Strathard Heritage Digital Archive

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The Aberfoyle Roadmakers by Isobel McGuire.

    This article was first published in the Strathard News in May 2024. Our thanks to Isobel and the Strathard News Team for permission to present here.

    How many folk in the Strathard area know that Aberfoyle and Caithness have very strong
    connections? It does seem unlikely that a village in the Central Belt should have a group of
    residents who have such solid links to a county as far away from this part of Perthshire. The
    answer to this situation lies in the small stone quarry on the south face of Craigmore.
    The Quarry master was John Campbell, grandfather of Ian Campbell, whose lorries, until recently,
    conveyed roadbuilding materials around the district. John, before he was in charge of the stone
    quarry, was involved in the management of the Slate Quarry a much bigger employer than the
    Craigmore concern.

    The Steamroller.
    Roadmaking machinery on site with J. Campbell’s sign on the steamroller.


    He won a contract for completing a road in Caithness. It was a single track road over the Moss of
    Killimster, near Wick. It meant that this Aberfoyle business had to hire men and machinery and
    transfer both up to a very bleak area in the far north of Scotland. Accommodation had to be
    installed to house the workers who had to be enlisted locally in Aberfoyle and also from Bellshill,
    Glasgow.

    A group of the Roadmakers.


    It was a huge undertaking and the story was that it took five days for the steam roller to trundle
    northwards from Aberfoyle to the Caithness site. To get the workhorse, [that was the steam roller,]
    all the way from Craigmore Quarry to the Caithness site, needed careful planning. My father-in
    -law, Joe McGuire, was responsible for procuring the coal and bringing it by lorry to the road roller
    wherever it was on the road north. The coal then had to be loaded on to the roller. How many
    miles would one load be burnt before it needed re-fuelling? Where would Joe get the continual
    supply of coal on the journey north?
    The workers from Aberfoyle were Dan Campbell and his brother, Cally; Joe McGuire and Alec
    Ferguson(Father of Jimmy the Post). I don’t know how long the road took to build but it was a
    difficult undertaking because the terrain was over boggy moorland. Timewise it was around
    1930-1931.
    The reputation of the gentlemen from Aberfoyle was that they were superior dancers to Caithness
    men and at social hops they became great favourites. As a result of their popularity Dan Campbell
    met Bessie Swanson from Wick; Joe McGuire met Helen Harrold from Keiss and Alec Ferguson
    met Jean Swanson from Dunnet. The three men married their sweethearts and the Caithness link
    was further strengthened by Bessie Swanson’s brother, George, on visiting his sister, met Maggie
    Bell of Aberfoyle whom he married.
    These four couples settled in Aberfoyle and all had families who all have kept up with their
    Caithness relatives with a regular exchange of visits and correspondence.
    The Archivist in Wick supplied the information that of three offers for the road, John Campbell’s
    was the lowest and was accepted for that reason by Caithness County Council, for the sum of
    £35,788-10/-, for a five year contract, on 18th July, 1931.
    Huts were built to house all the workers. We can be sure the accommodation afforded would be
    very basic. Was the heating adequate? Were there rotas for cooking, shopping? Weather in these
    northern climes can be really harsh. Rainfall is much less than in Aberfoyle but constant winds are
    the order of the day. Working outside even in ‘normal’ Caithness summer weather could have
    been hard going. Midges were a continual torment and road making over marshy moorland would
    present many problems.

    Accommodation for 100 men.


    In winter it must have been so difficult, labouring hard all day and having to cope with the
    constant blast of incessant winds and the chill it brings with it, straight off the North Sea.
    The camaraderie of their fellow workers must have been compensation for forfeiting home
    comforts and the joys of family life. Lots of questions arise about their experience there but there’s
    no one left to answer them.
    Were they well paid? Did they get a day off? Could they look forward to holidays and visits home?
    Were there any leisure activities that the men took part in?
    The characters that built that mile stretch of straight road are all dead and those curious about
    this bit of history can regretfully, only pick up fragments from the past.
    Aberfoyle should be very proud of the entrepreneur who was John Campbell and of his ability and
    enterprise to organise such an an amazing civil engineering feat. When times were lean and jobs
    were scarce he gave employment to this hardworking team who would never forget their northern
    adventure.
    In recording this bit of history I hope it is accurate. Much of the information has come from
    relatives of the Aberfoyle-Caithness alliance. It would be appreciated, if others have any further
    memories of this venture, that they would contribute them.

    Party when the work was completed approx.1933.