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First episode, taken from The Rover issue: 1251 June 18th 1949.



A man could freeze to death on a trouble-shooting job. “Sparks” Hendrie knew that, none better. Young Bert Willan had frozen stiff as a board the year before, in the big blizzard, when he and Sparks were working together on the cross arm of a pylon in a temperature of twenty below zero. Bert, so full of life and fun, had been one of the keenest and most likable chaps in Spark’s crew of linesmen. Sparks, half-frozen himself on that occasion, his fingers so numbed he could hardly screw the power line disconnecting clamp, had spoken over his shoulder to Bert, asking him to give a hand changing a cracked insulator. Young Bert had not answered. He had not made a hand’s move to help Sparks. Scorning to display weakness in the bitter cold and icy wind Bert had clung on, suffering in silence. If his boss could stick it, he could, too. But Bert had not Spark’s iron stamina. He had fallen unconscious, and then frozen to death. There he was up in mid-air beside Sparks, plastered with blizzard-driven snow, his legs clamped like iron bands around the bar. Sparks had never forgotten the nightmare business of forcing those limbs loose and carrying his dead mate down to the ground. There were no ladders down a pylon in the Rockies. A linesman must be an agile climber, even when numb with cold. A linesman’s was the toughest job in the north woods region of British Columbia. A man had to be hard as nails to stick it, especially in winter, with freezing wind blowing—as it was blowing now. Then there was the greatest danger of all, the danger of electrocution. All the linesmen dreaded the thought of being struck down by the blue flash that spelt instant death. Sparks, though young, had been made foreman of a gang of linesmen on account of his tough endurance and his ability to get the best teamwork out of his crew of trouble-shooters. He worked like a human dynamo. In fact, his pals vowed that often they could see sparks shooting out of his curly red hair. His tall, wiry body seemed almost tireless on a job. He was usually so absorbed in his work that he never gave a thought to fatigue. He was apt to forget the weakness of lesser men not so tough and enduring. He had been so engrossed in his work that time with Bert that he had not given a thought to what suffering the lad was putting up with. When he had thought of him it was too late. That had been a lesson to Sparks. Never again should a workmate be tried beyond his limit through thoughtlessness on Sparks’s part. With this in mind he turned now to glance up at Kim Bishop, who had succeeded Bert, and was aloft on a tall pylon within hand’s reach of Sparks. “You okay, Ken? Warm enough?” Sparks demanded. “All of a sweat,” Kim lied, with his cheerful grin. He was perched astride the cross arm of the pylon just above Sparks, binding the steel cored transmission cable fast to its insulator with his lineman’s key while Sparks tightened nuts beneath him.


They were perched sixty feet above the brink of Lost Hope Gorge. The Okonomee River which flowed through the gorge, was three hundred feet beneath. A piercing wind was blowing half a gale, trying to claw the men loose from their holds. Both wore linesmen’s belts, with safety hooks for clamping around a pylon in a dangerous wind, but neither of them had bothered to hook on to the structure. “Let’s have a look at you, Kim,” Sparks said. Kim, a young married man whose wife was the camp cook, had twin boys of eight of whom Sparks was mighty fond. Kim’s face was smeared with Vaseline, as was Sparks’s, against the freezing wind. Both men were heavily clad in mackinaws and muffled to the ears. But even so Kim’s nose had turned as white as chalk. “Thought so. Your nose has frozen, pal,” Sparks growled. “Down you go to the ground and rub it with snow.” “I’ll be through with this in a jiff,” Kim protested. “You’re through right now, bud,” Sparks ordered. “I’ll finish those tiewires. What would young Kit and Tommy say if their dad lost his nose through frostbite?” Suddenly a violent wind blast struck the men on the pylon. It unsettled Kim’s perch. His body rocked over sideways. Sparks had just looked up at him again when it happened. No man could react quicker than Sparks. As Kim overbalanced, Sparks reached up and grabbed his belt. Kim was clutching out wildly at the cross arm, but he missed it. For a second, Sparks himself was almost wrenched loose by Kim’s weight. But he held on. Next moment Kim was swung in hard against the side of the steel structure. He grabbed a brace. Sparks, when he saw Kim had tight hold, let go his belt. Kim looked down the dizzy abyss. With a shudder he turned his white face up to Sparks. “Take it easy, pal,” soothed Sparks. “Hang on there for a bit and get your nerve back. Then go down and rub snow on that frozen nose.” Sparks could have descended a few feet and helped him down. But wisely he refrained, knowing that a linesman’s only chance of regaining his nerve after an accident was to rely on himself. “Tell Dingbat to get the truck warmed up,” Sparks said as Kim got ready to descend. “We’ll be heading for camp as soon as I’ve finished this job. It must be dinner time. You feeling better now?” “A bit,” replied Kim. “But my wrist hurts. Well, I—I guess I’ll get going now.” Down he started, taking it cautiously, with Sparks watching him anxiously. Sparks did not want Kim to lose his nerve for work aloft. Good, conscientious men like Kim were scarce. Kim made it down to the last brace, eighteen feet from the ground. From this point down to the ground there was the linesman’s light ladder, and he quickly scrambled down that.




Sparks finished his job and came down. “Get aboard the waggon, boys,” he called. “Time for dinner. We’ll leave the tractor here till afternoon,” he added to Lefty, the driver of the big caterpillar tractor which accompanied the crew. They would be returning later to work on more pylons on this stretch of power line from Lost Hope Gorge sub-station to the new lumber town at Tillikuk Lake, fifteen miles away. “Your nose looks better now, Kim,” Sparks laughed, gripping his partner’s arm. “Feeling better?” Kim said he was feeling fine, except for his wrist. Sprained, he thought. The men all boarded the truck and drove away. Their mobile camp was at present located at the sub-station two miles away. When they came near the place, from which several power lines forked off across country to various destinations, Sparks suddenly sat upright in the cab. Against the grey sky he could see a kite flying near a power line. A dangerous thing for anyone to do. Kim sitting beside him, saw the kite, too. His jaw fell. He was the only married man in camp, and his twin boys the only children. No one but a child would be flying that small homemade kite. “Step on it!” Kim said tensely to Dingbat Dolan, the truck driver. “It’s those kids of mine. Any linesman knew that a kite string, being even slightly damp or dirty, would act as a conductor. If the string touched the cable the child holding it would receive a shock, most likely a fatal one. The truck bounded crazily over the frozen, rutted snow. The men came in full view of the open clearing, and could see the little woolen clad boys flying the kite, shouting with glee as it swooped and soared. They were almost directly underneath one of the power lines. Almost at the moment of sighting them, the men saw the kite make a sudden dive earthwards across the lines. “Let go the string!” roared Sparks. But he was too late. The string fouled the cable. A blue flash streaked and crackled, and a puff of smoke came from the burned through string. The child dropped on the snow and did not stir. Sparks leapt off the truck and ran over to the child. He picked him up and carried him to the warm bunkhouse, Kim at his heels. “Spread a blanket on the floor, quick, Kim,” ordered Sparks. Sparks laid the child face down on it, turning the face to one side to facilitate breathing. Then he knelt, straddling the child’s body, laying his open hands on each side of the small of the back, thumbs by the lower ribs.


The shock had stopped Kit’s heart. But Sparks had brought men back from death before by artificial respiration. He leaned forward gently for two seconds, then leaned back, relaxing the pressure for another two seconds. The forward press expelled air, the backward allowed the natural reflex spring of the ribs to draw air back into the lungs. “Phone St Regis Hospital,” Sparks said over his shoulder. “We’ve got to have Doc Hunter out here.” Kim ran off. Sparks, usually a confident fellow, felt a little confidence as he worked. Kit was the delicate twin. He had had pneumonia last winter, and it had left a lung weakness. Kit’s mother came in on tip-toe, white and speechless with fright. Sparks spoke encouragingly, then sent her away to prepare warm blankets and hot, sweet coffee. Kim was unable to contact the doctor. Dr Hunter was not in the hospital, and it was not known when he would be back. Time went by, Sparks working uninterruptedly without any response at all from the little boy. An hour and fifteen minutes had passed with no sign of life in the boy to give Sparks the least hope. Then suddenly he was aware of life under his fingers. He lifted his hands for the first time. The little body was expanding and contracting as it breathed unaided. “He’s coming to, Kim!” Sparks said thankfully. “Go and tell your wife.” They wrapped the child in the warm blankets she brought, and carried him to the Bishop caravan. He soon regained consciousness, opened his blue eyes, and they fed him coffee with a teaspoon. Sparks was still none too confident. People relapsed sometimes after artificial respiration, and in some cases could not be brought round again after a relapse. Kit was delicate. Sparks phoned the hospital again, but the doctor was still absent. The violent wind was rocking the caravan, and there was snow in the air. A blizzard was coming. Sparks came to a decision. St Regis was thirty miles away. He must get the youngster there this afternoon, for the road might be impassable with drifts next morning. Sparks told Kim he was to accompany him and have his wrist seen to.




Snow was falling thickly—fine, dry snow blowing across the forest road like ground smoke, forming drifts, by the time they came near St Regis, a mining town. It boasted the best equipped small town hospital in the region. It was lucky it was well equipped for emergencies, for the little boy, his breathing almost imperceptible. The rough journey over frozen ruts and drifts had sapped his strength. If ever a child’s life hung in the balance, Kit’s did now. The doctor was there, big, friendly, capable. He took one look at the white faced child and at once picked him up and carried him away. Sparks and Kim waited anxiously in the tiled hall. At last the doctor came to them. “You did the right thing, boys, to fetch him,” he said. “You were just in time. His lungs are weak after that pneumonia. Luckily we’ve got just the contraption here to assist weak breathing. Come and see it. He took them to a special ward where two ward sisters stood by a long box shaped case of metal and glass as large as a hospital cot. It was surrounded by gadgets, tubes, oxygen cylinders. A mechanical sound came from it, air being pumped in measured beats. They looked inside it through a glass panel on top, and saw Kit lying on a bed. There was a great change for the better in him already. Colour had returned to his face. He seemed to be breathing effortlessly and normally. He had regained consciousness, and when he saw his father looking in at him he smiled. Then his eyes closed drowsily. This was an iron-lung, explained the doctor. A patient with weak lungs could lie in bed in it, and have his breathing done for him by oxygen pump. It’s just one of the many hospital devices we have to thank you boys for,” Doctor Hunter said. “This thing is operated by electric power. So is our X-ray machine—and I’m going to X-ray that wrist for you in a minute, Bishop. Dozens of other things around here are worked by electricity. Without the power you chaps keep shoving to us along the cables, delicate equipment like this iron-ling would be as dead as an anvil. Look, the boy’s breathing easily and normally now,” the doctor went on. “This iron-lung has saved him. He looks fine, doesn’t he? But make no mistake—he just couldn’t manage without assisted breathing for the next day or two. He’d relapse, like he did on the journey. It might be far more serious next time. As it is, with the thing pumping fresh life into him he’s getting stronger every hour. In a week perhaps you can come back and take him home.” “Oh, doc, that’s fine!” burst out Kim. “What happens if the pump packs up?” asked Sparks. “The pump never goes wrong,” stated the doctor positively. “Look, doc,” said Sparks, “can Kim stay here a day or two, to be with the kid? I can spare him. He can’t pull his weight with that damaged wrist, anyhow.” The doctor consented.


A little while later Sparks set off alone on the return trip. He whistled happily to himself as he drove, in spite of the blizzard which was now howling over the country, because he was carrying good news back to camp. In the sub-station at the camp Chuck Doherty, the engineer in charge, whose ear was sensitively attuned to the hum of the dynamos, suddenly tensed at his oiling job. The steady, familiar drone of the dynamos had changed tune. The rhythm was broken. There was a harsh, vibrating noise in the control room. Chuck’s glance darted across to an indicator panel on the wall. A red warning light glared at him. It indicated that the power cable to St Regis had broken down in the blizzard. Chuck did not realise the full consequence of this breakdown. He knew nothing about the iron-lung, which must have come to an instant stop. His job was to notify the trouble-shooting crew of the break. He wrapped himself up warmly against the blizzard and went out. The men were not in camp, and Sparks and Kim were away at St Regis he knew. But fortunately Dingbat Dolan was driving the repair truck into the yard, and the big tractor was snorting along behind it. Chuck hurried across and told Dingbat about the break in the line. Sparks was seven miles from camp when a snow-plastered truck came lurching down the road to meet him. His own line outfit, the repair truck! Sparks pulled up, wondering, and flagged it to a stop. Dingbat leapt out and came on the run to him. “Gee, it’s good to see you right now, Sparks,” Dingbat exclaimed. “There’s a break.” “Which line?” Sparks demanded. “The high tension line to St Regis,” Dingbat replied. “Chuck told us half an hour ago. The tractor’s coming on down right away.” The St Regis line! St Regis without power, that iron-lung stalled, the kid in it fighting for breath! “Where’s the break?” Sparks asked quickly. “First section,” Dingbat said. “It can’t be far from here then,” Sparks said. “Near the gorge, maybe.” “That’s what we figured,” Dingbat snapped out. “Have you got the hydraulic press?” Sparks asked. “You bet!” Dingbat answered. “Everything’s in the truck.” “Okay! Park here at the roadside, and we’ll hurry through the woods across to the lines,” Sparks ordered. “The boys can fetch the press.” Carrying bulky tool kits in packs slung from their shoulders, they set off into the teeth of the blast. Four men followed, panting and floundering through the deep snow and frozen underbush, carrying the press stretcher fashion by its four handles. Dingbat wanted to know about Kit. Sparks told him about the iron-lung, and the consequences of its stoppage. The full blast of the wind struck the men when they came to the power lines. Down the line to their left they could see Lost Hope Gorge, narrower at this point. They could see the two pylons erected on the brink. In the forest half a mile beyond the gorge, was an outlying logging camp of the Tillikuk Lumber Company, but nothing could be seen of it through the snow smother. Just this side of the nearer pylon, the cable hung down to the ground. The man set off at a jog trot for the broken cable. Sparks glanced down in passing at the broken ends, then hurried to the pylon. He began to shin up the steel pylon, his heavy tool kit loading him down. Bundled up as he was in thick clothing and blinded by snow it was no easy task. But Sparks could climb like a monkey. He soon made it up to the cross arm. Perched hazardously on it, buffeted by the hurricane, he set to work unscrewing the nuts of the connector clamp. Once this was done, and the tie wire cut from the insulator, he descended the pylon for the next step in the job.


The tractor loomed up out of the storm. The men carrying the press were coming. Every man knew his job, and by this time everyone knew that it was a rush job, a matter of life and death for little Kit. The broken ends of the cable were placed together and a sheet of copper closed round them. With the aid of the hydraulic press this copper sleeve was clamped tight, holding the broken ends together. The joint was made. Sparks sent the men trudging back to the truck with the press. The next job was to hoist up the mended cable again. He climbed to the cross bar. The tractor hauled the line up with tackle. Sparks, sitting on the bar, sighted along the rising cable and yelled out “High!” when it was up to the right height. He made fast with fresh tie wires, connected up again, then came hurrying down. The repair job was completed. Current could now be switched on at the sub-station, as soon as a message could be got through to Chuck.




A man was hurrying along through the driving snow, one of the men who had carried the press back. The man was coming to get the crosscut saw from the tractor. A big tree had been blown down across the road twenty yards behind the trucks. The road home was blocked. “This sure is our unlucky day!” burst out Sparks in desperation. “Hi, Lefty, get going home as fast as you can leg it. Tell Chuck all clear.” Lefty was a willing lad. But seven miles through a snowstorm! It would take him more than an hour. Sparks could not forget what the doctor had said. Without assisted respiration the boy might die. He might be dead now. The circuit had been dead for an hour. Kit had been fighting for his life all that time. A sudden break in the snow showed Last Hope Gorge and the forest beyond, a wisp of wind driven smoke above the tree tops. The logging camp! They were on the phone to St Regis. St Regis could phone the power house up at Okonomee Falls, and the power house phone message through to Chuck—all in a minute or so. But no man could reach the camp from here, except by going a long way round by swing bridge, fourteen miles all told. The cliffs of the gorge were three hundred feet deep, icy, and perpendicular. Sparks saw the power cables spanning the gorge. He had seen a trick stunt done once, a dare-devil trouble-shooter crossing a gorge like this one on a power line. Suddenly his mind was made up. He turned and grabbed the ladder. Sparks set off at a run with the ladder. Coming to the edge of the Abyss he reared it against the big pylon and climbed up. From the cross arm the gorge lay open below him. He stood erect on the pylon cross bar, clutching the steel structure.


He clung on with one arm, unbuckling his belt, fastening its snap hook around the power cable. He launched himself from the bar, his arm through his looped belt, sling fashion. He went swooping steeply down, the hook screaming at terrific speed over the copper strands. Before he realised it, he was past halfway, his hook sliding now upgrade, his swift momentum carrying him forward. But he was slowing. In a few more seconds he came to a stop hardly more than a hundred yards from the pylon towering above him. He would have slipped backwards, but he seized the overhead cable, gripping it with both mittened hands. Now Sparks started to climb the cable. Hand over hand he pulled himself slowly upwards. It was agonizing work, and his arms felt as if they were being torn from their sockets. But he gritted his teeth and pressed on. At last he reached the cross bar of the pylon. He descended to the ground and covered the half mile to the logging camp in fast time. He ran through the camp yard, straight to the timekeeper’s office. He knew Curly Garrison, the timekeeper, but had no wind left when he burst in on him to explain anything. He dived for the telephone on the wall. “Operator, get me Okonomee Power Station, Urgent!” he gasped out. “That the power house? Hello, Carson. This is Sparks!” He got his message gasped out, and knew that Chuck would have the current switched on in a matter of seconds from now—nearly three-quarters of an hour before Lefty could reach him. He hung up. But he had still another call to put through—to the hospital. In a few seconds he was through, giving his name, asking to speak to Doctor Hunter. The reply came that the doctor was engaged with a critical case, and could not be called away. “Say, tell me this much,” pleaded Sparks. “Is the case that kid I fetched in this afternoon with electric shock? It is, eh? Then he’s still hanging on? What’s that?” As Sparks listened his tall, spare body seemed to wilt. “But, listen!” he suddenly broke in urgently. “The current will be on to you by now. Yes, sure! Try your nearest electric light switch. There you are—I knew it was. Your iron-lung will work again now. Go tell the doc. He’ll sure want to put the kid back in the iron-lung while there’s a spark of life left in him. Yes—yes, go tell him right now. Ring me back here later—Camp D I’m at.”


Fifteen minutes later, while he was still telling about Kit in the iron-lung, the phone bell rang. Doctor Hunter was speaking. As Sparks listened his face lit up in a smile. “That’s fine, doc—wonderful! Kit’s conscious again and breathing normally in the lung. Gee, that iron-lung is sure a miracle worker. Yes, you bet I’ll tell his mother. Back home in a week or so. Man, will she be relieved!” It was a seven mile hike to swing bridge, a spidery footway across the Okonomee where Dingbat would be waiting with the truck. The blizzard was at its height, but Sparks stepped out with a light heart. The kid was mending, and the current going through again!

THE BLUE FLASH - 11 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1251 - 1261 (1949)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007