Tag Archives: camps

January 1979 in northern Quebec

An unremarkable two-month winter contract at Storm Lake in January of 1979 turned into a disaster for the drilling company. The weather held, sunshine and blue sky prevailed, and everyone was happy, until

  • the temperature went down to -55F (-48C) and stayed there for the duration of the job.
  • freezing water lines couldn’t be prevented.
  • the DC-3 supplying the camp went through the ice.

There was plenty of lift in the cold, dense air, however, and camp food was excellent.

Needless to say, we were all happy to see the end of that one.

Polar Gas/LGL bird survey – summer 1975

In June I ferried C-FAHG from the Conawapa contract in northern Manitoba to Churchill and across to North Henik Lake. LGL Limited had arranged for us to stay in accommodations provided by the lodge. It was a nice spot, and the cabins, though primitive, were quite the welcome change from tents.

Henik Lake - 1975

Henik Lake, 1975

One of the Polar Gas proposed pipeline routes was to be from the Arctic islands through Spence Bay (now named Taloyoak since 1992) on the Boothia Peninsula and from there south to the northern Manitoba boundary. Our bird survey covered the proposed route to 100 feet in width, if I remember correctly.

The contract called for a survey height above ground at 50 feet. I never considered that a major problem, since the Arctic ground was barren, and lacked trees or any other obstacles. Given the regulatory requirements of today, I strongly suspect that such a low-altitude flight path over uninhabited and structurally deficient terrain (did I mention that it’s treeless?) would provide a company employee with uncountable hours of obtaining flight approvals.

Spence Bay Dewline - 1975. These sites are long gone now.

Spence Bay DEW Line, 1975. These sites are long gone now. White Alice antennae in the foreground were used for communications with each site.

The job ended up being uneventful, although I did fly the proposed route so many times that I could do it without the map.

Spence Bay, 1975. It's called Toyaloak now.

Spence Bay, 1975. It’s called Taloyoak now.

Conawapa spring 1975

In early April, 1975, I returned to the birthplace of my Hughes 369 endorsement in Kenora a year earlier. I was taking my check ride with Bruce Dennison. Bruce and I had been students at Niagara Helicopters in 1968. He and his powder-blue Volkswagon had transported four of us to Toronto to do the written part of the flight exam.

We did our autorotations onto the ice-free waters of the Winnipeg River, north of Darlington Bay, and then returned to the Helair hanger on Villeneuve Road. By then I had accumulated slightly over 800 hours of turbine time.

I don’t remember who I replaced when, two days later, I picked up C-FAHG in Gillam for a Manitoba Hydro survey contract. The proposed  Conawapa generating station on the Nelson River was located approximately 18 miles downstream from the Limestone station. Midwest Helicopters was there with a Bell 206.

As always in those huge bush camps, food was plentiful and good. For the most part, the cooks and cookies were happy to have us coming and going during the day, since it gave them someone to talk to on their long shifts. As long as we kept our distance during meal and cleanup times, all of the flight and maintenance crews continued to be welcome in the cook tent. We had the run of the kitchen setup where we could have our fill of of coffee and desserts whenever we wanted.

Wayne Johnson was flying Midwest’s 206. For those of you who don’t know Wayne, he has a routine of hilarious, never-ending stories, some of which he even tells about himself. On one occasion, I was sitting in the kitchen with the party chief when Wayne walked in and sat down with us. Wayne was never one to be shy about trying to get a discussion going, and that day was no exception. Before long, he was ragging me about the lift capacity of the 500s in general, and more specifically about the red and white 500 I was flying.

Being the person that I am, I sat and listened patiently to his tales of misfortune and woe directed at Hughes Aircraft and more specifically at the aircraft I was flying. I took my time finishing my coffee and then told the party chief that I’d be heading to the fuel cache to bring back a couple of drums for the nearby helipad. Twenty or thirty minutes later I walked into the cook shack. Wayne asked why I had made only one trip.

I informed him that I needed only one trip to haul two barrels of fuel. Then I sat down across from the party chief and watched as Wayne got up and walked out of the tent and across to the helipad. When he got there, he started tipping drums to try and determine whether I had actually slung two drums, and if so, whether they were both full.

I had, and they were.

When Wayne walked back into the cook tent he was in a pretty subdued mood, since I had, in the presence of the party chief, just refuted every one of his claims he had made against the 500. Wayne never had anything to say about the relative merits of the 206 versus the Hughes 500 in my presence again.

I learned that Wayne had an incident while slinging and had rolled a 206 onto its side on liftoff. I don’t recall the year. I wanted to find out more about what happened, so I gave him a call. After explaining it to me, he mentioned that he had been wearing a helmet. The helmet had come away with a huge gouge in its side but his head had remained undamaged and intact.

After hearing that, I bought a flight helmet and wore it until I retired from active flying. Although I never needed it, it was attached to me in the event I did, and it certainly reduced the noise contamination that I had previously been subjected to.

Thanks, Wayne.

*     *     *

Wayne Johnson is no longer with us.

Where’s an oven when you need one?

TV Dinners were a lifesaver.

TV Dinners were a lifesaver.

On Dryden-18 it was unusual for some of us to eat in the base camp kitchen on a regular basis. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were reserved for those who could make the kitchen during scheduled hours. For the rest of us, it was catch as catch can.

Never fear, though, for Swanson TV Dinners weren’t only for watching TV in the living room. We ate them as a substitute for the real meal deals offered up in the base camp kitchen at Pine Beach.

Where’s the oven, you ask?

The oven was right inside the clamshell doors on the Hughes 500, where temperatures were warm enough to heat the eye-catching, silver-plated connoisseur’s delight. After a suitable amount of time had passed and following much anticipation, the meal was removed from the oven, steaming hot and ready to be consumed. The foil was carefully peeled back and a veritable feast presented itself to the hungry, deserving pilot. Added bonus: once the tasty entrée was consumed, there were no dishes to do.

Who knew that the Hughes 500 could be such a kitchen magician?

Occasionally we would compare the benefits of our choice for the day. If someone’s meal looked better, it would result in a mad dash to the grocery store once we got back to town. Personally, I preferred to have my dinner thawed overnight before inserting it into the clamshell oven. It heated much faster and could be consumed earlier in the day. One could keep a stash in a cooler just off the helipad, thus allowing for a delicious selection to choose from throughout the day.

Tasty and ready to eat

If you think the colour in these images is off, you should have seen the colour of the food in those trays once the aluminum foil was peeled back.

For you youngsters out there, the aluminum tray was replaced in 1986 with plastic/polyethylene in order to transition to microwave cooking. And for you purists, dessert was dropped in 2001.

Swanson's finest

Difficult as it may be to believe today, this little beauty was much in demand by some of us on the flight line during Dryden-18 in 1974.

A case of cola oversupply

A lone semi pulled off the brand-new road in a cloud of dust and into the Dryden-18 base camp at Pine Beach on Eagle Lake. People rushed out to open the trailer doors and unload the supplies that would be needed out in the line camps. To their great surprise, the trailer wasn’t filled with groceries and line camp supplies.

Premier Bill Davis tours the fire

District Fire Manager Stan Sprager and Premier Bill Davis land back at the base camp on July 11. Marc Pigeon in GODX did the flying honors.

Nope, no camp supplies here.

It was filled with cases of cola. Once the trailer was completely unloaded, the tally turned out to be ten thousand cases of cola. Considering the number of men on a fire this size, that wouldn’t be a problem. Eventually, the cola would get used. If not, what was left over would end up in warehouses across the Province and be used over the course of the summer

However, there was just one problem, and not an insignificant one: Bill Davis, the Premier of Ontario, and Leo Bernier, the Minister of Natural Resources, were both due to arrive for a tour of the Dryden-18 base camp on the very day that people in the base camp were scratching their heads over what the hell to do with the giant cola shipment.

While both men were hustled out and loaded into a helicopter for an airborne tour of the fire line, base-camp bodies scrambled to erect line camp tents. Once erected, the tents were then filled with cola cases stacked in the shape of the tent. When Davis and Bernier returned to Pine Beach, they received their requested tour of the huge tent camp.

Neither Davis nor Bernier pulled back the flap on any of the tents to look inside.

It turned out that a zero had been mistakenly added to an order, resulting in a mad scramble by the supplier to provide the requested product.