BLOG 36: Bobby
I first heard about Bobby in 1983, while canoeing the Hood River in the (then) Northwest Territories of Canada. In those days, there was a lot of exploratory mining north of 60 (the sixtieth parallel). Bush camps and drill rigs sprung up in every suspecting spot and there was a constant drone of float planes to service them. For years following the mining rush, there were jobs galore for anyone who could tolerate uncivilized living.
Just prior to boarding our Twin Otter for the flight to Point Lake and the start of our Hood River canoe trip, Yellowknife Base manager Bill Gawletz pointed out a small knoll on our map, just east of Takijaq Lake, which was along our route.
"This here's "Kid Creek" Camp," he said. "We fly in there twice a month. They've got a radio and a chopper and can get you out if you have trouble. The guys have been holed up there for two months now, so they're probably pretty bushed. Tell 'em I said they should feed you good."
Two weeks of strenuous travel brought us to Kid Creek Camp. Located on a high hill, the stark white canvas tents were visible two miles away. Four men waited patiently on shore, eager for the diversion of new conversation. A mining engineer in his fifties appeared to be in command. Nearby, was a muscular college kid from Saskatchewan who did the heavy work, a clean-shaven helicopter pilot named Brian, and a bushy, white-haired cook. They said that Bobby, their young Inuit maintenance man and jack-of-all-trades, was gone for the day.
We meandered up to the cook tent where we were treated to blueberry and pumpkin pies, fresh-baked biscuits with jam and honey, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and candy bars galore. We offered to pay but they wouldn't hear of it. What they wanted was news from the south, and for the next two hours we deluged them with it.
Ultimately, the conversation got around to Bobby who was off in the bush fixing a drill rig. They said he was the best mechanic in the Territories--a quiet, likeable kid who could fix anything. "We have a lot of fun with Bobby," chimed one man. Then he told me this funny story which I've roughly quoted:
"Bobby's never been south, not even to Yellowknife. He's never even seen a paved road or tree, except on TV. So we got to kiddin' around with him one night--told him that in California the trees are so big you can drive a car right through 'em, and so high that we'd have to string aircraft warning lights on the branches if we flew down there. Then, with a dead straight face, Dave here says there are frogs in those trees the size of husky dogs. 'Giant tree frogs, Bobby!' We've all seen 'em. Honest!"
Bobby bought the part about the giant frogs but not the huge trees. And here's a guy who flies around on bush planes and can take a Cat apart with a screwdriver and crescent wrench!"
"Tell 'em about the busted Skidoo," prodded one man. The story went something like this:
Bobby had two vacation days coming, so he decided to combine these with the weekend and drive his Skidoo 120 miles to Bathurst Inlet to see his girl friend. "Be back in time for work, Monday," he grinned, matter-of-factly.
I hail from Minnesota, snowmobile capitol of the world, and when I told this story to the Polaris crowd, they just gawked with wonder. Seems that no one in their right mind would snowmobile 120 miles across a frozen waste land without a support party. But the idea didn't bother Bobby at all. He missed his girl friend. And hey, If the machine broke down, he could fix it.
The men at Kid Creek camp knew Bobby carried a very complete repair kit and was highly skilled. So they gave him their blessings and said they'd see him in four days.
Zero eight hundred hours Monday came and went. So did 1000, 1200 and 1500. The men were worried. It was 32 below and blowing snow. Quizzically, they looked at one another. Bobby knew the route to Bathurst by heart and he could handle any mechanical problem that might come up. Besides he was born and raised on the barrens and had a wealth of Inuit skills to fall back on. "He probably stopped and built a snow hut," assuaged one man. It was already too dark to fly, so there was nothing they could do. If Bobby didn't make it by noon the next day, they'd radio for an airplane.
Mid-morning, Bobby nonchalantly tooled in on his snowmobile, as if nothing had happened. He had broken an axle about 40 miles from camp. The snow was blowing pretty hard so he built a windbreak, then set up his canvas tent over the machine, intent on repairing the damage. When he saw he couldn't fix the axle, he hack-sawed off a piece of his rifle barrel and threaded and fitted it in place. Bobby said it only took about four hours to get the Skidoo up and running again, but the wind was blowing so hard he decided to stay till it let up.
"Hope you guys weren't too worried about me," he said, with a toothy grin. Then he shuffled his feet and softly told them it was okay if they docked his pay.