Campbell River, British Columbia
Museum at Campbell River

We welcome Thelma Silkens as one of our columnists, she will be writing about Campbell River's past and present,
as she works for the local museum and will be entertaining us with stories of days gone by and current offerings by the museum.

Lunch in the Woods

This story was told by the late Arthur (Bill) Mayse, a well-known author and newspaper columnist who also wrote scripts for the television show "The Beachcombers."

 Logger's coffee in those years wasn't made on a stove at all and wasn't put in a thermos. They made it in the firebox of the donkey engine. The firebox is where they would have a roaring fire to keep steam in the boiler, because everything ran by steam in those years....

The fellows would all swarm on the donkey engine and grab their empty tobacco cans and they'd take a dip into the big steaming bucket of coffee and get a half-pound can of coffee, which is quite a lot. And there'd be canned milk, 'canned cow' we called it, and sugar in bags and we'd fix our coffee the way we wanted it. I liked mine quite sweet without very much milk in it.

Then we'd all sit with our lunches - we brought our lunches from camp. We called them 'nose bags' because they were a brown paper bag with, oh, about four sandwiches in it, four big heavy sandwiches made of some meat or other, whatever was going in camp. And there'd be a great big piece of pie, about a quarter of an apple pie. That would be your dessert and a couple of jam sandwiches and some cookies. That made a pretty hefty lunch but we were hungry.

We'd been working hard all morning so we were ready to eat. We'd open our lunch bags and start in on our sandwiches and then we'd reach for our coffee. Nothing tasted as good as that first drink of what we called 'donkey boiler coffee' after a hard morning's work.

While we were eating, the big ravens that come around every logging operation in the woods, would come looking for food and we'd throw them scraps of our sandwiches.Everyone was quite relaxed and happy. And we'd have maybe a refill of coffee and some fellows would even have two refills of coffee.

Knox Bay Logging crew taking a break at the steam donkey (CRM 5156)
Knox Bay Logging crew taking a break at the steam donkey (CRM 5156)
It was good coffee. A man with big feet could walk on it. It was the best coffee I ever tasted in my life, even if you did have to fish bits of burnt twig and charcoal out of it every now and then. But it had a taste, I think maybe from the quick really savage boil in the white hot steam, that no other coffee anywhere else ever got, so we loved it.

I'd give a lot for a can of it right now.

Arthur "Bill" Mayse

When telling this story Arthur Mayse also described in detail just how the fireman made the coffee in the donkey boiler. The story is included in The Raincoast Kitchen, the Museum's cookbook/history book which is available for sale in The Museum Shop. The Raincoast Kitchen contains many anecdotes told by early residents and includes a wealth of historical photographs.

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