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Friday, 06 February 2009

Flashback to Corunna (Film Clips from My Memory)

By William Weatherstone of The Diesel Gypsy

Not too long ago, a long-lost friend found me and sent along photos of a village where I used to live and work in the 1940s. The sight of the pictures brought back vivid memories of the times I spent there.

The first time was in 1942, when my parents farmed me out again while they went sailing the Great Lakes as ships’ chefs on the lake freighters. Their stint was always ten months of the year, from early spring until freeze-up at Christmas time.

Corunna is a small village that sat right beside the Saint Clair River in Ontario, Canada, directly across from Marysville, Michigan, on the USA side of the boarder. Stag Island sat right in the middle of the river.

I was boarded out for the season in the 3rd house from the river. There was a small, 20-foot, passenger ferry boat there shuttling people to and from the island. The current in the river was pretty strong at that spot and about 30 feet deep. As kids, we would take a quick shallow dive off the dock and in those few seconds would surface about 45 feet down river then swim like hell to shore again while being rushed down river a fairly fast clip.

Sometimes we would jump on the bow of the little ferry as it was leaving and dive off, swimming back to shore landing some couple hundred feet down river. The operator would do a lot of shouting at us of the danger, but as ten-year-olds, we did not know what the word fear meant. I will say for sure that at my age today, there is no way I would try that again.

The next door neighbours had a very vicious dog that would break away now and then and terrorize the village. While I was sitting on the back porch one day, two men at the dog’s house dragged him out to the back yard and tied him to the fence. I had no idea as to what was happening until they stood back about ten feet from the dog.

I watched as one of the men pulled out a shiny silver revolver loaded it and without warning, shot the dog. They ended up putting all six rounds into him before he finally expired. There was blood splatter all over the place. The damage the dog did to people and property was severe enough to warrant the owner to putting him down.

There was a one-room public school there that I had to attend. It contained eight rows of seats. The first row beside the window was grade 1, and from there each row was an advanced grade finishing up at grade 8 next to the door.

I could never imagine staying in the same room for eight years trying to work my way out the door. Failing a grade would be hell on earth for the repeat year. I did one year and was glad to get out of there.

Some years later, when I was thrown out of grade 9 in Sarnia (10 miles north from Corunna), I got my first job as an apprentice to an auto mechanic in Corunna at the local Imperial Oil gas station. I had to ride my bicycle from Sarnia the 10 miles each way, six days a week for a grand total of $16 dollars a week.

The owner’s son had a Corgi scooter that he wanted to get rid of. It was small with doughnut tires and a small chainsaw motor driving it. We made a deal where I made a straight trade for my bicycle.

One little problem with it was that the throttle control handle was broken off and only the cable wire was sticking straight up and had only about a half inch showing. You had to pinch it with your fingers and pull it up and down to work the throttle.

I took it out for a road test down towards the river. At that time they had just spread cut stone gravel on the roadway. I came flying down the road with the throttle wide open and jammed. Stones were flying all over the place and I was wobbling along headed right for the river. As I panicked the scooter spun out from under me and I went down face first sliding along on the cut stone ripping my face and clothes open.

When I got stopped, the scooter was on its side on the dock running at full throttle. There was a guy fishing from the dock that saw what happened, ran over and got the scooter shut down by pulling the spark plug wire off. He helped me up and saw that my clothes were shredded and my bare arms and face were covered in blood.

I limped back to the garage pushing the scooter and then demanded that my bicycle be returned pronto and left him with a bent up machine. It was my first attempt at riding a motorized bike, and it would be many, many more years before attempting a motorcycle.

It was years after that, that I had another little problem in Corunna. I was out of work and broke at the time and living in a cheap one-room in an attic of an old, old house. It finally came down to where I could not pay the rent and decided that rather than get into a deeper financial hole, I would move on.

I told the landlady what I was going to have to do, to leave and hit the road. She offered me free room and board if I would paint the house.

Now this house was two-and-a-half stories high and had about 10 rooms. It was built around the turn of the century (wood) and still had the original paint job. I agreed and she got me five gallons of white paint to start with.

I spent 2 days painting one small section on the second floor. I used up the paint and stood back checking it out. It was so dry that the wood sucked up the paint and standing back you could not see where it had the fresh paint. To me it was a losing proposition and time to move on and look for greener pastures. They are out there someplace, but certainly not around here.

Corunna: the small village that was not meant to be the place for me.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Hello William,

I really enjoyed reading your story. You had a very adventurous childhood and got in a lot of scrapes but always seemed to have landed on your feet.

After reading your story I went to your site at Diesel Gypsy and that's where I got truly fascinated with the stories of the Ice Road Truckers.

I watched the truckers on TV every Sunday night for the past two years and followed their exploits over the frozen lakes with gigantic loads for the isolated mines and other plants who are totally dependent on these brave men for their supplies and equipment.

Now that I have found your site I will visit often.

Good story - wow, that was some childhood!
I too lived 'lakeside'. Ours was a summer cottage where we lived year round. Instead of a backyard there was a canal that fed out into lake St. Clair. We walked everywhere too. Thanks for the memories.

You make my exploits seem tame by comparison. Kids do take the worst risks; it's amazing that any of us grow up to adulthood.

My risk-taking didn't involve lakes, but as just as scary!

I was in Sarnia in 1957, on my way from Michigan to Niagara Falls.

as it has already been said lucky to have made it to adult-hood. bill and old ken met at a pontiac-buick dealer in t/o, bill left ken stayed on and finished his apprenticeship-same place met my wife and started our family. tumbled across the diesel gypsy on his web one day--still the same as he was then intersting and some fun in his adventures. live on old bill-keep sharing--old fender ken

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