The Walrus 

Bomb That Brush

Renegade retirees


illistration by Jason Whibley

Published in the September 2008 issue of The Walrus

POWELL RIVER- An axe, a machete, and a chainsaw protrude from the backback Neils Voss tosses into a pickup. "My logging camp in a bag," the sixty-seven-year-old quips as he jumps into the back seat. It's 8a.m. on a Sunday spring morning, and a five-truck convoy carrying fourteen seniors starts up a logging road into the rugged hinterland of coastal British Columbia. When the pothold track ends, the occupants don packs weighed down with sledgehammers, weed wackers, awls, and come-alongs, and set out on foot. The Bloody Old Mens's Brigade is on its latest mission: slashingtrails and building a bridge, a floating dock, and a picnic table with a roof.

Two ferries and 135 kilometers northwest of Vancouver, the Upper Sunshine Coast is as close asit gets in Canada to retiree heaven. Mountains draped in lush hemlock and cedar tumble towar the sandy beaches of the Georgia Strait. There are three golf courses, miles of hiking and canoe routes, and, as the name suggests, more hours of sunshine than anywhere else on the BC coast. But that wasn't enough for Tony Matthews back 1987. The Powell River resident, who a couple of years earlierhad leaped at an offer of earlier retirement from the town's downsizing pulp mill, got bored trekking the same trails, and began clearing a four kilometre path through dense bush to his favourite fishing lake. When he needed help building a footbridge over a stream, he called on three retired buddies. Amoung them was a powerhouse named Roger Taylor, who had been master carpenter at the mill for 45 years.

From "An Ode to a Group of Retirees Who Changed My Understanding of Friendship"

Some fifteen years ago, about this time/
Retired and restless men still in their prime,/
Had an idea, the gumption and the grasp,/
To build new trails and bridges that would last.../
It sprung from thoughts to help Powell Riverites,/
And came from the BOMB squad's immense forsight./
As time passed by we used their paths/
And walk with joy our land so vast.
-Helmut Godau, 2004......

Post the rest later
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The Forest Company 

I have not found the original letter but here is a copy of a missive to the Forest Company.
Helmut Godau - Small Drinks - Nanaimo

Addendum 5.9.2001.

The Bloody Old Men’s Brigade. B.O.M.B. Squad.

In 1987 three retired men decided to help the Powell River hiking fraternity to clear a few older trails and make it possible for a large,

enthusiastic outdoor loving population to find easy wandering along safe trails. This group soon grew into a seven-man crew, most of the men in their late sixties and early seventies. They became known to most outdoor people on the Upper Sunshine Coast. Every Thursday, rain or shine, the men worked on trails and when it came to streams, bridges. People in the community used to whisper; ‘and there they go again, the bloody old men’. It wasn’t long after when someone termed it the BOMB squad and nearly 180 Kilometers and over 60 structures later they are still at it. The group has now grown into a sizable force, 27 men, all retired from work, from age of sixty-five to a senior of eighty. No project has baffled this enterprising group. From a 220-meter boardwalk over a swamp to a mighty 37-meter span over Lang Creek. One of the most outstanding structure is a covered bridge over the Sweetwater Creek. All trails built by the group have been marked and extremely well signed. At the end of the last century local businesses donated funds to place a plaque in commemoration. This plaque was fastened to a massive boulder on the so-called Marathon Trail.

All their efforts have been freely given and if it had not been for the helpful attitude of one enthusiastic Forest Service Recreation officer many project may never have been undertaken. Material for the bridges, boardwalks and culverts came from the forest floor; with ancient cedars supplying the majority of the structural material. The BC Forest Service has been extremely helpful supplying the hardware. Of late some local organizations have taken note and supplied funding for the worn out equipment the men have been using but this is truly a minimal involvement. Under some circumstances it has been necessary to use one or two standing trees, in all cases the Forest Service has been helpful and allowed the felling. It has been estimated that the structures on the Powell River Trail system would last for a long time. In the case of the Lang Creek crossing concrete was used for abutments and every bit of concrete was carried in buckets from a nearby Forest Service Road.

As another inclement season approaches the 27 bombers are ready to continue their efforts. Last but not least it has to be mentioned, most men have at one time worked in the local pulp-mill. The group counts engineers, surveyor, tradesmen and a medical doctor in their ranks. Their strength lies in the nearly anarchistic organization; they have rarely seen disagreement and over the fourteen years had to deal with two accidents. To reach construction sites sometimes takes hours and that with heavy packs and equipment. For anyone to see what has been done please check with the local Forest Service or better yet take a trip to the great “Squirrel Crossing” bridge over Lang Creek about 200 meter down stream from the Haslam Lake Weir.
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The Early Years 

Powell River, B.C., 30. January l995.

Bomb Squad Headquarters,
River City, Duck Lake, B.C., P0W SAW.

Attention: Chairman, Roy Hewitt, B.T., B.I. res. stnd.

Dear Mr. Chairman,

Stored memories of our resources contain the following
entries in relationship to B.O.M.B. squad activities in the
region of the upper SUNSPOT Coast Forests. We asked our
staff to gold face all DDE’s mentioning BOMBERs’ activities and to give it computer high performance frequency
annotations (CHPFA).

First rumbles, the computer could detect, where activities
in the year l987. A man called Toni? Created some stir in
local forests because of extraordinary single cylinder engine noise.

Records have it that a group of wild men, just released from life long toiling, made an extreme nuisance of themselves in the Southview region. Authorities reported this activity on 28. June l988. Recording agencies also reported characters Hewitt and Godau mumbling, Marathon, Marathon. They appeared badly scratched and confused because of terrain crawling.

Early utterances of B O M B like sounds where heard during a gathering on 28. September l989.It is certain now, a group of active retirees treated the organization called Wednesday Hikers to a circle route. They cleared a small passage through the local forest on 31. October l989. The name Hooper Loop has been recorded. It now appears, serious research was applied to a new walking territory, named Mud Lake “playground” (egad Warris.)Date of the entry is 26. January l990. Wildman Hewitt V.I.P. excited local strong arms with his scheme “Marathon” on 9. February l990. The darn fouls all followed him fearlessly. The wildest note in our electronic space recording field (ESRF) noted that a squirrel crossed Laing Creek on the l3. April l990. The squirrel was apparently chased by a man called Toni to a specific location on 28. March l990. To date a bridge by that name is still holding. More names appear on our journals, such as a Hooper and a Godau leaving their partners in a wet campsite at Appleton Creek to search for a dry path to Nirvana on an, at that time, unnamed pond on 15. April l990. Governments allocated some serious trail work after wild man Hewitt V.I.P. did some studying of the scene on 23. April l990. A crowd of grey bearded youngsters followed his lead on 9. May l990. Stories will have it, the Marathon was thus born to the excitement of local hikers.

We have a note explaining the efforts, by the now called
BOMBERS to link all paths, creating this trail system. The
massive single log bridge over Rieveley’s Creek was build by Hewitt V.I.P. and Godau on 9. March l99l. Some revisions to the complete trail were undertaken on 13. December l991.

A modern swimming platform was built, allowing perspiring
BOMBERs to rid themselves of odors on 28. May l992. News
paper clippings speak of bare bottomed humanity toiling over cedar boards. Their labours were observed by maidens hidden in nearby reeds. By l993 the BOMB squad was well established and the noticeable surveying crew Mizzy-Donnelly spotted another location offering exciting possibilities. The first Suicide Creek bridge was begun on 28. May l993 and on the 9.July l993, one of the greatest power saw operators of all times, did some blood letting over the soon to be spanned creek canyon. All work on the two major crossings were completed by 21.October l993.

One noticed an entry in the chronicles, ‘work party’ on the Sweetwater trail 3. June l993.Government records speak of a great aluminum bridge over the Mud River. We only find an entry mentioning, start abutments on 25. January l994. The log of a helicopter pilot shows, the bridge being lowered into a perfectly set foundation at 13.00 on l0. February l994. Sweat flowed until completion of this project on 3 March l994.The Toconatch job was started on 10. March l994.

The Confederation Lake trail bridges were begun on 30. March l994 and completed a day later. BOMBERs were assisted by a crew of youngsters and all were lifted into the location by a helicopter. The generosity of these hardy men never seems to end. They created camp site furniture on Suicide Creek between the dates 7. April and 21. April l994. It was told, that sirens in the eastern swamps of the region, near great Fiddlehead Ferns, enticed the BOMBERs to come and stay a while. They found the temptresses not to their liking and constructed fine bridges instead under the
supervision of boss Ruben (Rottweiler Dog) on 19. May l994.

After seeing hikers struggling with ropes on the
Confederation Lake trail, BOMBERs decided to build a proper
by-pass and on l4. July l994 the Zig Zag was borne.

The Blackwater trail crossed under the exciting Kelly
Falls. A bridge was constructed, giving walkers a first hand view of this fine natural display. The bridge was concluded on 13. October l994.

End Tumleh Audog
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An Ode

An Ode to a group of Retirees who
changed my understanding of Friendship.

Some fifteen years ago, about this time
Retired and restless men still in their prime,
Had an idea, the gumption and the grasp,
To build new trails and bridges that would last.

The seven souls from every walk of life,
Took to the forest each Thursday, morn to five.
They carried tools and axes - Toni had the power-saw,
Richard, the scout was far ahead and we followed in awe.

The path they picked was neither clear nor down to earth
Often Roger asked to halt for structures or a bridge to traverse.
Then down we got to cross the stream.
The power-saw began to hum and scream,
And sweating men chopped with their adze and blade
They worked for hours until the bridge was made.

Great fires roared with fragrant smoke,
John kept the watch by giving it a frequent poke.
No slouching until ten inch spikes held down the deck
And hand rails, kick boards, wire mesh met the inspect.

Somehow along the day and no one knows just why
The stomachs growled and lunch was justified
One rarely met a gentler, healthy active band,
No ill spoken word, always ready to give a helping hand;
When Roy was in despair for dropping down his hearing aid,
The crew fell to their knees and searched to help their mate.

The trails reached further and the structures grew
Bill bought the power drill it made life easier for the crew.
Not to get lost they needed signs
Here Forest Service came around and sprung a dime
What you now see along the Sunshine Coast,
Are well marked trails and bridges upper most.

It sprung from thoughts to help Powell Riverites,
And came from the BOMB Squad’s immense foresight.
As time passed by we use their paths
And walk with joy our land so vast.

Some wonder what became of those inventive ones
To tell the truth their power waned, their work was done
Though stranger think, the idea took hold
New retirees venture forth to fill the mould
Still every Thursday rain or shine
New Bloody Old Men work the trails and realign.

Helmut Godau December 2004.
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