Fiction

10,000 Men for Dinner

Oceans of coffee, mountains of meat, towering stacks of pie—Crawley and McCracken dish them out daily as the continent’s biggest bush-camp caterers

C. FRED BODSWORTH April 1 1949
Fiction

10,000 Men for Dinner

Oceans of coffee, mountains of meat, towering stacks of pie—Crawley and McCracken dish them out daily as the continent’s biggest bush-camp caterers

C. FRED BODSWORTH April 1 1949

10,000 Men for Dinner

Oceans of coffee, mountains of meat, towering stacks of pie—Crawley and McCracken dish them out daily as the continent’s biggest bush-camp caterers

C. FRED BODSWORTH

THE MINING engineer rounded up an 18-man survey party for a rush trip to a new ore site 50 miles north of Sudbury, Ont. Then he hustled into the Sudbury office of Crawley and McCracken Co. Ltd., caterers to bushland construction crews and mining-camp gangs, and asked if they could serve a meal in the camp that evening. The Crawley and McCracken boss promptly took the job.

The surveyors had to travel 20 miles by train, then 30 miles by canoe. When they got off the train to start loading the canoes, there were no Crawley and McCracken men in sight. So the party bought a couple of camp stoves and some canned goods to feed themselves.

Early that evening the canoeists reached the ore site to find several tents already up and a hot fullcourse dinner waiting to be served. Crawley and McCracken’s gang had got everything prepared in Sudbury, even the spuds peeled, and had down in.

This was all in a day’s work for the big catering firm which doesn’t regard this sort of assignment as any special problem. Wherever men work in the north, in gangs of 10 to 10,000, four chances out of five Crawleys are in there serving them three (and often four) whopping meals a day and giving them clean beds to sleep on.

The continent’s biggest bush-camp caterer, this sprawling business has $750,000 worth of camp equipment and 1,200 employees scattered across 1,800 miles of Eastern Canada’s rocky, muskegpitted hinterland. Right now, it’s feeding and bedding 9,700 men in 200-odd camps from Churchill to the Atlantic seaboard. If a man wants a dozen eggs for breakfast or a whole apple* pie for lunch (many do), Crawleys is pledged and pleased to give it to him.

In its 38 years of bush-camp hash slinging, the firm has dished up 200 million man-sized meals which have included 25 million gallons of coffee, six million pounds of butter, 12 million dozen eggs, 15 million double-sized loaves of bread and 19 million pies. This gourmand’s kingdom has been freighted into the North by plane, scow, canoe, raft,

horseback, wagon, dog team snowmobile, back pack and tumpline.

Crawley men have fought off enraged bull moose and angry bears (best ammunition: four sticks of dynamite baited with garbage), have stood neckdeep in cinder-hot lakes while fire razed their camps, have tempted black-fly poisoning and wandered lost through the bush.

During the past 30 years the firm has had a role in almost every big construction project east of Winnij>eg. Said a leading engineer at a Montreal construction convention the other day: “Sometimes I think it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that were it not for Crawleys today’s industrial and mining areas of Northern Ontario and Quebec would still be backwoods.”

Crawleys fed and bedded the men who built the famous Quebec bridge in 1915-17 and the New Welland Ship Canal in the ’20’s. In the bleak depression years it took the biggest job in its history by feeding the 15,000 Trans-Canada Highway workers slugging on the road between Pembroke, Ont., and the Manitoba border.

The firm’s skillets and soup vats were at work for International Nickel, Hollinger, Noranda, Shipshaw, Arvida and Chalk River when t hese developments were nothing more than half a dozen tents and a cabinet of blueprints. In many cases the first sod turned was t he Crawley garbage pit.

Today, atomic scientists at Chalk River; a topsecret defense force at Churchill; and a railroad gang in the titanium-ore country of Quebec are all eating Crawley grub. At the same time, the firm’s corporate sister, Murray’s Restaurants Ltd., is catering through 1G restaurants to swank-and-

file appetities in Montreal, Ottawa, Sudbury and Toronto. Each firm’s operations are independent, but they’re controlled financially by a holding company, Murray McCracken Ltd. It’s a private firm and the employees own the stock.

A Foundation of Flapjacks

("UTY and bush eating habits differ radically, as -A the twin firms have found. In Murray’s a single pie serves eight customers; in the Crawley operation it’s killed by three men. Crawleys figures each man will consume a pound and a half of meat a day; this would serve the average Murray diner for at least two days, sometimes t hree. A bush-camp breakfast consists of hall a grapefruit, one or two big bowls of porridge, t hree or four eggs smot hered in ham or bacon, four to six slices of toast and marmalade, a glass of milk and t wo or t hree cups of coffee. The average Murray’s breakfast: two slices of toast and marmalade and a cup of coffee.

The secret of keeping men happy in the bush is good food and plenty of it. A hydro construction engineer (old me: “If the food is good, men will work 12 hours a day and sleep in t he rain if t hey have to. If the food is poor, you can’t even get t hem to drive a spike straight.”

The secret of Crawley’s success as summed up by a contracting boss: “Engineers spend years learning how to build bridges; but they don’t know beans about how flapjacks should be cooked.”

One contractor who tried to handle his own catering and bunking once phoned his head office asking for 200 bed sheets. He got back a nasty letter reminding him Continued on page 35

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that the job was all steel—no place for lead sheets. Another asked for 150 pounds of veal, got back a wire reading “You failed to state what size steel required.” Meanwhile 50 men had walked off the job because they’d had no meat except bacon for two days. Crawleys takes this sort of problem off the minds of the engineers and contractors. By reorganizing the catering they have often cut the manpower loss from 25%, to three or four per cent in a few months.

The old days of beans, sowbelly and CPRstrawberries (prunes to you) have vanished. Even at remote Havre St. Pierre, far down the ice-choked St. Lawrence, men last winter got fresh grapefruit, oranges and marmalade and fresh eggs for breakfast. Salt pork is still there if you want it, but there’s a choice of steak or roast, too—and chicken every Sunday.

The polyglot crews who are pushing back the Canadian frontier posespecial problems to Crawley cooks. French Canadians, as expected, like ham, pork, pea soup and pastries. But to keep a Scandinavian happy you’ve got to feed him fish three or four times a week— and three times the normal amount of sugar. Germans want sausages, wieners and sauerkraut three times a week; Czechs demand dumplings; Russians and Poles want lots of meat. English immigrants want poached eggs on their breakfast toast. Only the D.P.’s pose no problem—they’re so hungry they’ll eat anything.

But the cooks are happy about this. Louis Michaud, the big, jolly Bunyanesque cook at Crawley’s Chenaux camp on the Ottawa River, shouts: “I like to cook for men who really eat—two, three thousand! When a man keeps bringing his plate back till he’s eaten a

dozen eggs—that’s the man I like to cook for.” Louis has bossed the kitchens of some of Canada’s finest hotels, but he always comes hack to the 40-gallon soup vats of the bush camp.

His butcher, Armand Bourgeois, like most Crawley men, knows meat preferences. “Eastern Quebec, Gaspé, the Maritimes . . . men down there like light meatsand organ meats sausages, meat pies, liver, heart, blood pudding. You offer 500 men down there menu with steak, sausages and blood pudding-only 50 take the steak. The bush people there have always been poor; they raise their families on the cheapest meats. Forest fire come to Lac St. John and our family live for years on blueberries and rabbits. Yes, sir. Offer them roast heef and they don’t want if ; always too poor to eat meats like that.”

But according to Louis the work a man does has a greater influence on the food he wants.

“Take miners,” Louis says. “They work eight hours in the dark, in dusty bad air. They’re like a man with a hang-over—no appetite. They like salads and cakes and fruit desserts, juices instead of soup. But give a salad plate to a man who works all day outdoors, maybe laying track, maybe shoveling cement, and what happens? He throws it in my face. He yells: T want steak and potatoes and gravy!’ ”

Full Board, $1.65 a Day

Louis worked at one railway construction camp where each Polish worker ate more than two pounds of meat a day. But at. a bridge-building camp— his next assignment—where the work was lighter, the men took less than a po> nd a day. Another bit of catering know-how: night workers want a

bigger meal than the day shift because night air is clearer and colder, puts an edge on the appetite.

With its bush-entering business, Crawley and McCracken grosses close to $4 millions a year. At the typical Chenaux camp, when* 700 men are pushing a power project to boost Ontario’s hydro supply, Crawleys gets $1.65 a day for each man’s bed and board. Each worker has $1.25 a day deducted from his wages and the Ontario Hydro Commission comes through with another 40 cents as a subsidy.

Crawleys lays out $80 per man to equip a camp after it is turned over to them by the building contractors. 'Filings have changed since the old days. Uniformed waitresses are replacing the high-boo ted male flunkies, and the kitchens glisten with electrically controlled oil ranges, steam-heated vats and serving tables, automatic dishwashers, electric refrigeration and bakery.

At Chenaux I ate in a cafeferia where eight months ago there was only bush and rocky farmland. There were chintz-draped windows, a kitchen glistening with stainless-steel equipment. I slept in a steam-heated bunkhouse. I bowled, played snooker and listened to the latest juke-box tunes in a recreation hall I visited several neat little homes with fireplaces, tile kitchens and bathrooms, which have been erected for officials and their families. Chenaux even has its hospital.

In 1952, when the Chenaux power development is completed, bulldozers will level all these; buildings and the camp site where now more than 1,000 persons live will become just another Ottawa Valley hayfield.

The firm which has helped work this revolution in hush camp living was started in 1910 by a couple of U. S. college graduates, Murray I). Crawley and Fred C. McCracken. They handled small contracts until 1914 when they undertook to feed 2,000 CI’ll workmen in 60 different camps scattered over

I, 100 miles of territory.

Their first office was a boxcar on a Sudbury siding, and they had equipment and men for only five camps, but they rounded up the rest and by 1918 the operation was big enough to be incorporated.

Crawley died in 1921, McCracken in 1940, and Walter E. Harris, the firm’s former gebral superintendent, a roommate of McCracken’s at Purdue University, is now president.

Menu: Moose Stew

Some of the firm’s early operations were a far cry from the stainless steel refrigerated operations of today. Twenty years ago, for example, when it W'us feeding 2.000 men on the 135-mile transmission line between He Maligne and Quebec City, the company had to preserve 750 tons of supplies for eight months in tent camps that had no electric refrigeration. The supplies were brought in over a road laid down on the winter snow when the snow disappeared, the road disappeared with it. Hoot houses were dug in sand hillsides for 180 tons of potatoes, 90 tons of vegetables and more than 200 tons of flour, sugar and tea. 'Fen tons of butter and 160 tons of meat were buried under tons of ice ami sawdust. Tons of dry foods were cached in treetops in boxes that had to be made bearanil wolverine proof.

Crawleys boomed during World War

II. It fed 300 internees at St. Helen’s Island camp on one day’s notice, set up a catering service for several hundred airmen at Montreal’s No. 1 wireless school in 26 hours flat. At one time the firm was actually feeding army cooking classes until the embryo cooks learned how to do it themselves.

3,400 men at Shipshaw, the second largest power development in the world (largest: Boulder Dam). The firm handled 793 tons of meat, 265 tons of flour, 400 tons of butter and 256,000 dozen eggs. It lost three of its men, burned to death in a bunkhou.se fire.

By 1942, the firm was handling a million pounds of food a month in 500 camps between Halifax and Winnipeg. That year its cooks boiled and poached a million dozen eggs. It took on the second biggest job of its career on short notice — feeding 2,700 construction workers building a $60 million synthetic rubber plant at Sarnia, Ont. This put such a strain on the firm’s wartimedepicted personnel that executives were pulled out of Toronto and Montreal offices and sent to Sarnia to wash dishes. Even then there were only 13 on hand to feed the initial work gang of 1,200.

Crawley executives have frequently had grimmer experiences. The company s wiry (140 pounds), fast-moving general superintendent J. Kenneth

Cullen rarely sleeps more than one night in the same bed. Once, on one of his never-ending inspection tours, he climbed into a freight plane and, finding no place else to sit, squatted gingerly on five or six cases of dynamite. Just before take-off the pilot handed him a small box to hold. Cullen, nervously eyeing the dynamite, let the box slip from his fingers.

'Fhe pilot, circling over the lake, glanced back to see the box rolling on the floor. “Crab that box!” he yelled.

“Why get excited about that little thing?” Cullen said. “If this floor gets much hotter from the exhaust pipe this dynamite’s going to explode.”

“It’ll explode, all right,” the pilot shrieked. “Those are the caps you’ve got bouncing around the floor!”

Another pilot flying a Crawley supervisor in Northern Quebec became lost in a blizzard and landed on the ice of an unknown lake. That night they saw a light ashore and waded through the deep snow toward it. If was the bark hut of an Indian trapper and his

family. The squaw warmed up a black kettle of moose stew while the trapper went out in the dark to cut balsam boughs for their mattress. The Indians squeezed closer together on the dirt floor to make room and the supervisor and pilot lay down on the floor and tried to sleep.

“I didn’t sleep a wink that night,” the supervisor says. “Our bough bed was really quite comfortable and we were squeezed in so tight that everyone was warm—but you should have heard that squaw snore!”

Occasionally Crawley executives still have to fall back on horseback travel. Howard Hanley, manager of several small camps along a 50-mile transmission line right-of-way in eastern Quebec, was visiting each camp once a week by horseback. In midwinter the head office was mystified by one of Hanley’s monthly expense accounts which contained an item: “Deprecia-

tion on horse, $15.” Next month Hanley’s account contained the same puzzling entry. The chief accountant asked for an explanation.

The Great Provider

Hanley worked himself, and his horse, hard. The snow was deep and the country rough. After one arduous trip Hanley’s horse died. Afraid that he would be raked over the coals for mistreating the horse, Hanley had bought another, paid for it himself, and was trying to get his money back in monthly installments.

“We are granted a depreciation allowance on all other items of equipment,” Hanley argued, “so why not on a horse?”

Inventive ingenuity is part of the makeup of Crawley’s men on the spot. During the Shipshaw development, for example, it became necessary to fly every ounce of supplies in to Northern Quebec’s inaccessible Lac Manouan camp over a 180-mile airlift. The catering bosses hit on a novel idea: why not fly in live cows to produce milk for the camp, and calves for winter veal?

The first cow to board the flying boxcar snapped her moorings, kicked over a couple of cases of dynamite and clumped forward into the pilot’s cabin. The plane careened out of control, then steadied to make a wobbly emergency landing on a lake.

This didn’t faze the firm’s Port Alfred boss who promptly called in a veterinary to chloroform the animal. From then on the airlift was dubbed the “chloroform express.”

There was one further mishap. One cow came out of her enforced slumber and the nervous pilot quickly landed on a lake and tied her down, tail and all, before completing the trip.

Canadian cattle have since been flown thousands of miles to foreign countries, but the “chloroform express” was the cattle-flying pioneer.

The name Crawley and McCracken isn’t well known in the prosperous towns and cities of southern Canada; but to the thousands of men who are molding the future wealth and power of Canada across its northern frontier it is a revered symbol for food and comfort in a land where food and comfort comes at a high premium.

Two bush workers, recently sightseeing in Toronto, paused at a downtown corner to listen to a street evangelist. The preacher was making frequent references to “The Great Provider.”

One of the sight-seers tugged impatiently on his pal’s sleeve. “Come on, let’s keep moving.”

“Wait,” said the other. “I want to hear this. Don’t you know? This guy’s talking about Crawley and McCracken.” ir