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The Lonesomes #16 – When Elevators Dream

Snapshot 3 (06-02-2012 1-47 PM)

Click the pic to watch The Lonesomes #16 – 3:22

When Elevators Dream

Two long-abandoned grain elevators have a wonderful dream.

Reid Dickie




Huh? Huh? What’s that?


It  sounds like the crossing bell.


The crossing bell!! You’ve gone mad! There hasn’t been a bell there for decades. There hasn’t even been tracks here for 20 years (PAUSE) but you are right. It’s…

AUDIO: train whistle


It’s a train! (PAUSE) It IS a train!


But…but…It can’t be…

AUDIO: He is drowned out by the sound of the train passing,

CREDITS: on a vertical roll, end credits over the invisible train. When the credits end, the train passes.

AUDIO: after train passes, the crossing bell stops, peace and serenity return to the prairie.


That was fun!!


I still don’t believe it!! We must be dreaming?


(MORE A MURMUR) ummm…maybe.

AUDIO: Prairie sounds arise



Written, Produced and Directed by Reid Dickie


Shelly Anthis

Audio Engineer

Michel Germain


Steve Black, Duane Braun, Troy Buschman, Reid Dickie, Mitchell Johnston, Borys Kozak, Carol Anne Miller, Nora Nordin-Fredette, Liz Olson, Allan Palmer, Chris Scholl, Dennis Scullard, Tannis Zimmer


Troy Buschman, Reid Dickie, Garcea Diehl, Liz Olson, Chris Scholl, Tannis Zimmer

Sound Recording at Video Pool, Winnipeg

Special Thanks tKevin Uddenberg, Kenny Boyce, Terry Lewycky, Vonda Bos, Rick Fisher, Prairie Dog Central

Dedicated to Beautiful Linda




Character Backstory 

Both characters sound groggy and confused by what they are hearing because they are hearing the impossible. This is established quickly.

It’s the clang of the crossing bell that catches their attention then the train whistle adds further disbelief until they are drowned out by the sound of a modern fast freight with lots of low rumbles and screeching steel on steel sounds.     

To create a crossing the end credits run on a vertical scroll over the elevators as the invisible train passes horizontally.

Once the train is gone, there is joy and disbelief. The prairie silence returns.

For her fourth appearance in The Lonesomes, Nora Nordin-Fredette plays the female elevator and I play the male.  


Location Information 

This sad pair of elevators is in Isabella, Manitoba, again south of Shoal Lake. Long abandoned by the railroad and most of its residents, little remains of Isabella today.

I captured this bucolic scene one hot afternoon. The story is a conversation between the buildings resulting in an imaginary train passing by. I used it has the background for the end credits creating a crossroads with the invisible train moving horizontally and the scrolling credits moving vertically. I saw it as fitting end to The Lonesomes, reinforcing the dream-like quality of the piece.

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The Lonesomes #8 – Running

Snapshot 7 (06-02-2012 1-51 PM)

Click the pic to watch The Lonesomes #8 – 2:38


The vast blueness of the sky frightens a woman to death.

Reid Dickie



Out here most of the world is sky with just a little strip of land running around the bottom. Sometimes that little bit of land isn’t enough, especially when the sky… (PAUSE…UNCERTAINTY…SIGH)

Tillie Sweet lived in this house. (SIGHS) Aw, me. Tillie came from the big city of London England where there is more land than sky. Just off the boat, she married Willaker Sweet. People round here called them Tillie and Willie. Anyways, Willie moved her out here to the middle of the big sky, the biggest sky she ever saw. Tillie Sweet had never experienced anything so big, so blue, so unforgiving, so overpowering as the prairie sky. It became her prison but one that she eventually escaped.

It was during her second summer out here when the isolation, the homesickness and the desperation of her daily life overtook Tillie. It sent her running, running and running and running and running across the open prairie. She was running from the sky, trying to escape it. She ran and ran until her lungs burst and she fell face down in a clover pasture, never to arise.

When they found her, she was smiling. (SIGHS) Aw, me. (WHISPERS) It’s happened before. I know for truth, it has happened before.

(NORMAL VOICE) The night Tillie died, a thunderstorm came through here and lightning struck the big old cottonwood tree that grew by the Sweet house. (WHISPER) Some say lightning struck it three times that night. (NORMAL VOICE) In the morning all that was left was a jagged stump with a sharp tip, like a finger pointing toward heaven. (SIGHS) Aw, me.


 Character Backstory

An elderly woman, with great resignation, recounts this tale of prairie desperation. She speaks slowly, deliberately, with a world weariness that indicates her age and experience. She wants, needs to tell the story but there are taboos about it, its horror too vast to bear alone. She whispers two lines that are especially chilling but she gets the story told. The story involves conflict with the elements, resolution and the narrator’s familiarity with the feeling, suggesting perhaps she had similar urges.

Sadly, this is based on true events that occurred on the Canadian prairies as pioneers filled up the west. Perhaps an extreme form of agoraphobia or something inexplicable and individual, running yourself to death was an option for a few pioneer women. Although not widespread and rarely affecting men, running became a fact of some pioneer family’s lives.

The possible reasons or explanations for this behavior are laid out by the storyteller. Her burden of knowing what happened to Tillie Sweet expresses itself as fear in her voice. The script is explicit with directions.

The dramatic moment of Tillie’s death combines several small audio effects including time lapse clouds that speed up, her heart beating faster and faster, her frantic gasping and her feet running through the clover.

The end of the story explains the image of the tree stump, a satisfactory yet chilling end to the tale. The woman’s whispers must be convincing and she must know why she is whispering. Her world weariness is unabated by telling the story and her heartfelt sighs persist.

As ever, Nora Nordin-Fredette did a great job of capturing the sadness and world weariness of the narrator and the peculiarity of story.


Location Information

This house is located near what remains of Mountain Road, Manitoba in the rolling uplands of Riding Mountain just off Highway #357. This highway offers some of Manitoba’s most stunning vistas. If you are eastbound, the road ends at Hwy #5 with a wonderful descent off the Manitoba Escarpment onto the old lake bed.

I was struck by the exposed bones of the house but it was the pointy stump and its location next to the house that drove my imagination.

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The Lonesomes #5 – Prairie Fire

JULY WEST 2011 067

Click pic to watch The Lonesomes #5 – 2:28

Prairie Fire

Wildfire races across the open prairie toward a homestead.

Reid Dickie



I ‘member Papa and I standin’ after sundown and watchin’ the red glow far off in the distance. I was skeerd and I think Papa was a little skeerd too. The next night the glow was even closer. In the mornin’ we all could smell the smoke.

Papa got the team out and ploughed a wide circle round the house, the barn and haystacks. We filled everything we had with water: barrels, troughs, pots, pans, kettles, pails, basins, jars, even the chamber pots. We soaked brooms, grain sacks, sheets and anything we could find that sopped up water and could be used to beat back the fire.  My big brother Ivan pumped water so long that day his arms was swole and sore by the evening.

After dark we all stood and watched the fire comin’ straight toward our farm. The prairie grass was so high the fire ate it like it was breakfast. I can still hear the loud roar of the fire. We was lucky. Just when we started to beat at the flames, the wind changed direction and sent the fire across the ravine, away from us. Burned out half our wheat crop though.

The other thing the fire took was the outhouse. It was tinder-dry and it took but one spark to set it on fire. It was gone in no time. Mama and us kids talked Papa into digging the new outhouse closer to the house. Mama had to tickle him to get him to agree.

When we was lookin’ for things to fill with water, we even used the pretty teacups Mama brought over with her on the boat. There was only two of them and one got broke. (PAUSE) Mama cried.


Character Backstory

Raging prairie fires were a frequent danger for pioneers after the buffalo were extirpated and the prairie grasses grew tall and dry in the summer heat. Often fires could be seen approaching for several days across the flat land. It was an all-out battle to prepare for an oncoming fire: from ploughing a wide fireguard around the property to collecting water and gathering materials to beat back the flames.

This story is told from the perspective of a bright eight-year-old girl who lives with her family on their prairie homestead in 1899. The girl’s English is colloquial giving the piece an atmosphere of the era when children’s education was often secondary to farm work. She recounts the story with increasing wide-eyed fear but comfort from having her family around her. There is palpable relief in her voice when the wind changes and their farm is saved. Things lighten up considerably with the outhouse story and we think everything is going to be okay.

Reality rears its head again in last paragraph when one of the two teacups gets broken and Mama cries. The irony and the happy/sad balance is maintained. The broken tea cup was a dramatic and poignant afterthought.

Once again, Nora Nordin-Fredette did an excellent job bringing the fearful little girl to life.


Location Information

This lone abandoned farmhouse atop a rise in southern Saskatchewan was the inspiration for The Lonesomes. I had driven past it dozens of times over the years and everything about it was mysterious to me. It seemed to cry out for an imagination to commemorate its hardships, its joys and fears, its life and death.

It is located in extreme southern Saskatchewan along Highway #18 in the Missouri Coteau near the Big Muddy area. The symmetrical little house with its four dormers was familiar to me from my trips visiting sacred sites in Saskatchewan.  One year turkey vultures nested in the house and when I drove by a vulture was perched on each of its dormers like elegant gargoyles.

I took a guided tour of the area in 2011 from Tillie Duncan, an elderly lady who’d lived her whole life in the region. She explained the house was built in the late 1890s and the family had to bring wood across the border from Plentywood, Montana, about a mile away, because there were no trees in this part of the country.

Combining live action with my still photos of the house the place looks vulnerable enough to suit the prairie fire story I had in mind. The close-up moving pan across the facade details the intricate decay of the old house.

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The Lonesomes #1 – Barn Where the Thing Happened

Snapshot 1 (23-07-2012 1-17 PM)

Click pic to watch The Lonesomes #1 – 2:00

Barn Where the Thing Happened

An abandoned red barn is revealed as the scene of an old mystery.

Reid Dickie



Oh my! Oh my, yes. That’s the barn where the thing happened that nobody talked about.



I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a hot day in July. I was at the butter churn when Mama came rushing in looking as white as a funeral sheet, like she seen a ghost. She just stood still in the middle of the kitchen. Her hands had blood on ’em. There were little red rainbows of blood on her white apron. Mama looked at me and started to cry. Though I could tell she didn’t want to, she just stood there like a statue and cried. Then Papa came rushing in lookin’ real pale like he seen the same ghost as Mama. He looked at me, his face went angry and he took Mama onta the porch. I could hear ’em talkin’ but not their words. The way they stood made me scared. All I really heard was Papa say, “And we must never speak of this again.” (SENSE OF WONDER) And they never did. (PAUSE) Ever. (PAUSE) After that Uncle Wilber never came around the farm no more. (PAUSE) Nobody ever talked about that either.



Oh my, yes. That’s the barn where it happened. I remember it like it was yesterday. Oh my, yes.


Character Backstory

The Lonesomes is divided into Farm Life and Town Life. The first nine are the Farm Life segments.

On the surface this appears to be a simple recounting of an event from a child’s life. However, it has a darker, more sinister backstory.

The event in the barn happened in 1928. Our story begins with an elderly woman identifying the barn that we are seeing, and will see for the duration of the vignette, as the one “where the thing happened that nobody talked about.” The old woman is startled by the image of the barn which carries so much weight for her. It’s almost like a ghost. “Oh my,” has startled surprise. With “Oh my yes” she’s resigned. Then she sounds like she is identifying the barn for someone in the next line.

During the second line, the voice does a startling thing – it changes from an old woman into a little girl about 10 years old. The image and the old woman’s memory has taken her back to the barn of her youth.

The little girl recalls the day with great clarity. The month, the weather, her job at the churn are all mentioned. However, she has much uncertainty as to what is going on. She knows for sure it isn’t normal, something happened. Her parents both appear and act in unusual ways after coming in from the barn. Both parents are “white as funeral sheets,” emotionally agitated and respond to her presence in different ways – Mama cries, Papa gets angry.

This piques the girl’s curiosity, especially when they whisper on the porch. She listens intently to their conversation. She “could hear them talkin’ but not their words.” She pauses then curiosity changes to fear when she recognizes her parent’s body language as they stand on the porch. Visualize the parents’ postures – so basic and evident that a child can see their meaning and react with fright to their strangeness, perhaps outright hostility.

The only thing the child clearly hears is the pact being made when Papa says, “And we must never speak of this again.” She is absolutely sure of this. “And they never did.” has a sense of wonder. She pauses again, more wonder and a touch of frustration, “Ever.” This establishes the dire nature of what happened but gives us little information on what it might have been.

There is a longer, thoughtful pause. She does an uncertain “…Ummm” before she speaks. The little girl connects what happened in the barn with Uncle Wilber who never came around the farm thereafter. In her mind the two are linked simply because, “Nobody ever talked about that, either.”  Several secrets were born in the barn that hot July day.

In the last two lines the opposite of the beginning occurs. The first “Oh my yes,” is in the little girl voice which becomes elderly over the course of the last two lines. In the final “Oh my yes,” we can still hear an echo of the child and her confusion, as if she still doesn’t know what happened that day. She is resigned to never knowing, or perhaps resigned to her denial.

The little girl is matter-of-fact about the event but confused by it all. She delivers the skeleton of the story, her parent’s actions hang clothes on it. Both her innocence and curiosity are shaken by the new secrets she must live with, even though she doesn’t know for certain what they are.

Clipped and colloquial, the bad English and sentence construction is reflective of the era. She isn’t very well educated but she does know what a statue is. She’s bright but speaks less from her schooling and more from her listening, like “funeral sheets” as a local expression.

What really happened in the barn: Papa killed his brother Wilber in the barn because he found out Wilber had sex with Mama and the girl telling the tale is Wilber’s offspring, not Papa’s. This explains the blood, the crying, the anger, the whispering, the pact they make on the porch and the subsequent years of silence on the event.

In her first of four appearances in The Lonesomes, Nora Nordin-Fredette did a wonderful job of transforming from an old woman into a child and back again keeping the mystery intact.


 Location Information

I had the germ of an idea about something bad that happened in a big old barn as remembered by an elderly lady who reverts back to childhood to tell her story.

There is no shortage of old barns in rural Manitoba. I shot several beauties, none of them red. Looking at my footage I realized the barn had to be red, not just for its classic representation but also to suggest the violence implicit in the story.

I happened upon this barn on the eastern end of the Brandon Hills when I was doing some heritage work. I shot it from several angles. Once I had the story I realized I could utilize more of the detail on the barn to accentuate parts of the yarn, notably the pointed lightning rod and the battered cupola. I went back and re-shot the barn on a brighter day, capturing the details. In post production we bumped up the redness of the place to better suit the story.

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