It's a new month and we are in Edmonton with Paul working long hours at a turnaround in a fertilizer plant about forty-five minutes drive from our daughter, Rebekah's, home. Her husband and Paul were car-pooling but Nick's work came to an end. He has moved to working across the river at a turnaround at another petro-chemical plant. Juanita was going back and forth to Meadow Lake but that ended with the carpooling. Can't have the car going away from Edmonton.
Our other daughter, Deborah, is in nursing training in Edmonton and will be going back and forth to Meadow Lake a bit. Juanita will be travelling with her.
I have managed to craft a few Buddy Tales in gaps between busyness. These will appear below as well as on the Buddy Tales page.
I worked until the work ran out at the fertilizer plant. We finished replacing all the monitoring equipment we had pulled off the turbines, pumps and compressors at the beginning of the turnaround. I was laid off a little past the middle of September.
Our daughters had conspired and bought us tickets for two events at Jubilations! dinner in Theatre in West Edmonton Mall. Then reaction to Covid put life as we knew it on time-out. Some businesses which hadn’t withered and died completely have come back here and there. Jubilations! Dinner Theatre is one of them. Last month we used one of the events. This month we celebrated our anniversary with the second. The play had changed to “Rockin’ The Jukebox”. The plot never thickened but the singing of some classic oldies was pretty good. The prime rib was excellent. They found us low carb desserts. What more could you want?
One day I took a few hours off and left early to join the group for laser tag and Ansel’s sixth birthday party. That was fun. It was a present from our daughters.
Sunday lunch at Branches Fresh Food Experience attached to a garden centre near Clover Bar was another enjoyable gift from our daughter, Rebekah.
The turnaround ended for me. We returned to Meadow Lake and did some chores such as the annual chimney cleaning. It had hardly any build-up despite us being here through last winter. I write the date cleaned on the inside of the access door. Off by one day from last year’s cleaning.
After most work terms I treat myself to something I normally wouldn’t buy and then use the rest of the windfall money on more serious stuff. That treat has varied from a set of scaffold frames to a drone. This year it was the treated lumber for a deck on the garden shed outside our bedroom window. I had extremely overbuilt the roof of the shed, sloping it and covering it with EPDM membrane in anticipation of someday adding a deck. Someday is now.
We laid treated sleepers 16” O.C. on extruded Styrofoam strips going up the roof. I screwed sleepers onto two 2x12’s at an angle to match the roof pitch so the 2x12’s sat level. The 2x12’s formed the side of the deck and were connected by a 2x12 across the end on the outboard end. We screwed 2x6 deck boards onto the sleepers. Add a railing and voila, a deck. The railing didn’t happen until October.
Books of This Month
Point form for now
Continued pecking away at Do Not Disturb by Michela Wrong- a disturbing tale of Rwanda politics, murder and genocide.
Noise, A Flaw in Human Judgement by Daniel Kahneman and a few other - Decisions, forecasts and diagnoses can miss the target by bias or by noise. The book discusses how noise is introduced into the process and how it can be reduced. Always knew not to innately trust doctors or personnel evaluations. Now I have some idea why and a few ideas on how to make them better.
Noise by Daniel Kahneman (This was a library book, read ½ hour at a time before leaving for work. Interesting to me. Probably required reading for anybody involved in decisions for a living. We all know what bias is. People lean one way or another and that skews their opinions and decisions reliably in a certain direction. Noise is the randomness of decision making both in groups and in individuals. Insurance adjusters and judges will be all over the map deciding about exactly the same case months apart. That can be costly and unjust. There book suggests diagnostic tools and organizational solutions to reduce noise.)
Black Jack (The Hunt For Reacher Series) by Diane Capri
Extra Dirty (A Ruby Steele Mystery – Book 2) by Mia Gold
Strange and Obscure Stories of World War II by Don Aines (Okay. Learned a bit. Forgot all it by December)
Nightmare in Pink by John D. MacDonald (Classic Travis McGee)
The Super Colossal Reacher Universe Bundle Volume 1 by Jude Hardin
This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone (A quirky little book, just my opinion - ymmv)
Buddy’s house in our small northern Saskatchewan town was broken into. He reported the break-in to the local police and his insurer, listing what was taken. Six months later he realized more was taken than originally thought.
He finished the roll of film in a disposable camera that had been around for about a year. When the photos came back they included photos the burglars had taken of each other. He gave the photos to the police and they took it from there.
Buddy’s father-in-law was missing and presumed drowned. His overturned boat had been found on the Fraser River. Eventually he was declared dead. The life insurance companies paid out death benefits but his union hall refused. They knew he had staged his death and was working in his trade in Australia.
Eventually he came back to Canada. What happened then? Your guess is as good as mine.
Buddy converted a highway bus to an RV. I did some wiring on the bus for him. In return he gave us a ride to Tucson for Christmas on his way to Mazatlan. When he picked us up on the way back he had a few new stories.
He checked out other bus conversions while in Mazatlan. He noticed one with no furnace and commented on it.
Owner: "Nope. If it gets cold enough to need a furnace I head further south". "Works in the summer, too. I don’t have A/C"
Buddy was in the navy. One day he gets assigned to help in the petty officers’ mess where another sailor showed him how to make coffee for the petty officers.
You fill the urn to here with water.
You put this much coffee in the basket.
And here’s the most important step…
The sailor worked up a quantity of phlegm from deep in his throat and hucked an oyster into the coffee before putting the lid on the pot and turning it in.
A popular event in Mexico and for those recently from there is a quincinera, a birthday party for a fifteen-year-old girl. I’ve been to one or two.
One Sunday evening Buddy took me across the border to the quincinera for a church that had been founded in Matamoros fifteen years before. Balloons, streamers, the band wearing pink ruffled front dress shirts.
Buddy preached a sermon abut Ruth.
I bounced a toddler on my knee and thought about the mix of ages there. There were people who would have been not much older than the toddler and now had babies.
There is the eternal hope of salvation, but there is also the alternative that a church community can offer to a culture that can be so violent and alcohol dependant.
As summer students in a paper mill on the west coast, Buddy and I had long evenings to occupy ourselves. Often that occupation involved travelling dirt backroads. One evening we ventured onto a dirt road of unknown destination and found ourselves at a row of beach cabins. Sitting on the porch of one of the cabins was a lodge brother of my father. He bid us join him.
He was a mechanical superintendent approaching retirement age, but regaled us with stories of the paper mill from the dirty thirties when he was not much older than we were that summer.
He said the most unnerving thing he had experienced was being a casual labourer back then. Each morning a few hundred men would assemble at the mill gate. A superintendent would appear and say, “You, you and you. The rest of you go home. Come back tomorrow.”
The mill used dry, tumbler style debarkers which did a less than perfect job at removing all the bark. The logs were then cut into 24 inch lengths and sorted. Clean pieces went straight to their end use. Ones with bark were diverted for touch-up on open faced spinning discs with sharp knives built into their faces. The workers held the piece of wood with picaroons and pushed against the rotating disc to cut away the bark. Under pressure for production the workers would often just use their hands instead of the picaroons. This was much faster, but could cost a few fingers if one slipped.
I asked is this what happened to Art (another lodge brother that just had a thumb on one hand). Oh no. He lost his fingers in a laminator. Before they had plastic to make vaporwrap for the paper rolls they made a vapor proof wrapper themselves. They laminated wrapper and newsprint together with tar between them. The tar would build up on the rolls and they had to be cleaned with a rag and stove oil. If a person wasn’t careful their fingers would get sucked into the nip and pulled in until the knuckles stopped them. By the time somebody got the laminating machine stopped the fingers would be gone.
It was hard times. There were medical doctors hand-bombing grinder blocks into pulp grinders. The open flumes created a fog that everybody worked in. When they started bleaching pulp they did it by adding chemicals to the flumes so the fog became a choking fog that you worked in all shift. Even though everything was dripping wet with the fog, smoking was not permitted. Some boss would appear out of the fog and catch somebody smoking and fire him on the spot.
A probably apocryphal story another old-timer told was of a grinder room worker forgetting his lunch. He sneaks up the hill to his company house on the edge of the mill perimeter and gets successfully back with his lunch. He tells his buddy, “I got home and the supervisor was in bed with my wife. It’s okay. He didn’t see me.”
The good old days. Not sorry I missed them.
We hiked the Somoto Canyon in Nicaragua. It’s a mixture of trails, shallow water hiking and floating down the river for a few hours. At one point there is what looks to be a thirty-foot jump that one can make into a deep pool. The guide offers advice of how to hold your legs and not to yell and maybe some other hints that I can’t remember. Not that I would need that advice. Just not the sort of thing I would willingly do.
Some of the others in the group took their turns. Buddy didn’t. This was his second time hiking the canyon. He was returning with his girlfriend who hadn’t done it before. He said on the previous trip he had made the plunge. He also said that two girls on that hike had jumped. One had kicked her legs and yelled, counter to guidance. She landed hard, felt immediate pain but was able to hike the rest of the way out of the canyon.
A few weeks later elsewhere in Nicaragua Buddy ran into her companion. “Where’s your friend?” “Oh. She ended up in hospital, hemorrhaging from the jump. Her parents came down from the States and had her med-evacced home.”
Buddy ran the northeast service center for a multinational electrical company. One day a motor came into their machine shop. It was double ended with a shaft that came out both ends of the housing. The work order was to remove the shaft from one end of the motor so it could be used in a single ended application.
Day shift machined off the one shaft.
Night shift came on and machined off the other end.
I suspect the motor owner got a deep discount on a replacement motor. Another buddy went to the city with his near new car and came back with a brand new car. “What happened?” “They had my car up on the hoist for an oil change and lowered the hoist with the car door open. It hung up on an oil barrel. They practically gave me this new car.”
As a pulp tester on shift I got to watch things happen without being directly involved. One day they were having a lot of trouble with getting pulp wood into the groundwood pulp mill. The wood was sixty inch long round wood that had travelled the length of the paper mill property floating in a water filled flume. At the end of the journey the wood floated onto an inclined set of spiked rollers. The spike rolls were driven by hydraulic motors.
When things were working as they should the logs travelled up the spike rolls shedding their water on the way, landed on a short conveyor belt and went down a chute to be fed into pulp wood grinders. That day wasn’t one of those days when things were working as they should.
Panic Buddy was shift supervisor. He had the millwrights sort of working on the sort of working spike roll drives. Meanwhile he had pulp mill workers use pike poles to drag logs up the incline. The spikes are designed to dig into the wet, slippery logs and move them up the incline. When stopped they offered a fair bit of resistance to having logs dragged over them.
There were 13 Watrous Great Northern grinders in that pulp mill. Hand-bombing wood up the spike rolls didn’t satisfy their appetite. Soon they were only four grinders making pulp, then three, then two, then back up to three and so all day.
Production wasn’t the only casualty. Quality suffered as well.
Shift change happened. Panic Buddy handed over the reins to the evening shift production supervisor. He said, “Get out of the way of the millwrights. Shut down the spike rolls and let them do their job.”
The millwrights did.
Operating grinders quickly went to zero.
In an hour or two the millwrights were done. The spike rolls were running. One grinder operating. Then two. Then three. All the way up to the max available to operate.
Everybody settled into a calm shift of making lots of good quality pulp.
Panic had left the building.
As You Like It
Buddy opened his lunch kit and removed his sandwiches. He grumbled about the way they had been cut by his wife. In the helpful manner of co-workers the world over, we all pitched in and said, “Buddy, don’t put up that. Go home and straighten her out.”
I guess he foolishly followed our “advice”.
The very next day he opened his lunch kit, took out his sandwiches, took out a knife. He cut them just the way he liked them to be cut.
I moved on to another work area, but happened to be there at break time about ten years later. He still had his knife. I conjecture that he never had a sandwich cut not to his liking ever again after he “went home and sorted her out.”
Pie Are Round
Having dinner together we ordered pie for dessert.
Buddy mentioned that he was an only child. When his mother baked pie she baked two. One for him and one for his father. He had no idea that was not the norm. As a teenager he started dating the girl who became his wife. One evening she asked him if he would like some pie.
She appears with a wedge of pie.
“What’s this?” He inquires.
It was the first cut pie he had seen.
Despite the pies he was skinny all his life. Plus he had the annoying habit of staying clean in all circumstances. One time we went to the basement of the paper machine under the calendar stack for him to show me a job. Everything was coated with a mixture of hydraulic oil and paper dust, a combination that acts sticky soot. We climbed a ladder to a catwalk and looked at the task. We came back down. My coveralls looked like I had crawled through a chimney. His light coloured Dockers and white polo shirt were unblemished.
Buddy had lived in or around Roswell, New Mexico most of his life. He decided he had had enough of sage brush and headed to BC to check out the coast. Half way through Oregon on the way there by bus he was starting to get nervous. He’d still seen nothing but sage brush.
Things improved, though, and he got to the coast, and he liked what he saw. He ended up in my home town and looked at a lot of waterfront properties with many of the local realtors. He found nothing that quite suited his needs. He left his phone number with the realtors and returned to New Mexico.
One day he got a call from a realtor with less than sterling reputation. Buddy said he discounted everything he was told by fifty percent and decided that the property would do and bought it over the phone. He said when he finally saw the property it was half as good as described and he was well pleased.
Some years later I happened to be in a coffee shop with the same realtor. He was showing me what I knew to be a $3 watch bought from some itinerant pedlar for $20. He declared that he was a little suspicious, but was reassured when the pedlar presented a business license from the town. “I knew he was okay then”.
With what was, for me, enormous self restraint, I did not raise the obvious point that the realtor, too, had a local business license.
A Neg McMuffin
My wife dropped me at the exhibition grounds in Vancouver and drove off to circle the long blocks. I walked onto the property and went to the conference we were not attending and bought a box of books from their book display.
Returning to the street I stood in the light drizzle holding my box and waited for her return. As I waited a grizzled old guy in a slicker pushed his laden bicycle up the street. Half the handle bar was missing but he had hose clamped a stick of wood onto the existing half to serve as the missing half. I thought it would suck to be him and was glad I wasn’t in his circumstances. However, the longer I stood in the rain waiting the less glad I was about anything.
Eventually my wife and car arrived and my wife moved into the passenger seat. I put the box in the trunk and got into the driver’s seat.
“Where have you been?”
“Oh. I saw this sad old guy pushing a bike and I went to McDonald’s and bought him a coffee and an egg McMuffin.”
We drove around for a long time looking, with no luck until we spotted him coming out of a Burger King. I pulled to the curb and said, “Go do your thing.” “Oh no. Couldn’t you do it?”
This went back and forth for a while with the predictable outcome. I got out of the car with the paper sack and walked across the sidewalk to the old man.
“Hello sir. My wife and I would like you to have this egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee.”
“I can buy my own coffee. I don’t need you to buy me coffee. You can stick your egg McMuffin up your …”
“Thank you sir. Have a nice day.”
Back in the car. “That went well”
I guess Buddy was more of a Burger King than a McDonald’s kind of guy.
Buddy built a two-story retirement home for himself and his wife of many years. One day he was up on the steep roof and started sliding and couldn’t stop. He got tangled in the top of the extension ladder he had used to access the roof. He and the ladder thus entwined fell to the ground.
As he lay on the ground in a world of hurt but with nothing broken, his wife came out of the house and declared, “See! I told you you were too old to be on the roof.”
Based on that and other simmering grievances he decided he was not too old to divorce her. For the last ten years he has been married to a more pleasant, much younger wife in Mexico.
Buddy borrowed a still. He made four gallons of grappa (Italian moonshine) in his basement. Then he heard rumours of the RCMP raiding houses in search of homemade hooch. This made him a bit nervous.
Early one morning he packed the four glass jugs into a cardboard box and drove to the local lake with intent to hide the contraband in his boat house. The ramp down to the dock was a bit frosty. Buddy slipped a little. Just enough that the jugs banged together and shattered. He stood there a minute holding his soggy cardboard box of broken glass then went back up the ramp and drove home. No more fear of a police raid.
Buddy was a good mechanic but not much of a businessman. He started a service station, but quickly ran into trouble. Friends would come in, get their cars repaired and go to pay. He would say, “you can pay me later.”
That seldom happened.
The money set aside to ransom the car got spent and the customer didn’t set aside any for “later’. Eventually Buddy’s businessman father-in-law stepped in to take care of the business side of things and Buddy concentrated on fixing cars.
That worked better.
Against his boss’s advice Buddy put his motorcycle and a bunch of his other stuff into a rented storage locker for $100 a month.
Then off he went to Southeast Asia to do a power plant start-up.
He dropped his jacket into a garbage can at a stopover in Osaka and didn’t own a jacket until he returned to Canada two years later.
All his treasures had lost their lustre over twenty-four months. Everything except he motorcycle went into the dumpster. The bike sold for $2,400. A wash!
A paper company sent several supervisors to learn a systematic decision-making and troubleshooting process.
The decision process began with choosing “musts” and “wants”.
The musts are go, no-go. Absence of a must is a show stopper. Stop right there. Not an option.
The wants are rank ordered and scored.
If you do things right the high score choice is the “best” decision.
I have found the process helpful for purchasing and hiring decisions. Many of the supervisors returning from the course used the process to second guess past choices.
They divorced their wives.
Two buddies were renting a basement room in a friend’s house while they worked on construction of a local paper mill. They left a magazine about UFO’s laying around. It had grainy photos of unidentified flying objects and encouraged people to report any sightings even providing forms and phone numbers. As an amateur photographer, I viewed the photos as ludicrously fake. I was sure I could do better.
One afternoon I stood on the lawn and snapped away while my friend lobbed pot lids, dog dishes, plates and a garbage can lid from the sun deck and her father retrieved them. With a full roll of shots I retreated to my darkroom.
I returned after supper with a blotter roll of damp 8x10’s. The best of our blurry handiwork. The roomers were home. We announced we had seen a flying saucer and even got pictures. Look!
They were excited. You have to report this. Use the form. Call the number. Oh no, we don’t want to get involved. It was all a prank. You’re just saying that. We’ll report it. We’ll say we saw it. It took a long time to convince them we really had just faked the pictures. Nothing like an eye witness, I always say. Nothing at all. Unless it’s two.
Frugal To A Fault
I had a boss that worked for Vancouver Sun in rural distribution in BC when he was about 20. A former co-worker of his said that my now boss would hitch hike and put in an expense report for Greyhound.
He’d order a cup of hot water in a cafe and make soup with their ketchup and put in expenses for a meal. He was bragging one year he had put $3k into savings. His boss said, “how did you do that? We only paid you $2k.”
Do you suppose that our politicians got rich by pinching pennies?
Buddy was born during the Second World War in Germany. He was a baby when his father was taken prisoner. He was a school boy when his father returned from being a POW in a Russian camp. He was so happy his father was home.
At their first meal together as a reunited family his mother served cabbage. He whined, “I don’t like cabbage!” A quick slap to the head stopped the whining and made him reconsider his enthusiasm for his Dad’s return.
Keep Your Friends Close
Buddy is a techie. Has been all his life. When he was in the army in Vietnam he did classified, techie stuff. He still recalls with a hint of bitterness the day he realized that those nice marines were not there to protect him and his techie buddies.
They were there to make sure their knowledge didn’t fall into enemy hands. By any means necessary.
A number of years ago I took a quick certification course for scuba diving on a Caribbean island. When the classroom session was over the participants loaded into an open bus and headed across the tropical island to actually dive. There was one boisterous fellow from St. Louis. He announced his future plans to all who wanted to hear and many who didn’t. With his new found knowledge and skills he was going to purchase some diving gear and go on weekends to a lake where people dove about two hours from his home.
We got to the beach, donned our gear and walked into the water until it was above our heads and even more. Boisterous Buddy must have had some sort of inner ear issue. He started uncontrollably spinning.
The instructor grabbed hold of him and led him back to the beach and said “Sit here and wait for us.”
The rest of us had an enjoyable dive.
Buddy was quiet on the drive back across the island.
Buddy had a black eye. I asked him what happened.
Well, you know I’m Swedish. I was drinking with my neighbour who is also Swedish. We both had too much to drink. I got up to leave his house. On my way out the door I stumbled on the threshold. I said, “Big, dumb Swede!” Referring to myself. He thought I meant him.
Dodging The Draft
Buddy worked as an instrument engineer in a paper mill in Japan in the fifties and sixties. One day some research group set up a paper caliper (thickness) measuring instrument. It was a C-Framed device with a readout. For the demo the researchers had set up a belt of paper that fed through in a continuous loop to simulate the web on a paper machine.
He contemplated this device and considered the changing environmental conditions in a paper machine room. He walked over and blew on the C-frame. The reading went nuts. He walked away. So did everybody else. Not much value to an instrument that can’t handle a draft of air.
Earlier in life he had lived through WWII in Japan. He told of him and his brother running to avoid being strafed by a fighter plane. They would collect dud incendiary bombs and cut them open for the fuel for their mother to cook with.