Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

COLUMNS: Wagon road to Kluskus (Lhoosk’uz): part three

Travelling by horse and wagon is measured in days, not miles, writes columnist David Zirnhelt

It took a thousand words (two previous articles ) to get our horse drawn family outfit to the trail head of the wagon road to Lhoosk’uz ( Kluskus), having had a major bust (breakdown) – blowing the engine in the stock truck — on the first leg of the journey.

Travelling by horse and wagon is measured in days, not miles. Once we left the logging road west of Nazko we rode into another time and culture. Canadian writer W.O. Mitchell would call this the “vanishing point” which for him was the railway tracks on the prairies getting so close together that they vanish.

On the ground this means that we move into a different world than the one we live in every day. Our experiences in the week to come would be “other worldly.” My job was to put myself in the place of the Kluskus people and assist in planning the way forward by making the case for returning to (rebuilding) “Old Kluskus.”

Our guide on this trip Stan Stump, the band manager who spent much of his time in the “band office” in Quesnel, was the greatest companion, a great cultural interpreter and a man of the land. His grandmother came from Kluskus.

He brought his daughter and at the last moment a young girl from Kluskus who was “hitchhiking” a ride home with us. The girl from Kluskus has become part of our family story in a way I am sure she has no idea.

At one point during this leg of the journey our wagon, not being able to flex on the rough road and clear the huge outcropping rocks, developed some structure weakening cracks in the frame.

READ MORE: Kluskus or bust: a working holiday

I thought we were well prepared for eventualities and possible repairs. We had taken the chainsaw, a small roll of #12 fencing wire, chains, a chain cinch, a snatch block and various leather (harness and saddle) repair tools and supplies.

We had pulled over to inspect and hopefully repair and reinforce the wagon’s failings, and many of us were crouched under the wagon looking at the broken welds. After a short time observing as she may well have done before in her youthful time, the young girl commented, “You haven’t got enough haywire to fix it.”

She was right. Luckily, we had a chain and a come along and were able to patch the wagon to make it to the village—or so we thought.

Running short of “haywire” we came upon a burned-out homestead and found burned bed spring hanging in a tree. We were able to replenish our wire supply with this now pliable wire.

Around noon this real first day on the road, having smacked many rocks and whipped the wooden wagon tongue too many times, the weakened pine tongue gave out as we were starting down a steep hill to “Women’s Bridge”.

The broken tongue allowed the loaded wagon to go partially over the bank. Fortunately, the team was well enough broke to “whoa” and stay on the road while we unloaded scared passengers to safety and blocked the wagon from rolling, then unhitched the team.

A quick inspection of the wagon told us that this was a major repair. Not only would we need a new “pole” for the tongue but we would need to take the wagon apart and straighten the tongue brace.

But we had no brace and bit to drill the new pole to take the bolts needed to attach the wood to the metal frame.

I did know that in a pinch — absent a drill — we could burn a hole through wood with a red hot bolt. That takes time —actually hours if the wood is green. We needed a good hot fire to heat up the tongue brace to straighten it.

We sent our guide and the three teenage kids off on three horses to fetch the much-needed brace and bit from the village.

In the meantime, the wagon was blocking the narrow side cut road and was in the way of any oncoming wagon pulling the hill coming out of the creek canyon.

Susan, my wife, had a hard time figuring out what was the big deal as this was not a frequently travelled road. Nevertheless, I was able to use a block and tackle and the team to pull the wagon back onto the road and to a spot where we could repair it.

No sooner was the wagon out of the way than a determined hurried wagon noisily crossed the creek and bumped up out of the creek bed where once “Women’s Bridge” once was. Apparently, we needed no help as he carried on his way.

Hours later our guide arrived on an ATV (three-wheeler). It had been raining and going through swamps made the pull cord which was made of moose rawhide stretch when wrapped and then pulled to restart the stalled machine. No such problems with wagon technology!

When he arrived on his mechanical steed, Stan victoriously held up the brace and bit which villagers had provided him. So, we could now fix the tongue. We had to get there because our three teenagers and horses were already in the village, imposing on families in the community.

Little did we know they were in seventh heaven, being fed moose jerky, rice and tea by some of the matrons there.

We got going late in the evening and the last few miles were in the dark. Of course, horses can see in the dark, so this leg of the journey went without a hitch.

As darkness descended a bright moon rose partially lighting our way. As we approached the Chantyman meadow village where most Kluskus people lived, a welcoming enchantment shone from the kerosene lamps in the windows. We had arrived. Now the trip would find its purpose.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake in January of 2016.


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