August began with us on our property south of Meadow Lake. We got some things done on the property and helped a bit on the ongoing construction of Debbie and Ernie’s house. Then we headed to BC for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Paul’s graduating high school class in Powell River, B.C.
The work on the property was putter type stuff. Some time in the sea can sorting and discarding and donating and giving artifacts and furniture to offspring. A new bone yard was carved out of a patch of bush and the stuff near some dead and standing trees was moved into the area. Then a large track hoe was rented for a couple of hours and used to ensure the trees fell the right way when close to buildings and other things we didn’t want crushed. About eight large trees were taken down and two got cut up into firewood, which was enough to finish filling the wood shed once they were split in September.
Momma said there’d be days like this. Well actually she didn’t, but I still like that song. It brings back memories. Grandma did say and my mom repeated it, “procrastination is the thief of time.” When we sold our house and half our land and moved a forty-foot long sea can onto the other half and threw everything in it that didn’t go into the fifth wheel trailer we said we would get back to it later. There’s always something else more demanding or interesting to do so it remains jammed and mostly disorganized and lurks quietly in our daughters’ anxiety closets as something they may get stuck with someday.
But I digress.
Every year or two I devote at least a half day or so to jabbing at the contents of the sea can and it has improved. Last year got no days. This year got a day and a half. This year I came across a box that came out of my office when I retired and hasn’t been opened since. The day after I retired we moved up to the park and worked at Bethel Gospel camp for the summer before heading to Mexico for the winter. But I digress again.
In the box were pictures from my office wall. There was one of a family white water rafting trip and a picture of the pulp mill we built in Meadow Lake viewed across a field of Canola in blossom. And there was one picture of the electrical / instrumentation supervision team, the two supervisors and myself, the superintendent. We had fun. We decided how we were going to structure the department and what type of people we were going to hire and how we were going to start and run the electrical instrumentation components of the mill. I remember our strong desire to have a truly integrated department of electrical and instrumentation professionals. I also remember our mantra “WANT integration, MUST start the mill”. We worked some of our priorities out by walking away from the confusion of construction and going to the local campground and setting up an easel of flip chart paper and brainstorming exactly how we would do this.
I remember the hiring teams of the two E/I supervisors plus a mechanical supervisor and an operations supervisor with the kindly old guy (me) in the next room administrating aptitude tests and chatting with the applicants. “What do you think of all this?” A. “How much more of this *&%** do I have to put up with?” Me, “probably not a lot more” as I put a small “x” on the applications form. We knew that the company we worked for was a great company and did many, many things well but was too long suffering for its own good at times and was not good at firing the few people that really needed to be. So at the bottom of our carefully crafted Kepnor-Trego grid was “n.a.j.” (not a jerk). All it took was one down vote from the four people on the hiring team or me to scuttle somebody’s chances. Hiring is an adversarial process. You look for reasons not to hire somebody and they look to not give you any. Other teams hiring for that greenfield mill were not as clear in their understanding. I observed where a team didn’t want to hire a couple of people and the department manager bullied them into it. Over several years those two choices resulted in sabotage, lawsuits and untold heat loss in dealing with problems that were foreseen by the four people on the hiring team. Our approach resulted in hiring a cohesive team of the best E/I techs I ever hope to work with. A few years later when we needed to promote a supervisor you could have thrown all 18’s names into a hat and come out with a choice that would have been as good as or better than most supervisors I have seen in the industry.
We weren’t without our challenges in hiring. Two of us were Christians and the third was not and he was always suspicious of us skewing the hiring mix. We didn’t, but with the demographic mix of the community we ended up with many in the crew. Two things amuse me as I reminisce. One, as we were trying to fill the last slot, the non-Christian found and promoted a believer as the best choice. Second, he has since converted to Christianity and gone to Bible school and preaches regularly.
We tried to hire a team in the sense we tried to hire a mix of talents and attributes. I had seen other greenfield mills hire for start-up and forget that start-up is just a blip in the history of an operation. When you hire a team of nothing but winning quarterbacks you don’t have a winning team you have a bunch of unhappy players with nothing to do that matches their skills. We hired locals where we could because they would stick around. We hired some young guys that would build their skills. We hired some old guys so they would bring perspective to the young guys and their idealism.
We tried to hire at least one woman, but there were very few applicants with the minimum technical requirements. That desire resulted in an embarrassing situation. Probably not the first or last time males have been embarrassed in pursuit of a woman, but there I go again digressing. Because of our enthusiasm and the crush of workload prior to start-up we did not do all the vetting we could have. The application of one applicant was flawless on paper. We set up her interview with the three of us and a head office HR person in my suite at a hotel near head office. She came. She was lovely as a person, but came across as lacking in trade knowledge. She knew less about the instrumentation where she had her last work term than I did from a two-hour tour. She left the interview. The HR person mocked us for our lack of pre-screening. I said, lamely, “Oh well, we needed a trip.”
We went on from hiring, to start-up and operation.
Thank you John and David.
Ross Creek flea market is a cluster of mismatched structures in a field just east of Edmonton on the Yellowhead Highway. It operates weekends and in our many trips past it over the 27 years since moving to Meadow Lake I have stopped once to get the phone number off a sea can and turned down the grid road next to it a few times to go visit Jack, a co-worker from refinery shutdowns, but have never stopped to actually check out the flea market. This year we did. Kind of eclectic, kind of interesting, kind of kitschy and kind of over priced to my cheapskate eyes but definitely worth a stop every twenty-seven years or so.
Travel to B.C. & Back
After our interlude at the Ross Creek flea market we stopped for a day or two with our daughter, Rebekah, and her family in Edmonton. Then we drove the familiar path to B.C. overnighting in Kamloops and stopping in Abbotsford to buy a deep, finned transmission pan from BD Engineering. We stayed overnight with my sister, Sydney, and her husband, Dan, in Burnaby and the next day took the Horseshoe Bay ferry to Langdale and stopped for a visit with cousin, Wanda, and her husband, Bill, in Sechelt. We planned the travel a bit around Wanda’s busy schedule of promoting Bill’s photography at Granville Island Market and other venues. His wildlife photography is quite spectacular and can be found on their website.
After our visit with the Keays we continued on up (north) the Sechelt Peninsula to the Earl’s Cove to Saltery Bay ferry and across Jervis Inlet to Powell River where we stayed with my sister, Judi, and her husband, Joe, and visited with family and our diminishing pod of friends and attended the Max Cameron 50 year reunion of the 1966 graduating class.
Our trip back we stopped in Burnaby only a couple of hours to visit and then carried on to Kamloops for the night. We stopped for dinner in Whitecourt with Jim and Bonnie Fisher and then carried on to Edmonton for a couple of days before returning home to Meadow Lake.
50th High School Reunion
The initial festivities were at the local Royal Canadian Legion. The booth with the activities tickets and name tags was on the corner of Marine Avenue above the legion. Marine was closed off for booths for the annual Blackberry Festival. After getting our packet and saying hi to a few former classmates Juanita and I strolled a few blocks south and sampled the wares of some of the booths and stared at a few of the others. We said hi to a couple of my younger relatives who did their best to ignore us and any familial connection to us. I guess I was pretty ignorant at that age, too, despite my over positive memories. Oh well. The youth can feel smug they are not old. The old can feel smug that in not too long all this will be the youth’s problem and in many ways it is a lot worse than what we were handed from our predecessors.
Finally, all displacement activities exhausted we headed to the hall full of former classmates. Lots of people I remember from twelve years of school together and a few people I didn’t. It’s funny what we think. I remember high school as being kind of awkward in many ways. If granted a wish to be twelve again that would be nice and twenty again would be wonderful, but most ages in between nah, that’s okay. I’ll take a pass. But we have our perceptions and others have theirs. In the hall one of my female classmates greeted me with “I’m Terry you probably don’t remember me. You never liked me, Paul” I was speechless. I remember her. She made my heart dance every time I saw her and every time I thought of her. Even now if I think of her she makes my heart dance. It was not a lust thing or wanting a relationship thing it was just that she was so bubbly and wry with her outlook on life and ironic her remarks. But how do you say that in a noisy room and not come off looking kind of odd and maybe a little creepy. So she can stick to her perceptions and I guess I will stick with mine.
I went upstairs and grabbed a couple of pops for Juanita and I then came back and mingled a bit and Juanita asked if I was okay with her leaving early and she walked the four blocks up to Judi’s and met her friend, Nancy walking down to the Blackberry festival. I mingled a bit and sat and visited a bit and then went and looked at some memorabilia spread out on a table and sat and visited some more and then headed home around ten. In the memorabilia was a kindergarten picture from Grief Point School. The subjects of the picture lacked a certain individuality and would be fungible with almost any other kindergarteners. I looked around the room. There is a pattern. We were all pretty much fungible with any other group of people in their late sixties. Hmm. I guess the sweet spot of individuality is somewhere in the middle. It sure aint at the edges.
On the Saturday there was a dinner at the Laughing Oyster on Okeover Arm. We dined. We danced. We sang. And we snuck our prescription pills at dinner. I met a classmate I have not seen since university and enjoyed his effort to minimize his business success. He is one of the most focused people I have met, He knew what he wanted and molded his education (Commerce) and even his hobbies (golf) to his life plan. It seems to have worked on an economic level and he seems comfortable in his own skin which is about all one can tell over dinner. I visited again with my classmate’s husband from Ottawa. Last night he had mentioned that they had changed out the windows on their house. She observed that when he told people in Ottawa they asked “How much did it cost?” and people in Powell River asked “How long did it take you?” A definite town versus city observation. I’d say, working class versus professional thing but for an experience a few years ago. I mentioned to a co-worker on a construction site that I had a web page. He came back the next day in awe saying, “this guy built a house!” an accomplishment I am pleased with but kind of take for granted. It is a small house and I have trouble thinking of many acquaintances that couldn’t build a house. If this guy, a skilled tradesman, was in awe it may be that it is city thing, not a working class thing.
We were all asked to provide a biography of life since high school for a booklet handed out at the grad reunion. I enjoyed the others’ bios. Here’s mine:
After high school I wasted a few years at UBC, working summers at the Powel River mill. One summer I didn’t go back, took the real estate licensing course and sold real estate for a little over a year before getting briefly involved in a restaurant. My education in partnerships complete I went to work in the paper mill in Technical Services. In 1975 I started an apprenticeship in industrial instrumentation. Somewhere in there I had bought and sold a few houses and had bought a corner store to turn into a corner pub when the law changed to allow such creatures. Before that happened I went to church to meet a girl and met Christ instead which changed my life for now and, hopefully, for eternity.
About a year after meeting Christ I met my wife, Juanita, while visiting friends in Tucson, Arizona. We were married in Tucson three months later and she moved to Canada to live with me in the old corner store converted to a duplex when owning a bar and being a Christian seemed a bad mix. We had a few years of bliss and then we had a couple of daughters. Bliss, but of a different sort. When they were born, Juanita ceased paid employment and became a full time mother. Eventually she decided to home school our two daughters and successfully completed that task to high school graduation years later. Both daughters did as well or better than they would have in the public school system of the time and one went on to receive her honors degree in civil engineering which she worked at until taking leave to raise children. Our daughters live in Edmonton and Meadow Lake and have three children each ranging in age from five months to fifteen years as of February 2016.
After seventeen years at the paper mill I read a review of a promotional tour of a book “Never Work for a Jerk”, the most influential book I never read. There was a ten-point test in the article. My boss at the time passed with flying colours. I went to work for the best boss I will ever have at a pulp mill start-up in Whitecourt, Alberta. Two years later I worked on the purchasing, design and start-up of the zero liquid effluent pulp mill in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. My plan was to keep moving and keep building pulp and paper mills with this company, but the world economy decided it did not need any more mills from us so I stayed working there. My final ten years were as Maintenance and Engineering Manager and relief Mill Manager. In 2004 we subdivided our 40 acre wooded parcel into two 20 acre parcels. In 2005, we sold the house and twenty acres and kept the other twenty acres to park our fifth wheel trailer on when we were in the area.
In 2005, at age 57, I retired after eighteen years with that employer. We volunteered the first summer helping at Bethel Gospel Camp in Meadow Lake Provincial Park and then drove our fifth wheel south to Oaxaca, Mexico and volunteered most of the winter at an orphanage. We came from Mexico and worked our first assignment as volunteers with SOWERS (Servants on Wheels Ever Ready) a couples’ ministry which helps a month at a time at various ministries in Canada and the United States.
Somewhere in there I earned a minor Steam Engineering ticket, a journeyman electric ticket to go with the instrumentation and a Masters in Business Administration degree. They all get used in our efforts as volunteers and puttering around in retirement. Details can be found on our web site www.paulalton.com.
Since 2007 I have been working anywhere from two to six months a year in petrochemical plants doing electrical instrumentation hands on or supervision. It funds our annual trips south. Some years we go to the States to do SOWERS projects and spend January in Nicaragua and on alternate years we stay in Canada until Christmas and go south to Nicaragua and other parts of Central America for January and February.
Near the end of August we celebrated grandson Kohen’s birthday with his family.