Thursday, April 13, 2017

75 th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway (the Alcan)

The Alaska Highway early years
Building the trail that became the Alcan - 1942
Civilian travel during the early years - 1943


Alaska Highway, Kilometer 1639, Feb. 26, 2013

As I’ve mentioned before, the Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary CD is now available and there is some good music on it, some good writing, good musicianship and good recording. Bert Goulet even made me sound authoritative.

Here are some more videos about the building of the highway with some great views of the cable control Caterpillars, gallons of mud and gumbo (no, it isn’t the same as mud; walk in it for one minute and you’ll know the difference.) a look at some US Army Engineers and the civilian contractors.

Alaska Highway then and now

Building of the Alcan . USA Signal Corps

Mega Structure

Alaska Highway documentary

US Army, 341st Engineers, 1942
Mechanics from US Army 93rd Engineers
Rusty Dow, first female driver, 1942



Monday, March 27, 2017

Alaska Highway history you may not have heard

In 1964, from June through September I worked on the Penalty Ranch across the Peace River from Fort St. John. I went back a few times in subsequent years. The man who owned the ranch, René Dhenin had come to the country from Southern Alberta in the 1920s and was a packer, guide, freighter, horse trainer and cattlemen in the area well into the 1990s.
This year, 2017, is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of construction of the Alaska Highway. Although he had already been a guide for several years René was not involved in the initial trail blazing and the following rhyme explains why.
The concept of a land route from the “lower 48” states to Alaska had been around for several years. There where three routes in strong contention. Where the Mackenzie Highway is today was one choice, from Peace River town up through Hay River in the North West Territories then west through the Yukon. A much better idea was where the Alcan actually is, from Dawson Creek, BC, north-west through the Yukon. A third choice that was favored by many in the US Army was where the Hazelton – Cassiar – Watson Lake Highway is now.
Thus, in 1942, confusion abounds.
René’s story bellow is a part of that history.
As I’ve mentioned before, the CD with the songs from local artists acknowledging and celebrating the 75th anniversary can be found at many businesses and art galleries along the Alaska Highway or take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTt25BOVaqs



 Near Muncho Lake

 Minnaker River Valley - Mile 178 on Alaska Highway
Hiking Mountain Ranges, René Dhenin’s Yarn

He told me of a walk he made back in forty one
With a day pack, rifle, knife and hand gun

He received a wire at Fort St. John, it said “Services required”
It specified the date then added, “All equipment, horses supplied.”

“From US Army Engineers” he said, “I’d worked for them a lot,
With my horses and guiding them over hill and ‘round the bogs.

So I put my horses out to graze, stored all tack and gear,
And hitched a ride, me and a pal, early spring that year.

Rode the caboose from Dawson Creek, then Pullman car to Cowtown.
Partied there with folks we knew then railroad again coastal bound.

It took four boats along the coast, each one getting smaller
Then we walked a couple of miles, the Telegraph Trail to follow.

At Telegraph Creek there’s another message, addressed directly to me
And after days and weeks of travel, one I sure didn’t want to see.

Once again from the US Army, my services no longer required.
I’m off in the Coastal Mountains and before I’m hired I’m fired.

My pal says he’s off to the sea, without my work, no work to be found.
He’ll get a ride on some coastal scow and he’s for Vancouver town.

But I make my living with horses and tack, and it’s to the east not west
So we say our goodbyes, off he goes, and I head for a high mountain pass.

I’d walked a week or so, low on grub and getting gaunt,
When some mountain caribou appear; more meat than I really want.

I took a fat cow and did her up, skinning, stripping and eating my fill
Packed some fresh wrapped in hide, but smoked jerky for most of the kill

Crossed many a creek and skirted muskeg, rivers as well, one or two
But coming down in the Omineca, there was the Finley a river I knew.

So I made a raft tied with bark, planning to float down to the Peace
But white water broke up the raft, lost it and most of my meat.

Back when I shot the caribou I’d made the hock skin into slippers.
On stretchers they floated and I found ‘em but lost my boots in the river.

Had my rifle slung on my shoulder, pistol and knife on my belt
So except for my boots and the meat, came out of it all pretty well.

Another day to dry myself and another week of walking
I’m not far from Hudson’s Hope and the supply boat’s docking.

So I caught a ride down river to home where all my equipment sat
So you see I missed the start of building the Alcan, but maybe best at that.



Monday, February 27, 2017

“I only read non-fiction.”



The Steamer "Onward" near Hope, BC late 1800s
Paddle boat race near Quesnel, BC



“I only read non-fiction.”
This is something I’ve heard from a variety of sources, some of which I quite highly respect.
I have asked, “Why not?” and received a variety of responses many of which revolve around, “I want to know the truth, not what someone imagined.”
I wonder if any of those who feel that way have every had the opportunity to watch a news report of an event/accident/disaster where they may have been involved or witnessed?
I know of no national Canadian news network does not present some form of bias. Of the three majors, one presents a story which is supportive of whichever government is most affected by the event; another supports views consistent with big business and the third presents whatever is the most exciting and bizarre.
I expect this is the case with networks throughout the world since as time passes the focus of these stories often changes drastically … and sometimes the presentation has shifted 180 degrees.
Almost all of those who “never read fiction” do revel in a good, entertaining movie. Fiction from a writer but presented as the director thinks the story is best presented. If you are reading fiction then YOU get to present it the way YOU see it, not the way some person you never met chooses to present it. The reader’s imagination forms the proper pictures which are proper and true for the reader.
Of course, at the point readers can view the movie and see if they agree with the director.
I have just finished reading two collections of stories about historical events. In a collection of “old west” stories and a collection of Canadian historical events I did not find one story that did not – in my view – contain a mistake. I have also read four historical accounts of the same event which could not agree on what happened.
Throughout school many (most) fellow students complained about history and how borrrrring it is. I didn't find it to be such since I saw the characters presented as people who had similar trials and tribulations throughout their efforts as those we all experience today.
Yes, the school tests all demand that we recite the dates associated with historical events because they need some way of proving (?) that the student actually read the material.
Historical fiction, by its very nature WILL contain elements of entertainment. It should show, not that something happened in ??65 but that it could have happened in 1765 or 1935. It should also demonstrate some of the surrounding forces affecting the event (segregation in 1820 compared to 1980?) and that PEOPLE made it happen and where effected by it. There should also be some emotion created or shared by those people adding to the entertainment value for the reader.
You know nothing of your past, your history? Read some history with fiction, be entertained and absorb some understanding which can then be used to enrich your present.
Reading will enrich the mind and life more than any other information source available to mankind. It has been proven over and over and measured in a variety of ways by countless studies.
Oh, and by the way, you don’t read fiction?

If you read at all, you have read fiction.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

An Excerpt from “Partners”


At this point in the story Tom and Frank have returned to the Cyprus Hills and located a defensible place with water close at hand. They know the two whiskey traders who killed the two Blackfoot at their first meeting are close behind but they have given up trying to evade them and are taking a stand. Following a wait of several hours Frank, on one of his scouting trips, sees the killers their numbers swelled to four, move into the hills. He returns to his own camp, tells Tom what he has seen and they settle down to wait for the attack.

"Maybe make them killers nervous," Frank suggested. "They can't watch the country fer Injuns an’ keep an eye on us too. Blackfoot ain't noted as bein' real friendly folks. They won't treat us any better 'n they'll treat them whiskey traders, but it might give them two killers somethin' else t' think about."
            Following several moments of silence, Tom said, "I don't really believe Hank and Seth are capable of enough thought that it could be interrupted, but I suppose every little bit helps." Privately he thought that Frank was looking for any glimmerings of hope in the face of hopeless odds.
            Frank rolled up on one elbow and yelled across the hills, "Hey, Seth, yuh see them Blackfoot yet?"
            There was no answering call and Tom could detect no movement. He kept his eye on the ground below and to his right, the barrel of the Colt revolving rifle behind the logs, but ready to be thrust through a convenient hole.
            "Better keep an eye peeled, boys," Frank called, his attention trained on the ground below and left. "Them Blackfoot don't give much warnin'."
            "Traded with them Injuns," a voice called back. "Spent more 'n one night with 'em."
            "All night?" Frank asked. "And was it a village 'r just a camp o' young bucks gettin' drunk on yer rot gut?"
            There was a few moments of silence broken by Tom's call. "I don't think any of you have the guts to face a village of Indian families."
            "Listen t' the pilgrim talkin' 'bout guts," the voice from bellow responded. "Feller that hides behind a hill back t' the Old Woman Lake."
            "Now that is an interesting story," Tom conceded. "Did you tell your new partners how you backed down from a fifteen year old boy and a greenhorn?"
            Rock fragments flew from the breastworks in front of Tom. Smoke and sound came from the trees blow. Tom thrust his rifle forward, fired, then again to left and right. As he pulled the center pin and shook out the half empty cylinder he could hear shots from Frank's side. He forced himself not to look to his partner, but alternated his attention between changing cylinders and the source of the first shot. He had the fully loaded cylinder mounted and was priming the three fired chambers of the other when the firing stopped.
            "How are you doing?" Tom asked, just loud enough to be heard over the ringing in his ears. He could hear Frank slide the magazine tube from the butt-stock of his Spencer just before he answered.
            "Doin' better 'n them boys, I reckon. An' I ain't no fifteen, neither."
            Tom heard the magazine tube being pushed back in place as the boy finished talking. He had just finished loading, and tamping, three chambers that still required priming in the time it took the boy to replace four rim fire cartridges. That did not take into account the time it took to change cylinders. He knew his Colt would have some advantage over the Springfield muzzle loader, but the enemy also had a Spencer similar to Frank's. What other weapons did they face?
            "I thought you might be a few years older than that, but it was my intention to make them fire. Apparently, something I said was effective."
            Tom saw movement in the trees below him. Slightly to the right another shadow flitted from tree to tree.
            "They're getting ready," Tom said. Just as he spoke the man on the left broke from cover. Tom swung his rifle muzzle but the man dropped. The man on the right broke from cover. Tom kept his muzzle trained on his last sight of the first man. When the second man hit the ground, the first man rose. Tom fired.
            The man had risen from his face down position to lunge forward. The .44 caliber ball drove him over backward where he disappeared in the grass.
            Tom swung his muzzle to the right. He had only seen the second man move out of the corner of his eye. He was not sure where his target lay.
            Frank fired, levered the Spencer and fired again. At least three shots were fired in return. Frank fired again.
            Below his own position, Tom saw the grass move. The second man was working his way over to his wounded partner. Tom followed the grass movement but held his fire.
            "Still here?" Frank asked.
            The man crawling through the grass stopped near where the first man had gone down.
            "Yes, I'm still here," Tom responded. He moved several feet to the right, bringing the shotgun and extra rifle cylinder. He heard Frank replacing fired rounds, but made no move to reload his own weapon. He still had five shots. "I had given serious consideration to perhaps stepping over to the neighbors for tea, but decided against it."
            As he answered, Frank also moved. "Had enough tea, have yuh?"
             “Actually, I could use a spot. I just thought the weather was a bit warm for a long walk."
            The grass in front of Tom was moving again, but this time to the left of where he had shot the first attacker. He had expected them to move back to the trees, but perhaps the man had not been hit very hard.
            "Watch it! They're going to try again."
            Tom's warning was hardly out of his mouth when Frank began to take fire and return it. The wounded man began to fire at the spot Tom had just left. The second man made a rush. Tom saw his shot hit the center of the lunging man's chest. He swung his rifle back to the first man and fired twice.
            The wounded man began to crawl back toward the trees. Tom watched for several moments, and then quickly changed cylinders in his rifle.
            "They appear to be pulling back," Tom observed. "One wounded and one dead over here. I expect they have found it somewhat expensive."
      When there was no reply, Tom swung his gaze to the left. Frank lay near the fire, his head bloody.


By the way, the weapon on the cover is a Henry .44 rim-fire which does not appear in any part of this story. I told the publisher's designer that was the case but he wasn't prepared to change the image, and (since I liked the look of the cover anyway) I agreed to it. I then included a Henry in the story I was working on at the time which became "Homesteader: Finding Sharon" a follow-up to "The Great Liquor War."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Another rhyme; The Making of Jake McTavish

I don't know if I'm happy with this or not. I was unloading into a large tank the other day - actually on several days - and wrote a little something that outlines the plot of "The Making of Jake McTavish". It doesn't feel "finished" to me, but then my rhymes never do. I find it the same with the novels; I often have to tell myself to "quit fiddling with it. It's done!"
So what do you think of this rhyme? Is it finished?
By the way, the cover was designed by Tracy Wandling and I think she did a great job. In the novel there is reference to the Peace River and the rapids through Portage Canyon. You can find Tracy's work at http://www.tracywandling.com/
or take a look at her watercolors at https://www.facebook.com/tracywandlingwatercolor/




The Making of Jake McTavish
By D.M. McGowan

Jake McTavish was a traveled man
Had worked across Canada’s western land
Worked the Great Lakes as a young deck hand
Then on Winnipeg, a commercial fisherman

Squeezed out of that with winter coming on
He was a cattle drover before a month was gone
The job came with a cabin, heat food and light
But that winter proved a long, hard and daily fight.

He came out of the winter with more beeves than he went in
But the money that was promised didn’t come to him
He did however leave with livestock and tack
And one horse toting a good sized pack

Through out the plains that summer
And into the following year
Wolf packs grew in numbers
Cleaning carrion, but then sheep and steers

So Jake became a wolfer
Getting a bounty for the ears
And more for the hides
But nothing for the tears

When opportunity offered
He changed once again
And became a drover
For another cattleman

Now some things were rough
Maybe a blanket for a bed
But Jake found he loved it
Applied for his own homestead



The months seemed to slip by
As Jake was having fun
And before long he found
The woman who was THE ONE

They worked together, built the ranch
The garden, corrals and of course the herd
Life was a dream, each a perfect match
But would have liked a baby, boy or girl

Then after a long day, away cutting poles
Jake came home to find two lives had been destroyed
Anna raped and murdered his own life a black hole
Then the law’s accusation left him more than annoyed

Jake ran life, and took Anna’s dog
Into the Omineca, trapping and alone
Though Anna was gone the memories stayed
And gnawed at him like the dog with a bone

Then two renegades try to kill him
Take his life, furs and gear
To take the wealth of his work,
Live high and disappear.

Can Jake survive, does he want to?
Will this new attack make him mad?
Will he ever solve Anna’s murder?
Or will he find something really bad?

Well now you have an outline,
But it’s really no advantage
To see the story’s end

Read The Making of Jake McTavish