Memories of Growing Up in Gander

by Denny Pritchett

 

If my memory serves me correctly, it was early fall ’56 or ’57, I’m not sure which. That year Dave Peckford and I were really into trout fishing at Cobb’s Pond. In those days the only way to get to the pond was to walk west on the railway track to the trail through the woods. Dave and I lived on the same street, Fitzmaurice Road, and we would rush home after school each afternoon that the weather was any good, change our clothes, dig some worms and head off for the pond, which was about 30 minutes walk.

This one afternoon the weather was great, and we had expectations of catching a few trout. We got our fishing gear, and for some reason, I remember I had Gerard Green’s fishing rod and reel; in those days all I had was a bamboo pole. We had a can of worms and headed off for the tracks and trail to get some fishing in before dark. It was a gorgeous day, and I remember I was wearing jeans, a thin black windbreaker and my hip boots.

When Dave and I got to the pond, we were a bit disappointed because there was quite a crowd there before us, and they had pretty well driven off what they hadn’t caught already. We decided to give it a try anyway, so we rigged up our tackle, put worms on our hooks and fished for about 30 minutes with no luck, in fact nobody was having any luck that evening.

We were thinking about calling it a day and heading home, when a couple of fellows showed up at the beach where we were with a boat, which belonged to Mr. Richards who lived on Memorial Drive. They had been across the pond in a secluded cove and had caught a few nice sizes trout. I don’t know who the other fellow was, but one of them was Walt Milley; I knew Walt from track and field at school, he was a few years older than me.

I said to Dave; “Let’s take the boat and go see if we can get a few trout before dark,” it was getting pretty late. Dave wanted nothing to do with the boat and declined. Walt Milley said he’d go with me, and I was all for it, what little common sense I had was gone. I told Dave we wouldn’t be long and to wait on the beach.

The only source of power we had for the boat was an old piece of board, which Walt used to paddle us over to the cove he had been fishing in earlier when his friend had to leave. There was a little point of land jutting out, sort of like a peninsula, protecting the cove from any wind, so we were in calm waters. Along the shoreline was a sort of floating bog, you could stand in one spot for awhile, but you would soon sink to the top of your boots. We caught a few nice trout and forgot about the time.

When we realized the sun had gone down, and started to head back for the other side, the wind had picked up, and there was no way, with that one old board for a paddle, that we could get out of the cove and around the point. Finally, it was dark, and the wind was blowing a gale, and our only choice was to put ashore and try to walk around the pond, in total darkness.

We pulled the boat as far as we could into the floating bog, got our gear and trout, and started out toward the west end of the pond. Neither of us had ever walked around this area of the pond before, and for good reason; the beavers had created a maze of canals over the years, to transport trees and branches to the pond for use as food or to build dams.

The wind was howling by now, and the temperature had dropped quite a bit, and that little black windbreaker wasn’t keeping me very warm. Walt, as I remember, had a full size parka on as was better prepared. We’d follow one canal till we could cross it, then there would be another, and so on, until we were totally confused, and lost. We took turns falling into the beaver canals, and they were so deep, you’d have to keep yourself up with your arms. Our boots by this time were full of water, and we were wet above the waist. The trees and scrub grew so close together it was almost impossible to force our way through the dense brush. I remember at one point Walt was leading, and the only way I could follow him was by the noise he made slogging through the bog. There didn’t seem to be any dry land anywhere, and by this time it was totally dark, I mean, we couldn’t see anything, and every now and then I’d have to ask Walt where he was. We were going along like this for God knows how long, with no idea where we were, or where the pond was anymore when all of a sudden Walt let out an ear-piercing scream! I froze in my tracks, not knowing what in the heck had happened. All I could hear was Walt slapping and swinging at something, and making these sounds like he was in much pain. I couldn’t see him, so I couldn’t help, I was terrified. Then Walt finally got things under control and told me he had had eight Eddie’s matches loose in his pants pocket, and they ignited with the friction of crawling through the scrub; he said his leg was burnt, but he was okay.

I said I had noticed a fairly dry spot a little ways back, and maybe we should try to find it and spend the night, and try to find our way out of there in the morning. Walt agreed, and we went back and found the small clearing. I told Walt to stay there and I’d get some spruce boughs to try and make something to lie down on. I brought back some boughs and we arranged them in the clearing, and I went for more. Walt figured he’d help, and we couldn’t find the first ones again. Eventually we got settled in, took off our water filled boots, covered up with Walt’s parka, and wrapped my small jacket around our feet. We were so tired, that we fell asleep for awhile, but I woke up when nature called, still dark and the wind howling. I had a leak and got back under the parka, and honest to God, I have never shivered and shook so bad in my life, I was so cold. Then it was Walt’s turn, and it was the same thing over again.

Then, sometime during the night, we heard the train, it sounded just like it was just a few feet away, we were so excited we wanted to leave right then, but decided to wait till daylight. We were awake and watched as twilight gave us a hint as to where we were; we were beside what must have been the main brook into or out of Cobb’s Pond. According to where we heard the sound of the train, all we had to do was find a way across the brook, which was pretty wide, and it would be a short walk to the railway tracks and then home.

We found an old log the beavers had felled, and it was lying across the brook, so we walked across and headed for the tracks, so we thought. We walked and we walked, and we saw no sign of the railway. The sun came up and the wind dried our clothes, which made life a little easier for us. Suddenly, we stepped out of the scrub and bog onto the edge of a large marsh, so big, we couldn’t see the other side. We discussed the situation and decided we’d cross the marsh, I think it’s called Cobb’s Pond Big Bog. We no sooner started walking, than we heard a man’s voice calling, carried on the wind and very faint. We answered, and got a reply. We started toward the sound, and shortly we came upon Mr. Richards, the owner of the boat. He was standing on a well defined trail, and he led us a short ways and there was the boat, right where we had left it. He took us across the pond and walked to the tracks with us, where we found a couple of Mounties in much worse shape than us.

Someone gave us sandwiches and a drink, and they took us home. I don’t know about Walt, but I never thought anyone would be looking for us. It turns out, in my family anyway, when they found the boat, they figured we fell overboard and drowned, all except Mom, God bless her, she said she knew I’d make it. Campbell, my brother, was there helping, with Dad, even though Campbell was dying with the flu.

Walt and I never became close friends, even though we had quite an experience together; probably the age difference. But, what still bothers me to this day, and what prompted me to write this now, is the fact I can’t ever remember seeing Dave Peckford again. Mom told me the police went to their house sometime during the night to get information from Dave, but he was so scared he couldn’t help much, I don’t blame him. Years later when I was flying for EPA, I ran into Jim, Dave’s brother, who was a draftsman for EPA, and he told me Dave was in an institution in St. John’s, suffering from schizophrenia. The last time I can remember seeing Dave, he was standing on the shore as Walt and I left in the boat.

Wherever he is, and whatever he’s doing, I hope he’s happy.

 

I’m sure I’ve made a few mistakes in telling this story, but they’re honest ones.

 

Denny Pritchett

dgpritchett@shaw.ca