Explosive times down on the farm

My dad might have been the only farmer in northwestern Saskatchewan knowledgeable about the safe use of dynamite in 1954

My dad might have been the only farmer in northwestern Saskatchewan knowledgeable about the safe use of dynamite in 1954, the day exasperation made him say, “That’s it! I’m tired of farming around that rock for 20 years. I’m going to blow it up.”

He had been a gold miner for four years in Timmins, Ontario where blasting rock with dynamite to expose a vein of gold had been his job for eight hours every day.

His farm tractor had neither a front end loader nor any means of pushing the rock aside.

The four-foot high egg-shaped rock lacked corners for securing a log chain around it or he could have pulled it aside with the John Deere.

At 80 pounds, even if it had offered hand grips, it was far too heavy for Dad and my 12-year-old brother to roll or lift on to the stone boat.

If they had succeeded in loading it on the stone boat, its weight would have collapsed the stone boat necessitating building a replacement, yet leaving the irritating rock majestic as a Stonehenge formation.

The stone boat was the chore-around conveyance on all farms in the days of horses, and even into the early years of small tractors.

Built like a sleigh on two 8×8 skids, it was close to the ground, easy to move stuff on to, and off of.

It hauled manure from the barns to the manure pile, hay bales from the stack to the feed lot, cream cans or 45 gallon barrels of water from the dugout or lake to the water trough in winter, and brought in garden produce in the fall.

It was the preferred locomotion for pulling our sleighs or toboggan as the team trotted home, the equivalent of today’s kids snagging a ride behind an ATV.

Only safer.

If we fell off, we were only eight inches above the ground, moving slowly.

We learned to ride on it standing up, balancing like a chicken swaying on a windy roost.

Dad drove from Vawn to Saskatoon to buy the dynamite from CIL Industries and stowed the box – about 16” by 24” by 12” deep – in the trunk of the car.

Trips to the city being a rarity, Mom was along for the outing.

Throughout the long drive home, she fretted a motorist might rear-end their car, triggering an explosion.

Dad assured her so long as the caps were kept separate from the dynamite, it was no riskier than a sack of potatoes.

I can picture Mom’s suspicions of that statement.

The rock perched part way down a long slope where the 55-acre field ended in a boggy slough encircled by willows.

Dad sent my brother off to the slough to bring back handfuls of mud.

After balancing half a stick of dynamite on top of the rock, he plastered the dynamite in place under a beaver lodge of mud, a procedure known as mudcapping.

Once he lit the fuse, he and my brother retreated about 100 feet to wait behind the John Deere like RCMP at a riot.

“Won’t we get hit with flying rock?” my brother worried.

“No,” Dad said. “The sudden shock of the explosion will go straight down through the rock so fast the rock won’t have time to react.”

And he was right.

Unlike movie explosions where debris flies for miles around and rock chunks rain down for hours, all they witnessed was a mini percussive boom.

Left behind was a layer of gravel where the rock had been. The project went smooth as silk.

Claudette Sandecki keeps her eye on explosive events from her home in Thornhill, B.C.

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