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Hattie's Camp

Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 23, 1986

 

NOTE:  Beacon Editor Bob Moss is a former employee of the St. John’s Evening Telegram and in the 1960s operated a news bureau at Gander for the  Telegram.  This feature, which was published in the Christmas edition of the Telegram in 1968, serves as a forerunner to what things were like in this area, before the Gander airport was ever imagined.  So it is being used as the first feature in this publication – to set the scene for things to come.  (We are grateful to Telegram publisher S.R. (Steve Herder for permission to publish this article.  Mr. Brown has since passed on.

 

They couldn’t grasp what was taking place

By Bob Moss, Telegram Staff Writer

There were two families at Cobbs Camp that Christmas of 1938, James Greening and his family in the section house and Albert Oldford and his family living in a camp nearby.

Cobbs Camp was a flag stop on the Newfoundland Railway.  So was Hattie’s Camp, about three miles away.  A section house had once been maintained at Hattie’s but by now the only sign of family life (10 people) was at Cobbs.  Both stops were named for former workers of the railway which now employed Greening and Oldford.  Two other railway employees, Jack Kelly of Holyrood and Roy Lane of Gambo, lived at Cobbs on a seasonal basis.  They also had a camp.

Life at Cobbs was typical of that in remote Newfoundland.  It was simple, uncomplicated preoccupied with natural things the old rock offered.  Bakeapples were in abundance as were trout, rabbits, caribou and bear.  And, in a way, it wasn’t lonely.  There was always something to do.

And 1930 had added a little more company, boosting local population considerably.  To this land of backwoods solitude had come Reuben Brown and his buddy, Heber Greening, both of Port Blandford.  They were members of the forest fire patrol operated by the Anglo Newfoundland Development Co.  Using a velocipede, a railway handcar, they patrolled 14 miles of railway.  Greening would go east to Hattie’s and Brown as far west as Joe Batts Pond.  At night they would return to the camp they had built at Cobbs.

Hattie’s Camp was the most scenic of all, level and with rows of pine laid out somewhat like an orchard.  But some of the old pine still bore scars from a fire which swept the area in former years.

Brown’s territory had unpleasant memories of a fire, too, at Kennedy’s Cut, some years earlier, a coal-burning train derailed and caught fire – thirteen people died.

Wildlife visitors to Cobbs usually kept their distance but one day a wounded bear visited the Camp.  He wasn’t very good company.  Brown was no David Crocket so he set a snare for Bruno at Walls Grade, near Kennedy’s Cut. 

Returning two days later, the animal was found dead swinging from a giant tree which held the snare.  Its hide was five feet long and four-and-a-half feet wide.

With it, Brown acquired a taste for good carpets.  And when another black monster got a bit bold, he vowed he would have his hide as well.

This time he place a snare a little farther west.  He scored again but the bear was found alive and had to be shot.  In size the hide competed with the previous one. 

Trouting was also a favorite pastime.  Brown would watch schools of fish in Gloats Pond, located between Joe Batts and Twin Ponds.  In minutes he would take all the two-pounders he wanted and stroll home. 

Other times he would pick bakeapples.  The delicious fruit coated the ground in patches.  One summer he preserved 50 bottles of bakeapples and each holding one and a half pints.

His posting was not all pleasure, however.. Stringent fire patrol duties, paying him $65 a month, took up most of his time from early spring to late fall but when his work was completed for the season, he would return from Port Blandford to get in extra hunting.  Ducks were plentiful as were rabbits.  In one take, he and his nephew, Tom Garrett of Terra Nova, snared 60 bunnies near Jonathon’s Pond.  Since his nephew was young, Brown would not allow him to carry more than 18 rabbits.  He took the remaining 42 himself.  Brown weighed 150 pounds and it meant he was lugging his own weight in game.

They walked seven miles to Cobbs Camp.  The strenuous hunt was rewarding but at 75 cents a brace Brown could hardly boast he was worth his weight in gold.

Caribou was a common sight but moose were rare.  He saw his first moose in 1934 and thought it was a horse.

During warm summer evenings, Brown and his co-worker would engage in yarns, having supper sitting on the velocipede in front of camp.

Brown was born at Salvage, Bonavista Bay but moved to Port Blandford in 1916.  he had worked at  Grand Falls, Sydney, N.S. and Detroit, Michigan before going to Cobbs.

Greening had never left the old rock!

One evening in 1935 they were about to gather around the velocipede when they noticed a tent nearby.  A man emerged making his way toward them.  He said his name was “Vatcher.”

Finding a seat on the velocipede, Vatcher casually announced that he was looking for a place for airplanes to land.  All that day he and Lester Shea of Glenwood had surveyed the area of Whitman’s Pond but to no avail.  The area was too boggy and hilly.

“If you want a place go to Hattie’s Camp,” advised Brown and Greening.  “Go and have a look at that,” they urged.

But how could they get there?  Greening agreed to take them by rail the next morning.

After spending a day looking over the site, two returned to Cobbs by foot.  Said Vatcher, “We’ve got it – it’s a wonderful place,” they he boarded a train and headed for St. John’s.

The excitement broke up the quiet of evening but Brown and Greening still couldn’t grasp what was taking place.  Even if someone had mentioned something about history in the making, it wouldn’t have meant much either.  The though was just too much to spring on Cobbs Camp, a flag stop in the middle of nowhere.

By autumn however, there was striking evidence that Vatcher meant business.  Thirty men had arrived at Hattie’s…right-of-ways were being cut.

If Brown had regrets, it was over the loss of the pine trees.  But the loss was part of the price of progress and he couldn’t think of anything the times needed more than progress. 

He and Greening resigned from the patrol in 1940, taking jobs with the new development.  Their wages increased two fold.

Engage with other men in labor and carpenter work, they soon gave Hattie’s Camp a new look.  Buildings went up, roads were cut, also runways and other installations.

Hammers and saws rang out breaking the stillness of the forest.  And, one day, a buzzing sound was added.  Hattie’s Camp was receiving its first plane!

A new way of life was forming.  It meant many more friends, among them an Englishman and his wife, who fell in love with Brown’s bear skins.  He sold the skins to them for $10.

All wildlife, meanwhile, did not say goodbye to Hattie’s Camp.  At least one black bear stayed and joined the new society.  In mannerly fashion, it would visit the mess hall and eat from a table.  Alone, of course.

It’s difficult to end this tale of two flag stops, as new chapters continue to open up.  The reminiscence, however, brings us up to Christmas 1968. 

Brown’s close friend, Greening, has died; so has Kelly.  James Greening and Albert Oldford reside at Port Blandford and Lane at Gambo.

Brown, 78, lives with his son, Kade, at 93 Memorial Drive.  Not far away Carmanville [Gander Bay] Road crosses the railway, marking the area where Cobbs Camp once stood.  Though a short distance, it spans a lot of memories for Brown.

Gazing out through the window of his son’s home, I asked, “What do you think of it all, Mr. Brown?”  “They have sure taken away my rabbit grounds,” he said with a grin.

He was looking at the town he helped to fashion.  The bustling town they call Gander.

 

researched by Carol Walsh

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