‘I was almost frozen stiff’

From our April 2012 issue

By Gordon Phillips – Surrey, B.C.

The village of Colfax, Sask., 25 miles northwest of Weyburn, had no source of water near the village. Drinking water was hauled in summer by wagon with a large wooden tank, and in winter by sleigh from a source about five miles north.

Soft water or wash water was hauled from sloughs about a mile or so from the village. For several years, I often accompanied Robert Brown on these trips for water.

In the case of soft water, I could help him by standing in the wagon and taking the pail as he dipped from the slough and poured it into the barrels.

Robert backed the wagon so the rear wheels sat in the edge of the slough and he stood on rocks to dip the water. This meant the wagon was sitting at a slope. In the process of dipping and pouring, some of the water slopped on the floor of the wagon where I was standing.

One Saturday, late in the fall, everything was going along in great style and as Robert was handing me the pails, the floorboards were getting very wet and slippery. I had one foot on the tailboard of the wagon and the other on the floor.

At one point, as I grabbed for the pail, Robert sort of lost his footing and as I made a grab for the pail I lost my balance and plunged headlong into the slough. The temperature was almost at freezing point. Boy, was that water cold!

I came up soaking wet and gasping for air. Robert wasn’t long in getting the horses into action and we raced for home. By the time we arrived—with the cold air and the speed at which we travelled—I was almost frozen stiff.

Mother met me at door and nearly fainted. Lucky for me she had a hot kitchen stove. I nearly lost some teeth with chattering with the cold.