Ron Wood’s Memories
IMPRESSIONS OF ONE OF THE YOUNG GUYS
THE RUN ACROSS CANADA
The great adventure or the trip of a lifetime as many were calling it began at 9:00 pm, Saturday May 13th at the CPR railway station in Vancouver, B, C. We all arrived early as this was certainly one train we did not want to miss. My “oversized” light blue metal suitcase and my horn case seemed to be a challenge in itself to lug down the station platform as I was a skinny 13-year-old (soon to be 14 on June 6th).
I was totally amazed at the thought of going on the trip with all the big guys. Everything seemed to be awesome in scale. I recall the large train sitting on the track with the steam “hissing” from the hoses at the connections between the railroad cars. I recall my Mother looking very apprehensive and my Father, who was president of the Band’s Parent Association (of course there was only one boss of the band—D) was standing there proud of his achievement and so he should be.
I always had thought that the trip had been financed by postcard sales, concerts and the $100 we each had to pay. However, from the many phone calls at the house I learned that Dad, Rich Brown- Ritchie & Gordie’s Dad and Harry Gregory, Ian’s Dad – the committee plus a few others had raised about $85,000 for the Band, primarily from their contacts in the Vancouver Rotary Club. Mr. Brown had got all the food we carried across Canada from his Wholesaler clients.
Anyway, I was ready with my red T-shirt, navy blue sweater with the Maple Leaf and matching blue cord pants, topped off with something else to carry, a navy blue trench coat.
As I strode to the train after saying my good-byes there stood the porter who had placed a step stool below the steps into the train. “Hi young fella,” he said. Now I really did feel skinny. He said just call me Jim “Cool Breeze”. Man he was big and I found out later that he had been a line backer for the Hamilton Ti-Cats before the CFL. As I clambered aboard and walked down the narrow passageway past the entrance to the “Washing Up Room and John” I detected the disinfectant smell like Dettol that was to be with us for the entire trip.
As the passageway broadened to reveal two rows of plush seats facing one another I bumped along until I found my allotted home for the next while. I don’t have a record in my diary, but it probably was my friends Mike Hadley and Tim Hawes who bunked in with me. The two double seats, we found, folded down to make a bed for two. Then along came Cool Breeze with a big key and unlocked an overhead berth for one that hung down and included the heavy dark-green curtains that provided privacy–in a Band what was that! As I recall we dispensed with any ladder and rather deftly put one foot on the lower armrest and with one swing were up in the upper berth, hopefully not hitting your head in the process. Excitement was running high so it was after midnight before everything settled down.
We awoke as the train was chugging along the Shuswap Lakes. This first day we stopped at Revelstoke where we played an afternoon concert followed by and evening concert at the Avalon Theatre. One of the numbers featured was the comedy piece Village Band. Garfield White did some MCing and used his well-worn phrase ” Some Bands are good and some Bands are loud, but this Band plays good and loud.” The audiences were not large, but it was a start.
We left Revelstoke at 1:00 am and traveled to Calgary. The morning turned out to be sunny and as I lifted the blind in the lower berth we saw a herd of Elk bounding along parallel to the train. As we cleared the decks in the first car the routine was to get cleaned up in a hurry using the six hand basins in the washroom which somehow went like military precision. Then we all sat down to breakfast as D outlined all the rules of the day and assigned the duties required. As we sat down we, of course, were famished.
After cereal along came the comedy act of Cy and Ron. You held up your piece of bread and Cy slapped a gob of butter on it, followed close behind by Ron holding up a large 4 pound tin of Empress Strawberry Jam—yelling Jaaaam-Jaaaam! And with a flurry slapped a tablespoon full of the good stuff on your outreached piece of bread–meanwhile D who suffered from Diabetes had a small bowl of fruit up in the first few berths. All was put away as we arrived in Calgary at 12:30 PM and played a concert to a sell-out crowd in the Western Canada High School where I had my first visit with relatives.
The next day was Tuesday as we traveled toward Swift Current, Saskatchewan. We stopped off at Medicine Hat and slid down out of the train trying to look somewhat disciplined as D ran up and down the ranks pressing everyone into position (Ding bust it all, Fat Heads, Chumps!) and then making last minute changes in position for better sound and then wheeling around to the front for a quick downbeat.
Being one of the little guys I was pressed into service to sell postcards at which we quickly became adept—“They cost us 25 cents each to print you know so please ‘elp my boys get to England.” We had a few minutes before the train took off so a few of us went over to the Ice House. Since this was a half century ago (Can You Believe It!) the train coaches didn’t have air conditioning. So under each coach there were three metal coffin-like containers about three feet square and some five feet long with the outer side opening down.
The Ice House contained stacks of these ice blocks with straw between them and over them. The railway hands would haul each block on to a small hand pulled flatbed truck and ease it over to the train and with more than a little bit of skill grasped the ice block with tongs, swung it in one motion into the coffin and slammed the locking levers into place with a large hammer. It was now time to get aboard and be on our way.
As I stepped up into the train I noticed a bucket hanging under the outlet from the toilet and smiled as the tune came to mind about not using the lavatory while in the station to the strains of Humouresque. We arrived at Swift Current where it had rained heavily and there was mud everywhere. Our concert was sponsored by the Swift Current Lions Band. Swift Current and Moose Jaw have been and still are “hotbeds” of Band music.
The next morning we were awakened by someone playing Reveille and were told we would soon be in Regina where we were to be guests of the RCMP at their National Training Facility. First we had lunch with all the Mounties in their Mess Hall. Then the Mounties Band put on a countermarching display in front of the Headquarters Building in our honor. Several of the Mounties took us in groups to the Museum, Stables, Chapel, Gymnasium and finally the Olympic-sized swimming pool where they train for water rescue using overturned canoes etc. In the evening we played our concert to a full house, including many Mounties.
Thursday was a general clean up day in Brandon. By that time our socks and maroon T shirts needed work as we all took turns using the hand basins and hanging our stuff on lines rigged up or on the food packing boxes. On Friday after about a week away from home I started to feel green around the edges, probably due to the change in drinking water. I was sitting on some of the boxes, looking forlorn I suspect, when D whistles in and says in his usual brisk manner “Ron, your not homesick already are you?” I was “hurt” to the quick as I was far from being homesick and felt I was a man of the world – besides about 12 other boys were sick and some were big guys. With that D left in what seemed like a puff of smoke.
1950 was the year of the big flood in Winnipeg. As we crawled along the track by-passing the city our track was running along the top of a dyke with water on both sides. Pretty dangerous at the time I guess, but we didn’t think much of it. As we got into parts of the city we could see the water level up to the second or third floor of the industrial buildings. We pulled into Kenora, Ontario, had some pictures taken for the local paper and then went to the Radio Station to hear the Four Notes perform on the Air. Our concert had been cancelled as all halls were being used to house flood victims.
We thought it was great to have the free time, but D was like a volcano. The next day we were in Port Arthur where, in addition to playing we went on a sightseeing excursion to Boulevard Lake where it empties into the Upper Current River. At the smaller falls I was amazed how brown the water was from natural runoff compared to our clear glacial waters back home.
On Sunday we were at Sudbury where parts of the landscape looked like the moon – I guess from the air pollution of the IOCO Nickel Mine there. In the evening we played to a crowd of over 1,000 at the Capitol Theatre. Then it was on to the big city and home of the Maple Leafs – Toronto. We arrived at the huge Union Station where I for some reason was fascinated by the ceilings, which were monumental in concept. Two concerts were played at High Schools – one of which was Danforth Technical School We all went for a swim at one of the schools. A sightseeing trip was arranged that included the Zoo, Casa Loma, and Maple Leaf Gardens plus I rode a Subway for the first time.
It was now on to Montreal and then Quebec City on the CNR Boat Train so we had to pack up all our stuff with the thought of a trip on the High Seas running through my head. As we pulled into the Shipping Sheds we couldn’t see the Boat, but after clearing Customs and Immigration we all swarmed the gangplank and there she was the RMS SAMARIA ——–and that’s another story!