Frezno operator

From our January 2013 issue

By Mathew WozniakGrande Prairie, Alta.

When I was a Grade 3 student at Wanham School in 1935, the Department of Highways erected a bridge about 70-feet long on the Burnt River.

Our teacher, Ms. Ramsy, decided that we should all see it and the whole class walked the six miles. A man (I don’t remember his name, it could have been Mr. Zamorsky) was making the approach on the west side with four horses and a frezno.

Normally, it takes two men, one to drive the horses while the other operates the frezno. This man drove the horses by verbal commands, like “gee” and “haw” and operated the frezno by himself.

A frezno is about four feet wide and about a foot deep with a long handle that he would hold to fill it with dirt and then lift this handle to dump the dirt. It required many trips to make a cubic yard so was a slow process. First he’d plow the ground with a walking plow so the dirt was soft. As the horses turned, he’d have to slide the frezno sideways to get close to the abutment.

At that time, there was about six feet of abutment left above where he was putting dirt. It would take a long time and he wasn’t getting much more than a dollar a day.

Roads weren’t much more than trails and had very few culverts, so after a rain and in the spring there were mud holes in every low place. Roads weren’t snow plowed so we didn’t drive all winter.

In 1952, our family decided to go the 12 miles west to Wanham because on Saturday night they had a movie and the stores were open until nine. We didn’t do so well – at midnight we were about five miles from home trying to get out of a mud hole.