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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 1 - Chapter One. Early Experiences


THESE memoirs were intended for my family and some immediate friends, but at the urgent request of others. I have decided to make them public. I have but one reason in so doing and that is, that they may be of benefit to some young men who are starting in at the bottom thinking the difficulties confronting them are insurmountable, when they look up to the top of the ladder. No doubt they think no one has had such a hard time as they.

I cannot express my sentiments better than to repeat a part of Longfellow's "Psalm of Life":

And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another.
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother.
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us then, be up and doing.
With a heart for any fate.
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.

In getting a start in life, no doubt many have had as hard a time as I but few have had harder experiences.

I was born in Falkirk, Scotland, in 1844. That was an eventful year for my mother's family. My uncle, John Melville, was master and part owner of the ship "Helen Mar"'— she was owned by my uncle and grandfather. Another uncle, Alex Mel vile, was first officer, and Robert Melville was carpenter. In the early part of 1843 ?he got a cargo from Bombay to Calcutta. There was no freight offering there, so she was laid up some time. They gave her a complete overhauling, and in the early part of January, 1844. got a cargo for London. A Glasgow ship sailed in company with them, and in a -violent typhoon was totally dismantled, but with a jury rig was able to make port. The "Helen Mar" was never heard of after. The supposition is she foundered with all on board.

At the time of my birth my father was manager for the lumber establishment of Robert Melville & Company. The downstairs of the house in which I was born was used for the office and the upstairs for the dwelling. This house has been taken down, and a new office building is in its place Later we moved into a house surrounded by a garden, and the first visit I made to my native land after having been away thirty-five, years, I found the garden had been turned into a lumber yard and a lot of umber had been piled against the house, and to my astonishment, in looking it over, I found it was timber I had taken out on the shore of Lake Huron and sold in Quebec, not knowing where it was disposed of—each stick of timber had the Dollar mark on it.

When old enough I went to the public, school. 7'he teacher had only one arm, but when it came to chastening us boys how he could use that one arm! He used a cane, and he could make us dance the Highland Fling to perfection. Thank Providence he had only one hand, for we could never have stood two. That was one essential feature of the education in those days—to get a good thrashing several times a week, I may have gotten more than my share, as I have never forgotten them to this day. I left school when I was about twelve years old and immediately started to work in a machine shop attending a lathe. In those days there were no self-feeding lathes and small lx>vs were used for that purpose. I recollect the first Saturday night I got paid for a week's work with a half crown (60 cents) and how I ran home all the way and gave the money to my mother.

My mother died about this time, and my father took to drinking occasionally to drown his sorrow. This brought about the necessity for our emigrating to Canada, and it made me a strong temperance man, as I vowed I would never touch liquor as long as I lived. This vow I have religiously kept and to this resolution I attribute the most of my success in life.

11 April, 1858, we sailed from Glasgow for Quebec on the sailing ship "Anglesia." There were very few steamers in those days, and the greater number of passengers were carried on sailing ships. We were five weeks in passage, and having some sickness on board were quarantined ten days, so it was the last of June when we arrived in Ottawa, where my father intended to make his home.

Immediately on arrival there I got employment in a stave factory in New Edinburgh. The eight hour law had not been enacted at that time, so we worked twelve hours a day. I do not recollect the wages I received, but think it was S6.00 per month. I worked in different mills until 1861 when I hired with the firm of Hamilton Bros, to work in one of their lumber camps, or "shanties" as they were called in those days. Mr. Hiram Robinson of Ottawa City, who is still alive, gave me the job at $10.00 a month. The foreman was Sandy Kingsbury, a big, jolly man and a good foreman. He put me to work to help the cook—chore boy as the job was called. A boy, green as I was. not long from the old country, had certainly a great deal to learn.

We left Ottawa in bark canoes and went up the Gatineau River to a place called Six Portages. This place was something over one hundred miles from Ottawa City and there were a great number of rapids and falls in the river past which we had to earn' all our supplies. It was a very hard experience.

I recall one of these portages where there was a very steep hill which we had to climb over. In getting down on the other side there was snow on the ground, which made it quite slippery. 1 had a big box on my back which I was carrying with a tump line. A tump line is a broad leather strap put around the box and placed over the forehead, as the Indians carry their loads. When I started down that hill my feet went out from under me, and myself and the box went down the hill as if I was a toboggan, but we came to an abrupt stop occasioned by the box going on one side of a tree and I on the other side. The strap had slipped off my forehead and down on my neck I kicked and turned trying to release myself, but the harder I kicked the tighter the strap got, so I remained there till some of my associates came and released me.

We finally arrived at the place where we were going to build the camp, all tired out with the extremely hard and heavy trip up the river. We had the buildings up and were ready to put on the roofs when a few skunks came around and were quite a nuisance. One night when the rest were in at supper I was left outside to see if any came around. I saw one go into a hollow log, so I ran quickly and plugging up one end and pushing a pole in the other end, called to the foreman that: I had one. lie came out with his gun and I told him to take the plug out of the end and look m, which he did. At the same time I gave the skunk a jab with the pole and he immediately sprinkled the foreman's head with his perfume. I had to take to the woods, and did not venture to return until every one was asleep. The next morning he gave me a cuffing for my fun to the delight of all the others in camp. I realized from this I might fool with any of the others but not with the foreman!

Another amusing incident happened when we were building the camp. One day the foreman gave me two bags, and said: "Run out into the woods and fill these two bags with moss as quickly as you can." They used the moss to put into the chinks between the logs to make the shanty warm I was in a big hurry, and wanted to please the foreman by doing it quickly, so rushed into the swamp where there was plenty of moss and filled one bag and stood it up against a tree. I then proceeded to fill the other one. When I had this one tilled I turned to find the first bag, but could not see it anywhere. I set the second one down, and started to look for the first one which I had left against the tree, and in a short time I could find neither and had lost myself as well. I wandered around the swamp all day. and got out just at dusk without any moss and tired out. The foreman was very angry and scolded me for being so long, and said to bring on the moss. When I told him I had lost both bags, he said: "I could understand your losing one, but how could you lose them both?" I spent every Sunday for a long time looking for the bags, but so far as I know they are still there, as I never found them.

The next season I again hired with the same firm under the same foreman, who promoted me to work hi the woods cutting roads as the logs were all hauled with oxen. They had not tried to work horses in the woods at that time. What an evolution lumbering has gone through! First with oxen, then horses; both oxen and horses have been superseded on the Pacific Coast by steam. Now no lumbering is done except with donkey engines and railroads, on this coast.

This year (1863) I was sent to the mouth of the Gatneau River to help raft the logs out. A tug was sent to tow the logs from Ottawa City to the mill at Hawksburg. We made about one trip a week with logs, and I found :it rather hard work, as we got but very little sleep.

At this time my brother and I bought a farm, Our united wages were only $26.00 a month, out of which we saved enough to buy the farm. It took us three years, I think, At the present way of living, this statement would appear incredible; but it is a fact, nevertheless.

The following summer an event happened which probably hastened my getting on in the world. I was put in to cook for the men at the Gatineau boom where the logs were being rafted One day after I had finished my work, as had been my custom for the past two years, I was practicing writing and figures. I had not gotten much education to start with but what little I did get I had neglected and I began to realize that if I were going to rise in this world I must have some education, and therefore started to write and figure on birch bark. While cooking I had gotten hold of an old account book and used it to practice in. One day the manager and treasurer of the company came in, but I did not hear them. They asked me if I had nothing to do and when I told them my work was done they looked around and found everything in order and asked to see my writing and figures. I showed them and was ashamed that they were not better. After questioning me a good deal they went off.

In those days we hired for a year, and when it was time for me to return to the woods for the next year I went to the office to engage with them. I was told they had a better job for me, to clerk in a small camp for a French foreman, It was not much of a raise as I worked all day and did what little writing that was to be done at night. This year we went in canoes as usual, from Ottawa to our winter quarters, further up than any lumbering had previously been done. It was over two hundred miles, and took us about three weeks to get there. The camp was over one hundred and fifty miles from the nearest inhabitants except Indians. The entire crew was French, with the exception of myself. I was the only English-speaking person, so it became a necessity for me to learn French as quickly as possible, and by the end of the season I could talk the language very well. Unfortunately I learned by sound, and as no one was there to teach me to read and write, I never had an opportunity to learn the language thoroughly, although I could talk t perfectly.

The manner of living, or what would be called the standard of living, was very different from that of our lumber camps of today Our stores consisted of fat salt pork in barrels, flour and peas. A few years after I started, beans were added to the list. Tea was supplied to any one who wished to pay $1.00 a month for it. Occasionally a few sacks of potatoes were sent in before the cold weather came. No other vegetables of any kind were used. The result of this lack of change of diet was that in the spring of the year we had men laid up with the disease called ''black leg." This is similar to the disease the Japanese and Chinese are afflicted with on board of ships, due to the constant use of rice and known as "beri-beri"

Another troublesome disease many of us had after the long winter and before we could get any change of food was what we called "night blind." As soon as the sun set we would become totally blind until after sunrise. All those so afflicted had to make sure to get back to camp biefore sunset, otherwise they had to be led. Even a candle did not help out as it gave no light to those so afflicted. By eating a small piece of cheese or drinking milk, especially buttermilk for five or six days, a complete cure was effected. What a neglect on the part of employers that such things were allowed to go on to their own hurt, as men afflicted in this way could not do the work that perfectly well men could do! Now-a-days our men in camps are as well fed and with as good a variety as in any of our homes.

A big box was kept in each camp called, for short, a "van." properly vanjouterie. In it was tobacco and the necessary clothing that might be required. In the line of medicines, were the following, and no others: Railway's Ready Relief, salts, castor oil and sticking plaster. Those were supposed to cure all the ills that the lumbermen of those days might be afflicted with. This was a small assortment, but I must say the men were the healthiest and strongest that could be found in any community. They worked outdoors all the time and from April until September slept in tents.

In March of 1864, twelve of us were sent to haul provisions to a new place where they were starting a farm on the Jean de Terre River. Each pair of us was hitched to a train. de glace, as it was called. It was like a toboggan. I think each train had four hundred pounds on it. The route was through woods all the way, with some lakes to cross on the ice. The snow was about four feet deep and soft, making it such a hard trip that I never forgot it. At night we would just break a little brush and spread it on the snow. Each man had one blanket in which he would roll himself and sleep in the open air with the thermometer below zero, We shivered more than we slept. One night we camped on the side of a mountain. There was a long range of hills on the opposite side of a canyon in view from where we lay. The woods were evergreen, spruce, balsam and pitch pine. It had snowed hard all night and the trees were covered with it, as it stuck to them and fell on us. I recollect w ell how it melted on our blankets and wet us through. At daybreak an earthquake came along and woke us up. In an instant we were all on our feet: at first, the snow falling from the trees blinded us, but we saw a strange sight on the mountains opposite. We could follow the progress of the earthquake's undulations by the snow falling from the trees. Before it, the trees were all covered with snow and after the temblor had ceased, they were all shaken clean and were green. We could trace the course of the earthquake for a distance of three miles, showing exactly the direction it was moving, also the speed at which it was traveling.

We reached our destination, the distance being about one hundred and twenty miles, the hardest I ever traveled. Returning, it went better as we had our trail to go on, and having no loads we made good tune. I think we returned in about five days. We were glad to get back to our hard work in camp, which seemed easy after our trip.

I worked my way up slowly until, in 1866, when I was twenty-two years of age, I was put in charge of a camp of forty men. and in the spring of the year I ran the logs down the Du Moines River to the Ottawa River, where they were boomed and taken by several stages over the rapids and falls, and after a great deal of hard work and trouble we got them to Ottawa City. Up to this time no logs had been taken over the Chaudiere Falls. Under the direction of our manager I ran a quantity over these falls, but it did not prove a success.

We then tried to get the logs to the north side, past the town of Hull through the slide. This was successful and after a time we got them running well. To make up for so much lost time experimenting, I kept urging them to feed them in faster until my energy exceeded my good judgment, the result being that a jam occurred in the steep slide so that in a few minutes it choked full, and, before I could stop more coming, it completely stopped the water coming through the proper channel and It found a very improper one by going through the match factory of Mr. E. B. Eddy, flooding the floor, so that some hundred employees had to quit work. Mr. Eddy immediately appeared on the scene, and called me all the bad names he could think of.

At last T told him that we were only losing time and if he would let me alone I would try and stop the water going through the factory. I went at the job with all the energy I possessed while he sat on the bank and watched every move of myself and the men. It was very dangerous starting the logs, as when we got them started they would go like a shot out of a gun. We were successful and in an incredibly short time we got the logs started and the water ceased making a highway through the factory. When I finished, Mr. Eddy came up and said, "I take my hat off to you for the able and expeditious way you got those logs going." And after all the damage I had caused him he said, "I take back all I said to you on the start." The big, broad gauge man that he was; this made us fast friends as long as he lived.

At this time I started keeping a diary and have kept one constantly up to the present time. I find this diary very convenient 'ti looking up places and dates.

Needing a change, I took a vacation at home for three weeks and worked even harder than I had been working <n the woods. I tried to do as much as possible in those three weeks as the ta-m had to be paid for, and this could only be done by working for wages. I had hoped to be able to settle down quietly on the farm, and this ambition stimulated me to greater exertions. But a quiet We was not to be my lot. The very reverse was in store, and I was destined to be actively engaged in business.

Previous to being foreman, my wages were $16.00 a month. I often thought if I could only get up to $26.00 a month the height of my ambition would be realized. This ambition was soon satisfied as I got $26.00 in the fall of the year by taking charge of a camp. This will give an idea of how low wages were at that tune (caused by the depression following the Civil War), when a foreman in charge of a crew of men only got $26.00 a month.

During this winter I had a severe attack of rheumatism caused by being exposed to storms and hardships in the woods—far more than my share. However, I got over it, and never have had an attack since.

In taking the logs down what is called Deep River, a tributary of the Ottawa River, where there is not much current, we boomed up the logs in one long string and with a capstan, an anchor and lines, moved them along. One very foggy night while we were warping, the wooden spindle on the capstan, which needed greasing very badly, made a squeaky noise, which a moose ashore thought was a buck, and swam out to us. It did not see us until it was right alongside of the crib. When it saw what kind of bucks w e were it immediately turned and started to swim ashore. Some of the men got into a boat and killed it with oars and an axe. It weighed over one thousand pounds and furnished us with roasts and steaks for several day s.

On this trip down the river we built cribs on which we erected cabins to live in. These cribs were run down the rapids with long oars at each end. I had become familiar with the various rapids and was able at this time to pilot them down, which was a very dangerous and risky proposition.

The Civil War had been going on in the United States, and as we were six months without any mail we could not keep posted on affairs of the outside world. What information we did get was only a short account of some great engagement. We were a world to ourselves, but we got used to this as our whole lime and attention were taken up with our work.

Accidents were rare, but they did happen. I recollect one of my men got a leg broken. I had never seen a person with a broken leg, and had no idea how to set it. I asked all hands :f any of them had ever had a broken limb or had ever seen one set. Not one of the sixty men could help me even with a suggestion. So I had to go at it, having only common sense to guide me. I was fortunate enough to do it right, with the exception of keeping a weight on it to prevent it shrinking, with the result that the man had a leg one inch too short, causing a slight limp. When I got to civilization I got a doctor to show me how to set a broken leg. His method closely resembled my rough and ready way of doing it. A foreman in those days had to be a jack-of-all-trades. I was fortunate in never having a man killed while I was foreman, but I was unfortunate in having several drowned at various times.

A foreman of a camp m those days had to be resourceful and to possess the faculty of taking the initiative, as we had very little to do with and had to depend on our own resources when anything went wrong, which often happened. This made us strong and self-reliant. My wages at this time were $32.00 a month, and for the amount of work and responsibility I thought it a small w age, so I gave the company notice I would leave, which I reluctantly did after having worked so long for them.

In 1870 I engaged with Pearly and Pattee at $44.00 a month, and went up the Coulonge River about three hundred miles from Ottawa City. While here we were as much out of the world as formerly, and were many months without communication with the outside. I put in three more years of this work, during which time I had an unfortunate accident. The manager sent me with a crew of men to go to the mouth of the river. about one hundred miles distant, to take care of the logs. I protested on leaving that the boat was too heavily loaded, but he thought differently. When we were fifty miles from the mouth of the river the boat swamped and three of the party were drowned, and only that I nsisted on the survivors holding on to the boat more would have perished. We managed to get ashore, at the head of a great falls, but lost everything including our provisions. If we had gone over it not one would have been left to tell the tale. We got the boat out of the water to carry it past the falls, but as the oars were gone it was slow work getting down. The men were completely discouraged, but after a good deal of protesting 1 got them to carry the boat over the falls where we found two oars and a couple of trunks. We still had two long rapids to run. but got through safely. At night we all lay on the frozen ground close together to keep as warm as we could, having no matches to light a fire as they had all gotten wet. We had a cold, miserable night of it and were glad next day to get to civilization. We reached a French-Canadian farmer's house, and he permitted us to lie on the floor, which was much better than the previous night. By keeping a good fire m the stove we had an opportunity to dry our clothes.

By persistently saving we kept buying land and increased the size of our farm until we had five hundred acres all paid for.

During the last few years I had been successful in building dams and improving rivers that were not considered navigable, thereby saving a great deal of money for my employers by shortening the haul with the teams, I managed to make a great success of this work.


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