Digging in – Digging Out

Snowplow

 

 

 

 

The recent ‘lake effect’ snowstorm which buried poor Buffalo, yet again, has served to remind me of a similar piece from my past.  Lake effect snow is caused by (relatively) warm winds blowing across still-unfrozen water, and then over much colder landmass, which causes the moisture to condense and freeze.  Once the Great Lakes freeze over completely, snowfall is greatly reduced.

In November and December of 1957, Lake Huron, warmer than usual from a hot summer had not yet frozen over.  Storm after storm came rolling across the lake from Michigan, so that we could blame the Americans, as they often do Canada, for the terrible weather.  A 150 mile swath of lakeshore and inland towns were buried under feet of snow.

Now being bused to a high school five miles away, I experienced my first ‘snow day’ on a Wednesday, when the bus couldn’t get through.  Before our days of television, I was at home with my mother, when we heard on the radio that the roof of an arena in a town 50 miles southeast had collapsed, killing several children and a skating coach, and injuring several others.

On Friday afternoon, as we dismounted the now-running school bus, the town’s Police Chief informed several of the members of the Boys’ Club, that there was a BYOS party being organized.  At 10 AM Saturday morning we were to bring (Y)our own shovels, and assemble at the town’s (natural ice) arena to shovel snow off the roof to prevent a similar disaster happening in our town.

Before the advent of aluminum scoops and shovels, snow was moved with heavy, awkward, steel garden spades, or square-mouthed coal shovels.  The next morning, about 25 of us showed up with an ill-assorted mix of tools.

I hadn’t thought about our task, or the reason given for it, until I arrived at the arena.  The collapsed one down the road had a low-domed roof, which allowed the accumulation of a significant snow load.  Our arena had a 90° roof, with a 45°slope on each side.  Snow just didn’t accumulate.

After it had been built, a two ice-sheet curling rink had been added to one side.  It was this annex, with its 7° roof, that we were assigned to save.  Not many school-kids at risk here, but many of the privileged members were also the well-off citizens and business owners who donated to, and supported our club.  That was as good a reason as any.

Snowbank

 

 

 

 

The snow on the roof was 3 to 5 feet deep.  It needed to be cleared off.  A ladder was leaned against the side of the building.  If it had been up to me, I’d have sent one guy up to reduce the weight, and clear a space for another shoveler, and so on, and so on.  It wasn’t….so the Police chief went up, kicked his way into the snow and called the rest of us up to join him.  Soon we had 25 teenage boys, and two adult men on the roof.  If it was going to collapse, this is when it would have happened.

My fisher-boy schoolmate attacked the piles of snow like a Tasmanian Devil, his sharp steel shovel and snow flying in all directions – except actually off the roof.  He was a safety hazard, not to be got too close to.  Within five minutes, he rapidly tired, and really accomplished very little, but he was the one who impressed the Game Warden enough that he was the only one mentioned when the tale was told, for years.

The rest of us soon organised a much more efficient system.  Starting at the roof edge we cut 2 foot square blocks, like for an igloo, and slid them off the smooth roof. Then others would move up and cut more blocks, and slide them down, to be pushed over the edge.  Soon we had several crews cutting, pushing and dumping.  The roof was cleared and our civic duty done by noon.

The side of the building that we dumped snow from was a town works-yard, with piles of sand and fine gravel that crews used to cast concrete water culverts, as well as dozens of finished units.  By the time we were finished, these were all covered, and there was a 20-foot high, 50-foot wide pile of snow about the same slope as the now-clear roof.  I don’t know if they did any water work before June.

Do those of you who live in snow country have white horror stories?  Will those of you who don’t, stop snickering!

Safety Patrol

When I needed to go to elementary school, the school building was too small.  There were eight rooms.  I’d have thought that grades 1 through 8 would have fit nicely.  A couple of the rooms must have been used for music or other training.  My grade 1 class was in what was known as the band-room, in the town hall, two blocks from the school.  The town band had practiced there and the town council had used it for meetings and weekly bingo games.

Back then, a grade 8 education was considered adequate, with many students getting jobs on nearby farms, or in one of the four factories in town.  The eight-room high school was under-utilized.  My grade 2 was in the high school building, next to the elementary, with rowdy teen-age boys running us down.

In grade 3, I finally moved into the “proper” building.  A steel bar had been installed from the ceiling to half-way down the rail of the front stairway, to prevent boys from sliding down the banister.  The building is now part of the Bruce County Museum, and there is a note at the top of the stairs.  You can stand at the top and sight down a 3/4 inch deep groove in the treads, on the rail side, caused by boys dragging their feet, as they slid down.

Grade 4 was across the hall.  The first day back after the Easter vacation, we all picked up our desks, and marched across the playground to our home in a freshly finished new school building, which now included a Kindergarten.

Forward-thinking for 1954, one of the new things established, was a safety patrol.  Four or five students from both grade 7 and 8 were chosen to help safeguard the welfare of the other children.  They had to be level-headed, somewhat of a leader, and of sufficiently high academic standing.  School hours were from 9 till noon, and 1:30 to 4.  The Safety Patrols were allowed to leave fifteen minutes early to go to their assigned intersections, and were expected to stay until all students had passed on their way back to school, so they might be a bit late.

The Patrol Officers (ooh, that sounded important) were given a bright-white waist/chest belt combo, with a shiny shield clipped to it.  There were no lollipop paddles or blocking a street for children crossing.  Cars had the right-of-way.  Patrol Officers stood at various nearby corners and watched for cars.  If an oncoming auto was spotted, they were to raise their arms, and students were expected to wait till the arms were lowered, to cross safely.

As I came through grades 5 and 6, I kinda thought I might enjoy the prestige of being a Safety Patrol, but I didn’t hold my breath.   When I entered grade 7, I was not surprised when I wasn’t tapped for the job, but about the end of September, I was surprised when the Assistant Principal told me I was in.  Apparently Miss Safety Patrol couldn’t fulfill her duties and I was the first runner-up.

Not only did I get the sparkly white Sam Browne belt and shiny badge, I got a book of summonses.  I could write tickets.  If I saw things like fighting, bullying, running out into the street, throwing sticks, stones or snowballs, I could hand out a ticket.  I gave the duplicate stubs to the Asst. Principal, and the offending student had a week to report voluntarily, to get a lecture and warning.  I had to issue one to myself.  The kindergarteners and Grade ones were let out the same fifteen minutes early, to keep them from being buffeted by the older grades.

I was nearing my assigned corner and thought I’d toss a snowball at a post.  I missed the post, but hit a Grade 1 girl in the face, when she suddenly ran up and dashed around the corner.  I got my lecture, and an explanation of why not to throw snowballs.  I also had to go to her house and apologise to her and her mother.

The next year, I was assigned a more dangerous intersection on the highway.  There was a Grade 1 girl who I was supposed to escort to the corner, and assure she crossed safely.  I guess I didn’t exude enough authority.  She would not walk with me, insisting on running ahead, and crossing on her own.  The street we took was in full view of several classrooms, and I was often spotted running after her.

The Asst. Principal called me in for a talk, and I thought I might be chastised, but he just told me that he was aware of her behavior problem and had a talk with her.  From then on she held my hand and behaved well.

Child Safety Patrol Officer to adult Security Guard, that’s about the extent of my social powers.  The recognition is nice, but I’m too much of a loner and free-thinker to want to control others.  Although, if I could get one of Paul Blart’s Segways, I might want to patrol a mall.