With sincere apologies to all things Wizard of Oz...
Another year has slipped by, and the time had finally arrived to head north for the 5th consecutive year, together with the We Work For Food Construction Company (WWFFCC).
The WWFFCC, otherwise known as Lou and Roman, or the Goombah's to some, were about to do what all self-respecting wizards are capable of doing, which is to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
As mentioned in last years account of their activities - "Green Comes in Many Colours…and hundreds of little pieces", the plan was to "transform" the original cabin into something more usable by replacing much of the foundation, and installing a steel roof together with an additional sleeping platform.
Goombah's, I've a Feeling We're Not in Toronto Anymore!
For reasons that are still not entirely clear, there was a slight delay in regards to our originally scheduled departure time, but once we all finally gathered at Roman's, and after mucking around with my on again/off again trailer lights, we loaded up and headed north.
We seem to be getting much more efficient in terms of acquiring whatever bits and pieces we need beforehand, in that our stops en route were primarily limited to, food and fuel, and while we did drop into the Home Depot in North Bay, it was our shortest visit ever, and although certainly easier on the wallet, it was not nearly as much fun.
With any luck we would arrive in Geraldton by 6am, just as the Crown and Anchor was opening for breakfast, thereby giving us plenty of time to get into camp by 8:30 to greet the Nakina Air Services Turbo Otter, that would be delivering the bulk or our materials.
Scanning the dinning room as we sat down to breakfast, it became readily apparent that we were the only people in the restaurant who were not wearing bright orange safety vests and safety boots, (I suspect the waitress was similarly attired, but made a quick change to make us feel more comfortable), with Lou and Roman's beach wear/sandal combination being conspicuously out of place.
Rest assured that proper attire, including safety vests, will be procured - and worn - the next time we visit the Crown and Anchor.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that this was the only time throughout the entire week that Lou was not properly attired for any given occasion - including falling out of the boat and into the water - but more on that later.
Fortunately the water levels on the river remained relatively high throughout the year, and we were able to drive, rather than drag the boat and our small barge into the lake.
While we didn't see hide nor hair of the Otter, all of our materials were neatly piled on the beach. Too bad, because Nakina Air Services owner, and chief pilot Greg, lost out on the basket of field tomatoes I had brought along for him.
Field tomatoes are generally hard to come by in those parts, but his loss was our gain, because who doesn't like fresh sliced field tomatoes on sandwiches, and along side their breakfast entre?
Roofing and Cross Beams, and Fascia! Oh, my!
Once the boats had been offloaded, and the camp more or less put in order, it was time to carry, drag or otherwise transport the approximately 1000 pounds of materials some 200 or so feet from the beach, to an area within the general proximity of the cabin, where they would be used to create the magic needed to effect the transformation.
There were 20 sheets of metal roofing, 5 - 6 x 6 x 16' beams, several miles of 1 x 6 x 16' boards for facia and trim, metal roofing screws, a good many 2 x 4 x 16's, a number of 2 x 10 x12' support pieces, a bunch of 1 x 6 x 5's, two heavy duty jacks, tool bags, skill saw, power drill, tow ropes, level, square, generator and the fuel to run it.
Once the schlepping had been completed, Lou donned what he referred to as his "special" work pants - and we got to it.
Begone, Before Somebody Drops a House on You, Too!
First on the agenda was to deal with the existing facia that ran just below the roofline, and on the peaks. After much discussion, the WWFFCC, decided to cap, rather than replace the facia. While I was not privy to the actual deliberations leading to the final decision, I have no doubt it was the right call - and lets face it, why would they ask my opinion?
Next was the more daunting task of jacking up the cabin, removing the existing supports, pushing through the 6x6's, and then cutting and installing new levelling/support pieces.
There were some concerns, given the way the cabin was currently supported, that by jacking it up, it might either slide off the existing supports, split the roof - or who knows what else.
The original builders were obviously in something of a hurry, and I suspect on a limited budget, in that the outside support beams framing the the cabin were held up by stumps, and scraps of wood that were ostensibly used to level things off.
The main supports underneath the cabin - the ones supporting the floor joists - were held up by pieces of shale, which had crumbled and collapsed over time into several piles of rubble, with the result that the floor bounced like a trampoline when you walked across it.
A number of holes were excavated so the jacks could be placed under the outside support beams, and tow - ropes attached to the each of the beams in order to pull them through.
The first "end" beam was put into place with relative ease, but the remaining beams to be installed directly under the cabin, were to prove more of a challenge, given the positioning of the piles of crumbled shale.
But fortunately, Lou was wearing his "special" work pants.
As he was later heard to say, while expounding on the many reasons why it's critical to be sartorially correct at all times:
"You don't wear a tuxedo to a rodeo."
Well ok then.
Beam #2 was put in place without a great deal of difficulty, and so far at least, raising the cabin had not caused anything to crack, split or otherwise collapse. We did notice that the existing "support stump" where beam #3 was to be inserted, was beginning to give way, thereby providing more than enough incentive to postpone our sandwich and beer break until the job was completed.
It was during the installation of beam #3, that what Lou had been saying about sartorial correctness clearly came into focus.
While attempting to pull the 6' x 6' through, it struck the existing lateral support beam, pushing it off centre. It was clear that to correct the problem, direct intervention would be required, and while there was a bit of grumbling on his part, Lou worked his way under the cabin, cleared away the rubble, and realigned the support beam, so the 6' x 6' could be fitted snuggly in place.
After all, Roman and I were clearly not dressed appropriately to take on this critical task.
The final beam was installed in short order, and after cleaning up the job site, and stowing away the generator and tools - cocktail hour had finally arrived.
Vodka Martini's, Jack Daniels Manhattans and smoked almonds were enjoyed while we lounged on the beach, formulating a work plan for the following day.
In terms of our evening meal, I decided to change things up somewhat, and prepared a "Grand Buffet" for the WWFFCC, consisting of:
- Cured meats including, Geona Salami, Bresaola and hot Capicola.
- Grilled, Cumbrae Farms, Hot Italian Sausage
- Prosciutto de Parma
- Tiger Shrimp, Pan Seared in Garlic Butter, finished with fresh Lemon
- Parmesan Reggiano
- Ontario Cantaloupe
- Olives, Vegetable Antipasto, and Hot Peppers in Oil
- Lightly Grilled Ace Bakery Baguette brushed with Herbed Olive Oil.
All of the foregoing was washed down with copious quantities of an excellent Rose from Featherstone Vineyards, located in Vineland, Ontario, which boasted the distinct flavours of fresh strawberries and black pepper.
One of this years more significant "capital" investments took the form of a travel humidor stocked with #4 Montecristo's - a gift that will keep on giving in the years to come as someone was heard to comment.
Baily's infused espresso, Cognac, the aforementioned Montecristo's, and our traditional campfire under a canopy of millions of bright stars, topped off what was nothing short of a perfect day and evening.
Pay No Attention to the Man On the Roof!
Once all of the usual early morning grumbling about it being too early to get up and the like had run its course, the WWFFCC breakfasted on dry aged, bacon wrapped fillets, eggs to order, thickly sliced field tomatoes (sorry Greg), cantaloupe wedges, and fresh perked coffee.
Environment Canada had promised good weather, therefore today would provide the perfect opportunity to transform the roof from one that had become increasingly incapable of keeping water out of the cabin, into one that would ensure the interior remained snug and dry.
Lou was quick to point out that while he had clothing appropriate for climbing under cabins, and various other important tasks, he had decided not to pack his "roofing togs," and therefore Roman would have to reprise his high wire act as described in "WWFFCC - 2 - The Sequel."
Before the transformation actually began, there was much discussion about whether to trim the roof panels in order to achieve the desired overhang, before, or after they had been installed - with the "before" arguments winning the day.
As the panels were being screwed into place, there was some concern that perhaps "after" may have been the better choice. The reason being that the cabin was anything but square, particularly after having been shifted around by all of the foundation work, with the result that while the first 2 panels provided the desired 4" overhang, the next few, did not.
Lets face it, if everything fell perfectly into place simply because you wanted it to - who the hell would need wizards?
Undaunted by this unexpected complication, they simply made various adjustments, and incorporated a number of overlaps thereby solving the problem quicker than you could say, "Professor Marvel never guesses, he knows!"
As more and more panels were fastened into place, it became clear that before long, Roman would be forced to stand directly on the steel to install the remaining panels.
One of the challenges when working with steel roofing, is that it's very slippery, even when dry. Not wanting to risk having to medevac Roman out - resulting in Lou being forced onto the roof, his lack proper attire notwithstanding - an on site safety meeting was hurriedly convened, resulting in a rope being tied around Roman's waist, which was then secured around a tree, and watched over by none other than Lou himself.
While Roman may have felt more secure, looking at the picture above - tell me - how safe do you feel?
The rope proved it's worth, because at one point there was a very audible thud as Roman slipped, landing flat out on his stomach, with the rope being the only thing keeping him from an unscheduled meeting with the ground.
While the WWFFCC was completing the rear section of the roof, I opened a can of "Winter Lake" blue paint, and began applying it to the window frames and facia. Even us non-wizards are capable of a little transformation.
Everything was completed by 6pm, and after a hot shower, cocktails and kettle chips were enthusiastically consumed. This was followed by whole wheat linguini smothered in homemade tomato sauce, meatballs and sausage, served with a fruity, yet full bodied, 2009 Zenato, Ripassa Superior Valpolicella.
Baily's infused espresso was passed around, as were the Montecristo's and Cognac, all of which were enjoyed around the campfire, framed by yet another remarkable "starry starry night."
Better Get Under Cover, Goombah's. There's a Storm Blowin' Up - a Whopper, to Speak in the Vernacular of the Peasantry
We awoke the next morning to the intermittent, tap, tap, tap of rain on the metal roof, which began to sound more like the rattle of a snare drum, as the rain increased in intensity, while we breakfasted on grilled back bacon and field tomato sandwiches, sliced oranges, together with steaming mugs of fresh perked coffee.
We were not all that concerned with the change in weather, in that our work today was to be of the "inside" variety, and as an added bonus, the rain would test the integrity of the new roof.
The second level of the sleeping platform was to be installed, and the center pole, ostensibly supporting the roof, was to be removed and replaced with several collar ties.
While it rained fairly hard throughout most of the morning, by 11 or so the sky cleared, and we could have not asked for more perfect weather.
With our work now having been substantially completed, the time had now come to "down tools," and see if the wizards could conjure up a few fish - because after all, I had promised them a traditional shore lunch this year.
We decided to fish the area below the rapid located downstream from the narrows into our lake, in the hope that not unlike last year, the Walleye would be more than willing to succumb to our offerings.
I know I have said it at least 10,000 times - they call it fishing and not catching for a reason. Unfortunately the Walleye were, for the most part on hiatus, but not so the Pike. We caught several nice Pike, with Roman leading the way with a 30 incher. Lucky for the fish I don't know how to properly clean Pike; otherwise some of them would have likely become lunch.
Following cocktails, we dinned on grilled, dry aged New York sirloins topped with truffle butter, field tomato, blue cheese and sweet onion salad, together with wild mushrooms sautéed in butter, and finished off with a splash of sweet vermouth.
The evening's cellar selection was a huge, jammy, 2004 Campolougo di Tabe, Amarone, that complimented the steak and truffle butter perfectly.
The Baily's had run it's course; therefore I enhanced our evening espresso with a dash of Metaxa 7 Star, and fortunately there were still some #4's remaining.
Wizards seem to have a thing for fire, with Lou being no exception. He genuinely looks forward to lighting the evening campfire, and as you may recall from last years story, he traced the letters "WWFFCC" in the sand with gasoline, and somehow managed to ignite both the letters and the campfire, with but a single match.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Lou traced an elaborate design of some sort in the sand with the gas can, together with a trail of gasoline leading directly to the wood stacked up in the fire pit.
Unfortunately the sand acted much like a sponge, and after stowing away the jerry can, when he returned to set his grand design ablaze, he had difficulty discerning where the trail of gasoline began.
Undaunted, he started randomly tossing matches around (while Roman and I moved a discreet distance from the fire pit) no doubt hoping to find the right spot.
One of the matches ignited the gasoline, but not at the beginning of the trail, but rather somewhere in the middle, just where Lou happened to be standing. The sand burst into flame, setting his shoe ablaze in the process.
We had to give him credit, because he had the presence of mind to run into the lake, thereby extinguishing his shoe. Lou's only comment, while looking down at his soggy shoes, was that he was lucky to be wearing just the right cloths for such an occasion.
Perhaps Dorothy said it best when she asked:
"What would you do with a brain if you had one?"
Once all the commotion died down, cigars were smoked, Cognac consumed, and the stars suitably admired and commented upon without further incident.
It Really Was No Miracle. What Happened Was Just This...
Following breakfast of eggs to order, Guinness and cheddar cheese sausage, and the last of the field tomato's, the plan was to spend the entire day exploring, and to go where no Wizard - or me for that matter - had gone before.
I wanted to fish several lakes downstream from camp, but because there were a series of rapids blocking our way, my intention was to pull the boat out, drive west for about 20 km., and travel down a logging road, which appeared to provide access to the lower part of the river system, including the lakes in question.
We had been experiencing some problems with our propane water heater for most of the season, and it continued to act up by randomly cutting in and out, making an entirely hot shower a crap shoot at best.
This was really bugging the boys, so it was made clear that before we went anywhere, they were going to employ a bit more magic, and see if they could track down, and correct the problem.
Our dining table was magically transformed into a workbench, upon which the heater was partially disassembled, conferred over, poked, prodded and otherwise fussed about.
Once reconnected, and it was determined that all of the fusing and conferring had not produced the desired result, when all else fails, including magic - start jiggling things around.
This approach resulted in the identification of the problem, which was that the compartment holding the igniter batteries had faulty contacts, resulting in a short, thereby causing the heating element to cycle on and off.
The heater was packed up for transport back to Kansas, and will receive an overhaul during the off season, including new contacts, and an external switch that can turn the heating element on or off, depending on whether you require hot water or otherwise.
And now - to fishing.
To make a long story short, our trip down the logging road proved to be something of a bust, in that a private camp blocked our access to the lower section of the river. In addition, the signage around the camp made it clear that any incursions would be treated as an act of war.
We did drive a bit further down the road in the oft chance, there was another place to launch, but finding none, we headed back to the upper section of the river.
In addition to his considerable carpentry, and general repair skills, Roman has a knack for attracting fish - lots of them.
Last year he easily out fished both of us, and he picked up right where he left off.
Heading upstream from the launch, to a lake the WWFFCC had never fished, we were rewarded with some exceptional Pike fishing - catching approximately 40 of the toothy critters in just under 3 hours.
Roman led the way, accounting for about half our total, including one "gator" that tipped the scales at just under 20 pounds. On the way back we hit a few more spots, and managed to catch - well, Roman did - several small Walleye.
We returned to camp just as the bar was opening, and downed a few cocktails, together with some Prosciutto de Parma and smoked almonds.
Homemade pesto, with balsamic marinated chicken breasts was this evening's entre, which was complimented by a smooth and silky, 2003, Norton, Malbec Reserve.
While the #4's had run their course, Lou somehow managed to conjure up a couple of cigars that the boys smoked while relaxing beside our campfire, sipping Cognac, in what could be described as a perfect state of contentment.
Mother Nature saved her best for last, by producing the most incredible star show any of had ever witnessed while in camp - and trust me - we have seen some good ones in the past.
They were so numerous and bright, a mirror image of the night sky was reflected on the surface of the lake, thereby completely engulfing us in what I can best describe as a celestial cocoon.
There's No Place Like Home…
It took us about an hour to break camp, and once everything was stowed away and secured, we slowly travelled through the early morning mists to the launch - and eventually the road home.
While it may be true that there is "no place like home," and if I might borrow a line from "Honest" Ed Mirvish - "there aint no place like this place, anyplace" - either.
These annual forays into the wilderness with the WWFFCC seem, in my opinion, to get better each year. While there is, and always will be work to do, the major projects have by and large been completed, allowing us to work at a more leisurely pace, while still getting all of the various jobs done within our allotted time.
We now have time to enjoy what the area has to offer in terms of fishing, exploring and otherwise being in a completely relaxed environment.
As usual, possible projects for next year were discussed and argued over throughout the drive home, and in the off season the WWFFCC will have plenty of time: "To confer, converse, and otherwise hob-nob with their brother wizards," no doubt resulting in the continuation of their transformative work.
So stay tuned, and if you would care to see some highlights of what the WWFFCC has accomplished over the past five years, check out the "Transformation" video on this site, where you will have the opportunity to experience some real wizardry in action.