Tuesday, 16 October 2012


JC wasn't immune to helping out someone who needed help. Even if the task was more of a lost cause, he couldn't stand idly by and watch someone get himself into the glue. He had to pitch in. So when Edgar came up with the idea to resurrect an old barn, JC was there.

Sort of.

The barn was located a couple of miles south of Warner at an old homestead that was settled by who would later become Edgar's in-laws. In fact when the old folks passed away, Edgar's wife inherited that piece of land from the estate. There was also a sizeable house on the property but we won't get into that at this time.

This old barn was larger than was usually found on the average farmstead. It had to be at least sixty feet long by forty feet wide. Built back in the teens it could accomodate eight draft horses, complete with tack and maybe even provide enough room to park a carriage down the center. To say that it was well-built would be a gross understatement--at least when it was in its prime. Like so many buildings of the period it was built to last.

Unfortunately everything has a time limit.

The years of unrelenting prairie winds, blistering hot summers and biting cold winters had taken their toll on that old barn causing it to develop a noticeable lean--about twenty-five degrees--toward the east. Miraculously the roof was still straight and maybe that was the reason Edgar was so determined to salvage the place.

'I can have a contracting crew come over and reinforce the barn, tighten up the walls and the roof, a coat of paint and it will be as good as new.' Edgar declared.

Well, JC applauded Edgar's enthusiasm. But Edgar still had to get a crew together to get the behemoth pushed up straight. Then they would have to get some sturdy braces in place amongst other things so they would be ready for the contractors (Walt, the local handyman to be exact) a couple of weeks down the road.

JC had a better idea though. He suggested that Edgar buy the local fire department a case of whiskey--the standard fee the department charged for demolition duties--and have them practice fire drills. Like, set the building on fire, put it out, then light it again. After the building was completely reduced to ashes all Edgar had to do was dig a large hole, push the remains of the embers in, cover it up and build anew.

Now I might add that JC and Edgar, despite their families being friends for three generations, had some episodes of less than congenial feelings. There was a time when Edgar bought a new-fangled TV set with a remote control. His old dial-a-channel set was still in excellent condition and he sold it to JC who wasted no time getting it home and set up. Then came that fateful day when the new-fangled TV set broke down and had to be sent away to the repair shop. Edgar, being the TV addict he was, ended up dragging the old fifteen inch black and white portable TV, the one with the fuzzy, snowy picture, out of the attic and set it up.

It might have been during the Olympics or some other special event when JC was over for a visit. He strained his eyes for over an hour in an attempt to identify the blurred images as either playing basketball or sweeping snow off their individual doorsteps. Whatever the case, JC finally announced that he was headed home to watch the program in color.

Needless to say, Edgar wasn't impressed; he was even less impressed with JC's brainstorm about hiring the fire department. He might have even acted a little annoyed. No, quite annoyed would be a more accurate guess. The very suggestion of demolishing that stately symbol to the prairie farm life was an atrocity. Hell, with a couple of tractors and loaders, and a load of poles for braces, that crew could have that barn standing plumb in less time than it would take to drive to the city and back.

Yeah, I had a car like that too...

JC had access to a tractor and loader; he also had a big mouth for volunteering to help. Edgar had a tractor and loader of his own so they agreed to meet at the homestead early on Saturday morning to get started.

The job commenced at eight. The crew, consisting of JC, Edgar, Edgar's son, Gord, and grandson, Kelly got right to work. Two tractors a few feet apart, loaders raised and buckets tipped down as far as they could go in order to expose their smooth backs to the walls, gently began to push. Edgar led from the northeast corner pushing the wall a few inches and JC followed. Braces in place, Edgar backed away and maneuvered around to take up a position a few feet south of JC. They kept up the pace until they reached the south end of the barn then started over again.

About five in the afternoon the barn was actually standing straight, just as Edgar said it would; although anyone who participated in such madness had more than a few thoughts as to how much time it actually took. But JC had to admit that it looked pretty good sitting there in the afternoon sun; it showed some potential, finally being returned to it's stance of forty or so years ago. All it needed was for Walt to perform his magic and brace it up properly.

JC still had an uncertain feeling about it though but didn't feel like raining on Edgar's parade so he kept his mouth shut.

At least three weeks had gone by and still no sign of Walt. Walt had phoned Edgar, promising that he would be there as soon as he finished remodeling a house in town. And please don't give up on him.

It was early summer and we all know that summer brings one thing besides lots of sunshine and biting insects: Thunderstorms. There was quite a series of them that summer and there were some lightning displays that were far superior to the fireworks of the Calgary Stampede. Not a spectacular amount of rain fell but it was definitely better than none at all, but that wind sure picked up.

Now that old barn had endured a lot of wind from the west and the north over the years and probably would've stood proudly against either one for many years to come if it was still leaning at it's former position. It could've withstood wind from the west and north with the braces in place but there was one thing that was never considered:

What if the wind blew in from the east?

Oh, don't be silly; that's a lot of nonesense. The wind never blows from the east in this region.

One fateful Saturday night a thundershower blew in. The lightning was spectacular and the thunder was so intense it almost drowned out JC's mother's quilting party. The rain came down in sheets, giving the parched land a large drink of rejuvination, making everyone happy.

And then the wind switched to the east...

It came in gusts, fifteen to twenty knots at first then it intensified to forty to fifty knots. It might have even reached sixty before the storm moved on. The wind was strong enough to push the east wall of the barn away from its braces which readily fell down. It was even strong enough to push the building past center. After that it wasn't much effort at all; a mouse crossing the floor of the hayloft could've been enough to change things forever.

The barn tipped completely over toward the west and with a tremendous crash, collapsed to the ground in a cloud of ancient hay dust.

JC, was that just one case of whiskey for the fire department?

JC can't recall if the firemen were called in to finish the job or not but the barn eventually disappeared leaving no trace that such a building ever existed. And it even bothered JC a little to see it gone. Maybe Edgar was right. After all it was a piece of history that deserved a chance to be strong again.

Monday, 8 October 2012


To say that times haven't changed a bit is somewhat short of reality. Afterall technology has advanced and new products and methods have cast a lot of good, fun things into the trash bin only to be remembered by those who were actually there. Halloween over the years, while still celebrated on October 31, doesn't have quite the pranks pulled that used to be commonplace. But that doesn't mean that pranks pulled nowadays are no longer noteworthy; it just means that some of them have advanced with the times.

Back in the days when our parents were teenagers, the neighbor's family outhouse was always a target for Halloween. The most common prank with that was to pick the outhouse up and set it on the ground just behind the hole. The pranksters would conceal themselves and wait for some unsuspecting person to scurry down the path and--. Well, before the victim could say it, he or she would be up to his/her knees in it. But then there was always the owner who would become wise to those unpleasant tricks and, armed with a shotgun full of rock salt, take up vigil inside the outhouse itself. Trouble with that was the pranksters would simply tip the outhouse over on its door leaving the owner to crawl out through one of the 'seats' and attempt to step over the pit in the process.

My mother laughingly recalled her neighbor, the victim, poking his head through one of the holes of his overturned privy. 'I can see you--I can see you! I'm gonna shoot!

Then there's the story where half a dozen ambitious types would work half the night to dismantle a wagon and reassemble it on top of the roof of the barn. There was a cartoon to that effect in a magazine a few years ago where a man stepped outside his house the morning after Halloween, looked around and declared: 'Halloween sure isn't what it used to be.' He hasn't seen it yet, but his car is perched on top of his roof.

Today's pranks can still rival those of yesterday. Some are downright ingenious in their planning and implementing and they can still bring about some good laughs despite all the effort in their execution. The following is one of those that, while the planning and execution was super quick, the result was one of the best.

Skinny, as his family and the community knew him, lived about eight miles east of town. Having his farmstead located only a stone's throw from the main road made his place a prime target every Halloween. But save for turning chickens loose in his car one time, the majority of the pranks were harmless and not much planning went into them. Skinny was also a good sport and not so old that he didn't remember some of the tricks he once pulled. But on the same token, he was justifiably concerned about what could happen as he had heard tales of some out and out vandalism that some some demented souls had rationalized to be tricks that had been inflicted elsewhere in the region.

Just don't let it get out of hand. Good advice, he thought as the day progressed.

He was taking advantage of the unseasonably mild weather to get some chores done. One of these was to finish hauling bales of straw in from the field and stack them in the yard. Back then the bales were the tradional size (less than 100 pounds) compared to the monster sized ones that are often seen today and could be handled easily by hand. Of course they were also easy for pranksters to carry around and be used to construct barricades and other obstacles to deal with the next morning. That could add up to a lot of extra work so that was the primary reason Skinny went to such effort to get the bales off the field and stacked at home so he could keep a better eye on them. The stack was completed by nightfall and after the rest of the chores were done and supper over with, Skinny and his wife settled in and braced themselves for the annual onslaught of Hallowe's Eve.

Strangely enough it turned out to be a very uneventful night. Nothing was stirring. Skinny's kids had gone into town to see what mischief they could get into there and some friends also stopped in for a visit but left an hour or so later to keep up vigil at their own place. Around midnight the kids came home and went to bed, afterwhich Skinny's wife followed suit.

Still nothing. Skinny went outside a couple of times and took a stroll around the farmyard. He was rather surprised not to find a thing out of place. He even felt a twinge of disappointment that his place was not the target of choice for the region's nocturnal activities. Convinced that his farmstead was no longer at the top of the list, he too went inside and turned in for the night.

The following morning Skinny got up and went down to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. His wife was on the phone with one of the neighbors and from the snippets of conversation he overheard, he determined that the neighbors were the victims this year. From the sound of things, every piece of equipment the neighbor owned was now parked across his driveway. Of course the neighborly thing to do was to drive over and help put everything back into its proper place. Without a further word, Skinny reached for his jacket and headed outside to his pickup--truck...

What the hell..? His pickup was gone! Those little bastards had struck after all. And managed to do it right under his nose. He rushed back inside where his wife was concluding her phone conversation.

'My pickup's gone!'

'Your pickup's gone? What happened to it?'

'How the hell should I know? Those damned kids stole my pickup!'

'I'm sure they didn't steal it,' his wife tried to reassure him, 'they probably towed it across the yard and hid it in the wind break like they did with the tractor two years ago...'

Skinny hoped she was right. He bounded out the door and searched his place from one end to the other only to find his efforts in vain. His next to new pickup was gone--missing, stolen. Highly agitated by now he stormed back inside. 'It's gone! he said again as he reached for the phone.

'And you think it's been stolen,' his wife said then asked: 'Where did you leave it?'

'Well, I unloaded the bales off the wagon then parked the wagon over beside the baler where I always keep it--it's still there, I checked. I took the tractor over to the shop and parked it inside and I took the truck over to the seed cleaning plant to make sure everything was locked up and I drove back and left the truck right beside the straw--.'

He went back outside and looked at where he'd last seen his truck. It was right beside the stack--wait a minute. That stack doesn't look the same, he thought. I could've sworn that I'd made that stack a lot further from the driveway...

He sprinted for the straw stack and began tossing bales aside. As he began to pull down one end of the stack, the bales suddenly tumbled down in a heap revealing a cavity with the two headlights of his prized pickup truck peering out into the morning light. The perps must have worked through the night to do what they did; they moved half the stack over top of the truck. And they were careful not to damage it in any way. They had carefully arranged the bales in such a way as to make sturdy walls for the enclosure then placed timbers and heavy planks across the top upon which they arranged a layer of bales up to approximately the same height the stack originally was. From the house one would never suspect. And Skinny sure didn't.

And they say that Halloween isn't what it used to be. Well, maybe not quite.