Brief Glimpse of Road Construction

Reprinted with permission from the book Hodge’s Cove by Eric Stringer, 2011

On an afternoon in March 2014 Eric Stringer sat with Eliab Smith, Sidney’s father, at his home in Hodge’s Cove. Much of the conversation was centered around his (part of) one year he spent working on the South West Arm road. The project was to upgrade and make automobile-ready the ‘horse-and-cart’ path that had been constructed years earlier. Much of the following comes from that chat with Eliab.

The year was 1943. Max Button, on behalf of the Commission of Government, oversaw the project (though he spent few actual days on site). Arthur Churchill of Hillview was the foreman and blaster. Part of the road, west of and including Queen’s Cove, had already been done.

The section of road to which Eliab refers was that ‘picking up’ at Queen’s Cove and progressing on toward Long Beach.

About fifteen men worked in this particular crew including himself, Gilbert Stringer, Caleb Peddle, and Ches Smith (all of Hodge’s Cove); as well as Arthur Will and Jacob Smith of Island Cove; Cyrus Barrett of North West Brook; Ronald Vey of Long Beach; and Dan Flynn of Gooseberry Cove.

To get to the site many of them rowed their punts to Queen’s Cove. They worked from Monday through Saturday, mostly in the late summer through fall. They provided their own meals which largely were prepared outdoors, and slept in a large canvas tent situated not far from where the Queen’s Cove dump (now closed) was to be later.

Horse and cart were their trucks and tractors. The tools of the day were axe, bucksaw, and pick and shovel … along with, of course, the tireless use of arm and back. Small cliffs and large boulders were dynamite-blasted using the skills of the foreman Art Churchill.

Trees were sawed down, roots were chopped away with an axe, mounds were picked, shoveled and raked in a leveling fashion, all to make the throughway wide enough to accommodate two meeting automobiles.

The government wage for labor at that time was twenty cents an hour. However, realizing the plight of the workers, it bold-facedly asked them to work a day for pay and one for free, effectively meaning their wage was ten cents an hour. For ten hour days …. do the math.

Related notes:

1.         Earlier, while the ‘thoroughfare’ was not much more than a trail, Max Button (with the help of several acquaintances from the area) had traversed the terrain as far as Southport. The several occasions where the group effort was challenged in getting their Jeep through scratching vegetation, across running brooks and out of muddy bogs served to deter them from attempting their return along that route. They opted rather to have the vehicle, along with its occupants, shipped back up the Arm to a more agreeable roadway. Much later, the same Max Button is said to have been the first to drive the entire route of the finished road.

2.         For several years Silas Gosse of Queen’s Cove supervised the construction of wooden bridges along much of the route.

3.         According to his son Derrick, Ralph Drodge was the first person to drive the side road out to the area of Little Heart’s Ease known locally as The Point. The vehicle was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.