Chapter 14: The Ozone Rangers I

Fun in the Land of the Midnight Sun

“Oh, I’ve been working on the railroad …”
I sang as I toiled, “… all the live long day”

And in the land of the midnight sun, that turned out to be a very long day indeed. Building with log is heavy work, especially when you’re on your own. I peeled, I hauled, I sawed, I notched. I fell off this, busted that, lost this, borrowed that. It was a humbling experience.

To balance out all this nasty manual labour, many of us work-weary builders would gather in various wall tents of an evening to party and play music.

Ahh, the wall tent! – staple of the North – quickly erected, efficient accommodation for those involved in ‘more important tasks,’ – tasks such as exploration, fishing, hunting and, yes, building a structure permanent enough so that you wouldn’t have to live in the damn wall tent for the winter.

The thing that separates a wall tent from just a ‘tent,’ is the floor and partial wall. It’s the one thing that takes time to build. Once that’s done, the rest of the frame goes up quickly. Attach a door, or anything that might pass for one, toss over the canvas tent, and you’re done … well … more or less. You need heat. But the heat source is one that has been around forever – the tin airtight – an item that becomes of importance in a subsequent tale.

In any event, while they built, the wall tent was the first choice in accommodation for most folks. Except for me, that is. My shelter was made out of sticks, plastic tarps and garbage bags, giving me great incentive to build something that had a real roof.

Hilbo and Hart’s tent, on the other hand was deluxe. It had a real door, tables and chairs, a stove, a sink of sorts, and an outhouse. As a result, it became the centre of all the musical activity.

Hilary Craig played Scruggs style banjo, Ilene Hart played flute, Dave Stecker, Howard Damron and Phil Langevin played various combinations of guitar and mandolin, and everybody sang. It was acoustic music – bluegrass, old country, rockabilly and gospel, and these folks could play. By the end of the summer, we were thicker than thieves. We even had a handle – the ‘Ozone Rangers’ – a name bestowed upon us by our pal Jeff McPherson. And it was pretty well on the money.

This was my new family. We played, built, drank, sang and laughed together. We laughed until our guts ached. We laughed, in some sense, because we knew we had escaped – escaped from what now looked like a mindless, restricted life in the mainstream. Not that it came up much. It was just an understanding – a feeling that everyone shared. A feeling like taking off a tight pair of knickers.


The summer drifted into fall and the work on the cabin continued. The walls rose a round at a time. Rafters were added and the roof went up, then I got to work laying the asphalt roofing. It was September now. It was starting to get chilly, and the asphalt had a tendency to crack when unrolled and applied. Fact is, I was starting to run out of time. The winter was approaching fast and I knew I had to pick up the pace if I was to get the job finished before the first snowfall.

The floor joists were next, then the laying of the floor. Finally, it was time to add a door and windows. The windows, as it turned out, ended up being a special affair.

My job at Border Lake involved several trips to Tulsequah – a defunct mine site complete with a miniature town near the confluence of the Taku and Tulsequah rivers. The town was more or less an airstrip with buildings lining both sides of the runway – buildings that ranged from warehouses to residences to a cookshack and bar. The place had everything, including a bowling alley! … and it was built to last … with quality building materials and old school expertise. As a result, companies needing building supplies for camps often scavenged them from Tulsequah. Atlin, at one point, managed to get in on the bounty after several loads were brought out by DC3 and made available to the residents at a great price.

I was lucky enough to grab two huge small-pane windows from one of those batches. They ended up, with a little modification, gracing the front and north walls of the cabin. Those windows are beautiful, with frames constructed of straight grained fir without a knot in it; built in the old style, with putty and glazing diamonds. What a coup.


Then one day, all of a sudden, the job was done, and I found myself standing in the late afternoon sun staring at a cabin where once there was nothing but a clearing. Freshly peeled logs shone in the sunlight, brand new asphalt adorned the roof and, if you stood at just the right angle, you could see the reflection of Atlin Mountain framed perfectly in the classic front window. I was brown from head to toe and every muscle ached from working ‘round the clock, but I was grinning from ear to ear.

Many of us had finished building that very same week, and a fine old party was planned to celebrate. I don’t remember much about it. I was so exhausted, I spent most of my time snoring in the easy chair by the stove.

I wasn’t the only one.