January-February 2022

When driver Norris Fedato was two months old, he was taken in by his grandparents, who lived in Bralorne, BC. Bralorne, at that time, was a bustling mining town of about 3,000 that serviced the Bralorne and Pioneer mines. The town was about as remote as any place in Southern BC. The only way in and out was over treacherous Mission Mountain to the rail line at Shalath, where you had to load your vehicle on a rail car that would take you to Lillooet.

This is his story:

I was born in Blairmore, Alberta, and by the time I was two months old, I was living with my grandparents in Bralorne, BC. My Grandpa, Bob Dotto, worked underground at the Bralorne Mine as a timberman. Grandpa Bob was a big man who smoked huge White Owl cigars, and he was, in all respects, my father who didn’t have to be. My Gramma Stephanie, who everyone in our small town called Nanny, was a good old girl who raised me like her son.

A timberman’s job is just like it sounds. They are the ones who put the timbers in place in mines to stop rocks from falling and full cave-in. It is a dangerous job that requires a lot of knowledge and more than a bit of nerve. At that time, there were two mines in the area, Pioneer and Bralorne. In later years they merged and became Bralorne Pioneer Mine. Each mine had a fleet of trucks and its own operating authority.

Bralorne was a booming mine town of around 3,000 people and not only the richest gold mine in Canada’s history, it also had the third-deepest mine shaft in the world.

One day I was sitting in school, looking out the window at the trucks going by when my teacher finally lost it on me and asked, “You like trucks don’t you?”, “Yes, I do.” I said. Then, with more than a little sarcasm in her voice, she said, “Then why don’t you quit school and drive a truck?” So I did. That ended my formal education and began my trucking education, which continues to this day.

My Grandpa taught me how to drive in his 1948 GMC when I was 14 years old. I would deliver stuff around town and haul gravel for the new medical clinic. All we had was a flat deck, so a buddy and I had to shovel the gravel on and off by hand. It was hard work, and we could only manage to do two to three loads a day. I did not get paid for this work, but I got free room and board, and I got to drive a truck which was more than enough pay for me. My Grandpa said I didn’t have to pay room and board until I got a paying job, and that was just fine with me.

There were two cops in town, and they knew I was too young to drive, but whenever they saw me, they would just wag their fingers and shake their heads. Things were different back then in a small town. Everyone knew each other, and some minor misdemeanours were let go. Common sense was a lot more common back then. When I was finally old enough to get my license, I did my road test with a local policeman who knew me well, and he basically just went through the motions to make it legal.

I finally got a paying job delivering groceries around town. I drove a panel truck and stocked shelves, and cleaned up when the deliveries were all done. I made a whopping 95 cents an hour and started paying room and board. I was 16 at the time and would be at the school when they got out for lunch. I would pick up girls from school and drive them around town until I got caught and almost fired for playing instead of working. Small towns are great, but everyone knows you and there is always someone who feels they must let everyone else know.

Bralorne was pretty remote back then. The Bridge River road from Gold Bridge to Lillooet had not been built, and the only way in or out by car or truck was over Mission Mountain to Shalath. Then you had to put your car or truck on what they called the gas car that the train pulled to Lillooet. They called it the gas car because it was used to transport your car or pickup. Then you could go to east to Kamloops or south to Lytton and through the Fraser Canyon to Vancouver. It was definitely not something you did in a day.

One day, after the road to Lillooet was built, my Grandpa and I went to Princeton to pick up some bunk beds for the mine. It was really foggy out, and he was smoking a cigar, so I asked him if it was foggy out or was it those damn long White Owl cigars he was smoking. He said, “I think it is foggy out there too.” Those cabs were pretty small, and it didn’t take much to fill them up with smoke.

There was always something to do outside when I was young. I spent a lot of time on the lake. I had traded a 1947 Dodge car for a plywood boat with a 3 ½ horsepower motor. After getting into the “pops” one day, I told two of my buddies that I wanted to try water skiing. They said it was a crazy idea because it didn’t have enough power. I said it has to work, I have a 100 feet of rope so they could get the boat up to speed before running out of slack and pulling me. I sat on the dock and gave them the signal to go. They took off, and when they hit the end of the rope, I got a butt full of slivers from the dock, and watched as the transom was torn off the boat. The motor ended up at the bottom of the lake, and my buddies used up just about all the swear words they knew (and they knew a lot – some I don’t think I had even heard before) as they swam to shore.

After about a year and a half of delivering groceries, I went to work for George Thompson, who owned Thompson Motor Cartage. I drove flat decks and vans from the PGE railway at Shalath over Mission Mountain to Bralorne, carrying everything from groceries to steel for the mine. Mission Mountain back then was pretty treacherous, and it still can be today. There are three switchbacks on the mountain’s north side and seven on the south side. On top of that, it was often straight ice. So my boss made up special chains for that run that had 2-inch lugs welded on, and believe me, you needed them to run those switchbacks.

I worked for him for ten years until he sold the company. I stayed on with the new owners until the mine shut down in 1969, after which I moved to Lillooet.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so all my friends said I should haul logs. There wasn’t much else available, so I incorporated NF Trucking Ltd. and went to work for Evans Products, the local mill in town. I drove for Evans for a year until they decided to sell their trucks. My first truck was one of theirs. It was a 1969 Kenworth, and I got the job, my seniority, chains and radio for $25,000. Some people insist it was the only time anyone got a good deal from Evans Products.

One day I was talking to Eddie Thomas, a native Indian, who lived on and logged for the Bridge River Band. He told me he was having trouble getting logging trucks, so I told him that if he guaranteed me four loads a day, I would buy a new truck and haul his logs for him. He agreed, and that started a lifelong friendship and a job that lasted thirteen years.

I bought two new logging trucks and put my two sons, Bobby and Dean, in them. Dean stayed on with Evans under my seniority because he loved hauling logs and would go around the clock if you let him. Sadly he passed away from Leukemia at the young age of 35.

On the other hand, Bobby wasn’t as fussy about hauling logs. He preferred the highway, but there wasn’t a lot of highway hauling at the time, so he did what he had to do.

Both my sons were number one drivers. Before they got their license, I took each of them up the mountain to Eddie Thomas’ logging show. I didn’t believe in going with them on their first run. By then, they knew how to drive, and I’ve always thought that it just makes a driver nervous having someone looking over their shoulder. The country around Lillooet is rugged, and the logging roads, for the most part, are steep with long drop-offs. When it was Bobby’s turn, we got to the bottom of the mountain, and I told him to go get a load, but if he bent my bumper, he was fired. When he got back down, I asked him how it was, and he said, “It was fine right up until you scared the hell out of me by threatening to fire me.”

All those years of logging around Lillooet, neither my kids nor I ever lost a load. I’m pretty proud of that fact because it is quite a feat for those roads, especially in the winter.

I always had fun with Eddie and his crew. We would have a big bonfire and some pops up on the landing on the last run before Christmas. Eddie worked hard, and he had a great sense of humour. He was a joy to work around and a big part of why I hauled logs for so many years. Sadly he passed away just a few years ago.

The DOT in town was great. His name was Herbie, and one day I kidded him by saying he was only allowed to give me a fine once a year. He said, “I’ll give you a damn fine any damn time I like.” He told me that he thought I was over length on one trip. “No Way!” I said. I knew it was pretty close, so when he asked me to hold the tape while he measured, like so many drivers before me, I cheated and held it by the front wheel, not the bumper. He stood at the back of the load and shook his head. He said, “I could have sworn you were over length.”

The next time I knew I was okay, he again thought I was over and told me to hold the tape. As he turned and walked down the truck, I followed about 20 feet behind him. He turned and asked, “Where do you think you are going?” I said, “You told me to hold the tape, but you didn’t say where to hold it.” He paused for a moment, and as I watched, I could see the light go on. Then he shook his head and told me to get going on my way, but he let me know in no uncertain terms that if I pulled that stunt again…

I always had fancy trucks and took good care of them. Grandpa always said that grease is cheap compared to downtime and the price of new parts. He also said that if you take good care of them, they’ll take care of you. So I passed Grandpa’s philosophy on to my boys by insisting that their trucks were washed and greased every Friday night before they took off for the weekend.

After a while, I bought a small freight company that hauled around Lillooet. Then I applied for a motor carrier plate license to haul to Kamloops and back. I got a lot of support from companies and people around town who wrote letters of support. A number of years later, I sold the business to Joe Nickoki, and when he passed away, his daughter sold the company to the Cayoosh Indian Band who still operates it today.

When I quit hauling logs, I went to work for Interior Roads which is now Dawson. I drove gravel trucks and snowplows and did road patching in the spring. I loved road patching, and one day, someone, I don’t remember who, gave me the nickname “The Patch King,” and it stuck.

After leaving Dawson, I hired on
with Garret Moyer, GNS contracting, in Lillooet. I drive a gravel truck, haul machinery around the country, and run backhoe a bit.

I have seen a lot of changes in the roads, trucks, and the industry in general. I have seen both good and bad over the year, but all in all, it has been mostly good. I had the opportunity to work with my boys and some great companies. I loved every one of my bosses and I have made a lot of lifelong friends in the industry. Sadly, not all of them are still around, but I loved every minute of it and would not hesitate to do it all over again.