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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XXXIV - Helping in the Sugar Bush

AS indicated in the opening of the previous chapter, the inhabitants, taking advantage of the ideal sugar weather which had arrived, all began to "tap." The McNabb family had a very large bush, and ever since the boys had grown strong enough to attend to the work, they always tapped a large number of trees. It was no small task, and although they usually succeeded in earning something by their labours, still it was often doubtful if it really paid. This spring, however, would probably be the last in which the work could be carried on extensively, as both Colin and Jamie would be gone with Willie, and only Wallace would remain to do the work of the farm, which, according to the will of the late Mr. McNabb, was to become the property of the eldest son on the death of his mother. There was therefore no incentive for the other boys to remain on the homestead, and their mother, realising that the place offered no future, did not feel it right to prevent them leaving to seek their fortunes in the world.

All the boys, Willie included, turned in with a will this spring and assisted in the sugar-making. In the first place a large number of additional troughs to hold the sap were required. These were made out of young ash trees, about nine or ten inches in diameter. With the aid of great oaken wedges and mallets, these young trees were split down the centre, and then cut into lengths of about three feet.

They were hollowed out with an axe, and when finished, each would hold three-quarters or more of a pail of sap. After the troughs were prepared, the work of tapping the trees had to be proceeded with. In those early days the process was quite different from that of to-day. Instead of using an auger, a concave gouge sharpened on one end like a chisel was used. This was driven into the tree about half an inch, and then a cedar spile, split by means of the gouge and trimmed and sharpened at one end (so that it was an exact fit for the opening in the tree), was driven into the aperture. Then the operator, with mallet in hand, would drive the gouge into the tree about three inches above the spile. Withdrawing it, he would reverse it and drive it in again, so as to form a junction with the fresh cut. By prying out the bark and wood within these two cuts, an opening was formed in the tree from which the sap would trickle. Adjusting the trough so that the sap trickling down the spile would fall into it, the operation was complete.

Then a "camp" or boiling-station had to be established at some central point in the bush, where the sap had to be boiled down and reduced to either syrup or sugar, as was desired.

At the boiling-station, one or more large barrels or hogsheads were required in which to store the sap. In addition to this, another barrel was needed for gathering the sweet material. This barrel was usually fastened tightly to a "trauvoy" or "jumper."

To this a strong horse was attached, and through deep snow or shallow, one of these well-trained animals hauled the "jumper," dodging trees and stumps, and obeying the directions of the sap-gatherer, who lifted the small troughs, emptied the contents into the barrel, and continued at this till it was full, when he drove to the boiling-station, emptied his barrel into one of the hogsheads, and started off again.

Just as soon as all the barrels and receptacles provided were filled, the boiling-down process began. For this purpose, two large trees about ten feet apart were chosen. Then two stout saplings (iron wood preferred), forked at one end and about five feet in diameter and fifteen feet long, were procured. These were sharpened at the unforked end and inserted in holes prepared for their reception in the frozen ground. The forked ends leaned against the two big trees, and a strong crosspiece extended from fork to fork. By this means a perfectly strong and reliable bar was secured, from which the coolers in which the sap was boiled could be suspended by means of strong chains. Then two great backlogs would be rolled on either side of the coolers, between these the dry firewood was placed, and in a few minutes a roaring blaze would be doing its subtle work underneath the coolers. As the sap was steadily reduced, the attendant replenished

the coolers from the hogshead close by. It did not take long, with two or three large boilers and a roaring fire, to reduce a hogshead of sap to syrup.

There was always the greatest danger when the sap was well reduced, of the contents boiling over and thus wasting the precious fluid. To avoid this, a very simple and effective expedient had been discovered. A piece of fat pork, tied to the end of a stick plunged into the bubbling caldron, would immediately cause the boiling syrup to subside and avert all danger of loss. Consequently, if the attendant found it necessary to leave the boilers for a time, he just fastened a piece of pork to a stick and tied the latter to the handle of the cooler, so that the pork would be an inch or so below the rim of the cooler. In this way insurance against loss was secured.

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