This was really rock and roll!

By Harry Vandetti
Just Passing By

Forty years later, it’s still vivid in some minds how the air was filled with flying rocks and everyone around was put in peril when the Rainy Lake, or Noden, Causeway was under construction.

The blasting continued night and day for a long time. It started with Tip Croome, a well-known railroadman from Rainy River, introducing nitrogen fertilizer as an explosive.

After having holes drilled for it and inviting the public to look on, he set off blasts with a detonator as if it was regular dynamite.

That government building in Oklahoma City was brought down with the same system and a terrible loss of life, cheaply but effectively.

This recalls how my father operated with real dynamite along the Kenora highway years earlier. The old-time construction trades were frequently fraught with disaster for those involved, but he was never seriously at risk because of his care and experience.

I’m bragging here now, but my dad could also look after underwater divers on dam jobs, tending their pumps and lines. And then bring in huge concrete pours later, unlike the Causeway procedure, where pre-cast piers and girders were hauled into place.

Before the Causeway excitement ended, the flying rocks were smashing passenger train windows and also spoiling appetites in the dining cars occasionally because the CNR tracks were too close for comfort.

The rocks also were going through nearby cabin roofs and boats, and the insurance companies must have been furious. Around my own place at the Seven-Mile bridge, you can find shattered rock scattered around the beaches as if the people there sometimes lived in near pandemonium.

Then, the contractors set up rock crushers and sold the smaller rocks for railroad fill while trucks came and went for years to market the debris.

There was constant alarm over rocks and how to avoid them. This was regularly the topic of the day while everyone around tried to stay safe.

The nights were noisy as backhoes dumped tons of rocks into the CN gondolas for delivery elsewhere. And if you owned nearby lake property, you might as well give up on it for a summer or two instead of trying to sleep there.

It was truly a rock-and-roll age with both the new highway to Atikokan, now offering a straight shot at Thunder Bay instead of the roundabout trip through Duluth, and also greatly-improved roadbeds being developed for the trains.

These were benefits following the turmoil and dangers of those times. And local travel became more appreciated.

The fertilizer never quit being poured onto district farms. It stayed popular and productive despite the roughly demonstrated dangers on the lake. Many farmers continued to ignore the danger and public warnings were rarely issued.

But it wasn’t long before that savage Oklahoma City crime occurred and Timothy McVey went on trial for it. Then many here wondered how nitrogen could have been sold in bags by the ton, taken home, and stored in garages until time to spray it over fields.

And many probably never even thought of the potential catastrophes being passed around so carefully!

Everyone should have witnessed the rocks flying on Rainy Lake, known before that mostly for great fishing. Incredibly there were no deaths!

You might say any devastation was being taken for granted and occurring so close at hand, it went unnoticed. However, the damage to fish populations may have been wicked.  For the most part, it was just the loss of machinery in the lake occasionally and temporarily that was being worried about. Meanwhile, death rained all around!

Mona and Lloyd Hartnell were full of information during a local coffee stop last week. For one thing, as residents of Nestor Falls since 1967, they were reporting the ice leaving their spring-fed Bass Lake a week ago Monday, which means big business soon in that popular tourist neighbourhood.

Something else to mention was the Stratton centennial occurring around their old home next year, same as the Fort Frances event. Both Emo and Barwick had their celebrations three years ago.

I’m going to have to call on Cecil Wilson, the patient and popular former reeve of Barwick, to settle that prison farm dispute which seems to find fresh ammunition every week now.

Either it was a place for prisoners to toil for food for jails or it never was a prison farm as some contend. The battle is going both ways since I got it rolling.

I don’t regret that because this is more fun than most arguments!

That Wabash Cannonball column last week sort of took off on me, too. The old song is as well remembered as our guitar teacher of those distant times—1937.

And I have learned through John Kowalchuk, another Spanish guitarist of the day that my old Hawaiian guitar partner, Melvin Bylund, now resides in London, Ont.

You can’t always expect to buy lobster traps in the local farmers’ market but that was a deal Saturday in the curiosity corner of Christine Stoessinger, one of our regular merchants there.
The buyers were Carol and Arnold Kaemingh.

When the gal on the other end of international bridge required either $9 (Cdn.) or $6 (U.S.) to allow me to return home the other day, I guess I have swore off using that bridge forever!

After a lifetime back and forth into the Falls, I hope everyone is not merely sitting by idly while that atrocious treatment continues. There is a situation spoiling U.S.-Canada regulations worse than anything else going on right now.

A second bridge must be constructed before our back and forth friendships here die forever.

And while the town spends millions more repairing its roads again every year, that badly-needed bypass route for heavier and heavier trucks must be studied again. Some of those huge crates should never have been allowed on any highway, never mind our more fragile town streets.

While we’re at it, it appears if democracy is to be preserved in this town and district, such moves as discontinuing certain schools should be decided by referendum as was the rule years ago.

A few dictators can’t be allowed to throw out the achievements of years by simply ignoring opposition to their ideas!