There were three or four steady men to cook for and do their laundry. I was kept quite busy. The men milked about a dozen cows and separated the cream. We had to walk over to the dairy every morning (located near Annie’s house) to wash the pails and separator rain or shine. One bowl had 35 disks which had to be washed and rinsed separately. I churned once or twice a week and with the butter and eggs bought the groceries. Butter requires a lot of cold, cold water to wash all the buttermilk out of the butter to make it firm. Then you add salt and work it in, then pat it into a mold so that the result weighs exactly one pound. My churn was a big wooden barrel one that made about thirty pounds at a churning. We carried the water from a well on the other side of Annie’s house. It seemed like a quarter of a mile away.
We had a big windlass built out in the corral and butchered our beef there. Hung it up on the windlass to clean and skin, about an hour’s work. Then after it hung in a cool place for ten days, we would cut it up and put it into a brine and some jars and cook it. I also canned chicken. I remember one time I starved the roosters and other chickens to be butchered as usual the night before so they would have empty crops and be easier to handle. Never thinking about the weed seeds in the bottom of the trough. The chickens ate them. I had forty beautiful jellied jars of chicken but when I opened them to use they smelled so strong of stink weed and tasted like it too. I nearly wept when I couldn’t use them.
The year of 1936 was the driest one anyone could remember in our district. There was practically no crop to harvest nor hay to cut. Percy was very worried about feed for the cattle, and he had the enormous tasks of settling affairs of the estate as well. The dirty 30s seemed to be extra dirty to us when we lost our beloved parents but all over Canada people were suffering poverty and drought, so many, so much worse than we were. The men left the cattle out on the range waiting for the first fall of snow because there was so little feed at home. Cattle from the district have used the range at the base of Jumping Pound Mountain and Moose Mountain since long before it was made into a forest reserve. Riders camped up there to round up the cattle and bring them home early in November if not sooner.
This year, late in the evening of November 18th 1936, Jack Copithorne came up to visit Percy and to point out a pin point of smoke southwest on the range. They became very worried and decided to leave for the round-up camp, “The Lone Star” about 4am the next morning. I remember setting bread and baking it that night, along with fries and other food to send up with the wagon later in the morning but the wagon never left home. The men left on horseback and when they got as far as Frank Sibbald’s they met the fire and it swept past them. Here at home we had a high wind and the air was so full of smoke and dust you couldn’t see anywhere. Percy went into Sibbald’s and phoned home to tell me to send a man and a tractor up to Sibbald’s. He ploughed quite a furrow down north of Sibblad’s house to save it if the wind changed. But there was just no way of stopping that fire.
I was expecting my second child then, not quite as active and spry as I’d like to have been, but able to do the work just the same. When word came over the phone to vacate our homes and go to the creek for safety from the fire, I decided to put Sheila in the car and try to drive to safety. The story of my being trapped in the fire is told elsewhere in the history of our district. When I got home from the episode, I had a good two inches of solid cinders in my hair which took several shampoos to remove. The fire never reached our house and so I had done the wrong thing and got severely told about it even though it was not all entirely my own idea of what was best to do. When Percy came riding home he had lost our precious collie dog somewhere in his mad travels trying to save livestock. We wondered if we would ever see him again and loved him almost like a person. The next day, half of Calgary drove out to view the devastation and most of Cochrane too. All of the burnt country looked the same, just miles and miles of black cinders – no fences – no telephone poles, and nothing alive. Percy’s cousin Claude drove over to the Brushy Ridge area and while driving about three miles north of us, he saw something move. He got out and called to it and it nearly knocked him down racing to him and piled into the car. Claude continued his tour and then came to see ow we were doing and you can imagine our joy when “Buster” got out of his car. We often wonder if Buster recognized a Copithorne about Claude, or if there was something familiar about his voice. There were literally thousands of people milling around there and Buster was a very shy dog.
The following week, the ranchers started out to locate feed for their cattle. Percy’s brother George had just bought a new car and he offered to drive Percy, Frank, and Clem Gardner up into the Olds country to buy some straw stacks. They got a few miles north of Calgary when the car hit some loose gravel and rolled over into the ditch. It rolled over about four times before it came to a stop against a telephone pole, and it was upside down. No one was hurt at all, but they said everything was all mixed up like a pup’s breakfast inside that car. Later in the week they got to Olds and arranged to ship their cattle and put them out in little herds on the many farms that had straw stacks. Some of our men spent the winter up there looking after the cattle. What a winter that was! I think Percy became very well acquainted with the farmers around Olds and the snow was so deep up there that it was piled 10 feet high on the side roads.