Monday, 3 August 2015



I've been truly blessed with good friends. A great many of them have been close buddies and confidants for my entire life while some have only been in my life for a short time. Nonetheless, my friends have been precious and it's always a personal struggle when the time comes to say good-bye to even just one. 

While I have known Ron all my life, we never got well acquainted until the seventies, while he was a customer at my place of employment. He was overhauling the engine in his small John Deere tractor and stopped at the shop to drop off the cylinder head for some machine work. He asked a couple of questions which sparked a conversation that practically never ended until his recent passing.

It turned out that he was every bit as passionate about old cars, trucks, tractors, airplanes, trains and ships as I was. He knew the histories of most of the vehicles around the Milk River area, going back to the mid-thirties.  I remember one time when the topic of discussion was 1942 Ford trucks. He told me who in the neighborhood managed to snag a new ’42 model before the war years curtailed civilian production.

‘My dad, and Ralph Beard, each got a Half-Ton, but there were three One-Tonners,’ Ron recalled, ‘GL Stringam, Art Loft, and—I think—John Reese, had those. Walter Ford bought a new Three-Ton—‘ Ron paused for a moment, ‘—I seem to remember that he had to get a permit to buy that truck because it was after the end of February.’

The conversation lasted longer than it should have, bearing in mind that I was still at work and should've been working, but I always made room for conversation with customers, and while it might have affected my personal bottom line come month end, I never regretted it.

Saturday evening, following that initial meeting I decided to deliver the finished cylinder head right to the farm. Now I’d just finished socializing with a bunch of friends and acquaintances in the Warner bar before I headed out but I wasn’t too worried because I thought that we’d just have a little conversation out in the shop and that would be it. I found the shop mostly dark so I just left the head on the bench and made my way over to the house, just to let Ron know that I’d dropped the head off and would be on my way. I was invited right into the house despite some protests from me claiming that I’d spent too many hours in the saloon and wasn’t in any shape for conversation in the house with family around. Ron wouldn’t take no for an answer and I was ushered into the house where we talked until quite late that night.

He talked about Ol’Smokey, a ’35 Ford pickup that his dad had for running around the farm, from wartime to the early fifties. It got its name because, quite naturally, it burned oil like it was going out of style. Ron sort of claimed that truck for his own and entertained plans to fix it right up and drive it. However, while he was on a job operating a bulldozer out east of town, his dad and brother took out the torch and cut the old pickup in two, making a trailer out of the bed and rear axle.

Ron was devastated. I don’t think he ever quite forgave his dad for doing that dastardly deed.

Ron always had an affinity for Cadillacs. His dad bought a ’58 model which is still in the family today. Ron bought a Cadillac for the family car back in 1975, and that’s still in the family as well. Sometime between the late seventies and early eighties Ron happened upon a ’41 Cadillac Model 75 limo down in the Midwest. He brought it home and immediately began a lengthy restoration on it.

I was called in to help out from time to time. Of course things like fixing the brakes and suspension often got interrupted by many stories and numerous pauses for refreshments. It seems to me that there was even a trip (unrelated to the project) to a farm auction in there some place.

His collection of cars (and trucks, and eventually a Rolls Royce) grew and grew until he started to run out of space to put them all. That forced the decision to build an addition onto the east side of the shop and later, to build a separate building. In no time at all those too, were filled.

Ron and Mary always enjoyed company. They must have because it seemed that someone was always out there visiting. Of course I kept up my appearances, which often happened around suppertime.

I recently heard a story about Mary having the kids setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow, they ended up with an extra place. ‘Just leave it,’ Mary said, ‘It’s been a while since George stopped in; he just might stop in tonight.’

And George stopped in…

Sometimes I would be at home, watching TV or doing something mundane when I'd get the urge to drive out to the farm and see what Ron was up to. So many times, I'd get as far as the shop and see that the lights were on, which meant that Ron was working on some project. I'd simply stop there and in no time at all, would be involved in whatever the project was. Of course we'd share lots of stories. And that would carry on into the house. 

Ron enjoyed touring with our car club. He participated in the International Antique Auto Meets and local tours, especially the Little International where he would invite anyone within earshot out to his place afterwards for some more visiting and maybe a beverage or two on their way home.

And many of us went, and had a good time.

One of his favorite tours was the John Erickson Whiskey Gap Tour, held around the end of September each year. We’d meet for coffee in Milk River then proceed westward down Highway 501, through Del Bonita and just a few miles west to Whiskey Gap where we’d all stop and have a toast, a visit, then maybe one more (smaller?) toast before continuing on toward Cardston. That tour took place on sunshiny days and even when the weather closed in and dropped some snow on us. That's Ron, on the left, allowing Vic to measure the mix.

Seven years ago Ron lost his beloved Mary to a massive stroke. Even though she left a tremendous void in his life, he was determined to get out of the house and keep up appearances. He remained active and carried on; even restoring the very truck he learned to drive in some seventy years ago.  

Two years ago Ron fell victim to an inoperable brain tumor, which slowly drug him down until he finally lost the battle and left the bounds of this life to join Mary, and the others who had gone before. Even though he tried to beat the odds, he accepted the fact that his tenure on earth was coming to a close and even said so when he confided that he was ready to go home.

Despite the void he left behind, he still passed the torch to a wonderful and deserving family: kids who have established themselves and progressed with families and new adventures of their own. Ron’s life wasn’t wasted; he left a legacy of strong family values and good work ethics, as well as the ability to take time out for friends.

So, as I reflect on days gone by, I’d like to include a personal word of thanks, from one friend who was never forgotten, even during a time when my life got rather turbulent and visits were all but curtailed. True friendship carries on, despite all odds. True friends don’t have to keep in constant touch. Even after a lengthy absence, getting together is simply carrying on and continuing the conversation and good times as if there never was a gap.

I sometimes think I'm driving out east of town. Dusk has fallen as the sun settles to the western horizon. I turn north, up over the hill, and head for that farmstead with its massive shelter belt of evergreens. I turn in and drive up toward the shop, see that the lights are on and know that there is another car, or truck, or tractor that needs some tender love and care. I park my truck and head for that familiar weathered door. I open it knowing that beyond it the conversation will continue as before, when we talk about cars, trucks, families, friends and everything else that has given us so much joy.

Thank you, Ron, for welcoming me into your home; for allowing me to meet your family; for being a true friend. It's been a pleasure. May God bless.

Until we meet again…


  1. Oh, this brought tears to my eyes! True friends are worth so much more than gold! Thank you for sharing Ron with us!

  2. I find it strange that someone our parents' age could end up being such a good friend, but Ron was exactly that. He truly was one of the best friends I ever had.