Grant Bowles


Berwick, Nova Scotia

Thursday, July 25, 1946

Veteran Operator Scoops Earth On Dangerous Road

click for larger image "Road Closed" signs at top and bottom of Long Point North Mountain road are sending traffic up and down Aylesford Mountain and Harbourville roads, these days. The reason is that Long Point road is being repaired - none too soon, say residents of the Viewmount-Burlington-Garland agricultural district atop the North Mountain. They use the road as the most direct outlet to the Valley, 500 feet or more below the level of their farms.

There is another sign at the mountain entrance to the road that warns drivers that they drive at their own risk. When a mountain farmer saw it, last Saturday, he said, "Huh, that's nothing new. We drive at our own risk any time we use that road." Comments by other residents indicate that the road is dangerous, especially in wintertime, and many accidents have occurred on the highway, although no fatality has ever resulted, as far as anybody up there can recall.

But there have been a number of narrow escapes from serous injury or death. A farmer, his wife and their two children were driving down the road one winter day, when their one-horse sleigh, with the whole family in it, toppled over the eastside embankment. Father, mother and baby jumped out, but he five-year old daughter slid in the vehicle to the bottom of the ravine, some 30 feet, and was only slightly bruised. The sleigh and harness were broken up, and the horse severely skinned, but not seriously hurt.

Another farmer managed to clear himself from a sled-load of wood, as his team and sled and two cords of wood went tumbling down the side of the ravine, on another winter's day. The horses were battered up, their harnesses ruined and the sled practically wrecked.

A Viewmount farmer reports that he never drives down icy Long Point road with a load of wood, without a logger's peavey in hand with which to scotch his sled when it starts sliding towards the eastern edge of the road, along which there are sharp declivities of twenty to fifty feet most of the way.

Mountain people have a wholesome respect for Long Point road.

Now, a good many of them are wondering if the repairs being made to the road in one spot are a prelude to a road improvement program that will lessen the perils that beset them in acute form every winter, and from which the steep, narrow, serpentine road is never free, even in summertime. They say Long Point is the most difficult and most dangerous road to drive, either up or down, on the whole Kings County mountainside.

The particularly dangerous spot, which is rapidly being repaired, is 100 feet from the crest of the mountain, where a cavity has gradually developed in recent years, from the effects of frost, ice, and heavy rainfalls on a rock-filled crib which has been undermined half the width of the roadway. Big logs, laid across the road and surfaced over, have come to protrude six feet or so over a small chasm, some 20 feet deep. District Road Superintendent Alex. Patterson arranged for the repairs, some weeks ago, and the work got under way, last week. Charles Loomer is foreman.

A short distance down the road, 2,500 cubic yards of finely shattered traprock is in process of being scooped out from the fifty-feet-high volcanic deposit that borders the western side of Long Point road, and is being hauled in five-truck trains to the damaged section of road. Engaged in trucking are: Cecil Rawding, Somerset; Leslie Ward, Weston; John A. Horsnell, Aylesford; Francis Ward, Weston, and Russell Chase, Berwick.

Between the quarry and the spot to be repaired, the road is so narrow that the trucks have to move in train, up and down, as the road between the two sites is not wide enough at any point to permit two vehicles to pass each other. So, the whole five are loaded before one moves up, and they all go up in a train, dumping their loads one by one, and all descending the road in line. The process means much lost time, but is the only way the job can be done.

Kingpin of this road-repair job, as he has been in many another similar undertaking, is the 78-year-old operator of a brand new, 50-h.p. gasolene power shovel, Grant Bowles, of Lakeville. Berwick saw his spick-and-span outfit, as it moved through town two weeks ago, under its own caterpillar tractor power. There was some speculation as t where it was going. It went right up Long Point mountain road, nearly to the top, and began work on Monday of last week. It has been in steady operation every day since, except last Friday, when Mr. Bowles had to run down to Halifax for a repair necessitated by the shovel encountering too heavy a load on one lift.

He was then scooping up traprock in situ, as the geologists say - rock in the place where it was left when spewed up by a volcano, quite a few years ago, say the geologists - five or six millions of years, maybe. Mr. Bowles, who had then worked the shovel into the traprock bank far enough to cause part of it to slide, decided he had gone as far as was safe. He did not fancy having his pretty new machine, and possibly himself, buried by an avalanche of rock, and the next day he caterpillared down the road 150 yards to a big pile of weathered rubble that has worked down close to the road at a safe angle of decline, where there is no danger of a serious slide. The remainder of fill required for the up-road cavity will be scooped up there.

Another 2,500 cubic yards from Long Point road will be used for filling a crib near the foot of the northern end of the Harbourville road, where another slide has created a dangerous condition.

No further repairs to Long Point road are planned by the Highways Department, this summer, it is understood, but considerable improvement of the Harbourville road, from Welsford Street to the foot of the mountain is planned.

The long Point repair job in which Grant Bowles is engaged is recognized by North Mountain farmers as an essential service to agriculture, and it so happens that most of Mr. Bowles's seventy-eight years have been spent in direct or indirect service to that particular industry.

He was born at Grafton, son of the late Mr. and Mrs. George Bowles, and began his working career at Grafton, in the blacksmith business with his father, taking over the business after his father's death in 1914. He soon concluded, however, that shoeing horses at 20 cents a shoe was a little more work and a little less return than he really liked. He was helped in making up his mind to get out of that business, and the business of undertaking, in which he had recently engaged, when the late William Cooke, who had the contract for building the 14 miles of the Valley Central Railway roadbed, from Centreville to Weston, suggested that the blacksmith's mechanical turn of mind would be useful in the contracting business.

Mr. Bowles made a few trips with the driver of a dinkey engine, and was installed in the driver's seat, himself. Then the contractor needed a steam-shovel operator, and Grant Bowles was asked to try his hand at that. He liked it from the first shovelfull he lifted, and has been at it practically ever since. It was the work he had been looking for and at seventy-eight it is as fascinating as it was at the beginning.

The Valley Central railway was built as a farmers' transportation system, and is still in use in that character, despite the fact that the passenger train service has been dropped because it turned out to be a little slower and more infrequent than farmers and their families want. But, the railway still hauls a lot of apples every fall from the Valley section through which it still runs, according to traffic demands.

Another railway roadbed contract on which Mr. Bowles scooped out many thousands of cubic yards of gravel, rock and dirt for Contractor Cooke, was a seven mile section of the more or less famous but never-finished Guysborough Railway.

The Saint John River Valley railway was another transportation project intended largely to benefit agriculture, and Mr. Bowles shovelled out the fill Contractor Cooke needed for the seven miles' contract he had taken on that job. His series of tasks following what were the stripping of a limestone quarry in Cape Breton for the Sydney steel plant, shovelling out the fill for double-tracking the CNR between Truro and Belmont; scooping out the roadbed and fill for a three-miles spur from the DAR mainline to the Sissiboo pulpmill at Weymouth; moving rock, gravel and earth for part of St. Margaret's Bay highway, for which Contractor Cooke imported three gasolene-powered shovels.

After Mr. Cooke's death, Mr. Bowles engaged in highway shovelling for Contractor C. B. MacDonald on the Bridgewater-Middleton highway, and three sections of the trunk highway to Sydney, a total of some 30 miles. For the past four years, Mr. Bowles has been running shovels for the Nova Scotia Department of highways during summers and falls, and working in the Department's machine shops in winters.

"I've handled a lot of dirt in my time", Mr. Bowles observed to The Register reporter. He could not estimate the quantity with any assurance. But he has been shovelling dirt, gravel and rock now for thirty years, and a conservative estimate of the cubic yardage he has removed runs into the millions. From a gravel pit at Albany, he scooped out 15,000 cubic yards. That is the only figure he has recorded.

Operating a power-shovel is not quite so prosaic an occupation as most observers would assume it to be. Every day brings new conditions and new problems. It is not always safe work. When Mr. Bowles moved away from the Long Point road declivity the other day, he remembered the time in Cape Breton when he stepped out of his shovel after a day's work at the foot of a high gravel bank, and went back the next morning to find the machine engulfed by a nocturnal slide. The gravel had to be shovelled away by hand to permit him to enter the machine.

Near Monastery, one day, his shovel was being moved slowly across an apparently solid meadow, when it suddenly plummeted down ten feet into a hole made by the machine's own weight. He has had shovels stuck in swamps. He has come close to having them upset in lifting big boulders. He has faced many dangers of unwarning avalanches of gravel and rock. But he has never lost a shovel, never had one damaged or upset, and has never suffered a personal injury. Yet, he never takes anything for granted. He keeps his mind's eye peeled for danger, wherever he may be working. That, doubtless, is why he is now operating a power shovel at the age of 78 years, and getting a kick out of every day's work.

Grant Bowles learned long ago that useful and even dangerous work can be as interesting as play. He sticks to his power shovel because he likes it. And he likes it because he has acquired the skill of doing the work easily and expertly. Work is his recreation - most of the time. He has one hobby that vies with his earning occupation. That is curling, in which he indulges whenever opportunity offers. He has played in some of Nova Scotia's top notch bonspiels, and looks forward to some more recreation of that kind - when no steam shovel is calling. click for larger image