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Cross Canada Adventures

Cars I have Known:

Have you ever had an old car with a good story about it? Here are a few of mine.


                                                        1952 International Harvester L110 ½ ton


I bought a rust red pickup for $85 in 1971. I found it parked  behind a gas station across the street from a used car dealer. The salesman had said I might take a look out there after I told him I needed a cheap truck. It was a little dusty but it looked like it would do the job and the salesman agreed to my $85. So I went back the next day and after finishing up the paperwork and fitting on my new  pair of farm vehicle license plates, I started the truck, put in a few dollars worth of gasoline at the gas station, and proceeded to drive the 30 or so miles home.


The drive home was quite a challenge. I had no idea that a truck of this vintage had  steering components called kingpins. I learned about kingpins because when I turned the wheel to go around the corner the steering wheel just stayed there. It didn’t swing back to the straight-ahead position. Actually it was really hard to turn the wheel back to the straight-ahead position.  It was a new driving experience for me and a couple of times it proved exciting for the other traffic on the road.


 So the day after I got it home I went down the road to the auto wreckers and asked one of the young fellows if he knew why the steering was so difficult. He jumped in drove the truck away and came back minutes later and said, “Your kingpins are frozen.”


Knowing that I had frozen kingpins was a little unsettling. “So what’s to be done?” I asked.


“Well if you cook em up a little they usually come loose,” said Norm.


He went into the shop and wheeled out an oxy–acetelyne torch outfit, and he proceeded jack up the front end and began to cook my kingpins. When the kingpins were well done he turned the wheel from stop to stop and declared problem solved. He charged me a couple bucks for the oxy–acetelyne and told me you that when everything had cooled down I should squirt a little grease into each one to keep everything working smoothly.


The truck was great. It was our new  farm vehicle and I used it to get feed, fuel, livestock and bedding. The first real test was bringing home a milk cow that I had purchased about 50 miles from home. It wasn’t a very heavy duty truck and it was a pretty big milk cow but all went well and I was soon in the milk business.


The most memorable  livestock purchase involved my buddy Gord and the trip to a livestock auction. I had  been to that livestock auction once or twice before to buy day-old calves which I brought home and fed medicine for a few days until they died. The day-old calf business turned out to be a brutal lesson in veterinary science. It also made me suspicious of the quality of livestock to be had at that auction. However with Gord riding shotgun we were off to come home with a whole new type of animal: weaner pigs. 


“Weaner pigs” are baby pigs that have been taken away from their mother. They are about six weeks old when they are weaned from mother’s milk. Usually this assures that the baby pigs have a good start and therefore are a much better bet than the baby calves who probably had no mother’s milk at all. So feeling hopeful and having a bit of cash in my pocket I was about to enter into the pig business.


I should say that Gord and I had been through a few adventures together although none of them was anything you would really call larcenous. And when we went to the pig auction we had no plan to do anything underhanded. It just sort of happened.


The baby pigs or rather the “weaner pigs” were in demand. They came out into the ring in bunches depending on how big their litter was. And the deal was that the auctioneer would sell one or all of the pigs for the highest bid. Having received a bid for the litter he would ask the bidder how many pigs the bidder wanted. The first two batches were gone in an instant because the bidder took all the pigs at the same price.


Now, Gord and I had walked around the pig pens before the auction started and I had made a few notes on which lots of pigs looked the best. And the first two lots that went through the ring were the two that looked the best. Unfortunately there was no way that I could buy the half dozen pigs that I wanted for a price as high as the other bidders were willing to pay. Because I had only $60 it was my plan to pay $10 each for six  weaner pigs. The first two lots sold for $25 each.


We knew that there were a couple more lots which were not as fat and well fed as the first two and hopefully the price would go down a little. And it did. The next lot sold for $20 for the first pig and $15 for the remainder. Of the next lot some sold for $15 and the last one, the runt sold for $10. There was one lot remaining - the skinniest and the scruffiest. They were in my price range though, and I was the winning bidder at $10 each. I took six. The auctioneer asked my number and I went to the clerk and paid and got my receipt.


Now I didn’t go back to that auction for a long time and when I did I noticed a rather large sign that said no livestock could be removed until the entire sale was complete. But on the day that Gord and I were there was no such sign and as the sale continued we walked around to the back of the barn Gord commented that the pigs that I had bought weren’t the world’s best and it was too bad that I couldn’t go home with the nice fat ones.

The two ring men had moved to the other wing of the auction barn and had closed off the alley to the pig section. The fellow who was on duty at the back of the barn was pretty unhelpful when I wanted to ask if I could back my pickup up to one of the pens and load my pigs. It appeared he was much more interested in talking to a young lady who was interested in a horse than talking to Gord or me. I waited politely for a while but he didn’t let on he saw me. So I  interrupted him saying, “Excuse me, can I backup my pickup up in here to collect my pigs?” And I showed him my receipt.


“You think you can back up yer truck without hitting anything?,” he said with a chuckle.


“Yes, I think I can manage it.” I said.


“Well if you bust anything you have to pay for it.” He said and turned back to the girl at the horse pen.


As we got to the door of the barn and were out of earshot Gord gave his opinion of the fellow in the barn. “What an arsehole.”


 I agreed. I started the truck and  Gord directed me in and had me stop just before the gate to one of the big pens. I got out and I was just going to say, “That’s the wrong pen full of pigs.” when Gord gave me a wink and looked this way and that and pointed at the $25 pigs with a big grin.  There was nobody in the barn but the would-be Romeo at the horse pen and he wasn’t interested in us. So we each grabbed a burlap sack, stuffed a pig in and tied the top shut with a bit of baler twine. Six sacks - six pigs - it was over in a minute or two.


We hopped into the truck grinning like fools and quietly made our way out of the barn and onto the highway with the nicest weaner pigs at the auction sale that day. 


“Can they hang you for pig rustling ?” Gord asked.





My grandfather had a blue 49 Ford like the one in the picture above well not exactly. His Ford was a little bit rougher however it was an amazing piece of equipment. I don’t know how Grampy had trained it but he was convinced that it like to eat grapefruit.


Now I know that most people probably have not fed their automobiles grapefruit. In fact I have never known anyone before or since the fed grapefruit to automobiles. But Grampy did.

This is how it worked: the old Ford was prone to stalling in warm weather. In retrospect I guess the fuel line went too close to the heat of the engine and the fuel would turn from a liquid into a gas in the pipe and the engine would s starve and stall.


I have heard that wrapping a fuel line in a wet cloth to cool it off will solve the problem. I have even seen this done. However for some mysterious reason Grampy would use a grapefruit. He would slice it in half and rub it over the fuel line to cool it down. He would even rub it all over the carburetor. And I remember on one occasion, I stood watching while he was rubbing it over the carburetor grandma tried to start the engine. The engine fired up and the  vacuum in the carburetor began to suck on the grapefruit like a hog eating watermelon. Which is something you don’t see every day.


That car also provided the introduction to witching:


      Grampy hustled out of his side of the Ford and hurried around to the passenger side to open the door.  We knew it was somebody special, so we ran to see what was going on  but we weren't ready for Grampy's surprise guest.


    It didn't sink in for a bit that he had on those metal-rimmed sunglasses because he had something wrong with his eyes.  We were all mesmerized.  It was a little scary.  Who was this tall, skinny old man?  His arms stuck out of the sleeves of an old grey suitcoat, his shirt was yellowed and his tie had seen better days..  He had a stick in his hand, and unmatched, wrinkled pants that bagged down over his worn and scuffed boots.  He stared all around, squinting and showing his teeth as he waddled across the driveway with Grampy holding his arm.  We backed up like skitterish calves.


    -Boys,  (there was about half a dozen, including cousins) this is Captain Leonard and he's going to do some witching.


     Tough to be polite to a man introduced as a witch but we did greet him.  As often happens, the youngest and bravest asked the question we were all afraid of.


     -How can you be a witch?  Witches are ladies.


     Grampy spoke for Captain Leonard.


    - No, Davie, he's not a witch.  He witches water.  He uses a stick to find where there's water in the ground.  It's called witching for water.


     - Why's he gonna do that, Grampa?


     - Because were gonna dig a new well nearer to the house if there's water.


     At the same time Captain Leonard lifted the forked stick that he held in his hand and began our instruction.



     -It's like this gentlemen...


     He had a funny, high voice and spoke like the officers we saw in  British Sunday Theatre war movies.


    - I have a peculiar facility in locating underground streams and pools.  When I grasp this simple fork and stroll above an aquifer, a force engages the willow and draws it toward the  water.  According to the power of the attraction I can estimate both the volume and the depth of the flow.



      -He sure talks funny, whispered Davie.


    As we crowded up to get a good look at the stick, his breath, heavy with a sweet smell which we recognized as  wine, pushed us back.  From a polite distance, we attended.


      - It has been my experience that a willow is the superior choice to do the job.   A switch from an elm or maple  will not perform as reliably.  With an exceptional divining piece of willow, like this,  the force can be so strong that the bark will actually twist off in your hands.  Notice how the bark is gone from this one.


      - How does it work? ( Davie again.)


      -It's a gift, my boy.  I may have lost some  perspicacity, but since the accident I have had the gift.


      -What accident?  Did it hurt?


      - Struck by lightning some years ago in Kenya.   Propelled me across the road and into a  thicket.  It didn't actually contact me personally but struck one of the cows my man was driving and the poor beast exploded.   All that remained was the bell and one horn.  After that flash I have had to protect my eyes in daylight.  However, shortly after, I discovered the gift of divining and was able to bring water, and its attendant benefits, to a number of villages on the plain.  Alas, my health forced me to leave the heat of the dark continent and providence brought me here.


    We were suitably impressed. 


  - Well gentlemen, let's give it a go, shall we?


     Grampy took the opportunity  to get Captain Leonard headed in the direction of the orchard.  The orchard was on the low side  of the house and where we spent most of our days when it was hot.  Just below, flattening out from the gentle slope of the  orchard was a little fenced pasture where we kept a few calves.  Grampy related the lay of the land to Captain Leonard as he gave his arm and guided the dowser towards what Grampy considered to be the most opportune spot to start digging.



    - Now Captain Leonard, let me take you down through the orchard here to that little pasture.  I figure the bottom of this little slope would be a pretty good spot,  being within easy distance of the house and easier to dig than amongst all these fruit trees.


     We were a regular parade: some in front walking backwards, some alongside, a few dogs getting too close and yelping when a boot urged them to a different course, and a couple walking along behind arm in arm, alternately studying Captain Leonard and Grampy and aping them like a silent movie.


    We were only a little way through the orchard when the stick dipped.  The parade immediately reformed into a circle.  Ooohs and ahhs brought a hint of a smile to Captain Leonard's face and smug satisfaction to Grampy's.  Grampy hollered to the women, hanging laundry and watching from the porch, that we had hit it already and close, too.  Granny and Ma looked pleased, but remained on the porch.  They seldom ever went even as far as the woodshed, there being an unspoken agreement that the woodshed was the border of the land of foul language.  So they generally watched whatever proceedings, happily, from the porch, out of earshot.  And we sounded less and less like loggers as we neared the house.


   Captain Leonard made his pronouncement in his high nasally voice.



    - Well there is a flow here but, regrettably, it lacks real strength.  Allow me to continue to search for a flow of more substance.


    The parade started up again and followed Captain Leonard's stick weaving around the orchard.  The stream headed under the fence and into the pasture.  Down to the gate we headed.  Grampy had an idea that we should make some markers so tearing the sod a little with the heel of his boot to mark where the stream went under the fence, he dispatched a couple of the bigger boys to get an axe to serve as hammer and a handful of kindling to serve as stakes.



  Half an hour or so later, pieces of kindling had been driven in here and there, many to remain as traps to throw an unsuspecting cowboy or Indian from his horse.  The parade had lost its enthusiasm.  Grampy was a little down because Captain Leonard had gone all over the place, but unaccountably kept veering away from the spot Grampy had originally suggested.  Worst of all, not  much in the way of a really good flow had been discovered.


   With a hint of desperation in his voice, Grampy asked if they shouldn't try his spot.  Captain Leonard agreed, saying that he had the feeling that there was a pretty strong stream somewhere.  He could sense it.


   The stick bounced a little as Captain Leonard approached Grampy's spot.  Then down it went.  There it was!  Just about where Grampy thought it might be... well pretty close.  That stick whipped down so hard it nearly hit Captain Leonard in the crotch.  Then it began to bob.


    - This is it. A good strong flow. Nine...ten... eleven... twelve. Twelve feet and you shall have all the water you could wish for.



   - And close to where I figured, too, suggested Grampy.


   -I suspect you may have a little of the gift, yourself. You seem to have somehow perceived this site was favorable.  Would you care to try the divining wand?  Perhaps there is someone in your family that passed the gift down to you.


    Grampy took the stick and held the ends of the wye.  It wiggled a little.


   - You know, I mind that my Uncle James could find water, but I'm not gettin much out of it.



    - Well I believe it may have passed down through you.  Perhaps it has come down to one of the boys here.  Let's let them try, shall we?


    We might have the gift?   Wow!   Who could tell?   With religious solemnity we each stepped close to Captain Leonard to take our turn with the stick.  With each in turn Captain Leonard would allow us a second or two on our own, then quickly place his own hands over ours, squeeze,  and the stick would swing down like a gate latch.  He said the power went through his hands and into ours.


  One of the older boys beat Captain Leonard to the punch though, dipping the stick before Captain Leonard could get a hold of him.


    - He did it! Grampy blurted out.


    -Doesn't surprise me in the least.  Suspected one of the lads would carry the gift, said Captain Leonard with a touch of unease in his voice.


    -  Well, young man if you will return my fork to me I had better set about returning to town.  Would you be so kind as to lend me your arm Mr. Clarke?


    As the two of them left, Captain Leonard was delicately bringing up the subject of his fee.  The rest of us wanted to try some more.


     With the axe and pocket-knives we headed for the woods.


    By  the time Grampy got back from town we had defoliated about a quarter of an acre and the yard was littered with forked sticks.  We had moved on to cowboys and Indians after our scientific investigations into dowsing were done.


    The scientific method came naturally to us.  We were especially strong on collections and dissections, usually in that order....but back to dowsing.


   We had soon made a remarkable discovery which led us to the formulation of a couple of theories.  The discovery was (and you can try this yourself if you have a forked stick) that when a forked stick is held and a spreading force is applied by one or both of the hands, the free end of the wye will move. 


    The experiments consisted not, as you might suspect, in trying to verify aquifers but in trying to get the bark to twist off by really forcing the wye.  The trouble was that whether the stick dipped down or shot straight up was a little unpredictable for us tyros.  With red welts on our faces and less visible but no less painful injuries to our lower parts, we gave up the experiments.



   It was still, hot, and dry as we sat around the hole in the cow pasture two days later.  There was no doubt that the well was going to take the rest of our lives, and then some, at the rate we were going.  Taking a break to drink from the water bag and spit, we sat on the piles of dusty sod and soil and moved on to the formulation of other theories.


   - There's probably no water down there anyhow.


   - Yeah that old Captain Leonard was full of it.


   - I bet the old bugger probably wasn't blind a'tall.  Exploding cow! One horn and a bell!


   - I bet he was just fakin it. Probably fakin with the stick too.  Even Davie can do it now.


   - Yeah, I could probally do as good as him, huh Ralphie.


   - You bet.


   In nasally falsettos we each had a turn:


    - Yes, gentlemen, just dig here for a few thousand years and you too, will be in Africa.


    - Ah yes, reminds me of making tiger-traps in India. What we want, lads, are coolies.


    Some of the imitations were pretty good.


    - You know, you guys,  I bet he talked that way cause the stick whacked him in the nose when he was learning the trick with the stick.


  A ripple of laughter went around the diggings.


   The possibility of the next explanation of his high voice was all too real to us bruised experimenters and has brought a smile every time the word witching is mentioned.