Recollections of laying brush mat

In my 62-year tenure on the planet, I have enjoyed a number of vocational undertakings.

DON AHLQUIST

DON AHLQUIST

Guest Columnist

In my 62-year tenure on the planet, I have enjoyed a number of vocational undertakings. I would like to tell you about my least favorite, yet in retrospect, one of the most beneficial ones.

Recruitment criteria for this career was to be a young man of excellent health, have an 18-inch collar size and a six-inch hat size. A masochistic proclivity was not detrimental to your career as you were expected to feed millions of horseflies, black flies and mosquitoes with your unbaked sweat stained flesh.

The job was called “laying brush mat” and was an aspect of road building.

After the surveyors had laid out the boundaries and route of the road, it was often necessary to build the road over muskeg and swampy terrain.

Standard issue included a hard hat, a pair of work gloves and a pair of high top rubber boots.

The routine was to take a skidder (large four-wheel-drive tractor equipped with winch chain saw, files, tool kit with extra spark plug, gasoline, chainsaw oil, Lots and lots of insect repellent, lunch that you made for yourself back at camp and a large container of drinking water.

It helped to have a foreman of Eastern European descent and bad temper to remind you of how foolish it was to forget to fill up your gas can. Although even as a youth I felt I had a reasonable command of my native (English) language, I was very impressed that by merely screaming in Romanian he seemed able to breach the language barrier and communicate with great effect.

I would take my skidder and supplies to the job site and begin by wading out into the muskeg. I might mention here that the rubber boots were of excellent quality, they never leaked at all and were as full of water at the end of the day as they were at the beginning having soaked my feet and socks for the duration of my shift. I carried what seemed like a 200-pound Homelite chainsaw with me, cut down whatever number of trees was within reasonable proximity to where the surveyors had flagged the road surface,

I recall the reprieve from the ravenous insects that I enjoyed as long as the chainsaw was running, spewing out the sweet, burned, toxic two-stroke oil fumes that were inconveniencing the little predators and slowly killing me.

After the trees were cut down I would slog back to the skidder and unspool the mainline and six or seven smaller cables called chokers, Drag them out into the muskeg and attach them to the trees I had just cut. I would then make my way back to the skidder anticipating the rest I would be able to enjoy as the trees were being winched to the road center. I would place the trees perpendicular to the route of the road and repeat the process all day long.

Periodically, a bulldozer or truck would bring dirt to the site and push it over the trees creating a foundation for the road. This was called brush mat.

I mentioned at the beginning of this essay that there was a beneficial aspect to the empirical education I received in June, July and August, 1965.

I use this story from time to time to encourage my now adult children to persevere. An auxiliary benefit is that it frequently elicits sympathy for poor old dad.

A quote from an old poem called “Desiderata” says “keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”