The We Work for Food Construction Company – VII - Movin’ On Up - to the North Side

Petersen Lake

In this particular case it was not to a “de - luxe apartment in the sky,” as immortalized in the theme song for 70’s/80’s sitcom “The Jefferson’s,” but rather involved movin’ our water system from its original location on the “lower” east side of the property, to it’s new home on the “upper” north side.

But I digress.

In terms of projects to be completed by the WWFFCC this year, in addition to moving and reconfiguring the water system, the boys were planning to line the shower/sauna with a vapour barrier and cedar boards, install a shower and sauna stove, rewire the solar power system and last but not least, because Lou loves nothing better than to play with chainsaws – cut up a bunch of logs for firewood.

Day 1

Oh Shit!

These are never – NEVER – the words you want to hear from the person calling to confirm the delivery of your building materials, particularly when you only have a narrow window of opportunity to complete the work, and very limited access to alternative sources of supply.

The plan was to call the building centre in Geraldton mid morning while on our way North to confirm the time and place for the materials delivery, and while we held up our end of the deal in terms of making the call – our account rep. had something of an unpleasant surprise in store for us.

Which is of course where the “Oh Shit” comes in.

While the cedar was in stock, the shower and vapour barrier were apparently not scheduled to make an appearance until the following Monday, despite the fact that Lou had been very clear about the date on which we needed it when he placed the order several weeks prior to our arrival.

Their ears must be painted on.

Leave it with us they said, and promised to call back as soon as possible.

There were several calls back and forth between Lou and our account rep., many of which were cut off due to the lack of reliable cell phone service in the area we were travelling, so after about 2 hours of this sporadic back and forth, we still had no idea if they could make this right, or if we would have to stop at every building centre en route in an attempt to find the missing items.

Having exited the cell phone Twilight Zone, and crossed into an area where Lou’s phone was showing full bars, I pulled over so he could have a conversation that included all, rather than every third or fourth word.

In terms of the shower, they would supply a unit better suited to the aforementioned “de - luxe apartment in the sky” rather than a wilderness cabin, for essentially the same price as the basic model we had ordered.

So far so good.

Now as for the vapour barrier, they were still conducting a frantic search and would call the minute there was any news.

Lou was very clear, underscored by several more “Oh Shits,” that without the vapour barrier – which must be installed first – the rest of the stuff was of no use to us, and if required to switch into procurement mode, we would need to know sooner rather than later, as building centres are few and far between in that part of the world.

Having heard nothing for well over an hour, and because we were about to roll into Cochrane – which has a good sized Home Hardware – I suggested Lou call the folks in Geraldton to see if any progress had been made.

Oh, no problem they said, a roll of vapour barrier had been located and would be on the truck the next morning, and delivered at the time and location requested.

Thanks for calling back.

Seeing that we were all primed to make a stop and do some shopping anyway, rather than deprive ourselves of the opportunity, we pulled into the Canadian Tire where we picked up a small step ladder – more on that later – and some “Croc” style knock offs for about $6 that Lou and Roman planned to use for wading purposes should the need arise.

The rest of the trip went without incident, and we arrived at the launch around 6:30 pm.

Water levels were good, therefor we were able to boat in all of our gear without having to get out and push.

After setting up camp, downing a couple of cocktails and chowing down on heaping plates of homemade spaghetti, sausage and meatballs, complimented by a very nice 2012 Zenato - Ripasso, we settled in around the campfire, sipped some brandy, smoked cigars and enjoyed the star show while laying out our plan of attack for the following day.

Day 2

Doubleus Pumpus Interuptus

The day started off well enough, with a rainbow thrown in for good measure.

We all slept like logs, and after breaking our fast with dry aged beef tenderloin, eggs cooked to order, fresh perked coffee and orange segments, Roman and I hopped in the boat and headed off to meet the delivery truck, which was scheduled to be at the launch at 10.

Moving the water system closer to the shower and bathroom facilities was on the agenda for today, and although we were not entirely sure what Lou would be doing while we were away, he seemed like a man on a mission, so we just left it at that and hoped for the best.

There was a lot of cedar – including a VERY big box containing the shower – on the truck, and we wondered about our decision not to bring our little barge along to help transport the stuff back to camp

Oh well, we would have to make due, and after chatting with the driver for about 15 minutes about the upcoming moose hunting season, and confirming (as did the MNR) that the rather large feline we had caught a glimpse of earlier that summer was in all likelihood a Cougar, we headed back to camp loaded to the gunwales.

It’s worth mentioning that the folks at the building centre did have one more little surprise in store for us that fortunately did not fall into the “Oh Shit” category.

When Lou confirmed that we would be happy to accept the replacement shower, he specifically asked that they include a certain type of glue, so the vinyl shower walls could be attached to the cedar.

Like I said, their ears must be painted on, because the glue never made it, but fortunately we had packed several tubes of silicone caulking that would do the job.

On top of that, the driver was sent to the wrong location, but fortunately he knew the area very well, and was able to correctly figure out where he was actually suppose to be.

When we pulled into shore, Lou appeared from around the corner of the cabin with a grin that would light up the night sky. While we were away he had constructed a “caddy” of sorts that was designed to hold the heater, pump and propane tank.

The “caddy,” which would be hung on the northeast wall of the cabin, could easily be disconnected from the piping and stored indoors pretty much in tact between visits.

To say he was proud of his creation would be something of an understatement, and after giving it a coat of stain and hanging it in place, all of the components were installed and connected to the water lines in anticipation of going “live.”

But first, a word about the stepladder.

Usually the main water line and foot valve was connected to a long piece on angle iron that had been hammered into the lakebed. This worked fine for several years, but this summer the original piece, which gets left in over the winter, up and disappeared.

Rather than risk loosing another piece, we attached the water line and foot valve to the stepladder we bought at Canadian Tire, and simply dropped it into the lake at the appropriate depth. This way we could just pick it up at the end of the season and store it indoors safe and sound.

Once all of the water lines and new connections were thoroughly inspected and appropriately fussed over, the moment of truth had finally arrived.

The pump was then powered up and it purred like a contented kitten – a thirsty one mind you - because it did not appear to be drawing any water.

No problem, we just needed to use the hand pump connected to the main intake line to prime the line and the pump would take over from there.


We all stood around just sort of staring a one another for several minutes, and then went into full trouble shooting mode. Pipes were disconnected and reconnected; connections and clamps were inspected and tested – all to no avail.

Earlier this year I purchased a brand new back up pump, so Lou and Roman decided to switch out the old – and formally working pump – for the new one.

No cigar there either.

Talking it through, we came to the conclusion that because the pump was now located several feet higher, and about 12 feet further from the water, that may have been just far enough to take it beyond its effective operating range.

We then reconnected the original pump, lowered it to ground level and moved it closer to the lake, and while it started to pump water, inexplicably there was a great deal of air in the lines that would not bleed out, even though we ran it for several minutes.

The boys then decided to give the new pump another shot, and to our surprise it wouldn’t pump any water at all.

Go figure.

Having exhausted all of the possibilities we could collectively think of, Lou decided that when all else fails – have a beer and go to the source – so he decided to take apart our working pump to see if there was any apparent reason why it was drawing so much air, and otherwise performing so poorly.

Everything appeared to be fine, so the pump was reassembled then plugged in, following which it refused to draw even a drop of water.

Enough already.

It was getting late, we were thirsty, hungry, frustrated and otherwise pissed off. To add to our misery a cold front had quietly slipped in which would make dining in the screened in portion of the cabin rather uncomfortable.

Lou was so depressed that he was heard to mutter while sipping on his martini that he felt like going home.

I assured him that things would look better in the morning, and to otherwise look on the bright side. The flush toilet still worked, although we had to haul buckets of water up from the lake to fill the tank.

Rather than try and eat while our teeth were chattering, we moved the table and chairs into the sleeping area, sparked up the wood stove, and enjoyed our smoked back ribs, bathed in a spicy Habanero bbq sauce, and blue cheese/bacon Caesar in relative comfort.

The 2002 Pirramimma, Petit Verdot I served also helped to take the chill off.

The wind had picked up, so we decided to forgo the evening campfire and took our espresso, biscotti and brandy while commiserating around the wood stove.

The last thing I remember hearing before falling asleep, was someone muttering something about #&^*% pumps and gremlins.

Day 3

Lou: A Little Birdy Told Us That You *%#$*’ked Up!

I'm usually first up around 7:30, put the coffee on and get breakfast started – but not today.

Roman crawled out of bed just before 7, and I assumed he was simply answering the call of nature, and would return to the comfort of his sleeping bag in short order.

When he didn’t return, I decided to get up and see what was what – after all we had seen a Cougar in the area – and eventually found him at the side of the cabin, staring at the pump and disconnected piping with a somewhat sad/puzzled look on his face.

He indicated that the water system problem had been bugging him all night, and he had come up with a few ideas he wanted to try, including the installation of a new main water line, just in case the existing one had a leak that we somehow missed.

Following a quick breakfast consisting of Chipotle flavoured sausages, eggs prepared to order, and steaming hot mugs of coffee with a splash of Baily’s added for medicinal purposes Roman, with coffee cup in hand, went right back at it.

Because it was going to be a very busy day, in that the vapour barrier, cedar, stove and shower were to be installed, we would need all hands on deck to complete the work, and therefore suggested that he forget about the water system for the time being.

He said that he just wanted to play around with it for another hour or so, following which he would devote all of his time and energy to helping us complete the shower/sauna room.

Lou, who after a good nights sleep was in a much better frame of mind, was anxious to do something other that mess around with water pumps and the like, so he decided to recruit me to do some cutting.

This was in many respects a major step up for me, because in my usual role of camp flunky, my construction activities had been limited to fetching, carrying, holding things in place and driving in the occasional nail.

After receiving several minutes of training on how to properly use his vintage Skill saw, which included a few practice cuts, I was pronounced qualified and immediately put to work.

Romans attempts to get the water system back on line were not successful, although he did confirm that the new pump was definitely fried.

Because I had only messed up one piece of cedar so far, both Lou and Roman decided to let me continue cutting – straight cuts only – so they could concentrate on putting all of the pieces together.

As the day wore on and the job progressed smoothly, the overall mood in camp – particularly Lou’s - definitely improved to the point where Roman and I decided that since he was now unlikely to demand a ride home, we would start kidding him about his work on the water system, and in particular, his adventure with our formerly working pump.

Needless to say, once we saw that he was prepared to accept our comments in the spirit within which they were intended, we never let up.

After a very full day all of the work was completed, and Roman finished up by gluing the shower walls in place, which would be left to dry overnight, after which the shower doors and plumbing would be installed.

Cocktail hour had finally arrived wherein martinis, Jack Daniels Manhattans and kettle chips were enthusiastically consumed.

The cold front had moved out overnight, and in its place we were treated to beautiful warm, sunny day. There would be no moping around the stove tonight, so we gathered up a big pile of wood and lit a very impressive campfire that evening.

Dinner consisted of grilled, dry aged New York Strip’s and Tiger Shrimp, together with a field tomato and blue cheese salad. The evenings cellar selection was a rich, full - bodied 2001, Farina - Amarone.

After dinner drinks and cigars were enjoyed around the fire, and the stars in the night sky capped off a great day by putting on a fantastic show.

What a difference a day makes…

Day 4

Well, If the Stove Fits…

Since last night Lou had been bugging to create a “to do” list for our last full day in camp, and despite assurances that Roman and I had the jobs that needed doing committed to memory, he continued to insist and was therefor indulged.

It’s much easier that way.

Drum roll please - and the list says!

• Make a final decision regarding the installation of the sauna stove.

• Finish up the shower and hook up the plumbing – the waterless kind of course.

• Fix the bathroom door – it had this nasty habit of randomly popping open.

• Put lock hasps on both the bathroom and shower room doors.

• Cut firewood, and

• Rewire the battery/solar charger array.

Right after our breakfast of hot Italian sausage, eggs and sliced field tomatoes, we trooped over to the shower room to decide once and for all if there was sufficient room to install the stove.

Lou, having left the list in the cabin, wondered aloud why we were all standing around inside the shower room, so I immediately retrieved it, pointed to item 1, and made it very clear that if he forgot it again, I would pin it to his shirt.

While it wasn’t that long of a list, and considering we decided not to install either the stove or the lock hasps, the tools were not put away until almost 7:30 – a full 11 hours from the time we first started.

The electrical component took the most time, in that the boys installed brand new wiring, a switch and ensured that all of the critical components were mounted well above the high water mark.

While working our way through the list, we almost had an “Oh Shit” moment of our own when cutting the firewood.

While Roman was trying to start the chainsaw, the cord lost all tension on the flywheel, and as a result was impossible to start. No worries though, Lou came to the rescue and had it up and running in short order.

What was surprising is that given his love of playing with chainsaws, Lou let Roman do all the cutting.

Maybe he was not quite over the pump fiasco just yet.

Tonight’s dinner featured pasta, with homemade pesto and grilled chicken. The camp Sommelier selected a 2005, Mantra - Old Vines Zinfandel to accompany our repast, which was more than able to handle the pesto and hot peppers that we all liberally piled onto our pasta.

As usual, campfire, brandy, cigars and a star show brought an end to our day.

It doesn’t take much for Roman to catch a chill, so because it had cooled off once the sun went down, I suggested that before we turned in, he might want to put a log in the stove to take the chill off the cabin.

I guess he must have been really cold, because the ensuing fire would have given the blast furnaces at Algoma Steel a run for their money. Thing was, it was too hot even for him, and we all slept on top of the covers until the fire finally burned itself out.

Roman will be on a strict log quota, and under close supervision next year.

Day 5

The Turkey’s Have Landed!

This would usually be the point in these narratives when I talk about breaking camp, the ride home, the week that was and our plans for next year – but we weren’t quite done just yet.

I let the boys have a bit of a lie in this morning, and once everyone was up and around, we spent a leisurely couple hours closing camp.

Over the years this has become a rather simple and straightforward task, and this year even more so because we didn’t have to deal with the water system.

I’m pretty sure I heard the little birdy mentioned earlier talking to Lou throughout the morning.

Once everything had been secured, and the boats loaded we were off to the village of Nakina to catch our flight to Esnagami Wilderness Lodge, where we would be helping good friend and lodge owner Eric Lund remodel the lodge kitchen.

Rather than have breakfast in camp, we decided to grab some lunch at the Crown & Anchor Restaurant in Geraldton, but when we arrived around 12:30, the parking lot was uncharacteristically jammed.

As we were soon to discover, Geraldton’s matriarchy had gathered at the restaurant after church to have breakfast, several cups of coffee – and chat.

When we entered the restaurant there was not a seat to be had, but just as we were about to leave, 2 very kind ladies called us over and told us they were just leaving, so we could have the table.

After 4 days in camp with no water, lets just say that compared to all of the ladies in their Sunday finery, we were somewhat conspicuous both in terms of dress and our overall “aura.” Not only that, having been away from polite society for a number of days, our language skills were in some need of improvement – or at the very least a tune up.

This became very apparent when Roman, who finally had access to the Internet, dropped a rather impressive, and very loud “F” bomb while reading a particular email. I quietly reminded him that we were no longer in camp, wherein he blinked a couple of times, looked around then turned a very becoming shade of red.

I guess they must have heard it once or twice before, because none of the ladies at the tables adjacent to us even blinked.

When paying the check at the register, our server, after punching in the order, informed me that the “damage” was $1,227.20. The guy next in line gave me a nudge, smiled and told me not to forget the customary 10% tip.

I then asked where the .20 cents had come from, and stated that I was not prepared to pay it because I was out of change, following which we all had a good laugh.

We arrived at the float base just after 2 pm, and after a short but bumpy flight to the lodge, we unpacked our gear and chatted with Eric about the work we would be doing.

That evening Eric, his buddy Dave - who was helping close up the lodge - and me went fishing. Lou and Roman decided to hang back because they had some “real” work they needed to finish off now that they had Internet access.

Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

What a Tool…

Days 6 and 7 were primarily spent moving stoves, removing the old vinyl floor covering, and installing a new subfloor and floor tiles in the lodge kitchen, with day 6 turning out to be the most intense, and longest of them all.

Replacing a floor that has not had any substantial work done on it for many years is akin to opening a box of Crackerjacks – only you usually find more than one surprise.

Fortunately, most of the original subfloor was in good shape, with the exception of the section where the sink was located.

Given its condition, we had to go right down to the log foundation and essentially build it up from scratch.

And speaking of tile, talk about frustrating!

While it APPEARED relatively easy to install, by the time our 12 hour day had come to an end, we only managed to lay about 10 rows – with at least twice as many more to go before the job would be completed.

If we could not find a way to pick up the pace, it was going to be very difficult to finish the floor within the time allotted.

But not unlike our experience with the pumps earlier that week – a good nights sleep and a fresh perspective made all the difference.

First thing in the morning, after getting the remainder of the subfloor in place, Roman and I decided to tackle the floor tiles. The key was NOT to use gentle persuasion to fit them together as we had been doing, but rather give them a good hard whack with a hammer.

We had just started to pick up the pace when Lou, who was opening boxes of tiles, uttered his signature phrase – “Wait!”

When tackling a problem Lou employs a unique thought process, that not everyone – including himself – always understands, but having said that, he usually comes up with something very innovative and useful, and today was no exception.

While watching us work, he noticed that the tiles had to be held at a particular angle before they could be hammered into place.

Way too inefficient he said, and in a matter of minutes fabricated an installation tool that held the tile in place at just the right angle. All we had to do was slide it along the row we were working on, line up a tile, rest it on the tool and tap it in with the hammer.

Once we started using it, Roman and I finished the rest of the floor in a couple of hours, and to put this into some perspective, yesterday it took us over 2 hours just to put in a couple of rows.

Lou is in the process of attempting to acquire a patent for his creation as we speak.

After lunch we moved the stoves back into place, following which Dave indicated he had a boat ready for us in the event we want to do a little fishing – which we did both that afternoon and in the evening as well.

The afternoon fishing was a bit slow, but that night we caught over 25 Walleye. The weather was unseasonably warm, which allowed us to fish comfortably throughout the day and evening in short sleeves.

We had taken the kitchen about as far as we could at that point – it looked really good – so after breakfast Eric suggested that we spend the morning fishing, as our flight “outside” would not be arriving until noon.

Roman stayed back to finish up some work, but Lou and I spent a pleasant morning on the lake chatting, catching a few fish and showing him how to use a bait-casting style reel.

Rather than drive for 14 hours straight, we broke up the trip and spent the night in Kapuskasing.

We got away at about 7 the next morning, and after making a couple of stops at both the Thornloe Cheese Factory and the Rama Reserve in Orillia to top up Lou’s cigar supply, we arrived home at 5:30.

And in the Beginning…

Perhaps an odd title to conclude this narrative, but then again there are some things you never want to see come to an end, so lets just leave it at that.

See you next year – and guys, thanks again for everything…

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Last modified onMonday, 28 September 2015 06:24
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