Mail hauling led to lucrative side business

From our December 2012 issue

By Harold Thom – Nakusp, B.C.

We were living at Candle Lake, Sask., north of Prince Albert, during the cold winter of 1946-47. Deep snowdrifts blocked the road between the lake and Meath Park, the nearest town.

Nemo and Minnie Sackett had the store and post office. I worked for them part-time to help with the family grocery bill and rent.

The blocked road was a serious problem. The store needed supplies and the weekly mail run had to be maintained.

Sacketts also owned an old farmstead a couple miles up the lake from the town site. This is where we lived. The house and outbuildings were in bad shape, but rent-free as long as I worked part-time for Nemo.

The blocked road was good for me. Nemo offered me the job of hauling the mail and supplies using his team and sleigh. The pay was $20 a month.

Carried extra blankets, kindling

I was to leave the store with the outgoing mail to Meath Park every Friday morning and return Saturday with incoming mail.

The first trip was tough on the horses, breaking trail the full 25 miles or so. My team, Nellie and Charlie, was pretty light for this job, so I’d do a lot of shovelling in the deeper drifts while they rested.

Harold with horses Nellie and Charlie. His younger brother, Ken, is in the background, while his little sister sits on Nellie.

I carried extra blankets and feed for the horses’ noon break, a shovel and axe, and some kindling for a noon fire. It was 32-degrees below zero.

We arrived in Meath Park well after dark. Both the horses and I were exhausted. I checked them into the livery stable, made sure they were fed and watered, hauled my blankets into the hayloft, and fell asleep.

The next morning, after an early breakfast at Lee’s Cafe, I exchanged mailbags at the post office, picked up Sackett’s supplies, and headed home.

These trips passed in much the same manner until spring, with one exception. $20 dollars a month didn’t go far, even back in those days, so I had picked up a little sideline.

There were no liquor stores in either Candle Lake or Meath Park, but everyone knew there was a fella named Lee who sold more than meals in his cafe.

‘I was becoming stinking rich!’

The local citizens had no trouble at all convincing this 15-year-old mail hauler to haul some booze as well.

They’d give me their lists and cash. I gave this to Lee on Friday night on arrival in Meath Park. Then, Saturday morning when I checked under the hay and blankets in the sleigh, there was the booze – just like magic.

I collected about 50¢ per order so, along with my $20 a month, I was becoming stinking rich! I should have known it wouldn’t last!

One Saturday morning as I checked my sleigh before going for breakfast I was shocked to see no booze. I rushed into the cafe and asked old Lee what was going on. He handed me the envelope of lists and money. All he kept saying was “No booze boy, no booze”.

He gave me breakfast and pushed me out the door. What the heck got into old Lee?

I loaded up and headed for home. There were going to be some disappointed people at Candle Lake.

About halfway there was a heavy stand of trees on both sides of the road that always provided a sheltered spot for our lunch stop. As I approached this spot, two mounties stepped out of the brush, one at the heads of their horses to hold them, the other climbed into my sleigh.

After giving it a thorough search and finding nothing but mail and groceries he started questioning me about liquor. I was pretty scared but, of course, had no idea what he was talking about.

Finally, after a stern warning that they’d be keeping an eye on me, they walked down the road a bit where they’d hidden a couple of saddle horses.

I never did figure out how old Lee knew this would happen but it was a good thing he did or we’d both have been in trouble.

So much for that little side job and getting rich. Oh well, back to $20 a month.