The last time I saw Gary, we were reminiscing about a Christmas tree we had on Read Island. And then he smiled wistfully and said, "I gess we won't finish the stories of Read Island."

A month later he was gone.

But, the stories should live on. And they usually involved a project, undertaken at a moment's notice, with precious few resources, because Gary had just decided to try it. We had no phone, no TV, but we had an island to play with, and boats, and axes, and saws and Gary had a pair of hands that needed to be doing something. All the time.

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree was needed because we were not going to Courtenay or Vancouver one Christmas, so we needed a tree at home on Read. So, we went out into the bush behind camp and got one. We found it on the path near where the waterline was laid out going up to the creek. A small fir of just the right height, so we cut it down and dragged it to the house. That is what you did. Decorated, it was the very best of trees.

The Pelton Wheel

There was a Pelton wheel project. You probably have never heard of a Pelton wheel, and neither had I, until my help was enlisted one rainy day, to try to set up a water wheel in a torrential creek running down the hillside from the Walsh's old tightline show. I discovered later that a Pelton wheel was mentioned in a book we had describing mechanical devices. Gary had read this book. So, of course, with something very nearly resembling a water wheel, there we were in the rain, in the creek, trying to install a shaft with a prototype waterwheel, at just the right height, to spin fast enough to drive the generator, which we did not have. We got as wet as one can, and proved to our satisfaction the possibility of hydroelectric power.

The Hydroplane

One year, Jim Kretz took Gary to Seattle to the Seafair, to see the hydroplane races. And, so the hydroplane project was born. A copy of (probably) Popular Mechanics or Mechanics Illustrated or one of those magazines of the day had an advertisement for plans for a small hydroplane. Gary sent away for them, and when they arrived discovered that there is a lot of material and tools and shop space and fiberglass needed to build a small outboard hydroplane. As was so often the case, his project was thwarted by a lack of resources.

The Bell Buoy

There was a bell buoy sitting at the end of Rebecca Spit. Gary wanted it. He thought we could anchor it at the end of the stiffleg we used for mooring boats, and it would be neat. I imagine there were other arguments mustered for needing a bell buoy, but, in the end, the driving imperative was that it would be neat. All we needed to do was tow it to Elliott Bay and then anchor it there, and tie the stiffleg to it. Except, parents intervened and said the buoy, even if not in use, was property of Government of Canada, and he would have to get permission to take it. For some, that would have been enough to deter, but Gary tried, at least. Always try to overcome the first hurdle. He sent letters to the Government of Canada, probably Hydrographics, also Fisheries and Oceans, and probably Coast Guard to get permission, but only got back firm nos. Another grand idea, narrowly averted.


This might have been startefd by an ad in one of the mechanics magaizines or Field and Stream or Argosy or one of the other men's magazines that showed up from time to time. However he learned of it, Gary thought taxidermy would be great. He sent away the coupon (in those days before the internet and websites, there were coupons to send away to places, usually in the US, to get information). And one day he got back a packet of information. Turns out taxidermy starts with a dead animal, of which we could have a steady supply, but does not end there. There were all sorts of tools and bits (glass eyes, forms, tanning solutions, etc which could be bought from the place, usually in the US) that were needed, along with the steady supply of dead animals. As ususal, there was no money for such stuff, and so, another great ambition was stalled.


There were a few leghold traps lying around camp, and so, one day, Gary decided we were to become trappers. We took these into the bush in the next bay, and I think that was so we would not catch our own dog in the traps, and set them and baited them with tinned salmon. Remarkably, we did not lose our own fingers to these metal horrors. And then he checked them every day. He trapped a couple of mink, and had one of the guys working in camp show him how to skin and dress the animals' hides. He also learned how to make and use forms made from planks to keep the skin stretched so it would cure without damaging the fur. Fortunately for the local wildlife, he lost interest in the idea after a while.


Dogfishing is more properly known as fishing for dogfish. Dogfish were considered a pest species so no adult was bothered by our activities. We were kids, what did we know about ecosystems and prey-predator balances? I had woke up one morning to see a gillnetter tied up to our stiffleg, and a man was gutting dogfish and tossing them overboard. The dogfish had ruined his catch and we picked up right away that dogfish would not be missed if we went dogfishing (verb: fish for dogfish).

And we dogfished (verb: fish for dogfish) with a vengance some days. No TV, you see, so we had to entertain as we could. We would catch a few perch for bait, then use chunks of those to bait long-shanked hooks to dogfish (verb: fish for dogfish). It was appalling carnage, if you were a dogfish, and a way to spend a warm, sunny summer afternoon if you were a kid. We of course got all the accomplices we could, enlisting any visiting cousins into the task of dogfishing (verb: utter and total fishing campaign inflicted on dogfish).

I hope the ecosystem of the bay has recovered since.

Tree falling

There was a faller's axe in camp, probably used by Dad for high rigging. Gary had seen the old stumps cut by the old-school hand loggers, so thought falling a tree using an axe only would be good fun. Those old-timers would use a crosscut saw and 'fallers axes and springboards to drop big timber. To test themselved, they would drive a stake into the ground a hundred feet out, and fall the tree to drive the stake further in. They were good. But, of course, for Gary, felling a small cedar or hemlock just to use the axe was not enough. There was one really big Douglas fir on the point of land between us and the next bay, so that was the target. I think this tree was maybe five or six feet on the butt; it was big, as I recall, but I was small so all things were magnified. He spent days on it, first doing the undercut and then working on the backcut. Most of the way through, we had to go to town for a few days, and he worried that there might be a wind that would knock down the tree before he finally finished the job. Coming back up to camp in the boat, we were both on the lookout for the tree to see if it was still standing. Fortunately, it was, and he got to deliver that last chop to knock it down.

Waterline maintenance

This was more a chore than a project, and it often fell to Gary and I to help keep the water running. Water supply for camp was a one inch plastic pipe, and a lot of it, running back into the bush to a creek that was clear of any of the detritus and erosion caused by logging, and which ran year round. The creek, that is. The pipe often got blocked, despite filters on the intake, or frozen in winter, and we would be deployed to get it running again.

The waterline was not one continuous piece of pipe, so there were a few joints with a metal pipe inserted and clamped on to join the lengths. And, when the obstructions happened, these were the first to be checked. Usually it was just a bit of branch or some gravel that had got through the filter. One time, we found a drowned fish, stuck head first in the metal joiner pipe. We fixed the filter after each of these incidents, but every once in while, something would get through the filter to block the line.

Freezing was worse. The pipe line was lying on the ground, cause we could not bury it else we would have to dig it up to unblock it. But, when Bute winds blew, and the cold was deep enough to break your spirit, the line would freeze, even if we left the taps open so the water would run. Then, all the the line would be pulled into camp and thrown into the saltchuck. The salt water would melt the frozen section and then we would drag it all back and lay it down, and hope the cold would break.

Orchard Raiding

This was a whole family project. We got some of our food by hunting, some by fishing, and some by orchard raiding. Some came from stores.

All the islands had some homesteading attempt from the past, and most of these had a few fruit trees left behind. Cherries and apples both grew fairly well, completely unattended. Each year, in season, we would visit these abandoned orchards, and harvest what was on offer. Mom would do a lot of canning and our shelves would be stocked so there was some cherries or some applesauce for dessert on a winter's day while the Bute winds raged outside, waiting to break one's spirit. All the trees yielded better after a few years of picking, which may be a rule of orchards, or may just be the way it panned out. Some of the apples were never to be found in stores in town; they were heirloom varieties. Mom said one tree was bearing Gravensteins, and there was another variety that had a sweet syrupy liquid in the core.

Gary was very good at this work. His favourite method of harvesting apples was to climb onto a limb, and shake it really hard. Apples would rain down, we would pick up as many as we had containers for and get them back to camp for canning. They would be mostly going for applesauce anyways, so a few bruises did not matter. At least a few would be turned into pies for the next few dinners.

For cherries we picked as one does, one at a time or grab as many as possible in one hand and pull.

Rock Rolling

Gary got into trouble for this one.

There was a bluff right behind camp, and we used to go up and find loose boulders and dislodge them and send them crashing down the slope. There was no TV, so we had to entertain ourselves somehow. One day we did this on the bluff looming right over the family home and Gary managed to loose a real monster that crashed with many a satisfying thud down through the brush. Delighted, we made our way back down the hill to find an enraged Mom who had been scared silly by this boulder. We never ascertained how close it got to the house, but close enough that Dad was tasked with some corporal discipline to stop Gary from rolling rocks, ever again. I escaped the punishment, being too small to have rolled the boulder. There are minor advantages to being last.

The Logging Show

Along the path for the waterline, there was an old clearing that was being overgrown with alder trees, one of the fast growing trees that would take over any open patch before the evergreens got started.

Gary decided this would be a great place to build our own miniature high-lead yarding show, complete with spar, backspar, skyline, and donkey, just like the life-size one Dad was running up the hill. And it would be a great place to use the machete he had gotten, as we could use it to fall and buck the alders into logs for the show.

Things got off to a great start, as we found bits of fishing and boat tackle to set up the spars, with guy lines, and a skyline with a carriage, using "found" boat pulleys for blocks, and various sizes of boat rope and fishing line for chokers and haulback and the mainline.

Gary's ultimate plan was to build a wooden sleigh, like any donkey yarder of that era, with a small Briggs and Stratton engine, and some kind of transmission and gearbox, and fish boat gurdies for the main and haulback drums for the moving lines.

But, again, the old bugaboo of resources dashed his plans. Taking the gurdies off Bob Grey's boat was nixed at the first ask, and finding a small engine was tricky, since we could not have the one in the washing machine.

The Raft

We lived on the water, and, in the summertime, in the water. So a raft for diving from was required. It was always there, near as I can recollect, but I suspect Gary probably had a hand in building it. It was a couple of beachcombed logs, probably a foot or so in diameter, and a large slab of fir in between, with some crude decking nailed on top, all held toghether with wire rope, spikes, dogs, staples and prayers. This was always tied to the stiffleg, but when a high tide had flooded the mudflat on a hot summer day, swimming was required, and this raft was maneuvered to a clear spot in the bay, using pike poles, and anchored with some rope or chain and whatever large chuck of metal was the anchor of the month, and diving off and swimming to and from would ensue. Sun. Saltchuck. Heat. Kids hollering. Fun.

There was a hole augered through the decking into the slab, and a sapling could be inserted to use as a mast. Another sapling was tied crossways as a yardarm, and a sheet of plastic could be tied on that to form a square-rigged sail. Somehow, we managed to never get blown out into the main channel and lost forever.

The Bonfire

Halloween was always worth marking and one year, Gary decided to mark it with a bonfire. Parents said OK, still not suspecting, probably, what a bonfire meant. A bonfire, in Gary's case, meant a lot of small logs, stacked log-cabin style in a square to make a frame for the bonfire. The interior was filled with what would burn, including, but not limited to, an old magnesium alloy arch wheel, and discarded tire, and bits of wood.

It was the best of fires, and the worst of fires. We set off firecrackers and watched it burn, and burn. And burn.

I don't know if the wheel burned, but it melted and when the rock hit the puddle of metal, it exploded. What? Well, yes, of course, a rock was hurled into the bonfire. Why? Well, to see what would happen, of course. The explosion happened with molten metal flying in all directions. Naturally, nobody was hurt. It might have been the first and only bonfire we had.

The Seal Pup

In hindsight, the story of the seal pup should not have happened. If you find a seal pup on a beach, leave it alone, unless you can see the dead mother, right there. If the dead mother is right there, only intervene if you have access to a wildlife rescue centre. Neither condition pertained on the day in question.

Gary found an seal pup on the beach, and assuming it was abandoned, brought it up to the house, to rescue it. We tried to feed it things like canned milk, the nearest subsittute we had for seal milk, and bits of fish, but to no avail. It frolicked happily enough in our bath tub, but by morning of the next day, you could see the little beastie had lost weight. The decision was made to take it back down to beach, to the spot where Gary had found it, and hope for the best.

In the movies, this would end with the mother rushing from the water to reunite with the pup, but this was not a movie. We have no idea what happened to the pup.

Fixing stuff

A logging camp runs on engines. Boats, welders, crummies, yarders, cats - all have engines. Even our washing machine had a small gasoline-powered engine. And all those engines all stopped running sometimes and needed fixing.

If it isn't really broken, then a motor usually won't start because of either no spark or no fuel. So Gary learned a lot about fixing all the minor things that can go wrong with motors and can be fixed by a guy with some mechanical aptitude, often by taking it all apart on the dining room table, cleaning something, and putting it all back together. Sediment bowls, carburetors, spark plugs, feeler guages, distributor caps, spark plug wires, points files, needle valves, pliers, vise grips, screwdrivers, and wrenches all became part of Gary's day-to-day life.

He would poke around at a motor that would not start, clean parts, gap spark plugs, adjust needle valves, and then put it all back toghether and start it up.

He was really good at the business of fixing stuff.

All of the above is exactly as true as I can recollect after a span of 60-plus years.