An Arctic Explorer Lends a Helping Hand
His gainful employment kept my father away from home for eight days. Then he would be home for a week. While he was away, I was expected to take charge if need be. Mostly, there was no need, but now and then I was challenged and obliged to respond. Such as the time I went to the North Pole to get a bag of dairy feed and ran out of snow.
We had two cows, one to take up the slack while the other was "dry," and at the moment neither was dry and I had to milk both, morning and evening. Something went awry, and I found the cow-feed bin in our grain box was empty. No problem. Before the J.B. Ham grain store locked up for the night, I would go with our utility hand sled and fetch home another 100-pound bag.
It was winter and still in the days when fallen snow was left for sledding. The automobile, while known and frequently used, was often "put up" for winter. We still had horse-and-sleigh, or horse-and-pung, and we still had clanging sleigh bells on the big traverse runners that did the heavy hauling for the farmers. We were not farmers; we were village folks who kept a cow.
It was a chill winter evening, frosty but not blowing or storming. I fed the hens and our pigs, picked up the day's eggs, and pitched down the hay I'd need for the cows. Bundling up my mackinaw and pulling on my mittens, I picked up the rope of our hand-shark, or sometimes the moose-sled, and I started for the village, a good half-mile away, to get the dairy feed. I dog-trotted, for the sidewalk was covered with snow and it was well trodden. The sled slipped along smoothly behind me, its own momentum doing most of the work. I came quickly to the feed store.
It was not my day. A carload of feed and flour, two days late, had come to town on the afternoon train, and Billy Titcomb, the storekeeper, was expected to unload it at once to save demurrage. But he had only half a crew. I couldn't get near the dairy feed until the space was cleared. The wind had shifted, and a balmy southerly breeze had moved in to "start" the sledding snow on road and sidewalk.
When at last I got a bag of grain tossed on my hand sled, the snow was slush. I started for home, all uphill, pulling against the impossible. I was still a youngster and by no means beefy enough to be pulling on that string.
Our town's most renowned citizen then was Donald B. MacMillan, an arctic explorer and a popular lecturer on the Arctic. He had been with Admiral Robert E. Peary on the expedition that reached the North Pole, and on that occasion had himself been just one day's travel over the Arctic ice from the pole. That was the way the discovery, or perhaps just the reaching, of the pole was planned.
Peary, with his dog sledges, his supplies, and his company of men, set out on the "dash" to the pole. Each evening, after a day's travel, an igloo was made in which dogs and men spent the night. The next morning all moved along save two men who stayed in the igloo and bided until the expedition should reach the pole and return.
Each night a new igloo was laid up and two men dropped off. Then, upon completing the mission, the expedition returned and each afternoon found a warm igloo and food waiting. The retreat was orderly and comfortable.
Donald B. MacMillan, my townsman and boyhood hero, was one of the two men dropped off on the last night. In his home, where we boys were privileged to visit, I had heard "Capt. Dan," as we called him, tell about that dash and the extreme anxiety that hovered all along that line of igloos as each pair of men waited for the return of the others.
And now, as I tugged and struggled with my grounded sled, Donald B. MacMillan stepped up, reached for a hold on my rope, and said, "I think you need a new dog team!"
I was already well aware that I needed all the help I could get, and in despair was quite ready to tip my bag of grain off and forget about it. I might have, except that my two cows were waiting.
Capt. Dan got me home and with merry banter made light of my chore. He lived at the foot of our street, so it was an errand not far out of his way. I thanked him, and he said, "Forget it! I'm an old hand at sleds!"
I did not dump that bag of grain in the feed chest that evening. That evening I had all I could do to lift my fork at supper. After Capt. Dan left me, I rolled the bag against the barn, cut the string to get enough for my cows, and covered the bag against the weather with a canvas, and left it outdoors until morning. The next morning the street and fields were bare of snow.
Soon after that my father returned from his week's labors and resumed his sway over our household. On Wednesday, having slept off his occupational fatigue, he went to the barber shop to get a haircut. Just ahead of him was Capt. Dan, and just behind him were a half dozen of the town's worthies, with the affairs of civilization under consideration.
As proprietor and moderator, Babe the Barber was adroitly keeping the opinions from flaring up into open carnage, and a good time was being had by all.
It was usual for my father and me to confer briefly about what went on in his absence, if anything, and now I told him I had to go for a bag of dairy ration. He said, "I heard about that; I saw Dan MacMillan at the barber shop. He says you started for the North Pole by sled."
"That's right. We started," I said. "Peary got there ahead of us. We ran out of snow."