Wednesday, 22 September 2010

I WAS YOUNG AND STRONG ONCE

A VW VAN SIMILAR TO THE ONE I TOOK THE ENGINE FROM -- IT IS IN THAT LITTLE OPENING UNDER THE TRUNK.

THIS IS JUST LIKE THE BUG (BUT MUCH BETTER LOOKING) THAT I REMOVED ITS ENGINE AND REPLACED IT WITH ONE FROM A VW VAN.




BETH & FAMILY AT QUEEN ELIZABETH PARK - 1960
QUEEN ELIZABETH PARK 1961
ME IN 1968
WHEN YOU ARE YOUNG

I am, at the present time, seventy-five years old. I guess I should be thankful to have arrived at this relatively ripe age with most of my faculties intact. These days my Granddaughters often lift heavy objects, carry in the groceries, tell me to take it easy- “don’t hurt your back Grampa”- and generally show me such love it makes me feel rather embarrassed, but so thankful for my many blessings.

It does though make you remember when you were young, strong, and yes even moderately bright and intelligent.

When I was a young married man in my late twenties I never got tired, could go with limited sleep, was very strong (two chin-ups with one hand) and I felt I could accomplish anything I put my mind too.

It was November 1964, I was a twenty-nine year old Air traffic Controller, and married to Beth. Beth and I had been Teenage Sweethearts and got married on Sept29 1956 in Regina. I was passing through after graduating from the Air Traffic Control College in Winnipeg. We had four young children from seven to two years old. We had built a new home in Tsawwassen in 1960 and had a 1955 Volkswagen Beatle car that the kids loved, especially the bunny seat - the open area between the back seat and the window. Beth had her hands full looking after our little brood, and as all mothers know, it can be exhausting. She had been feeling poorly for a few years, but never complained. It wasn’t for another seven years before she was diagnosed with Celiac disease. During this time her weight had dropped from about one hundred and thirty- five pounds, to ninety-seven pounds.

We had been having engine trouble with the car lately - blue smoke – fouled plugs – stalling, etc. We also had a Volkswagen Van taking up space in the carport with the brake lines corroded out – one of my less than brilliant car deals.

I was the Regional Councilor for the BC region of The Canadian Air Traffic Control Association (CATCA), and was at this time deeply involved in The Judge Hutcheon Inquiry into the Vancouver Air Traffic Control Centre (ACC). This inquiry was the result of a strike I as the senior executive of our association had called a few months earlier. We were told by numerous ‘experts’, including the head office of CATCA that it was illegal for Federal Civil Servants to take strike action. I went down to the Vancouver library and to the BC Law Library but could find nothing that said it was illegal. And as I often said, we were not very civil, and we certainly were not servants! I believe this was the first Canadian civil service strike called in Canada. We though did not actually go out, due to the Canadian Government agreeing to our terms.

Subsequently the “Hutcheon Inquiry into conditions at the Vancouver Air Traffic Control Centre” was struck. At this time the Area Control Centre in Vancouver was undoubtedly one of the worst in the world. We, without the approval of the CATCA National executive, in fact before the dust had settled the Vancouver branch of CATCA had been officially disbarred from the Association. The Vancouver membership had called the strike, to draw public attention to the under staffing and more proposed cuts to manpower. The dismal state of our aged equipment, poor equipment maintenance, and squalid working conditions, would be more than enough reason to go on strike. However without a doubt our greatest problem was poor management. At this particular juncture of our management problems we the Controllers had basically taken over control of the Centre and were staffing most of the management positions as well as the control positions until the inquiry was complete.

I was the official Controllers Representative at the inquiry and of course this meant I definitely had to be at every meeting – and on time. I also tried to drop in at the Area Control Centre on my way to the inquiry to see how things were going. Driving an unreliable car was one more worry I really didn’t need.

At this time I was also the Owner/Operator of Van-Cal Building Maintenance Ltd. We had our office on Hastings Street just off Main in the downtown Vancouver East Side. and had about 25 employees. When I bought the business a year earlier, I had the very good fortune to have Jack Gilchrist stay with the business as office manager. Jack had just turned 82 but despite his age he could outwork most 20 year olds. Jack definitely was the brains and all-round everything (except being able to drive) for our Company. I would go into the office every day. Either after day shift at the ACC or before evening shift. Since we did the majority of our actual work in the evening I often would work with the crew into the early morning hours, and get home at two or three in the morning, and get up at five in time to get to the ACC by six.

At this time I played hockey for the Tsawwassen O’Keeffe’s hockey team in the Delta Senior Hockey League, and was a standby Referee for the League. I was also the Coach of the Tsawwassen Midget hockey team. I know it is hard to believe but I was also the Group Chairman of the newly formed Tsawwassen Boy Scouts – as I am writing this in my relatively decrepit state, even I am having trouble believing the words – so all in all I was a pretty busy person.

It was a Sunday, I had worked dayshift at the ACC from five-thirty am until two-thirty pm. I then went down to the Van Cal office and helped Jack get the crews out and sign a few checks.
“So Larry, how’s the big inquiry going?” Said Jack.
“Well, we start the second week tomorrow morning at ten, so far we have entered about forty exhibits and I reckon we should have about another forty to go.
“That seems like a lot of exhibits, what kind of things are you putting into the inquiry?”
“Oh, you know things like stupid memos, outage reports for the Radar, Radio failure reports, staffing reports, and on and on it goes. Speaking of that I must get going, have to prepare a few more papers.”
“You not going to stop by and see how the new guys are working out?”
“No not today Jack, have to get home, think I’ll clean the spark plugs again when I get home, it would hardly start when I left the Centre this afternoon.”

With that I got into my Beatle and ground the starter until the battery almost died, but it did start. I drove through the entire city, onto highway 99, and south to the Massey Tunnel, all the while with a light blue haze trailing behind, sort of like leaving crumbs. As I got to the Tunnel the traffic for some reason came to a complete standstill. I sat there in neutral watching in the rear view mirror the blue smoke gently rising over the hood of a very large car behind. The expression on the face of the fellow driving that car was not cheerful. The line started to move so I gave it some gas and an enormous blue cloud seemed to totally envelope the guy behind. Unfortunately we only went a few feet and stopped again. I had just come to a stop when my driver door was yanked open and a very angry, very large guy, screamed several obscenities relating to me, my car, my ancestors and a few other remarks I didn’t quite catch. Fortunately the traffic was starting again and the fellow behind my friend started honking, so he slammed my door, and with a few parting screams, got into his car.

The rest of the drive home was uneventful, but as I drove a wee plan started hatching in my little brain. When I got home I would take all the spark plugs out of the Beatle and exchange them for the new ones that were in the useless VW Van.

I got home about five PM, had a quick bite to eat and changed into my overalls. I guess here I should describe the layout of the house and Carport. We had a typical 1960 CMHC two level home – 1100 sq ft on each level – upstairs completed, ground level in the process of being done. We had a single car Carport on the south side (that could almost hold two cars end to end) with a large sundeck above.

I had parked the Beatle behind the Van which meant about two feet of the Beatle was sticking out from under the deck, the end I would be working on. As it was November, it was very dark with a very light misty rain falling, and a temperature of about eight degrees and dropping. I plugged in my trouble light got my toolbox and opened the rear engine compartment of the Beatle. As I pulled the wires off the four spark plugs I had this feeling that I was sort of beating a dead horse (or in this case stomping on a dead Beatle). Anyway I got the four fouled plugs out and went over to the Van dragging my light behind. I opened the engine compartment and stood for some time looking at this relatively shiny engine that I knew ran like a gem. I at times do have this habit of talking and indeed at times, arguing with myself.


You know little beauty, I bet you would fit into the Beatle. Next time I’m in the shop I’ll ask one of the mechanics if it could be done.


As I started to take the first plug out of the Van I had this overwhelming urge to go have a look at the Beatle to see how close of a fit the Van’s engine would be. So over the next ten minutes or so I dragged the light back and forth between the two vehicles until I made a decision.

Well I may be crazy but to me it looks like the two engines are identical. I know, I know it won’t be until I have the one engine out and the other part way installed until I will know for sure if it will fit. In any event I’m not sure if I can even get the engine out of the Beatle.

So now it took another half hour or so to find my two jacks – one a Two-Ton hydraulic bottle jack and the other an old fashioned large bumper jack. I also rummaged around and found several hard cover books that I thought I could use to adjust the heights of the jacks etc.

By now it was after 7PM and getting colder but the rain had completely stopped leaving a little fog just above the ground. I stood looking at the Beatle’s engine.


Well you little monster I have absolutely no Idea just how to get you out, but I think I have enough tools and energy, not so sure about time, but here goes.


With that I got started. Had to find the proper wrench to disconnect the gas line, and then had to find something to clean up the spilt gas. Next after reconnecting the line I had to find a plug to keep the gas from running all over, and start again. Then disconnect the throttle linkages and the wiring (being careful to label everything) running in and out of house finding paper, tape, pen and pencil, spare flashlight etc. It is amazing how many times one runs up or down, or in or out, or around the car, or around the car the other way – it’s amazing. How many times does one crawl on stomach stretching to reach a book or screw driver. The time wasted untangling the light cord every time I went from one vehicle to the other. It is amazing how often knuckles get skinned. Amazing the time wasted waiting for the eyes to adjust from bright light to pitch blackness just feet away.

Everything one does takes time.

By the time I had disconnected everything from the engine I was covered in black grimy grease, knuckles were bleeding, my back was sore from leaning over like a pretzel, and on top of that I was freezing.

I couldn’t believe it – it was almost 10PM and it looked like I had hardly begun. I’m sure all of you out there who have done any work at all on cars (I guess this only applies to the older crowd since there isn’t much a person can do with the newer vehicles) know nothing ever goes right, and everything takes longer than expected. Imagine it is late at night; you have basically destroyed your car. Add to this you are in a hurry, you don’t really know what you are doing, have no one to ask for help, but you realize there is only one thing to do – keep working.

Now I am not going to bore you with all the sordid details of this evening from hell, but more than once I sat down and decided to cry and give up. More than once I swore at that stupid Beatle. I swore at the Van. I swore at the stupid Inquiry. I swore at the books that kept falling down just as the engine was about level. I swore at my tools, or more accurately lack of tools. But as nighttime turned to early morning I cursed myself for being an idiot!

So by about 4; 30 am believe it or not, I had dragged the engine from the Beatle onto the grass. I had removed the engine from the Van. I had dragged it to the back of the Beatle. I had somehow got it up and into the engine compartment [after having it drop several times when the books toppled] and eventually had everything connected. I had even lined up the engine with the transmission properly – this was I found out a few days later was just plain dumb luck.

And it even started. And it moved back and forth a few feet.

I was quite tired!

I went in and had a long hot shower, and almost got clean.
I was asleep by 5; 30 and had a nice long sleep till about 7; 30.

Before this I was always grumbling to Beth about the spoilt brat syndrome these judges and lawyers had about working anything like a full day. They felt that beginning at ten AM, have a fifteen minute break and quit by twelve-thirty, at the latest, was a very hectic pace. After having a two hour lunch break they would put in another two hours or so and call it quits.

However this day I did appreciate these hours as I also had to stop into the Centre for a meeting with the - Controllers Advisory Committee - as to our strategy re some management papers we were given access to the previous Friday. I arrived (driving my purring Beatle) about eight-thirty, listened intently to the briefing, was away by nine-thirty and arrived at the meeting room in the Federal Building at ten AM sharp.

As I entered the room I was met by Eric Winsor who was the Assistant Deputy Minister of Transport (ADMA).He was the Federal Governments official representative at the hearing, I guess he was my official opposition. The word out of Ottawa was that his position was where all the decisions were actually made, in other words it was the ADMA with all the brains.

“Good morning Larry, you’re looking bright and cheery this morning.”

“Morning Eric, thanks you’re looking pretty busy-tailed yourself.

“So Larry, how many more exhibits do you figure to add to the stack we have now?

“Oh I’m not sure but I would guess about double what we have introduced so far.”

“Man oh man, I really can’t figure out where you get all the stuff, I mean all those old memos from years ago- how did you get hold of them?”

“It was really quite simple, I make photo copies of all Memos and Directives, have been doing it for several years. At first it was just for fun – many of them were really quite funny, at least to an active Controller. Then as things in the workplace went from bad to worse it dawned on me these ridiculous instructions may become useful some day so I kept them at home .As I have often stated: if we were to actually operate by following all the various written instructions we would never move any aircraft. It is so very obvious that management only put out these directives to cover their collective asses. Consequently the Controllers were continually violating scores of directives day in and day out, which of course added considerable stress to a job that already had more than enough. Oh, Oh, see you got me going, sorry about that – it will all become clear before we wind up – I hope.”

“I’m sure it will Larry. Here comes Hutcheon, guess we better grab our seats and get to work.”

As the day ground on it became very clear that Mr. Winsor was not the kind of manager we in Vancouver were accustomed to dealing with. He was very attentive, and asked intelligent questions of the witnesses. At about three o’clock a young woman entered the meeting room and asked to speak to me.

“Mr. Bennett we just received a call from the ATC Centre, they asked me to remind you of your meeting with the people from Carlton University, it’s at five PM over in the Federal building.”

“Oh right, thank you very much, I had totally forgot about that meeting.”

About six months ago we had received a note from Ottawa advising that the Federal Government would pay all expenses toward an accounting degree at Carlton University. Interviews would be held in Vancouver sometime in November. I had applied for an interview.

So as luck would have it, the meeting lasted a bit longer than usual, so it was about four-thirty when I was collecting my papers and about to run off down the street for my meeting with the Carlton University group when Eric tapped me on the shoulder.

“What say I take you out for dinner tonight, don’t know about you but I’m starved.”

“Well that is very kind of you Eric, I would love to join you, but I have a meeting in about 20 minutes to attend, and then I must get down to my company to make sure we have everything set for this evening.” I really could use a nice meal but just can’t fit it in, thanks anyway.”

“Ok Larry that’s fine I just thought you were looking a little peeked as the meeting progressed.”

Now that he mentioned it I was suddenly getting a little tired, and I still had at least another couple of hours before I started for home, which if I haven’t mentioned it, is just a little over thirty kilometers from downtown Vancouver.

Anyway after apologizing again I started off to walk the two blocks to the Federal Building for my interview. As I entered the street two things hit me simultaneously – I had forgotten my coat, and a brisk wind was slanting rain across the streetlights at about forty-five degrees. I guess one doesn’t have to have much of an imagination to realize by the time I arrived at the Federal Building I was soaked to the skin.
By the time I found the right room I was shivering and just a tad out of sorts.

“Mr. Bennett you have kept us waiting over two minutes, do you realize how busy we are?”

This friendly greeting emitted from the mouth of a skinny little guy with greasy black hair wearing a puke colored suit about three sizes too big for him. Sitting beside him was a young harried looking woman with red hair and very large glasses that seemed to highlight the disgust she had for the scruffy bit of humanity that had encroached upon her turf.
“Well I’m very glad to meet you as well.” I said as I held out my hand.

Mr. Puke suit seemed totally taken aback but reluctantly held out his hand.

One of my little eccentricities is that I have always had a very firm handshake. To say his handshake was like a dead fish would definitely be insulting the fish. As I let go of his hand he immediately pulled it back as if he had been stung by a large wasp, and while shaking his hand said.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, don’t you know who I am?”

“Well as a matter of fact, I don’t. I must have missed your name with your warm welcome.”

“Listen here Mr. Bennett, don’t try being smart. Do you really think you could stand the pressure and hard work required to attend Carlton University?” Interjected Ms. Big Glasses.

I looked intently into the eyes of these little self-centered folks, and was struck by an intense desire to scream loudly, or maybe reach up and grab a scrawny neck - or leave.
I guess I should mention here the master interviewers were sitting in two rather large, padded chairs, on a slightly elevated stage. I was in small wooden chair looking up at them. So I got up from my little chair, pushed it back gently, turned and walked out.

I guess becoming a graduate of Carlton was not in the cards.

The rain was still coming down and I was in even worse shape when I got into my car and started down Hasting Street toward the Van-Cal office. As it turned out one of our employees did not turn up for work that evening. I cleaned her two office buildings, and eventually got home about midnight. After a shower I fell into bed, trying not to think about starting everything all over again in five hours.

3 comments:

  1. Way cool story Dad.

    Love,

    Rick

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  2. Dont know if it is that day I remember as I wasn't very old, but I do certainly remember you being out there working on cars in the carport. Sure you must have dont it more then once! It is amazing what you can accomplish with the energy of youth. And yet when we have it we just take it for granted that we will allways be super men(women) Sandra

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  3. I will be thinking of this story every time I feel too busy, tired, overwhelmed ... to remember it could probably be worse :)

    Here's my new blog: paradisegentrified.wordpress.com

    love

    ava.

    ReplyDelete