying on the bedding between the horses. They had patiently waited until he was mobile before they shook and stretched themselves. If a horse happened to step on your foot she would move away and almost apologize. They are great animals.

On occasion they, the horses, did cause problems. We had just finished unloading some car parts at the Ford Dealer’s garage on Railway Avenue opposite the railway crossing when something frightened them, they took off Hell bent for leather over the crossing and passed the first street when a pick up truck turned toward them. Immediately they took a sharp left-hand turn into the ditch and discovering a fence made another abrupt left-hand turn and were now facing in the direction from where they started. How they then cleared the fence and the electrical transformer station I’ll never know because there couldn’t have been more than a couple of inches on either side of the dray. Still in full gallop Dad stood in their path and I held my breathe; he was going to be run over. No, they skidded to a halt. I was standing about thirty yards from them but I heard the hard crunch of his fist as he nailed the closest horse. It shook its head as if to say, what did I do? That was the only time I ever witnessed Dad loose patience with his animals.

Finally, the horses were retired and Dad purchased a small tractor with an air-cooled motor. He looked proud sitting on that metal seat formed to fit his derriere with the dray following behind. There had to be a number of ingenious adaptations to change from being horse drawn to tractor drawn and he made all of them.

The most difficult adjustments were for pulling the plough and the hay mower. When I watched him plough a garden it seemed that he would wear the steering wheel out before he was finished. No matter, the gardens were still perfectly ploughed.

Periodically a rail car arrived full of 80-pound fertilizer bags. In our very small town, the only retail sales for that type of fertilizer was the Co-op. Their warehouse was part of the retail store on Main Street. The floor was originally constructed of two by ten lumber, however, over the years it had seen too many tons and too many feet that had caused damage and breakage. Each bag had to be carried by hand from the front of the building to the rear a distance of about forty feet. I never discovered the total tonnage but I’m sure that it was close to the weight of a car load of coal because the fertilizer arrived in the same type of car. At least it wasn’t quite as dusty as handling coal.

Another task originated with the railway. New ties arrived and were placed on a loading dock that was the same level as the floor of the rail car. Railway workers unloaded the ties but someone had to distribute them to the locations where replacements were necessary. That someone was my Dad and most of the time I was the helper. Again, this was back breaking work loading them on to the dray and then hauling them sometimes a few miles parallel to the railroad. Of course, the ditches and borrow pits were not easily traversed. At times when the dray was fully loaded and it had to be pulled up the side of a ditch, I road on the front of the tractor to make sure that it didn’t flip over and land on the driver. Dad would always say that if I couldn’t hold it in place I was to yell and jump off allowing him time to jump off too. Fortunately, that never happened but as I look back on the process that was indeed a stupid thing to do.

When the worn-out ties were cast by the rail line, we would collect them and pile them in locations determined by the maintenance personnel.

One of the nastiest jobs was sewage collection and disposal. Two buildings, the school and the Town Hall were the only places where human waste was stored in holding tanks buried in the ground. The tanks were under washrooms with a huge “drop tube” allowing waste and associated material to descend into storage. You probably have an idea about the smell. Dad called the collection vessel a “Honey Wagon.” It was a wooden barrel shaped tank with massive straps around to keep the boards together and tight. A hand operated pump with a long handle with a hose attached drew the effluent from the drop tube tanks. It usually took more than two hours to fill the collection vessel. We took turns pumping.

On one such occasion the pump ceased to work properly. Evidently something had blocked the hose or the pump. I do honestly believe that several words were added to my vocabulary that particular afternoon at the Town Hall. My Dad had a bit of a temper but obviously this was just too much for him and I understood when he said that we had to dismantle the pump. Can you imagine a dastardlier deed? I think I remember wanting to up chuck.

Out came the tools, mostly wrenches that fit the four bolts around the head of the pump. With his bare hands he held one wrench at the head of the bolt and the other ratcheted the bolt off the bottom. One bolt had to be removed from part of the handle and “woila” the guts were revealed. Dad reached for something that was protruding from the belly of the pump and showed it to me.

He looked me in the eye and softly said, “I know that you aren’t supposed to know what this is at your age, but I think you do.” It was a sanitary napkin.

Emptying the tank was much easier. We backed the tank part way into a ditch about a mile east of our town and next to a slough. No farm within a half mile and no animals in sight. The release valve was opened at the lower rear of the tank and within minutes the honey wagon was empty.

Along about this time Dad was asked to clean up debris and garbage from the local cemetery. It was located and still is, about three quarters of a mile north of town. He headed out with the tractor and the dray and stopped facing the gate. The gate was never locked because often people liked to drive in and place flowers and visit their lost ones. Unfortunately, Dad did not secure the brakes on the still running tractor and it rolled catching his right leg between the steering shaft and the still securely latched gate. A bone close to his ankle was fractured. With great difficulty he managed to move the tractor just enough to release his leg and he limped along the side of the tractor crawled up on the seat, turned around and drove home. A good neighbor took him to Indian Head and Dad returned home in a cast that reached his knee.

Now a person like him used to continuous physical activity was worse than a Yellow Jacketed Wasp. His mind told him what needed to be done but his body could not respond.

My Mother and I filled in for him. I knew how to operate the tractor and it was decided that the morning freight delivery and any other easy looking job would be my responsibility until Dad could function. It was summer holidays and I was not attending school and that was one positive.

Keeping busy was no problem and I must say that I managed quite well. One afternoon I raced the freight train over the crossing. I made it with the throttle wide open but probably no faster than ten miles an hour. The engineer offered much more on his whistle than normal and shook his fist at me. That was one thing that I never told my Dad.

Dad recovered quite well and was back to work before the cold weather arrived. We were still partnering most of the time and we both worked hard. I actually outweighed him by some twenty pounds when I was seventeen. He never said that it was a good or bad thing but once or twice I bent over in front of him and raised him over my shoulder in a fireman’s hold and carried him part way from the garage to the house. He used to chastise me and said @#%&) $@. Then we both laughed.

The next year a friend and a Legion Member arranged for Dad to receive a pension called a Burned-Out War Benefit for his service in the First World War and because he suffered what was called Trench Fever during that time. Dad was sixty years old. It was the same year that I graduated from high school and obtained a full-time job.

At home one weekend at the first part of September Dad made a short trip to a service station not far from our home and south of the Trans Canada highway. His little Terrier that used to be mine always went every place he did. The dog ran across the highway just as a motorist was travelling east at probably the speed limit and made no attempt to miss the animal. That was the one and only time that I had seen my Dad cry when he brought his companion home in his arms.

Dad lived for nearly twenty more years. The first ten in relatively good health but gradually it deteriorated to Dementia and brain mishaps.

He is laid to rest in that cemetery where he broke his leg.





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