It is the middle of February on the winter road and I am travelling with my brothers on our way back home to Attawapiskat from Moosonee. We are bringing back a load of furnace oil, gasoline, lumber and plywood to keep our contracting business in the community operating. One of my brothers is driving our company tractor which has a heated cab. The tractor is pulling a trailer full of our supplies and a heated caboose with a bed for an alternate driver. My other brothers and myself follow close behind in our half-ton truck which we use in case of any emergency situations.
We have made this run several times and are happy now to be on our way home to rest for a few days. The temperature is bitterly cold and has stayed at a constant minus BO degrees for the past several days. The sun is up high in the sky on a bright and beautiful cloudless day.
At one point we see a hand made wooden snowmobile sled loaded with a snowmachine. We recognize immediately that someone has had a problem with a snowmachine and that they had been towing it but for some reason had to abandon it. This is a mystery to us but we stay our course and continue on the way home. Several kilometres later we run into the owner of the snow machine. He was sitting in his old car in the middle of the winter road. The old junker would not start and he looked distressed. As a matter of fact he had not even known that his load had come unhinged until his car stalled.
It is customary to help others on the road as much as possible. The cold weather can be dangerous for people who are left stranded on the winter road. We spend an hour trying to start his car using every available means we have with us. Two of my brothers use the truck to back track and fetch the sled and snowmobile behind us. Once the sled arrives it is quickly attached to the back of the car. Unfortunately, we are unable to start the frozen engine of the old car. The slight Cree from Kashechewan is improperly dressed for the cold, does not have a warm parka and has thin gloves that do not keep his hands warm.
We are just south of Fort Albany, which on the same river as Kashechewan, so we offer to tow him and his sled back to his community which is only an hour away. A long line of cable is attached to the tractor and we tow the car behind the trailer of supplies and caboose. Our new friend is happy to steer his old car as we tow him on the way home.
Even with the heavy load of supplies, a caboose and a large American car, the tractor still travels briskly along the roadway. During the first half-hour the road is solid and straight but on approaching the Albany River the road begins a series of curves. On the first series of bends the lifeless car with no power steering is difficult for our friend to navigate. The caboose up front is high and wide and blocks the view of the road ahead. The dead car has a very difficult time and is bounced from snow bank to snow bank. Finally at a sharp corner, the car can not keep up and plows head on into the deep snow sending up a cloud of powder snow into the air. The cable snaps immediately and the whiplash is cushioned by the snow.
When we dig our friend from Kashechewan out of his car, he is unhurt. The car is buried deep in the bank but the man reassures us that he is only half an hour away from home and will return to rescue his vehicle later. We transport him and his sled and snow machine the rest of the way back to his home in Kashechewan.
At the very least our friend was returned safely to his home with his snowmobile. However, the memory of this day would stay with us for months to come, as we would see the roof of the old car peaking through the snow on the side of the winter road as we made our way along. I like to think that our friend somehow had managed to pull the old car home but the truth is it was probably claimed by the soggy muskeg in the summer. Perhaps it will resurface as a precious find in some archaeological dig in the distant future. They will wonder, “How did anyone manage to drive big cars in this part of the country that long ago?”