24.08.2014 - 25.08.2014 27 °C
Again, this could have been an easy drive of 162 miles down a good road, but I had instructions that we had to see a truck and a slip (the latter had me completely befuddled, the former more than a little puzzled) and so we had 260 miles to go, some of it on downright shoddy roads.
I would probably never have heard of Kimberley, let alone visited, had a friend not moved there - her being there was a good enough reason to visit, and we had a good catch up and a sort of degustation menu in a German restaurant which had started life as a Bavarian farmhouse, and was dis-assembled and brought to Kimberley. I normally shy away from degustation menus because (a) I like to know what I am ordering and (b) most seem to involve fussy food that I won't like. The Bavarian Feast was mostly a down to earth meal which I ate happily, except for a salad that may have involved pears, frog nostrils and eye of newt: luckily my companions hoovered it up. All in all, we came close to doing a demolition job on what was a lot of good food.
But it turned out we had quite a good time in Kimberley, apart from the catch up. It is an old mining town where the mine closed and the town has been trying to figure out what to do with itself. It is almost completely surrounded by mountains - in the central area, there is the town centre, which has taken on a sort of German theme, one that later buildings have ignored. But when you stand at one end, it looks quite pretty, and it has the most alarming clock. It is built in the style of a giant cuckoo clock, right in the centre of town. Instead of a cuckoo, however, it has a yodeller who comes out on the hour to do his thing, or whenever puts in a dollar (which we had to do, of course). It must drive the people working nearby barmy - in fact, the sound was turned down for this very reason.
As you ascend from the centre, there are miners' houses, many not looking so great, and then as you climb higher, that's where the money is - rich people from other towns like Calgary have built these enormous three storey houses as holiday homes. On one side, there is a ski slope, which almost ends in my friend's house (one of the reasons she is there).
The closed mine is largely off-limits, but they have set up a quaint little train to run into one little part of the mine, where there is a reconstruction of a miner's day. Our guide showed us how to set explosives, how to drop a water pick (not an intended part of the demonstration), and how to drive a wee loader-digger thingey.
That last room is where the miners would congregate whenever there was a risk of toxic gases in the mine, as they guys did in Chile a few years back for, what, 100 days - we both had Pike River on our mind, wondering if the guys had got into a room like this one, and met their end there. We then went into the powerhouse (it had to compress air for lots of the equipment and provide electricity for the trains) where, when he finally turned up, we had a talk from the former mine manager, who went on to run the whole company. He was pretty impressive (I have no idea how accurate) in what he said about the money spent to clean up after the mine and to provide for the town itself.
We all know about IBM and its mainframe, super and personal computers but apparently one of its earliest, if not its first, products was a time clock, for guys to clock in at work - the mine had two of them. Our speaker was most proud of the fact that a lot of the equipment is 100 years old (I think he said the young machine was brought in in 1926) and still functional - he put on a bit of a show, by having a wee boy come over to push the button to get one running.
We had been told about the great sandwiches to be had at Loaf in Fernie, so headed off without lunch to try it out. They may well have great sandwiches, but they obviously don't like Mondays, as they were not open. The museum was - the guy running it was so keen to talk to us, I wondered if we were the first in for the day (I must confess, I eventually ducked around a display cabinet and out the door to avoid him). After a quick snap of the courthouse, I introduced Steve to that Brazillian owned (soon to be Burger King owned) Canadian institution, Tim Hortons. I think he'd have preferred Subway.
Sparwood is a big mining town, and it is here I got to see the truck - a Terex 33-19 "Titan" built in 1973. It was a prototype but was actually put to work for nearly 20 years. There are two stories as to why it is the only one made: where we saw it, the story was that they had supply chain problems with getting parts to make any more. On Wikipedia, the story is that the bottom dropped out of the coal market, so it was no longer a viable manufacturing proposition. And what is so special about this truck? For 25 years it was the biggest ever made - it had a payload of 320 tonnes. I know people will be very curious to know what exceeded it - eventually two even bigger Terex's were made, and there's a Caterpillar and a Liebherr but the biggest ever, with the ability to carry nearly 500 tonnes, is the Belaz 75710, from Belarus.
Then it was time for the "slip":
Under those rocks is the town of Frank, Alberta. On 29 April 1903 at 4:10 a.m., when no doubt the inhabitants were sound asleep, the top blew off the Turtle Mountain, and 82 million tonnes of rock piled down the mountain, across a wee valley and crashed into Frank, burying 90 or so people alive. As the pictures show, they are still there. Just down the valley, there is a new town of Frank - not somewhere I'd be too keen to linger.
Carrying on we went through the underwhelming Crowsnest Pass and at Pincher Creek, headed south.
We found ourselves on a very narrow road which meandered back and forth in the bush - a most unlikely place for a border crossing, and yet, that's where it was, and very casual - "what are you guys up to?" was the one question. Google maps shows that we should have gone out to a town called Browning, but I knew better and took a "short-cut" - it was a shorter road, for sure, but the worst we encountered - badly surfaced, twisty and hilly.
All in all, it was dark when we got to East Glacier, a wee town with a few cafes and hotels on the corner of Glacier National Park where I'd booked us into an antique wooden hostel. We just managed to get into the restaurant for dinner before it closed for fish tacos and huckleberry pie. Tasty.