Ches Penney- Accidentally Killed Building a Government Wharf at Little Heart’s Ease

by Lester Green

The federal government had commissioned a new government wharf to be built at Little Heart’s Ease in 1966. The project began in the fall of 1966. The project hired a number of local men to build a wharf but the financial benefit extended that winter to everyone who was capable of hauling a slide with a cubic yard or half yard of rock to be used as ballast for the cribbing. That winter, men with horses and handslides were hauling rock from everywhere around the harbour. Men, women and children could be seen bringing rock from the remains of the old Shaw/Stringer dam that was used to control the water for the waterwheel/sawmill up in bottom. Other people were taking it from the remains of the old schooner wharf belonging to Moses Martin on the Point and out-along the shoreline on both sides of the harbour. Anywhere there was rock to be gotten, people with picks and shovels were placing it in the boxes and towing it to the wharf cribbing.

Once at the wharf, the rock was tossed into the water inside the cribbing. A tally was kept of the number of loads that you brought each day for a weekly period. At the end of the week, you saw the paymaster and received money for the rock that was brought over that time period. Many of the residence have vivid memories of men and horse waiting for their turn to dump the load of rock, so that they could quickly get another load. This work went on for most of the winter for six days a week and with everyone resting on the Sabbath, as was customary for those days. The construction of the wharf that winter provided many families with food and extra income that helped them through another harsh winter.

The federal government wharf project, however, came at a price. Tragically, one of the two men in charge, Ches Penney, lost his life. The following is based upon interviews with Eldred Drodge, Gloria King and Edith Norris.

This accident occurred around March/April 1967.

Most of the incident is recorded from Eldred Drodge’s point of view. He was a businessman that owned and operated a general store and fish collecting facility at the site where the wharf was being constructed. This is his recollection of the event that morning:

Gloria King was one of the women working with me at the time of the accident, I believe he belonged up around Hermitage somewhere. He was the foreman for some company or the Federal government. I don’t really remember. That happened so fast me son. He used to come to the store every morning because he used to keep his tools there. He went down that morning like he always did and got his tools. That spring the ice was still in the harbour. They brought down a load of lumber from Clarenville and they put it across the wharf, like this, and so much of it was hanging out over the wharf, just above the ice. They were piling it higher, when someone said that it starting to tip towards the ice. He jumped down the ice and he asked someone (Bill Dodge) to pass him a piece of sawed-off lumber that he could use to wedge between the wood and the ice. Ches had the axe and was patting a piece between the sawed-off piece and the ice. He was gently patting it in when by God the ice gave way and down he went. The ice pan closed back in over him ’cause it wasn’t as thick as they thought. The men gave an outcry. I was up in the store, it was around a half-past nine or quarter to ten, and I grabbed a codjigger and quickly tied it on to the handline and ran towards the wharf. Someone took the line and hauled the ice away and lowered the jigger down. The first time they may have hooked his watch but they did get the jigger in his clothes and they hauled him up. By the time they got him, the poor fellow was gone you know. But I remember they took him to Come-by-Chance, I think it was Jonah Dodge, but he was dead before he even left the wharf.

Ches Penney and Mr. Roache were boarders with Ernest and Edith Norris during this time period. For long period of time, Ches Penney’s Mom kept in contact with Edith. They exchanged a number of letters and Christmas cards over the years.