Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: reminiscences

Belle Plaine years

In 1966 Belle Plaine had all of 16 houses, two grain elevators, three other small businesses and a school that was no longer used. UGG rented one of the houses for their elevator manager.

I had learned the basics of weighing and unloading grain by now, how to grade it and determine dockage and how to load it into boxcars for shipping to ports for export. I was also selling fertilizer, herbicides and other farm supplies. Saskatchewan seldom gets an abundance of rain, but the land here was heavy clay, making for good crops every year and the farmers were prosperous. I got to know the people in the community and soon felt at home.

I was 24 years old and didn’t own a car. I soon remedied that, buying a 1956 Oldsmobile that let me travel at my convenience, not someone else’s. I could buy some groceries at the little store, cafe and post office in town, but did most of my shopping in Moose Jaw. I did my laundry in Moose Jaw, too, at my parents.

I began to do some serious drinking, spending at least one night a week in the bars of Moose Jaw or Regina. My drinking buddies were Joe Zagozeski,  a local farmer, Henry Antemuik, a supervisor at the Kalium potash mine near Belle Plaine and my cousin Dennis in Moose Jaw.

UGG bought a lot in Belle Plaine, built a basement, moved in a house and thoroughly remodelled it. In 1967 I traded in the Oldsmobile on a 1965 GMC pickup. I needed to haul water for the new house as there was neither running water in the village nor a well. UGG had a warehouse in Regina and now I could simply drive in and pick up whatever was needed and bring it home.

When I made those trips I often stayed in Regina enjoying the night life until midnight. On nights like that I found it hard to keep between the lines on the highway and in my befuddled mind it seemed like a logical thing to speed up to 80 mph. I found that concentrated my attention sufficiently to keep in my own lane. I would often wake up in the morning unable to remember coming home. I thought that was evidence that I must have had a good time the night before.

Other things were going on at the same time. I was reading all kinds of stuff, from occult to Ayn Rand and none of it impressed me as offering any real hope to me or anyone else. Then I began to get interested in church history, which also seemed like kind of a hopeless mess until I got to Mennonite history. Here I found people who really believed and lived what they professed and suffered persecution without hating the persecutors. I began to think that if there were any real Christians left anywhere on the planet, they would be found among the Mennonites.

The couple who ran the store, cafe and post office had a teenage daughter named Christine. I didn’t pay much attention to her, she was just a young school girl. But girls don’t stay young and after a couple of years she began to seem interesting to me.

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Learning the grain business

This temporary job with United Grain Growers lasted about seven years. The Moose Jaw elevator was only a few years old, still one of the old style wooden elevators, but with a scale and hoist that would accommodate a semi. Albert Simmie was the manager, nearing retirement and needing a helper.

My job was pretty menial at first, sweeping the floor, shovelling out the flat bottom bins, stacking fertilizer and seed grain bags. Occasionally I got to weigh a truck. One day a semi with a dry van trailer pulled in to the elevator and the driver asked to have it weighed before he delivered the load to the grocery warehouse. His load was watermelon from Texas and he had driven all the way without stopping to sleep. He looked it too. That would have been at least 2,000 miles. If I remember correctly, he gave both Albert and I a watermelon before pulling out.

The elevator was about 14 blocks from my parents’ home, an easy walk. The grain dust bothered my allergies but I did not have any serious problem. After about six weeks the District Manager told me I was needed at Davidson. Davidson was on the Number 11 highway, the second town north of Craik where I had grown up. There was a row of nine elevators in town, run by four companies. UGG owned two of them.

I was sent to help Jake Thom, an elderly man on the verge of retirement. He was a widower, living in a tiny old two bedroom house where he had raised his family. I occupied one of the bedrooms and spent my days in the elevator and learned a little more about the grain business.

The land around Davidson is lighter and does not have the moisture holding capacity of soils in some other parts of Saskatchewan. The growing year had started with abundant moisture and grain grew lush and tall. Then the rains stopped. There was a field clearly visible from the elevator office and I watched as a combine went round and round that field before it had to stop to unload. The wheat kernels were not plump but shrivelled that fall, low in bushel weight and a low grade but still could be used for making flour.

UGG had a carpenter crew busy building and renovating houses for their grain elevator managers. I got to see them often over the next few years. They had built a new house for the manager of the other UGG elevator in Davidson and when he and his family moved into the new house Jake got the one they had been living in and I moved in with him.

After a couple months in Davidson the district manager came around again and said I was needed in Bladworth, the next town north on the Number 11. I moved in with the manager and his family and spent my days in the elevator. As best as I can remember, this was where I first began to acquire a taste for beer. Every once in a while I would wander over to the beer parlour in the evening and have a cold beer or two. I thought it was refreshing and helped wash down the grain dust I had been tasting all day. The problem was the beer wouldn’t stay down, invariably I had to make a stop at the outhouse, otherwise unused, and let it all come back up again.

Winter was coming on now, the elevators weren’t busy and some managers wanted to take a winter vacation. My next stop was Condie, north of Regina, a place with two elevators but no town. I lived in the manager’s house, an older two storey affair, while he was gone.  Jake Thom’s old house from Davidson had been moved in beside this old house. The UGG carpenter crew proceeded to take off the roof and both end walls and begin transforming it into a brand new bungalow. Thee was a reason for this way of doing things: it could be claimed as renovation and all expenses claimed in the year they were incurred. To start from scratch would require the expenses to be amortized over a number of years.

After Condie I was sent to Craik, my old home town. I stayed in a room in the hotel, just across the tracks from the elevator. This was a pretty quiet time but it seemed the company was preparing me for long term employment. As spring drew near the district manager told me the manager of the elevator in the village of Belle Plaine was quitting. Belle Plaine is between Moose Jaw and Regina on the Trans Canada highway. The location was great and I jumped at the opportunity.

Another use for a station wagon

640px-Ford_LTD_Country_Squire_--_05-23-2012_front.JPGWhy is this style of car called a station wagon? And what’s with the faux wood trim? Well, the original station wagons were horse drawn conveyances for hauling passengers and baggage between hotels and railway stations. When motor cars started to become common, some people had the bright idea of putting such a wagon box on top of a motor car chassis.

The first station wagons coming off the automobile companies’ assembly lines still had mostly wood bodies behind the engine compartment. Eventually they switched to steel but maintained the wood look as a tribute to their heritage.

In its heyday the station wagon was the ultimate family vehicle. There was seating for eight people, but the seats were bench seats and there were no seat belts, so large families were able to stuff all their little ones into the wagon. This involved a good deal of squirming and squabbling, but it could be done, as most folks my age can testify.

A year ago we attended the funeral of the wife of one of my cousins and heard of a different use for a station wagon. Back in the 1950’s this lady and her siblings were young girls living a couple miles out of town along a busy highway and they walked to and from school along the shoulder of the highway. Those were simpler days, that was a totally normal thing to do.

After school they were often able to catch a ride home with a passing motorist. One day a station wagon pulled over to offer them a ride. The three girls piled in, noticing another man seated in the rear seat. They chattered with the driver, telling him who they were and where they lived, commenting on the heat of the day.

Then the oldest girl said to the driver “Your friend doesn’t have much to say.”

“No,” said the driver, “he’s done all the talking he’s ever going to do.”

She considered this odd statement, then took a good look at the driver. She had seen this man somewhere before. Slowly it came back to her. He’d looked different then because he’d been wearing a suit and tie. It had been at a funeral. Then she knew. This was the undertaker from the big town up the road. That meant the man in the back seat was . . .

Despite the heat and the lack of air conditioning, she began to shiver. Right about then the station wagon pulled up at their driveway and they piled out, thanking the driver for the ride. They ran to the house, happy to let the undertaker and his forevermore silent passenger continue on to their destination.

The Toronto Interlude

There was a bond between my mother and I that never existed between me and my Dad. The bond with my mother was established at birth and nurtured by years of talking together, working together and playing together.

My older cousins have told me of their appreciation for their Uncle Walter. The man they described was someone that I never knew. I wish that I had and I sometimes think that if we could meet now that we would find each other interesting and even likable. I wish that could have happened in his lifetime. I don’t think of him as an evil man, I don’t hate him, but there just was never a warm father and son relationship. Most of the time the relationship was cool, at best lukewarm, and sometimes it was fiery hot.

It was good for me to get away again. I still didn’t have much of a clue about anything, but I must have grown a little more backbone and a little more interest in others during that time at home.

I don’t remember the train ride to Toronto, registering at the school or how I found a place to live. But I have clear memories of the place I first lived. Karl Frey, a German from Romania was a painting contractor and he had acquired three big old houses on Lyndhurst Avenue, just a block or two from Casa Loma. He and his wife, with their young son, occupied the main floor of the middle house. One house was rented to a family. The rest of the rooms in the middle house and the third house were rented out, mostly  to students at DeVry Tech.The school was on Lawrence Avenue, a good distance away, so Karl provided a van that we all piled into to get to school and get home again. This was old Toronto, stately old houses, tall trees on both sides of the street whose branches formed a leafy green arch over our heads.

I lived in the same house as the Frey family. I think there were seven of us in that house,  myself, Peter Nassler and Lyle Mitchell, both from Saskatoon, Donald Kim Chu from Vancouver, a Bourgeois from New Brunswick, a young man from Québec and another from Sudbury. We occupied the two upper floors of the house, sharing a bathroom on each floor. There was a kitchen for our use in the basement and a TV room. There must have been laundry facilities also. Peter, Lyle, Don and I became good friends and spent long hours discussing subjects of national and international importance. We were quite sure that we westerners saw things clearly and the eastern people around us were all lost in the fog.

I even remember two of the teachers at the school. Mr. Wolf was German, taught math, had an off colour sense of humour and a very disorderly classroom. Mr. Foucault was French-Canadian, very serious, taught electronics and there was no nonsense in his classes. The office manager was a very nice lady named Ariel.

I’m not sue how long it took to finish the course, I believe it was a good year. I found work as a quality control inspector at Renfrew Electric, a manufacturer of resistors and other electrical stuff. One of my co-workers there was a young man named Gallant Gainsiegge (I’m not at all sure of the spelling, but I think that is close). He had grown up in East Germany, escaped to West Germany and then came to Canada. At that time there were still a number of European companies manufacturing very small automobiles. One of them was DKW of West Germany. Officially, DKW stood for Das Kleine Wunder (the little wonder), but Gallant told me that people in Germany called it Deutsche Kinder Wagen (German kiddie car).

After finishing school, Peter, Lyle and I moved together into rooms in the bungalow of Mr. and Mrs. Nussbaum, an older Jewish couple on Lyndhurst Drive in Downsview. Don had found work in northern BC. Mr Nussbaum still had a pickup that he used to go around to various factories to collect scrap metal to sell. I went with him to help a couple of times. I also cut their grass with a reel mower. That’s what I was doing the day of the total solar eclipse on Saturday July 20, 1963. There were warnings not to watch the eclipse directly. It had rained recently and there was a 40 gallon drum in the back yard and the top was filled with water. At each pass with the lawn mower I would glanced at the sun’s reflection in that puddle to follow the progress of the eclipse.

Downsview was north of the 401. One day us three Saskatchewan boys stood on the Dufferin Avenue overpass and watched the bumper to bumper traffic beneath us, three lanes in each direction. We could hardly comprehend the enormity of such a thing. By now I can see the same kind of traffic in Saskatoon and in places the 401 has grown to 12 lanes in each direction (counting feeder lanes).

Mixed in with our discussions of how to fix the world were discussions about starting a business together. We got as far as getting permission to put up a sign in a local store for our appliance repair business. I successfully fixed a toaster and a mixer but soon we moved again and that was the end of our big business.

I guess my backbone still had not stiffened up enough as I found myself looking for another job. What I found was a job in the Admiral factory in Port Credit (now part of Mississauga). This was a long way from where we were living so the three of us moved again to the west end of Toronto. It took me an hour to get to work, first by street car and then two buses. I had been making $1.25 an hour at Renfrew, Admiral paid $1.60, a huge increase.

I was given a spot at the end of the radio assembly line. My job was to plug in the finished radio, turn it on and adjust it so the needle lined up correctly on the dial. If it didn’t work, then it was my job to find the loose connection and add a bit of solder to make it work. Then I would insert the radio in its plastic cabinet and it was ready to go.

The TV assembly line was not far from my work station. In the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963 I noticed that the TV workers were leaving their work stations to cluster around a TV at the end of the line. I wandered over and asked what was going on. Someone said that President Kennedy had been shot.

The work day was soon over and I made my way home. We spent the next two days watching events unfold on TV, seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV on Sunday afternoon.

I did an enormous amount of walking during those two years in Toronto, exploring the city. I believe I attended church three times. Twice in a massive old brick Anglican church on St. Clair Avenue, not far from the place I was staying on Lyndhurst Drive. There I at least got a warm welcome from the black usher, but that was all. When we moved to Downsview I made one more attempt, attending a newer Anglican church in that area. That left me completely cold.

My job at Admiral eventually came to an end and in 1964 I made my way home to Saskatchewan again, only home was now in Moose Jaw. I never used my electronic training again.

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