Many familiar family names in Dryden start with a young man being hired on a local farm, usually on their way from somewhere in Canada to somewhere else in Canada. Before WW2 this would be by stealing a ride on a freight train, after WW2 hitchhiking or piloting some kind of jalopy on the TransCanada highway. Local farmers could usually find something to allow a young fellow to earn a bit of cash and carry on his journey. Nowadays we are so over-regulated we cannot hire casual labour like that, much too risky, so we just hustle such travellers on down the road, perhaps part of why cities grow and smaller places shrink.
I was just a boy when a mismatched pair of fellows showed up at our farm, they had hoped to make it to Dryden but ran out of gas just at our driveway, and they had no money. My dad gave them a contract to cut and pile a small stand of balsam that was in the way, pay being food and a place to stay while they did the work, and some cash. That little grubstake got them to Dryden, and they became long-time residents. If my memory is correct, their names were Stan Jonassen and Nick Toft.
Our neighbour, F.T. Brignall and Sons, whose large and prosperous farm operation has been the subject of some previous columns, often had young men employed for greater or lesser lengths of time. One such was a very young fellow with a pronounced French accent, and I remember my parents being very impressed with him as a very energetic, very capable individual. In fact as I recall it a story emerged in the neighbourhood that he was French from France, and an educated gentleman. He stayed longer than most, and became a permanent resident of the district. His name is Marcel Boivin.
I recently had a chance to quiz Marcel, now an active and alert octogenarian, and he said that this story is not very accurate. He did work briefly for F. T. Brignall, but he was born in Quebec and grew up in Alberta, not France. (My grandmother grew up in a French-speaking community in Alberta – perhaps we are cousins, how many French communities could there have been?) Marcel stated that far from being an educated European, he has never been to school, he was much too busy helping his large family make a living, and never did learn to read and write very well. He said he always had a mechanical aptitude, and was working on equipment even doing quite sophisticated repairs as early as 10 years old, so perhaps it was his mechanical skills that impressed the neighbours. I like the Educated Frenchman story better, but we have to stick with the facts.
My recollection was that Marcel gained a reputation over his years in Dryden as an innovator and inventor, as well as a very resourceful mechanic and welder. However, when I quizzed him he would only own up to two inventions, one being the Boivin Buggy, which will be the subject of the next column.
His other invention was a system of hoses and quick disconnects which would allow one to quickly and easily connect a warm vehicle to a cold one, so antifreeze would circulate from one to the other thereby warming the cold engine. He said he wanted to patent the idea, but had no money. He did find an investor who seemed interested at first, then declined, arguing that ‘who in the world would need such a thing?’
As it was common practice at the time to leave large diesel-powered equipment in the bush idling all winter, because of the difficulty of starting a cold diesel every morning, this invention was welcomed – opportunity lost for Marcel and the investor! However, diesels factory-equipped to start in the cold became more common, and there was risk of damage to the warm engine if cold antifreeze was circulated too fast. As a result the invention faded from common use, and the opportunity was destined to be short-lived after all.
We exchanged stories about various misadventures in our lives; I related my retiring from active farm life after my head was almost taken off by a Jackall jack – that indispensable but savagely dangerous mechanical tool. Marcel said he has been lucky, the closest he ever came to an untimely end was when a moose appeared in front of his truck on a country road, got clipped by the corner of the front bumper; went over the hood, broke out the windshield and the side window on his way over the cab, and landed in the bed of the pickup, from where he kicked out the back window. Marcel, dazed by all the flying glass and hoofs thinks he drove a half-mile with the moose kicking and squirming in the pickup bed before he came to his senses and stopped. The moose promptly slid himself out, and trotted off into the bush, apparently unharmed. When Marcel completed an inventory of all his body parts, by golly, so was he, but his pickup was a mess. More next week.