Tiny’s Tooth – A Tale from a Northern Mining Camp in the 1930′s.

July 1, 2012 | |

Editor’s note: For workers in the northern bush of manitoba in the 1930s, the amenities of life were scarce or absent.  A toothache, for example, was a cause for concern as little care and less cure were available.  Workers were flown periodically out of the bush camp to receive medical attention at the nearest large town (the pas) but often this occurred well after the fact.

“Hey Barney pass me the eggs will ya.”

“If they ain’t froze, this cook tent don’t do much to keep out the cold.”’

“Well, diamond drill camps ain’t the Ritz, hey where’s tiny?”

“Still in his sleepin’ bag when I left the bunkhouse, sick I think, rollin around an’ moanin.”

“Toothache agin?”

“Yeah, think so but this time really bad.”

“Out he goes to see old painless in the pas next plane.”

“Right, but he’s got all week to wait and he’s in some misery if all the howlin’ an groanin’ tells it.”

“Mornin’ pilchard, how’s our favourite straw boss this fine nippy mornin’?”

“Fine, fine, mornin’ boys, where’s tiny?”

“Sick in his bunk with a tooth ache.”

“Well tell him to get himself out here.we need that boy on the rig, not rollin’ around in his bunk.”

“Tooth ache’s pretty bad pilchard, ain’t somethin’ done about it I don’t know that boy’s gonna be much help.”

“Well, I want the big galoot on the rig when the first core comes up.you’re the mechanic, supposed to fix stuff, fix that tooth, yank it out or whateve’, but I don’t want to be lookin’ for that boy when it comes time to lift that rod.”

Well, we all went down to the bunkhouse.  Sure shot martinsky went for the first aid kit …but when we looked through it, it was pretty clear it was for broke legs and sawed off fingers and such, but nothin’ for fixin’ teeth. some of the guys went for the cook. In most camps the cook sits by himself all day, between makin’ meals an’ reads books.  Murphy was no exception, and at his age we figured he had read about every book there was. Pilchard used to say his head was a goldmine of useless information but we thought we’d give it a shot.

“Hey murph, toothache, got anything to fix one?”



“Bust one or get a hole?”

“Hole i think, one of the front ones, kinda dark lookin’“

“Well, it’s a while to the plane, if you gotta try somthin’ try clove oil.”

“Oil the tooth? that don’t…”

“Nah, you put the clove oil in the hole, kinda stuns the nerve so it don’t hurt so much.”

“You got clove oil here in the cookhouse, murph?”

“Nope, best i can do for ya is some cloves; you’re the mechanic, you figure it out.”

Well we pulled some of the little round ball shaped seeds offen the cloves.you don’t use the stem part, murphy said, and then we bashed a few of them on the anvil with a rod hammer till they was pretty much powder.

“What kind of oil?”

“Murphy didn’t say, but if it was my mouth it was goin’ into I wouldn’t want machine oil or anything.why not just a bit of water, make a sort of paste that he can pack in the hole?”

“Can’t see Tiny doin’ that, shape he’s in, and i think you likely got to dig a bit of the rotted part out to make room for a decent shot a that clove oil.”

Nobody wanted to be digging in the tooth of a guy the size of tiny, causin’ him any more misery like, but just then pilchard comes through the door flingin’ orders around in
true straw boss style.

“Raymond, get that big sail needle out of the kit.  Sorenson you go get that painkiller you got under your bunk.  Were gonna need to calm that boy down before we get to
work on that tooth.”

“Pain killer?”

“Sorenson, I ain’t a straw boss ‘cause I’m dumb.  We both know you could get yourself fired for bringing licker into the camp, so I’m sayin’ get that ‘forty pounder’ of Corby’s three star painkiller and pour a bunch of it into a mug so I won’t have to see what it is, and start feedin’ it to tiny.”

Well, standin’ at death’s door tiny wouldn’t turn down a coffee mug full of rye and not the second one nor the third one neither.  When he began to go a little limp pilchard had
us put him on the table, on his back with his head hangin’ over so’s Raymond could see into his mouth.you could tell from the greeny look on Raymond’s face that tiny wasn’t
given to tooth brushes and stuff’.

“Get to work Raymond, we ain’t got all day here.”

“You better tie him down eh. a swat from one of those outsized paws could knock me into the middle of next week.”

We tied him down good with some old bungee cord but Raymond still didn’t feel too safe playin’ dentist.  “I ain’t getting’ near those teeth. i seen that boy poppin’ tops of beer bottles with ‘em, one snap and i could give up playin’ the violin for sure.”

“Popeye, go get one a them wooden wedges from the shop, we’ll shove it in back of his choppers so he can’t clamp down none.”

Raymond took a deep breath of fresh air and bent to his work pokin’ at the hole with the sail needle.  With the wedge in his mouth tiny was a bit hard to understand but every
once in a while the word ‘murder’ came out pretty clear.

“Well, that’s all the rot I can get out.  Don’t we got to disinfect that hole somehow?”

“Here, i figured you’d need this, dipped the end of that bit of cotton in some iodine, best germ killer there is.”

Well, Tiny hit a new level in volume, but pilchard promised more painkiller when we got done.  Raymond packed the hole with the mashed up cloves but then a new problem
came up.

“How we gonna keep the clove stuff in there?”

“You got any of that quick hardening radiator repair stuff in the shop left from fixin’ the diesel?”

We pasted over the hole with the radiator repair stuff.the print on the tube said it hardened in water.  Whatever was drippin’ outa the side of tiny’s mouth was mostly rye but we had to chance it.  Everyone stood well back when we loosened him. a guy that size calls for a lot of respect but pilchard handed him another coffee mug of three star painkiller and tiny quieted down some.  He went back to work but he was still moanin’ and
grumblin’ though when the plane came in.

Down to the pas, old painless said there wasn’t much else to do but yank the tooth.  Tiny was a bit upset about the big gap in his choppers but we told him the girls would all think he was a hockey player an’ he cheered up.

Bottom Line:This is a tale about life and mishap in a work camp in the northern Manitoba bush in the 1930s.