Story of "Soup" - A 1950's Chessie

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Story of "Soup" - A 1950's Chessie

Postby Bullfrog » Wed May 03, 2017 12:39 am

Memories of a Manitoba Chesapeake from the 1950s as told by my father-in-law, with intro from my wife. Originally printed in "The Wave" newsletter of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club of Canada.


In 1953, my dad, Ed Stechishen became the forest ranger in the Barrows District in western Manitoba. His patrol area was opposite Mafeking and extended north to The Pas marshes with the easterly boundary not too far west of Highway 10 and westerly to the Saskatchewan border. There were few roads in the area and most transport occurred by train or by motor car that travelled on the railway tracks.

The following is a collection of excerpts from the life of the Chesapeake that chose to live with my dad as written by my dad.

The story of "SOUP", the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, has its beginning somewhat before the dog's appearance at our home in Barrows, Manitoba in 1953. Our humble abode was a 16 ft. by 18 ft. two room structure with no foundation that was moved by rail from a closed-up lumber mill at National Mills some seven miles up the track.

Unbeknown to us, a big white tomcat had taken up residency under the house. When the house was raised and a cement foundation poured, the structured was lowered into position. Some two or three days later I heard a noise in the crawl space. On opening the trap door in the floor and shining a light I could see one scared white cat. Since the cat and I were strangers, it refused to come out. A day later it realized I was no threat to its safety and I was able to coax it out. After a good meal and many kind words of sympathy for its solitary confinement, this big white tomcat decided we could be friends. Being the only pet in the house, the cat took up permanent residency and assumed ownership of the house.

Now comes the dog's part in this story. Soup, who was registered as "Rex" originally, belonged to a timber operator who frequented a gambling parlor on weekends. The dog of course went with his owner to town and the truck cab was its second home. The story told by the employees at this mill was that the master frequently flaked out in the cab and the dog would lie on top of him, thus both would be somewhat warm. Chances are he kept his master from freezing in the winter.

Unfortunately, the master passed away. Since the only home the dog knew was the lumber camp, the mill co-owner and employees took possession of the dog. The dog established his residency in the camp cookhouse, more specifically behind the massive cook stove. It was then that he was renamed "Soup". This camp operated only during the winter months, hence some kind soul would take Soup home for the summer. The dog experienced town and country life for several years, the location depended on who volunteered to offer him a summer refuge.

For excitement, Soup rode the lumber sleighs when Tetlock's sawmill was operational. The mill was located some five miles from the storage site at Tetlock's railway spur, hence the sawn lumber was hauled to this spur on sleighs pulled by a truck. Soup would hop on the lumber load, some six feet high and ride to the storage yard in safety, but on the return trip when the sleigh was empty, he had to maintain his balance on the 12 inch wide wood bunk. There was always the expectation that sooner or later the dog would lose his footing and fall under the sleigh and be crushed while in transit at 30 mph. Luckily he survived the rides without incidents.

The sawmill had only one more year of operation when the camp foreman, the one who was custodian of the dog that year, indicated to my co-workers Josh and Shorty that the dog was in need of a permanent home for the mill operation would fold once the last of the timber was logged. My co-workers were marking timber on this site, so when they came in for the weekend they stated that the dog was up for adoption. Since I was supervising this timber operation I was faintly familiar with the dog so the following week they brought the dog with them. Transportation was by motor car on the railway track for we had no roads in this area. When they stopped the motor car in front of the house here was this big deadgrass dog standing on the deck with his tail just a-going, hoping for the ride to continue.

Soup spent the weekend with me and went back to the mill on Monday so we could see whether he really wanted to stay with me. Soup came right back on the return trip on Friday happy as hell to be with me. He became my constant companion, day and night. I took him with me to the sawmill whenever I did an inspection. Soup would say hello to his old acquaintances but was only too glad to return to Barrows with me.
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Soup at his first home in Barrows

During the first weekend of the dog's stay with me, Tom (the white cat) ignored Soup so I expected they would coexist in the same house. However, when Soup returned to stay, the cat realized there was competition for my affection. He and the dog argued incessantly for about five days. The cat realized he was no match for the dog and he bid me farewell and left. Occasionally I met up with Tom, petted him and tried to convince him to return but to no avail. Soup on the other hand was in his glory in his new home.

Riding the rails on the motor car was his greatest pleasure. The motor car had a canvas front wind protector which was about 18 inches high, the ideal height for Soup to drape his front feet over the top and get the full blast of the passing air as we clipped down the track. The air velocity was high enough to puff out his cheeks and to flare out his ears. It did not matter whether it was summer or winter he maintained this riding pose.

Soup's mood was visibly displayed on his facial features. This was really evident when I got married. The competition for my attention existed for about a month before he concluded that no cold shoulder would drive this woman away.

Soup had a mind of his own. If he felt chilly during the night he did not hesitate to crawl under the bed covers to share your body heat. When camping out on a chilly day he would work his way into my sleeping bag and eventually wind up squeezing me into a slab in an attempt to stretch his legs to their fullest extension to enhance his sleeping comfort.

On one of our numerous weekend sojourns to Red Deer Lake, some five miles away, I spotted a smoke so I went up our wooden 60 foot fire lookout tower to get a bearing on this smoke that was showing up on the horizon. Once I reached the cupola at the top, my wife called from below to say that Soup was coming up after me. The sloped wooden ladders each terminated at a landing at 20, 40 and 60 feet ( the cupola was at the terminus at 60 feet). Soup had already reached the first landing 20 feet above ground. A bellow from me stopped him there. Now the fun began. We had to make a sling and lower him down by rope.
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Dad (in boat), with his co-workers on the shore of Red Deer Lake
Soup had had no exposure to hunting waterfowl, but when we went to the lake duck hunting he instinctively went into retriever mode and grasped the fact that once the shotgun was fired there was supposed to be a bird to retrieve. Initially he would get excited and bark on seeing a bird in flight. To silence him, I threatened him with the paddle. His favorite position in the canoe was in the bow, standing fully stretched out fully observant of bird activity. The barking ceased and thereafter he resorted to moaning while watching the birds in flight. He would bail out as soon as a gun was discharged. His exit hardly rocked the canoe.

One day I fired at a tight knit flock of ducks and seven fell into tall grass. Soup would retrieve a duck, drop it at my feet, then go back into the waist high grass for another. Most of the ducks were only wounded, however, so they would escape upon release. After about the fifth retrieval, he realized that I was holding only 2 ducks and the others were crawling away. He stopped, looked at me with a very serious expression just as much as to say " come on you idiot hang on to the birds for I only bring each one once"! I went and finished the retrieval myself with limited input from Soup.

While hunting off the shore, I dropped two mallards and Soup dove in and went out to bring them in. However, the one he chose was still quite alive. He picked it up and swam back about 15 feet before the duck started whacking his face with its wings. He decided he had to kill it before going any further. He whacked it against the water numerous times before returning to shore. He did the same to the next one, even though it was dead. After this experience, he slammed every duck he went to retrieve in the water regardless of whether it was dead or alive.

When our new house was completed in the fall of 1957, we established our residence about a kilometre from the main settlement on a site surrounded by bush. I used to meet Tom (the cat) in the settlement on numerous occasions. The cat and I would exchange greetings, but the cat never once indicated he wanted to join us on a permanent basis until we moved to the new site. I petted him and coaxed him to come with me to the new house. It took a long time and after many stops and reconsideration's on the cat's part we made it home. Soup and Tom growled at each other, but here there was space for both of them to co-exit. The cat lived in the basement mainly and the dog lived upstairs.

When the cat's bathroom manners became uncontrollable (nights only) we relocated his sleeping quarters to the power plant shed, which was heated. He dined and spent the daylight hours in the house. Soup and Tom would snarl at each other whenever they were at close quarters, but they never fought. One morning, Tom was wading through about six inches of fresh snow on his way to the house for breakfast when he met Soup head on. Both were following my foot tracks, but going in opposite directions. Neither would yield the right-of-way. Soup snapped at Tom and the cat dropped dead just ahead of me. I told Soup the cat was dead so it was his responsibility to bury it. At first, Soup tried to stand the cat up, but it just kept collapsing in the snow. Grief was written all over his face. After numerous tries he picked Tom up and took him down a rabbit trail some distance into the bush. Every now and then he would go into the woods, retrieve the cat and bring it back to the spot where it had died on the walkway. As the day wore on he would take Tom out into the woods again. This carried on till spring.
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Sam, dad, me and Soup checking out the J5

Retrieving in late autumn when the water temperature was approaching freezing conditions took its toll on Soup. His hind quarters began to stiffen, the sign of arthritis setting in. The stiffness led to pain as time went on. A friend had a young black Labrador that was experiencing this condition. He spent a small fortune attempting to medically control the dog's arthritis, but vets failed. Eventually a vet advised him to give the dog an aspirin a day or more if necessary. This worked. Borrowing on his success, I started the aspirin treatment. It took trickery to get Soup to swallow the pill. Initially I just inserted the aspirin into a small piece of meat and handed it to him. Soup would roll the meat around in his mouth and work the pill loose. He would spit it out and consume the meat. The best method was to insert the aspirin in a small piece of wiener and tease him with it, then toss it up and let him catch it. He would swallow it before realizing the wiener was medicated. As time went on, his arthritic condition intensified and any piece of meat with the pill went down without a fuss. The dosage increased as the condition worsened. If his pain level made him uncomfortable he would wake us at night and as you got out of bed he would go over to the fridge and stand in front of it waiting for the meat/aspirin fix.

During this period we acquired two more dogs: a German shepherd and a St. Bernard. These dogs grew up with Soup around. They generally ignored Soup because he would not play with them and they also ignored the cat. Occasionally Toby ( the St. Bernard) got on Soup's nerves. One day, Toby, who was the size of a calf, snapped at Soup. This resulted in Soup being critically injured and he had to be dispatched.
We've been trying to find out Soup's complete registered name, when he was born and what kennel he came from. Did he come from Saskatchewan, Minnesota, Manitoba or elsewhere? Was he from the famous Bud Parker line? Likely we'll never know. We do know he made a huge impression on our family. My dad has commented many times at how good Soup was at reading his mind, especially if there was a ride involved. Soup's years of living with our family left such an impression on us, we still reminisce about him some 60 some years later.
Olissia Stechishen, North Gower, ON
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Location: North Gower, Ontario

Re: Story of "Soup" - A 1950's Chessie

Postby Sharon Potter » Wed May 03, 2017 3:33 am

Cool story! Thanks for posting it.
Sharon Potter
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Re: Story of "Soup" - A 1950's Chessie

Postby Rick Hall » Wed May 03, 2017 10:39 am

Reads like a life well lived. Thanks for sharing.
Rick Hall
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Re: Story of "Soup" - A 1950's Chessie

Postby thomas wilkins » Wed May 03, 2017 11:05 am

Excellent Story. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

thomas wilkins
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Joined: Fri Jan 15, 2016 12:11 pm

Re: Story of "Soup" - A 1950's Chessie

Postby Dlsweep » Mon May 08, 2017 3:17 pm

I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing.
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Joined: Mon Feb 01, 2016 6:54 pm

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