Thursday, April 29, 2010
I first learned of Camp Homewood when I was a fairly young child. Many students and staff at the school had either attended as campers or worked on the staff. Every conference a representative from the camp would come out to the school and hold an informational seminar. They would distribute literature, show slides or a film and recruit for the summer.
Sometime during my grade nine year, Dan Krestinski, who was the high school boys dean at the time, approached my parents and suggested that maybe I should attend Camp Homewood that summer. They ran a two week Counselor in Training ( CIT ) program and then a select group were chosen to stay for the remaining six weeks of the summer. Dan must have instinctively known that I could benefit from this program and so I was chosen to spend the entire eight weeks at the camp. He waived the camp policy of requiring you to be sixteen, as I had just turned fifteen. I count this summer as one of those defining moments in my life and am forever grateful to Dan for taking me under his wing at that juncture.
I had obtained a fancy green ladies hat from the Tilly shop and by completely dismantling it down to the felt I was able to shape it to look like a Robin Hood hat. This was to become my trademark hat for the next couple of months. The night before we were to leave I was goofing off in the gym and my glasses fell to the concrete floor smashing one lens. My summer started with having to wear my taped glasses with only one lens until another pair was ordered and arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later.
Beginning with the six hundred mile bus ride out to the coast, to the ferry ride to Vancouver Island, the summer was full of many memories. Highlights included attending the stock car races in nearby Black Creek and early morning salmon fishing trips with Les Foder in the jet boat. The three chords I still know on guitar, I learned that summer. I learned to sail and repel. For a kid from the prairies the ocean opened up endless possibilities for adventure. On our days off we would wander around the big wharfs in Campbell River where luxury yachts of every make and description were docked. Among others I remember the Boeing corporate yacht and the boat belonging to the owner of the Seattle Sea Hawk's. Olivia Newton John's yacht was anchored out in the harbor just some distance from the camp and many a camp meeting was spent hoping for a glimpse of the superstar with no success. We did have a chance to visit with some of her crew and we all thought it would be a pretty good gig.
Alf Bayne, the founder of the camp, had a large motorized, converted fishing boat called the Goforth. Alf would take the CIT's out on trips in the boat and we were able to see whales, seals and sea otters. The phosphor in the water at night was beautiful. Alf was a very good cinematographer and was working on a promotional movie for Reimer Express trucking company that summer. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with him about the film-making process.
One memorable canoe trip we as CIT's took, was through a series of fresh water lakes out to the ocean. We spent several days camping along the coast. One day we collected as many aerosol cans as we could find washed up on the shore. That evening we built a raft out of drift wood, built a fire on it, loaded it up with the cans and launched it out into the ocean. We had our own fireworks display as one by one the cans would explode, shooting fireballs into the dark night sky.
Every day was an adventure as we performed crazy stunts like sleeping on the steep cabin roof, safely tied to the chimney. We would cook up all manner of practical jokes to torment our poor leaders, some of them with disastrous results. David Dunn was one of our leaders who enjoyed a good time and had a little more affinity for our youthful energy. Many a late night was spent around a table with Dave and a bunch of other CIT's, playing Rook which we referred to as "preacher's cards". At the more remote woodsman camp, some of the guys placed slugs inside the girl's sleeping bags to be met later that night with screams and lots of commotion in the girl's tents.
Contrary to the prevailing public opinion, I did pay some attention in school. In chemistry class I had learned that phosphorus and gelatin under pressure and heat makes for a nice explosion. There was an ample supply of stick matches in the camp storeroom. We procured about a dozen or so of these boxes and proceeded to cut the head off of every stick. We spent a good part of our study time that day getting our materials prepared. We divided up the match heads into groups and carefully placed them into tinfoil packets that we fashioned. Once the pouch was full of match heads, the top was folded over and sealed. We secretly ventured out to the rifle range during lunch time and set up the paper targets on the the heavy wooden structure designed for that purpose. We then took thumb tacks and fastened the pouches in behind each individual target so that it could not be seen from the front.
Rushing back to the dining hall we joined the group that would be going to the riflery range that afternoon. We arrived at the range with our instructor who was very surprised and delighted to see that the targets were already in place and we could begin shooting right away. Being the gentlemen we were we insisted that the girls should go first. The girls, shocked at this new found chivalry, agreed, took their places on the shooting platform and loaded their guns. The call was given . . . ready . . . aim . . . fire! The bullets made there way to their intended destination and as they hit the tin foil packs the entire set up exploded into flames . . . targets and all! The girls freaked out. Needless to say our instructor was not the least bit impressed. We learned that day that it pays to listen in school and that guns and matches don't mix!
To learn more about Camp Homewood and see some of the majestic pictures go to:
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Petra was the biggest group in Christian music at the time and toured nonstop. The band had just come off the highly successful More Power To Ya album and tour and were seeking to up the ante. Clearly the band was a sum of it's parts; good songs from writer Bob Hartman and strong lead vocals from Greg X Volz, but they also benefited from the super savvy management and booking of Mark Hollingsworth.
Mark was, and is, one of the most knowledgeable guys I have ever met in the music business. He understands the role of relationships, radio, media and touring better than most. There is not a doubt in my mind that without the skills that Mark brought to the table along with his relentless drive, Petra would not have had the success they enjoyed for so many years. The marketing plan that he created for a Steve Taylor album and tour some years later still blows my mind.
After keyboardist John Slick had made his exit from the band, they hired Rob Watson of Daniel Amos fame to fill in on keyboards for several legs of the tour. The band eventually settled on John Lawry as a permanent member and John stayed on for quite a few years. Rob and I call each other cousin as there is some remote chance that we are related going back to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, both past presidents of the United States. Years later Rob and I worked together on a project called Great Hymns of the Faith - Keyboard Textures for the Twentieth Century. This project took old hymns and used modern synth sounds to give these old classics a new life. We created this album in a studio in Orange County, California in 1987 and had a great time working together. One of the "cutting edge" innovations at the time was the very first Digital Performer programs. We sequenced the entire project, not using one piece of analog tape or a microphone. We had about 20 keyboards and modules lined up around the control room all firing simultaneously. This was all "recorded" on a Mac Plus and mixed direct to digital.
Through Mark's relationship with Kerry Livgren, Petra was able to get hold of a previously used lighting rig from a past Kansas tour. This spaceship looking rig was perched high over top of the band and certainly added a great visual element, fitting in nicely with the Not Of This World theme. One of the little things I came up with was to take a small cosmetics mirror and lay it upside down on the drum riser. During the song Blinded Eyes, Greg would run by the drum riser attaching the back of the mirror to the palm of his hand. At just the right time he would hold his arm straight out to the audience. As the mirror picked up the follow spot he would shine this light back out into the audience for a pretty cool effect.
Another song the band would perform every night was called Occupy. I had one of the road crew purchase a fairly large remote controlled army tank. Unknown to Greg, during that song, one of the crew drove the tank out behind him and then out to the front of the stage. The crew had attached a small flag to the tank with one of Greg's favorite slogans, "O YEAH!", written on it. The tank climbed over cables and the gun turret cycled back and forth. Greg saw the tank and began singing at it, then backing up as the tank came forward. The tank retreated and Greg "charged". This went back and forth for a while, until the end of the song when the tank made it's exit. The audience loved it and this became part of the routine on that tour.
Somewhere Rob and I had procured a box of Black Cat firecrackers. There are spots in the US where the selling of fireworks is a very big deal. I can't tell you how many stores I've seen claiming to be the "World's Largest Outlet". We had a lot of fun seeing what creative endeavors we could get up to with these little devices. One of our favorites was to go to an empty mall parking lot at night and drop a lit Black Cat down one of the large drains. I am pleased to report that there must not have been any sewer gas down there or we could have blown the place, and us, sky high. The sound would rumble and echo for ages underneath the entire mall parking lot providing great entertainment.
I decided that I would take one of these Black Cats and give Greg a bit of a surprise. At the end of one of the songs, I snuck around back stage and came up between Louie Weaver's drum riser and Rob's keyboard rig. The idea was that I would light the Black Cat at just the right moment and lob it so it would land right behind Greg. This was meant to coordinate with a big drum flourish finale that Louie would be playing at that point and the explosion would just add to the whole effect.
I got myself into position, lit the fuse, cocked my arm back and . . . BANG!!! The Black Cat went off in my hand. I am not sure if the fuse was defective, or if I waited too long, but the end result was the same. Louie was laughing so hard he almost quit playing. Rob was killing himself as I'm sure the look of shock and pain on my face was priceless. Greg kept right on as if nothing had happened. Probably with the noise of the band he didn't hear it. If I hadn't physically seen my hand I would have thought it wasn't there. It felt like it was gone. Over the next few days all the fingers and thumb on my right hand went black and blue and slowly the feeling returned. The Black Cat had bitten back and I was it's victim.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Blessings - SjR
Monday, April 26, 2010
Grade twelve is one of life's many dichotomies. A time where it seems that you have one foot still in your childhood and the other in young adulthood. Straddling the chasm between the past and the future, the road that lays ahead looks both challenging and daunting. The fear of the unknown, expectations of the future, questions about one's potential mate, future occupation, etc., all combine to fill you with uncertainty.
June rolls around and there is excitement in the air. Final exams, graduation and parting with friends that you might never see again all converge as the school year draws to an end.
June 4th, 1979, the Saturday before we were to graduate, a group of teenagers were partying in a neighboring town. Drinking, combined with poor judgment, led these teens to play chicken that fateful afternoon. On a long stretch of road east of their town, the two cars met head-on with disastrous results. A tragic loss of life was the outcome. The next morning, the whole town was buzzing with this horrible news. A girl in our class was meant to have been in one of the cars. At the insistence of her parents, she had come to a class function that was being held for us at our school.
The Sunday afternoon after the tragedy, was a beautiful spring day. Phil Callaway and I decided to take his Ford Maverick and drive up to the town to see if we could find the cars. We had no idea what we were about to witness. It seems macabre, but we were young, curious and always looking for an adventure. Endless blue skies lay before us as we headed north on Highway 21 that afternoon. After arriving, we quickly found the wrecking yard where the two cars had been towed. Today, accident vehicles are normally locked away from public view. As I recall, one car was a Javelin and the other a Charger. Both of these cars were crushed almost beyond recognition. There was not a pane of glass left in either car. The motor of one car was nowhere to be found. Maybe it was still in the ditch? The shaft of the steering wheel was completely through the front seat of one of the cars. We could still make out the speedometers and they were stuck at well over 100 miles an hour. Blood, bottles and glass lay strewn about both vehicles.
A hundred thoughts race though your head in times like these. The knot in my stomach was real and it hurt. I was in complete shock at what I was seeing. I was trying hard to process my thoughts. Numb, I thought about the decisions I had made and had yet to make in my life. I grieved for their family and friends. I thought about my friends. I thought about my own family. Knowing that most of these kids were my age made the whole scene seem so real. I wondered how a loving God could ever allow this to happen. We were speechless. Looking closer into one of the cars, something caught my eye. There, amidst the horrific carnage, seemingly untouched by the wreck, lay a copy of an 8-track tape. There were other 8-tracks scattered around the interior, some with their tape pulled out of the shells, lying about like long brown shoelaces. Others were crushed, their titles unrecognizable. I think we all have defining moments in our lives and this was certainly one for me. The concept of consequence seemed very close to home.
The tape that caught my attention and seemed to be staring right back at me was a copy of Led Zeppelin's Houses Of The Holy. The cover art for Houses of the Holy was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End. The ending involves several hundred million naked children, only slightly physically resembling the human race in basic forms. It is a collage of several photographs which were taken at the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. In every way this was a most eerie sight. As I stood there on that hot June day, I remarked to Phil, "This is not very Holy." It was surreal.
The drive back to Three Hills was deathly quiet except for the engine hum of the little Maverick. Both of us were shocked at what we had seen, the images indelibly burned into our brains. I remember Phil remarking that if those two cars could be toured around and displayed at high schools around the province it would have a very sobering effect. We never talked much about that day.
I am not casting any blame or aspersions on Led Zeppelin as I think they are one of the seminal groups of their era. I own a number of Led Zeppelin titles in my library, but the one title that I have never bought and have never listened to, is Houses Of The Holy . . . I've just never had the stomach.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Printing had been a long tradition at Prairie, starting sometime in the 1930's with lead type machines and ending in the 1990's with high-tech Heidelberg colour presses straight from Germany. It is interesting to note that PBI acquired their first press from a disposal sale of seized property. The press in question had actually been used to print counterfeit money!
Employing twenty to thirty people at it's peak, there always seem to be a need for qualified workers in the printing department. Advertisements for these job openings were placed in various magazines, brochures and newsletters that the school would print and distribute. There were a number of American citizens on staff and the personnel department would assist these folk with their visas and immigration documents to allow them to move to and work in Canada. Many of the border officials in Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota became familiar over the years with not only the name of the school, but some of the individual staff members and students as well. There was a constant flow of students and staff and usually the officers were quite cooperative and civil, making for an easier transition back and forth.
My friend Harold Leo graduated from the school in the '70's, moved back to the United States, married and settled down. Harold was made aware of a need in the pre-press department at the school and so applied for the job and was accepted. I count it a great privilege to have worked with Harold during the Harvest Music label era. You won't find a more conscientious and hard worker than Harold. With all their worldly belongings in tow, Harold and his wife Debbie headed off to Canada. At the border they were asked to produce their paperwork, including the letter of acceptance from the school, for the job in question. Normally this process could be quite lengthy, so they braced for the worst. Harold handed the officer the letter and waited for her response. Looking up, the officer said, "What the @#$% does a Bible school need a stripper for?" On the letter it said that Harold was being accepted at the school in the position of stripper! After reviewing the documents, the border guard finished her interview and with a wry smile, looked at Harold and said, "Well, if PBI wants a male stripper they can have you. Get out of here!" The whole process had taken no more than fifteen minutes.
For those unfamiliar with the terms used in the printing business, back in the dark ages and well into the '90's, pre-press specialists were commonly called ... strippers. The job of a stripper was to photograph galleys and piece together, or "strip", the film so press plates could be burned. They would work with negatives, film and plates to make sure the finished printing job was accurate and in proper register. The personnel department had simply used the term popular at that time for this position and had inserted it into the letter of acceptance. Harold quickly explained that it would not be him who would be doing the stripping. Well, actually it would be him stripping, but a different type than the officer was thinking of. He then explained a bit about the job. I'm sure the customs officers had a good chuckle over that for weeks to follow.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
As fate would have it, that September, a fellow by the name of Cameron enrolled in our school and joined our grade ten class. Cameron was at least eighteen and unknown to any of us, had already been in trouble with the law. The reality of the situation was probably that Cameron had been "sent" to our school to try and help reform him and get him on the straight and narrow. This was fairly common in those days and often introduced students into our midst that were wise beyond their years and probably not the best influence on their fellow students. Now, an eighteen year old hardly fits in with a grade ten class of fifteen and sixteen year olds so Cameron struck out to find more suitable companions. As the old saying goes, "Birds of a feather flock together"; Cameron and Kevin made a fine pair as they dreamed up their next adventure.
Kevin came down with the flu and was admitted to the campus infirmary. While there, he managed to steal some pain pills from the dispensary. After he was discharged from the infirmary, he and Cameron would take the pills and stay up all night. They hung out, walked around, and tried to stay out of sight of the night watchmen. One night, they stumbled across a big ring of keys that were lost or possibly misplaced by the night watchmen or some other staff member. PBI had a graded system of keys. Some were keyed for limited access to individual rooms, departments, etc. Others were master keys and would allow access to the entire campus. The boys tried a few doors and found out that they could get into any building on campus. They had in their possession a master key! The question became, which buildings should they conquer?
In 1976, the campus of Prairie Bible Institute was BIG. It comprised 120 acres, over 300 staff, close to 1000 students and several dozen departments that did everything from pasteurizing milk from the farm, to selling groceries, gas and books. Kevin knew the layout and the culture well. He knew that every night the night watchmen made their rounds of the campus. It was basically the same route night after night. You could almost set your watch by these guys, especially when they would open up the Dining Hall for a round of grub in the middle of the night! Kevin also knew there were a half dozen sources of revenue on the campus and at certain times these locations were completely unmanned. The Staff Store, Bookroom, and Post Office became their targets that fateful night.
As it turns out their timing could not have been better. The chosen time for their misdeeds coincided nicely with preparations for the annual fall missionary conference. This world renowned conference ran from early Thursday morning through Sunday evening. Several thousand people would gather in the large Tabernacle and partake of a full program of speakers, missionaries and music. The Friday evening before conference week was a perfect night for an adventure of this magnitude. As luck would have it, because of preparations for the conference, the department heads had not been able to take their cash to the central cashier's wicket at the closing of Friday's business. This was where all of the accounting for the school was undertaken. A further bonus was that they would probably not miss anything until Monday when they returned to work. At each location the boys were met with a whack of cash. Remember this was before credit and debit cards were de riguer. Before they knew it they had amassed several thousand dollars and several hundred postage stamps. I'm not sure what they were planning to do with the stamps, but I feel quite confident in saying it wasn't to mail out a prayer letter.
Now what should they do? It was decided that they should hide the money and lay low for a few days.
The boys decided that they would stash the cash in the false ceiling of the ladies restroom on the third floor of the main classroom building. Sneaking into the restroom, standing on a toilet seat, they quickly lifted the panel and the bag of cash was safe and sound. Cameron had cooked up a plan to steal a vehicle and head for Toronto where he assured Kevin that he knew some people who could fix them up with new ID's. Kevin may have been foolish and under the influence, but even to him that didn't sound like a good plan. Kevin talked Cameron into sticking around. No one knew anything, they were safe, he assured him.
Monday morning dawned and the tired staff made their way back to their various places of service. It didn't take long until the cry was sounded and the entire campus was buzzing with news of the "Great Robbery". Who could have done it? How did they know there was all this cash laying about? How was it that no one saw them? The questions came fast and furious. It seemed that no one knew anything, no one had seen anything, and the boys thought they were scott free!
Later that weekend, they were out walking around Three Hills and decided to check the town school and see if any doors were open. Maybe they figured they were on a roll, I don't know. They found a door that had been left open and went in. Once inside they broke into the school office. They were not able to find any money or anything to steal . . . bummer! Heading back to the dorm around 1:30 in the morning, they were walking through an alley when a policeman spotted them. He pulled into the alley and asked the boys what they were doing. There just happened to be a dog walking nearby so Kevin told him they were out walking their dog. The officer seemed to buy that and let them go on their way. The wheels started turning and the boys panicked. The realized that come morning, when the break in at the school was discovered, they would be remembered and identified. They decided to confess to the crime! This confession was only for the Three Hills school break in. They proclaimed their innocence about the break-ins at Prairie. The boys were expelled from PHS and a court date was set. Cameron left town to return home and get a job while he waited for the court date. Kevin waited for his parents to come down and pick him up.
In those days, attendance at all meetings was required. It was taken by row checkers who made sure your bottom was warming a hard wooden pew and if it wasn't, you were turned in to a higher authority who would then issue you a "D" , short for detention. An accumulation of D's earned you the right to perform some manual labor. This could take the form of painting in the campus boiler house, raking leaves, shoveling snow or whatever could be thought up to help you remember to behave yourself in the future. This row checker system had the added benefit of being able to scrutinize you to make sure you were wearing a tie and that you had a regulation hair cut. On the far side of the auditorium, (or "The Jordan" as it was called), the girls were going through a similar check for skirt length, make up, hairstyle, etc.
Kevin decided that he would attend one of the conference meetings that evening. He sat through a round of congregational singing, some special music, and announcements. Then it was the missionary's turn to speak. During the course of his talk he mentioned that on his way to the conference his car had broken down. He had to have it towed into town and was now facing large bills with no money to pay them.
They say that the Lord works in mysterious ways and at this juncture in time, Kevin was actually listening to the speaker! Maybe it was the mention of a car ( all things vehicles he loved ) that caught his attention or maybe it was this poor fellow's plight, I'm not really sure. After the main speaker and closing invitation and hymn, (which was likely multiple verses of Just As I Am), Kevin shot out of his seat, just as he was, and made his way to the front of the auditorium where the missionary was greeting people. He stood in line and when it was his turn to have a word, he mentioned that he just happened to know where a source of cash was that could help the critical situation with the man's vehicle. In hushed tones, Kevin instructed the missionary to help himself to as much cash as he needed and leave the rest there. He then gave the guy detailed instructions on how to find the location of this wonderful provision. Because Cameron had already returned home, it was impossible to check with him regarding this generous gesture, let alone the fact that their stash would be diluted due to Kevin's generosity. Be that as it may, Kevin heard the appeal, knew of a solution and went ahead and made the offer to the needy missionary.
Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you've been offered a nebulous amount of cash stored in such a dubious location as the ceiling of the ladies restroom, you may just have some reservations as to the source of these funds. The missionary was so stunned by the offer, he neglected to get the donor's name as Kevin quietly slipped back into the crowd. Shocked and a little bewildered, the missionary immediately hurried off to find the boy's dean whom he was sure could help shed some light on this curious situation. He quickly explained his recent conversation with a young high school student and then asked if there had been any missing money reported in the last few days. As a matter of fact there was! This certainly aroused the dean's curiosity. The dean and a couple of staff made their way to the secret location. Lo and behold, in the third floor ladies restroom, above stall three on top of the ceiling tile, was a canvas bag containing several thousand dollars and the stamps, just as the boys had left it. Taking the cash back to his office, the dean was just as puzzled as the missionary. After getting a description of the "donor", they returned to the conference.
The boy's dean, being a fairly savvy individual, immediately knew who the short list of suspects would be. He headed off to find the anonymous donor armed with a very good description from Mr. Missionary. The plot quickly unraveled. This time the police were called and charges were laid against both boys. Cameron, because of his prior record, was sent back to prison and Kevin was placed on probation.
The story does not end there. I have known Kevin almost my entire life, and although he had struggles through some of those years and went through some very rough patches, through God's grace and mercy, his life was turned around. Transformed, Kevin is married to a wonderful lady. Together they have a great family and have become grandparents in recent years. Our families are good friends and to this day Kevin is one of the most generous people you will ever meet. He would do anything to help you including giving you the shirt off his back.
Like back in '76, Kevin knows that it is "much better to give than to receive".
Names have been changed to protect the guilty! "Kevin" is in no way trying to run or hide from his past. He actually asked me to use his real name in this story, but because of not being able to get the same permission from Cameron, I changed them both. Cathy has often told "Kevin" and his wife that they should write their story, as it is amazing in so many ways. What I have recounted here is just a small glimpse.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Friday, April 16, 2010
We headed off to the Palace Theatre on Eighth Avenue. The Palace Theatre was one of those grand old buildings with chandeliers, small stage, red velvet seats and curtains. It seemed so grand, so exciting, so forbidden! Movies or "attendance at the theatre" was strictly against the rules of PBI at that time. For that matter, so were televisions. Mom and Dad never owned a television until they had been married for over twenty five years. Consequently there is a whole era of TV culture that I missed. People sometimes talk about TV shows from those years. "Remember that scene in Bonanza", they will ask? When I reply, "Well, actually I don't", they look at me rather strangely.
Missing out on a life of television viewing wasn't all bad. It gave us more time to be creative. Some of that creativity was good and some not so much. Music, art, sports and hobbies were encouraged and promoted and those were good things. Of course, there were a few families that kept a television in the closet or attic for "special occasions". The Stanley Cup, the Canada Russia series or the first moon walk all seemed to be good reasons for those that owned the banned devices to fire them up. One of the effects of this rule is that we would impose on the fine folk in the town and community for our TV viewing. These people were incredibly gracious and hospitable and seemed to understand the dilemma.
Escape from Alcatraz chronicles the true story of Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, who have the distinction of possibly being the only people to ever escape from the Alcatraz prison in California. Eastwood was in fine form and we enjoyed every second of the thriller as it unfolded. The closing credits rolled and we began our exit to the Eighth Avenue Mall. As we approached the front door, I looked out on the mall. As my eyes adjusted to the daylight, I saw, to my horror, some very familiar faces. There, looking right towards the door of the theatre, was Prairie staff member Hector Hanna. Hector was standing with a group of other staff and students, crowded around an easel. It was part of a presentation that the Open Air Campaigners were making that day on the mall. The OAC, as they were known, would set up in large cities in high traffic areas and preach the gospel message. They used the easel to paint large colored squares on big sheets of paper and then filled them in, to make letters, as the presentation progressed. There was a large, eager group of Prairie folk standing there. We knew most of these people and they knew us. We were busted!... or so I thought. I took another quick look at Hector and realized that he had not seen us, at least I hoped he hadn't. I immediately turned around and motioned to Phil, Brent and Dave to follow me. We headed against the flow of patrons to the back of the theatre. Taking a cue from the movie, we made our exit through the fire escape doors and out into the alley. A few deep breaths later, we started back to our car.
Phil had another item on his "to do" list that day. That was to find the Calgary Police Department and pay a fine for a traffic violation from a previous trip. We decided that we would walk the several blocks to the station and started off. When we arrived at the station on sixth avenue we realized we were on the opposite side of the street. Finding a break in the traffic we dashed across the street.
Entering the front doors, we passed a gentleman making his way out of the building. This guy looked every bit like Popeye, or maybe Mr. Clean, and was as bald as a peanut with tattoos decorating his muscular arms. His t-shirt had a logo of a pig wearing a blue police hat. The slogan on it was not very flattering to the men in blue, or to the pig, as I recall. "Wow!", I thought to myself, "Does that guy ever have guts coming into a police station dressed like that!" A reference was made to this anomaly as we made our way to the front counter to pay Phil's ticket.
Unknown to us, Popeye had turned around and followed us back into the building. As we walked closer to the counter, he held out his arms. Motioning to us, he said to the officer on duty. "Sergeant Dixon, write these four boys up for jaywalking". He then turned around and left. We were shocked to say the least. The sergeant began to ask us for our names and ID's and wrote each of us a ticket. We learned later that Popeye was an undercover officer.
Some of the more cynical would say, "Serves you right for attending the theatre, boys". As for me, I always look for Popeye before I cross the street!
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
With close to one hundred thousand books in his collection, in addition to thousands of magazine clippings and other documents, it was clear that words dominated every inch of our house. Dad has been collecting books since he was twelve years old and still shows no sign of slowing down. Old books, new books, large books, small books, Dad loves them all. He could pretty much put his hand on anything you might be looking for to finish a report or research project in school.
I was fully immersed in this culture of words from my earliest memories. Mom and Dad would listen to the BBC show "My Word" on CBC and would try to outsmart and out guess the contestants. Long discussions at meal times over syntax, context, grammar and punctuation dominated the conversation. Dictionaries and other writing tools were always at the ready to settle any dispute. Mom and Dad loved Scrabble and the game brought out their competitive spirits. Puns and clever nuances were the order of the day. Dad would sit in his recliner almost every evening grading papers, preparing sermons or reading a book. He was a good multi-tasker. He could listen to the CBC Concert Hall program and have a conversation with Mom, or occasionally us boys, all while reading his book.
Dad kept a stash of red pencils on a tray beside his chair. I think he bought these at the PBI Bookroom in boxes of 12. He would go through all the pencils and when they were dull, he would get up and sharpen the whole lot at once. He claimed this was a much more efficient way of using his time and he was probably right. With these pencils he would underline important thoughts and points in his books. Corrections were made to any punctuation or spelling mistakes that he found. This he did by underlining the offending spot and then writing a note in the margin of the book. Occasionally, he would also write in small reference notes that brought more light or clarification to the subject at hand.
Bible 10 was held at 11:30 a.m. Monday to Friday in the basement math room of the High School building. Our teacher was also the Dean of High school girls and had several other responsibilities. Many times she would be late, not really prepared and in general seemed unsure as to the direction of the class. She was frustrated as she tried to impart some sort of spiritual formation to a bunch of restless high school kids. One day I had had enough. I thought of various ways that I could show my frustration to this teacher. I thought about a petition. I talked to my classmates and found that many shared my frustration, but no one would sign the document. I encouraged everyone to write letters, but no one did. I stopped short of picketing. However, in my own haste and foolishness I composed a letter to the teacher and unleashed as much venom and anger as my little Grade 10 brain could muster. "That should do something", I said to myself as I popped the letter in the mail.
To say "something" happened would be an understatement!
I was summoned to Principal Ken Penner's office. He asked me, "Rendall, did you write this letter?", as he waved the offending document in my face. "Yes. I did", I replied. Ken continued, "I have called your Father, and he is on his way over from his office." "O boy", I thought, "this could get interesting." To add to my stupidity, and wanting to show an inclusive spirit, I had taken the liberty of citing the names of various other students who felt like I did. Evidently, that was a big no no. I have known Ken my whole life and I could tell that he was not the least bit impressed. Quite the opposite - he was ticked. This was not the desired result. After a lengthy summit meeting with my Father and Ken it was decided that I would have to meet with the teacher, apologize for my letter and my behavior, and promise to behave myself for the remainder of the school year. There may have been some manual labor in the boiler plant assigned as well. I was a frequent visitor to the boiler plant but I am not always clear in my old age which specific offences landed me there. I think I painted the same wall multiple times and became fairly adept at busting up large chunks of concrete with a sledgehammer. I was informed in no uncertain terms that if I caused any more trouble things could and would get a whole lot worse.
You see, I never understood at the time the tremendous pressure and responsibility this teacher was under. She had way too much on her plate and I am sure teaching our class at the end of the morning was the last thing she wanted to do. Having to deal with knotheads like me, just made things worse. As an adult who has had to deal with more than a little pressure and too much on my plate, I have a much better appreciation for what she must have been going through at the time. In the heat of the moment, selfishly, all I could think about were my own needs and the needs of the class. I never gave any consideration to the teacher's needs or to her situation. The words I used in my letter were mean, hurtful and spirit crushing. There was no excuse.
Dad took me aside after the meeting and told me two things that I have never forgotten. He said, " Son, never document in writing something that you do not want to be used against you." Or, as Jane Fonda has so aptly written, "Best not leave everlasting proof of your temporary insanity". The other piece of advice was, "If you write a letter out of anger or frustration, put it in a drawer for at least a day or two. When you go back to it, see if you still feel the same way or if your letter could be rewritten." I have tried to live out those two pieces of advice in my life. I haven't always succeeded, but I am sure Dad's wisdom has helped me on more than one occasion.
We have all heard the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Don't believe a word of it! Words are powerful! Words can inflict pain, cause heartache and discouragement. In our interaction with our partners, children, friends and business associates, let's all choose to use words that will encourage, heal and bring hope. . . and by the way, if you need a red pencil to make a few corrections, I think Dad may have an extra one or maybe a dozen kicking around.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Settling into an apartment, I was renting with a friend from my home town, I began to scour the newspapers looking for work. I came across an ad for a construction laborer job, phoned the number and set up a time for an interview. The appointed time came, the interview went well and I had me a job with Paradise Construction. Turns out the company was misnamed and it wasn't paradise after all. I was told to buy a 22 oz. framing hammer, a tool pouch, and measuring tape, and show up for work at 5:30 a.m. There we would to meet the crew van that would take us to our work site for the day.
Morning came and I commandeered the little red Falcon down Macleod Trail to the chosen meeting spot. I climbed into the fifteen passenger van with no windows and met my fellow workers. They were a pretty rough bunch, and a lot older than I was. They looked at me with my shiny new hammer and tool pouch and probably thought, "How is that skinny kid going to swing that hammer all day? It must weigh about half as much as he does!" Our driver, Pat, was a particularly colourful character and would start drinking Jack Daniels as soon as we left the parking lot. Pat must have taken driving lessons from Grandpa Norbo because his creativity knew no bounds. There were some days that if he felt the traffic was moving too slow or maybe was backed up a little, he would just send the van careening into the ditch and drive along until he thought it best to return to the road. This was especially troubling as most of us could not see out any windows. The crew would all sit on the floor, because there were tool and parts bins installed on either side of the van walls, and most of the seats had been removed. In retrospect, that may have been a good thing, as we didn't know how much danger we were actually in.
Through the summer I worked pretty hard swinging my hammer and learning something about building. We were constructing hog barns and pole sheds down by Okotoks. Maybe because I didn't know any better, or maybe because I was the new kid on the block, the crew took great amusement in giving me all the grunt work. I would tar around the concrete pony walls, my body squeezed between the cold earth and concrete. When it came time to install the rafters, I would be sent along to ride up with the first two. The crane would hoist me thirty or forty feet in the air and I would tack the first starting rafters together so that the roof could be installed. Never really afraid of heights, up I would go, with no harness or rope, simply hanging on for dear life. I enjoyed the work and the money, and would come home hungry as a bear and completely tired out. We would often head off to Mother Tucker's where the food portions were large and we would get our money's worth.
Towards the end of the second week of August, I was coming around the corner of a barn, with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. I got a little to close to the flashing that went around the bottom of the wall. The flashing caught my hand and ripped a good sized tear. I was bleeding badly, so one of the crew drove me back to Calgary's Rockyview Hospital. The wound was cleaned, and stitched up, and my hand was put in a splint. I was told I shouldn't work for several weeks and was sent on my way. Disappointed, I returned to the apartment wondering what I was going to do for the next two and a half weeks before school was to begin.
I sat down that evening with the newspaper and began to comb the want ads. I came across an ad that said, "How would you like your next pay check to be $2,000.00?" The ad stated that training would be provided and gave a phone number. I called the number that evening and a girl answered the phone. It turned out that I had reached the Calgary office of Filter Queen vacuum cleaners and they were recruiting door to door salespeople. I had always enjoyed selling things and had some limited success over the years. When I was in grade school, I would sell "Special Editions" of the Three Hills Capital outside the Dining Hall during fall and spring conference. These special editions were priced at ten cents. They included write ups on the speakers and the school and sold like hotcakes. Later I sold decorative soaps door-to-door for my Mom and made a little spending money. I had, however, never considered selling vacuum cleaners! The secretary explained how easy it was, and that they would train me. She indicated that I could make some good money before returning back to school that fall. I was told they had a strict dress code and to show up in a suit and tie. I agreed to go along for an orientation session the next day.
The offices of Filter Queen were in a very unassuming section of the city and looked plain and nondescript. There were a series of offices past the reception area and a large training room. A bunch of guys were seated in the room. I was introduced to Al, a hyper, chain-smoking guy dressed in a fancy suit, who talked a mile a minute. Al was the sales manager. He told me to take a seat as the show was about to begin. And what a show it was! Al would jump on the table, recite some crazy Filter Queen poem like a mantra, sing a Filter Queen anthem all the while juggling his cigarette. In between these highlights he would talk about what made Filter Queen a great vacuum cleaner and emphasized all the money we would make if we were to sell this fine product. At the time, I think the commission structure was about one hundred and twenty-five dollars per machine sold. There would be some extra bonuses if you were the top guy that day, week or month. The company had prepared a sales binder and Al assured us that if you followed this well-researched and time-honored sales manual you would get sales. It may take a few calls, but you would sell.
I don't recall all my reasons, (the money may have had something to do with it), but I signed up. After another day or two of "training", I was ready. Shelley, the office girl checked out a complete sales kit for me and gave me two machines and power nozzles as my starting inventory. She was an attractive blond, who wore midriff baring shirts that, while not exactly office attire, showed off her belly ring to good effect. Not having been overly acquainted with this type of jewelry back at PBI, where even pierced ears were frowned on, this was a sight indeed. I learned after a couple of days that her nickname was Shelley belly.
The Filter Queen franchise for Southern Alberta was owned by a fellow named Vito Carlini. Rocco, his brother, owned the Vancouver and lower mainland franchise in British Columbia. Vito drove a big, black Lincoln Mark lV and would sometimes dispatch me to the airport to pick up representatives from head office or other business associates. I enjoyed driving the car and was always eager to go on any errands that Vito had for me to run.
These guys had a real system down. The salesperson at the bottom would be fired every week. There always seemed to be new blood to take their place. If you were late for a sales meeting there would be fines handed out. If you forgot to wear your tie you were fined. If you skipped a sales appointment you were fined. After a couple of misses, you were fired. Donald Trump had nothing on these guys. Wow! These guys had more rules than Prairie. Their system worked, the sales numbers the organization was putting up were staggering. If I remember correctly there were about forty sales people. The office would manage all our sales leads. They also had another team out canvassing neighborhoods or attaching small leaflets on cars at malls. The leaflets informed people they had won a prize, and if they just would call a certain number, arrangements would be made to deliver their prize to them. Just one catch - they had to listen to a brief presentation on an exciting new product the company was promoting. The prizes were your choice of a bamboo salad bowl set or a macrame owl. You wouldn't think such cheesy prizes would work, but they did. The phone rang off the hook.
To make a long story short, I was on a roll. I worked my butt off for the next two weeks and sold over forty machines. Their ad was right! Toward the end of the summer I received a sales lead to go out to a farm east of Strathmore. I packed 2 machines and power nozzles in the car, threw in my briefcase and headed out of the city. It was the end of August and the crops had started to turn a beautiful golden color. The farmers were just waiting for harvest. Arriving at the farmyard, I noticed two farm houses at either end of the yard and decided to drive up to one and take my chances that it was the right house. I parked the car, took out a machine and power nozzle and grabbed my briefcase. I had started up the sidewalk to the house when I noticed a large black lab bounding across the yard toward me. I love animals and this guy looked very friendly, so I continued to walk towards the door. Arriving at the door I was able to juggle my wares enough to be able to ring the bell. As I was standing there waiting for someone to answer the door the dog leapt up the stairs and stood beside me acting as friendly as could be. "Good dog", I said, unable to pet the animal due to the equipment. "Good Dog . . . good boy, thata boy."
Just then the door opened, and the lady with whom I had the appointment indicated I should come in. At the very same instant her huge dog lifted his back leg and peed. From the knee down I felt warm liquid making it's way all the way down to my shoe. As my shoe was filling up, I thanked the lady for inviting me and stepped into her house. I wasn't sure what to do. If I took my shoes off, as is the custom in Canada, I would leave one wet footprint wherever I went in her house. If I said something to her about what had just happened, I could distract or offend her, and may not get the chance to demonstrate the vacuum. In a split second I decided to say nothing, be rude, stay in my shoes and soldier on. As I walked in I could hear a faint squishy sound coming from my shoe. She invited me into the living room where I proceeded to run through my entire demonstration. I was not able to sit or kneel on her carpet during the demonstration for fear of a leaking shoe, so I stood the entire time. I got out the dust scope to show her how poor a job her present vacuum was doing. I vacuumed up big lead "bullets" to impress her how powerful the Filter Queen was. I went through all the options that came with the machine: the shampoo unit, massager and various other attachments. The lady seemed very impressed. I am sure she was wondering about the smell, but she said nothing. Finally she spoke up and said, "This is fantastic! If you could just give me a minute, I would like to call my daughter-in-law over at the other house. She would love to come over and see what this machine can do."
"Are you kidding me?" I thought. My foot was now starting to stick to my shoe. My pant leg and sock were firmly glued to my leg and the smell... "That would be great", I answered and off she went into the kitchen to call her daughter-in-law. After about a ten minute wait, which seemed like an eternity, the daughter-in-law showed up. The lady of the house introduced me, instructing her daughter-in-law to take a seat. She then asked me to run through my entire demonstration again! I finished up, wondering if I was ever going to get out of there. Just then the older lady spoke up, "I just love this machine", she said, "We'll take two." This was music to my ears! I thanked the ladies for their business, wrote up the contract and went out to the car to get the other machine. Squish, squish, squish...
Trying to look as if this was all in a days work, and that there was no real hurry, I gathered my briefcase and headed back out to the car. Heading out of the driveway and onto the main road, I found the first turn-out I could see. Pulling my car off the road, I quickly stripped off my pants, socks and shoes. Rolling the sticky smelly mess into a ball, I put the whole thing on the rubber floor mat on the passenger side. I drove back to Calgary as fast as I could go. Arriving in front of the apartment building, I got out of the car, tied my suit coat like a skirt around my waist, and headed into the building. I can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking as they saw this barefoot, barelegged guy with a dress shirt and tie and a suit coat wrapped around his waist hightailing it up the stairs of the building. A shower never felt so good as it did that day. The commission check made the whole thing seem a whole lot easier to take. The next time I was approached by a friendly dog, I kept an eye on that hind leg!
Note: At the end of the summer, Vito called me into his office and suggested that I not return to grade eleven that fall. He promised me that if I would make a commitment to his organization, he would set me up with my own office in Lethbridge, Alberta. Lethbridge was the next area of expansion for the Carlini operation and he told me that I was just the kind of kid he was looking for. Flattered, I thanked him for his generous offer and told him that I would think about it and get back to him. It didn't take a whole lot of thinking, as selling vacuum cleaners was not something I wanted to do as my life work. When I informed Vito of my decision, he was visibly upset.
Flash forward. A few years later, Dad came to me with an article that he had clipped out of the Calgary Herald. There, as large as life, was a picture of my old boss, Vito Carlini. It seemed that maybe Vito and his organization had diversified somewhat, and maybe pushed the limits just a little too far in the sales department. He was under arrest and facing jail time in a major fraud bust. He had been accused of selling bogus freezer packages. It was quite popular at the time to buy a freezer along with its contents. When it was delivered, it would contain an assortment of various cuts of beef, chicken, pork and frozen vegetables. As it turned out, the authorities discovered that the "Grade A" Canada beef, that Vito and company were selling, was hardly fit for dog food. I was really happy I never took the job!
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Monday, April 12, 2010
My Grandpa Norbo never met Mario Andretti, the famous Italian race car driver. I don't think Grandpa had ever even heard of the man. But Grandpa and Mario had one thing in common - they both loved speed. Legends abound in the Norbo family about Grandpa's driving exploits.
These include the many trips from Idaho to Canada where tires would blow, engines would overheat and Grandpa would pilot their old '39 Plymouth like it was some sort of overland rocket ship. It wasn't unheard of for Grandpa to head out across a farmer's field if he thought it might be a shorter route. There's one story my Mother told where, on one of the trips from Idaho, the entire wheel fell off the car. The family all got out and looked for the missing tire. When it was finally located, it had taken a bounce and was up in a tree!
When my brother and I were quite young, we would often accompany Grandpa on his various treks around town. These trips might be downtown to pick up supplies, over to the PBI carpenter shop where Grandpa sometimes worked, or to visit friends. One of his good friends was Emil Bruck. Mr. Bruck lived in a small hamlet on the north side of town called Ruarkville, named after Mr. Archie Ruark. There was another hamlet on the east side of town called Grantville named after, you guessed it . . . Mr. Will Grant!
These hamlets were curious little settlements, that by nature of their being in the county, escaped the bylaws and zoning of the town. A cross between east Tennessee and the wild west, they were a veritable explorer's dream for a young boy. In these hamlets you could find everything from goats and peacocks to the odd cow. Junky yards abounded and the dirt road made things pretty boggy in the spring rains. We would often see Mr. Marz in his old Model A coupe coming into town from Ruarkville.
One day, when I was eight, my brother six and cousin Timothy ten, Grandpa asked us boys if we would like to go with him to visit Mr. Bruck. A machinist by trade, Mr. Bruck had a small shop to the east of his house. This small green edifice held all sorts of fascinating bits and pieces to boggle our young minds. Inside was a small metal lathe along with a large assortment of tools and parts. Grandpa loved this type of thing, so he would often go out to the Brucks, have a coffee and chat about the latest project Mr. Bruck was working on.
We walked out of the house, down the sidewalk and into the small garage where the car was kept. My cousin Timothy and I sat in the back and my brother Dave climbed into the front. We began with a word of prayer. There was a long standing tradition in the Norbo household to have a word of prayer before going anywhere in the car. In retrospect, I can see why! Many times these prayers lasted longer than the trip itself. Grandpa would thank God for the protection and safety of the Norbo family on the roads these many years. He would pray for that trip specifically and for pretty much anything else that came to his mind. We would fidget, peek out from our squinty eyes and hope he would wrap up the prayer service so we could get the show on the road. Starting the engine, he would back the car out of the garage and into the alley, always narrowly missing the Prairie Tabernacle just to the north. Straightening the car, we were off.
Turning onto 6th Avenue heading north, Grandpa laid into the gas and the rocketship was launched. About a half mile down the road, 6th turned onto 7th Street or Dawn's Street as it's now known. There was no corner or intersection then, just a curve in the narrow road. Grandpa always like to take that curve like he was on his final lap at the Grand Prix. That day was no different. The big old Plymouth fishtailed on the dirt road as Grandpa cranked the wheel, clouds of dust billowing in its wake. As we rounded the curve, the door flew open on the side where I was sitting. My little bottom slid across the vinyl seat and I was headed out the open door. In a flash, my cousin Timothy reached over and grabbed the waistband of my pants and pulled me back into the car. I had just come within a whisker of flying right out onto the road! As Grandpa rounded the corner, the door slammed shut and we headed east toward our destination. Unaware of what had just happened, Grandpa focused on the task at hand which was getting to the Brucks in the fastest time possible.
After we arrived at the Brucks, Grandpa would have a coffee and a good yak with Mr. Bruck. We played outside in the trees with a couple of large black crows keeping an eye on us. Occasionally one would let out a squawk, scaring the liver out us. We climbed on the mountains of wood and scrap that Mr. Bruck kept on hand for his projects. Sometimes he would show us what he was working on. I was always fascinated how he could take raw steel and make something useful out of it.
When Grandpa was ready to return, he would honk the horn on the old car. This was a signal for us boys to gather for the trip home. We would then retrace our route, hanging on for dear life. Arriving home, Grandpa would roar back into the garage. Somehow he would manage to stop the car before it went right through the back wall. Safely inside, Grandpa removed his wool cap, bowed his head and thanked the Lord again for all the travelling mercies to the Norbo family over the years.
Not only was I thanking the Lord, I was thanking my cousin Timothy that I was still around and able to take another trip with my race car driving Grandpa!
And kids . . . wear your seatbelts.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
It was the summer of 1978 and groups like BTO, Chilliwack, Doucette and April Wine ruled Canadian rock radio. Songs like; Mama Let Him Play, Arms of Mary, Crazy Talk, Takin' Care of Business, and You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, were summer staples that year. These tunes were music to our hungry ears as they blasted forth from CKXL in Calgary. All of those groups were Canadian and as such, many would say that they had a "distinctly Canadian sound." That may have been true, because other than BTO, none of these groups ever busted wide open on a world stage. Years later, I played some of my Canadian tunes for music friends in Nashville and LA. Very few seemed to understand my enthusiasm. Never mind! I have always been a sucker for songs with big hooks and guitar riffs. I loved songs that were strong on melody and you could sing along with and that would stick in your head. In my opinion these groups had that. With hooky riffs in songs like, Tonight is A Wonderful Time, we were in for a great summer.
If we wanted to really live on the edge as far as radio was concerned we would try and tune in a station in Vancouver called 14 CFUN or SEAFUN as it was known. At night the signal would bounce up onto the clouds and travel 600 miles over the mountains all the way to our little prairie town. The jocks were a little more edgy and the music just a few weeks newer and you just might hear a song or two before your friends.
My friend Greg Klosse let me know that one of my favorite bands would be coming to the Calgary Stampede that summer and would be playing the Stampede Corral. April Wine began in late 1969 in Waverley, Nova Scotia. By 1977 they had released close to sixteen singles in Canada and had garnered a considerable following. The opening act for the show was to be Gary Doucette. I was in! The day arrived and off to the Corral we went to my very first real rock concert. Well, technically that was probably true, but there had been a concert before . . . when I was much younger . . .
Lowell Lundstrom was an evangelist based out of Sisseton, SD. He and his family traveled all over performing gospel concerts and preaching. Some may recognize the name Greg Long of Avalon fame. Greg cut his teeth as a bass player and vocalist for the Lundstrom's. For some reason our little town of Three Hills was on their itinerary for that spring tour. Notices went into church bulletins, ads were placed in the paper and posters hung up all over town. A buzz was in the air. This kind of thing didn't happen very often in our little town and when it did, every one knew about it. If I recall correctly I was about 13 at the time. I convinced my Grandma Norbo that there was to be some fine evangelism at this event. I told her that it would be a good thing if she would take myself, my brother Dave and my cousin Timothy to the Sunday afternoon rally. I am sure I didn't talk much about the music, but assured her that the preaching would be great!
We arrived at the local Community centre to see a real bonafide tour bus parked at the back along with a large equipment truck. The Lundstrom name was proudly displayed on the side of the bus with a sharp paint job. Entering the hall, to my utter amazement, there on the stage was a full complement of instruments. Instruments I had never seen. Keyboards, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and a full set of drums all sparkling and gleaming. A large PA system and stage lighting were set up on either side of the stage. For a techie kid, this was as close to heaven as I could imagine. The usher sat us about half way down the auditorium. We took our seats and waited for the show to begin.
At the appointed time the whole family came out and took their places and they were off and running. In what turned out to be a unique blend of gospel, country and rock the Lundstroms gave it everything they had. To my Grandmother, who was concerned if the piano and organ were too loud in church, this was a major culture shock. I looked over at Grandma and she was sitting there with her hands folded on her Bible, head bowed. I wasn't sure if she was praying for the band's salvation or for our protection. I thought that at any minute, Grandma would stand, round us up and leave. For some strange reason she didn't.
The crowning moment ( at least for me ) was when Lowell's daughter, Londa, was featured in a solo performance. Here was this beautiful, dark haired girl with a voice like an angel and a beautiful set of teeth. I was in love . . . ok, maybe it was something else? Londa sang a cover of a tune that Anne Murray had made famous called I'm On The Top of The World. She was definitely on the top of my world that afternoon! The whole experience, the music, the lights and the girl, had me hooked. After about forty five minutes of music, with Grandma still bowing her head, Lowell Lundstrom got up to preach. All of a sudden Grandma came back to life. She sat up, opened her Bible and began to listen. She would respond every now and then with a loud "Amen" if she felt that Lowell had made a particualrly good point. Lowell preached a fire and brimstone message and delivered it with all the vigor of a southern preacher. With an invitation and a closing hymn the afternoon concert was over. I knew that this music thing was something I had to find a way to be involved in. We all headed back to Grandma's for a debriefing. I think when we arrived we focused largely on the sermon.
Back at the Stampede Corral, we took our seats in the nosebleed section at the top of the arena. These were the cheaper tickets and I learned quickly that the smoke from all the fans smoking both cigarettes and weed would make it's way to the top. We got more than we paid for. I didn't smoke, but I sure inhaled! Gary Doucette and his band came out and ripped through a strong set of hits. Then it was time for the headliner to take the stage. April Wine had just released their First Glance album and were on a cross Canada tour promoting the new release. The tour also featured one of the first lasers ever used in a rock concert. A rather rudimentary contraption, it basically shone a purple light from one side of the stage to the other. Looking back, it was all very basic compared to what we have today, but I was enthralled. April Wine took their places and as the lights came up cheers filled the Corral. The drummer had mounted a large red fire bell on a stand behind his drums and started the song with a ding, ding, ding, ding on the bell. The familiar guitar riff joined in; da, da, da, da, da, daaa, as the first chords of Oowatanite blasted out of the large PA the crowd roared their approval. Hit after hit and the band played on; Tonight Is A Wonderful Time, The Whole World's Goin' Crazy, Like a Lover, Like a Song, Could Have Been a Lady, . . . the songs just kept rolling. I was mesmerized. It was abundantly clear that the audience paid their hard earned money to hear songs and if a band could deliver hit after hit with little chatter and goofing off, they stood a good chance of having a lasting career in the music business. Having had myself a "Wonderful Time" I wanted to know when and where the next concert was, and could I get a ticket?
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Robert Portway, or Uncle Bob as we knew him, was a short, balding, jovial character. Uncle Bob along with his wife, Aunt Vi, would travel around the country holding children's meetings. These rallies were meant to entertain, encourage and evangelize all in one package. Aunt Vi would play the piano and Uncle Bob would play the most outrageous instruments you had ever seen. Having certain creative skills of his own, Uncle Bob made his own instruments like the clarinetsaphone. This was nothing more than five or six clarinets glued end to end with a kazoo jammed into the mouthpiece. These instruments would leave us in complete bewilderment as to what we had actually seen.
As a matter of fact, each of Uncle Bob's instruments had a kazoo in them. Whether it was a bunch of tin cans strung together, a brightly painted piece of pipe or some other-worldly creation, at the heart of every one beat a small kazoo. Every time Uncle Bob would grab a new instrument and Aunt Vi would strike up the piano, he would play his entire arsenal of unique instruments with the utmost vigor.
These instruments may have all looked different, but they sounded exactly the same. He would often invite a half dozen children up on stage, hand them one of his "instruments" and the kazoo choir was born. Throw in some singing, a chalk talk with a mandatory black light, add in some puppets with really bad ventriloquism, courtesy of Uncle Bob, and you had yourself quite a show.
When Uncle Bob arrived at PBI, sometime in the seventies, his entertainment career was in it's sunset years. He would do his best to muster the troops, but the routines were getting tired and so was Aunt Vi! One thing that Uncle Bob owned that would go on to have another life was a wireless microphone. I am sure he had no idea . . .
In those days wireless microphones were large, boxy looking devices that looked more like an appliance of some sort than an elegant microphone. These microphones would broadcast onto the regular FM band allowing for anyone with a FM radio within range to receive the signal. The frequency on which this transmitted was fixed, so if your local station broadcast on or near that frequency, so sad, you were out of luck. You had to actually open up the transmitter to get at the control that would allow you to change the frequency. One Thursday afternoon a small ad appeared in the Prairie Post advertising a wireless FM microphone for sale at the bargain price of ten dollars. I didn't waste a minute getting on the phone and telling Uncle Bob that I was on my way over and would buy his wireless microphone sight unseen.
I have loved gadgets of all kinds as long as I can remember and my new microphone was no exception. This microphone was about a foot long, housed inside a leather case. An antenna wire hung another twelve inches from the bottom. I got to work immediately dismantling the entire thing. My love of gadgets was particularly centered around any device that had to do with playing or recording music.
Some of my earliest memories of electronic devices are of Dad's old record player, kept in the living room. His stereo had two speakers stretched out from either side. The whole rig made the most glorious sounds when my brother and I would crank it up. My Father loved music and often came home from the Prairie Book Room with the latest Sixteen Singing Men, Dick Anthony or Melody Four Quartet albums. He took great pride in and care of his record collection. Dad had purchased a special cleaning kit with brushes, cloths and some type of liquid stored in it's own little box. To this day Dad maintains and enjoys an impressive collection of vinyl from that era.
My brother and I had our own turntable that looked something like a small suitcase with a hinged lid and one speaker. This was the perfect "toy" to have in our bedroom. Hours and hours of listening was enjoyed on that old turntable as we spun our records. Black Beauty, Andy the Accordion and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins were some of the titles I recall from those days. We would wear these records out and often drifted off to sleep with them still playing. Mom would come quietly into our room after we were asleep and lift the needle off the record and shut the machine off, as it didn't have an automatic shut-off. A certain Aunt, whose name I won't mention but whose initials are RJ, had left a few of her albums with Mom and Dad for safe keeping. The Sound of Music was one of those records and occasionally we got to listen to a taste of this "worldly music", thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. You could say that the Three Hills came alive with the sound of that music!
When I was in High School you could get extra credit for what was termed "special projects". These may have taken on the form of rebuilding an engine, a wood working project, or pretty much any other creative idea that you could sell to the powers that be. This project idea was right down my alley! I got to work on a proposal to build and operate a small radio station. John Binet Sr. agreed to be my adult sponsor and promised to help guide the project and keep an eye on things. This proposal was submitted first to my student adviser and then sent on to Edmonton to the Alberta Department of Education for their approval. Several weeks passed and one day a letter arrived on ADOE letterhead indicating their excitement and support for such a creative idea.
Recruiting my friend Calvin Zwaan, we immediately went to work building our new radio station. We received permission to set up shop in the south end of a building that used to house the campus electric shop and had space available. The ground floor was originally a blacksmith shop and later became the carpenter shop for the Institute, eventually becoming storage for the electric department. In later years the space was used for the landscaping crew. A room in the building was selected and work began.
In those days the Tilly Shop sold material in addition to their huge selection of used clothing and household items. I discovered that the Tilly had several bolts of light brown cloth with small white stripes running the length of the material. We "wrapped" the entire control room with this cloth hoping to deaden the sound. It probably wasn't the most effective acoustic treatment, but at the time, what did I know? It looked cool and made it appear that we knew what we were doing. Doug Kirk lent us a couple of the school's old turntables. We were able to scrounge several old reel to reel and cassette machines to add to our arsenal. That fall I had purchased a small Sony mixer and microphone and brought those over as well to complete our collection of broadcast equipment. Rounding up some old tables and a desk, we set up all of our equipment and prepared for our first broadcast.
John Binet, a very skilled electronics technician, was an enormous help in getting us on the air. In grade eight, I had enrolled in a ham radio course taught at the local high school. This was an evening course and John was one of our instructors. By this point I knew enough about electronics to be dangerous and John patiently helped me as I embarked on this new adventure. Now, a wireless microphone is not exactly a radio transmitter that is going to reach out to the world let alone to the town. With a few tricks we were able to increase it's power significantly and make it a viable device that would certainly serve our purpose. After I replaced some resistors and a transistor or two it was ready for business.
I remember during the "testing phase" of this project I took the transmitter home and hooked it up in my little "basement shop". By carefully tuning the transmitter in over top of the same frequency as the CBC, I could completely block out or jam the signal. This would greatly confuse my Dad as he was trying to listen to his nightly CBC Concert Hall program of classical music. For a while he couldn't figure out how it was that he was hearing the Eagles, ELO or Alan Parsons on his stereo in the living room. He tried another radio and the same phenomenon occurred. Finally clueing in, he appeared in the doorway of my shop inquiring if I might know anything about this particular problem he was having with the CBC?
After this brief period of testing, I mounted the entire transmitter inside a Kleenex box and poked several holes in it to allow the wires to go in and out. The next thing on the agenda was an antenna. John helped me design what is known as a folded dipole. This is an antenna that is designed to be very efficient at the chosen frequency you are transmitting on. Using a simple formula, we cut wire legs that were the optimum length for our set up. A small tower was installed at the end of the building, the antenna hooked up and we were ready to conquer the world.
Not so fast! We hooked everything up, tuned in a small FM radio receiver, dialed it to the chosen frequency and there was a terrible sixty cycle hum coming from the radio speaker. Discouraged, I wasn't sure what to do. John suggested that the source of our problem was the power supply for the transmitter. I had built it using inexpensive parts without using any filtering circuits and that was causing the horrible hum. There was no way I could afford a proper power supply so I looked for another solution. That solution came in the form of used car batteries. I went down to the PBI garage and talked to Clarence Creasser and he kindly gave me six old batteries that still had some life in them. Lugging all the batteries back to our studio, I hooked them up in parallel, placed a trickle charger on one end of the batteries and presto, the hum was gone!
We set to work making up reel to reel broadcast tapes of music that we could transmit while we were in class. After school and in the evenings and weekends we could actually be there manning the ship. Not wanting to alienate our supporters and the administration it was decided to leave our "wilder" records at home and go with tamer selections like Evie, Praise Strings and Dallas Holm. Even Dallas was pushing the limits, but we were prepared to live on the edge! At that age Calvin had a fairly deep radio jock type voice. He did an impressive job of becoming a radio personality. I sure didn't have the voice, but did I my best and put in my shifts. I absolutely loved the technical side of the whole operation. We really got into our new roles as disc jockeys and took great pride in learning how to effectively fade one song into another, as well as other techniques we had heard on CKXL, the big rock station in Calgary.
Between classes and during lunch we would run over to the radio station and change the reels giving us a couple more hours of programming before they would need to be changed again. After school and in the evening we would run contests, hold phone-in shows and come up with whatever creative programming we could. Pulling a few strings, we were able to have several campus phone lines installed. We took requests, talked to our "fans" and generally felt like we were the real deal. The range of our little station was probably less than a mile, but that was enough to take in all of the dorms and most of the homes on the core campus. At night, when we would open the phone lines for requests, we would get a ton of calls, especially from the girl's dorms! We were having a lot of fun and the bonus was that I was getting five high school credits for my efforts.
Accounting 10 was never my idea of a good time and I don't recall ever choosing that particular course. The fact, is I probably needed the credit and most likely the other option for that time slot was equally as torturous, so Accounting 10 it was. I'm sure if you talked with Mr. Wright, my teacher for that class, he would not have chosen me either. One afternoon while sitting in class there came a knock at the door. Mr. Wright opened it and there was Principal Ken Penner. Ken asked to speak to me and so I was sent out into the hall.
There stood Ken accompanied by two uniformed officers who looked uncannily like RCMP. Panic set in as I wondered to myself, "What have I done now?" One of the officers said, "Are you Steve Rendall?" I replied that I was. I thought for a second about pointing out my friend Phil Callaway, but realized that probably wouldn't work! "Are you the kid that has the radio station?", he asked. "Yes I am," I said, wondering what that had to do with anything. "Could you take us to the station?" The officer looked and sounded as if he were on a serious mission. It didn't seem to me like there was an option. "Yes I can," I said,"Follow me." Our little party walked down the hall, up the stairs and out to the sidewalk. Parked outside the school was a police cruiser that looked very much like an RCMP car with a half dozen antennas attached to the roof and trunk. I was completely puzzled by this and not sure what was going on, I continued in the direction of our little radio station about a block away. Arriving at the building, we entered the control room and one of the men said, "Do you have a license to operate this station?" I replied, "Yes, I have a letter from the Alberta Department of Education giving me their permission to operate the station for credit."
I can't even imagine what these two men were thinking as they stared into our little cloth cocoon in the middle of this old shop. With car batteries on the floor and equipment that looked like it had been owned by Marconi himself, it must have been quite a sight! The other officer informed me that they worked for the Canadian Department of Communications (DOC). He said that they had been tracking our signal all over town before coming to the school that afternoon. I was informed in very serious tones that the ADOE had no right and no jurisdiction to have given us any such permission. Furthermore, what we were doing was strictly illegal and against the law in several ways. We could face jail time and/or fines under the criminal code of Canada. WHOA! I hadn't signed up for that!
Under Canadian law, to operate a radio station, you not only need a license from the DOC who look after the technical side of transmitters and antennas, but you also need a license from the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) who regulate content. At the time, Christian stations in Canada were illegal. Well, not exactly illegal, just not allowed! To this day I'm not sure whether one of my "fans" phoned in a complaint or if this was a random patrol and their scanners just happened to pick up our signal and they were able to track us down.
The officer then asked who was helping us with this operation and I no choice but to give up my friend and mentor, John Binet. John's office was in the north end of the same building and he was rounded up and brought into the control room. The officer asked to see the transmitter. I pointed to the Kleenex box in the corner by the batteries. I think he thought I was being disrespectful so he asked again to see the transmitter. I finally was able to convince him by showing him the wires going in and out of the box that this was indeed the evil monster. Growing very serious, he then said to John that he wanted him to dismantle the transmitter right then and there. He then had to swear on a stack of DOC licenses that he would never, ever allow something like this to happen again. If he did not comply, he was told that they would take away his ham radio license for life. John took his ham license very seriously and a sober look came over his face. One of the side benefits of his ham equipment was to help dorm kids keep in touch with their missionary parents around the world.
John immediately got busy de-soldering the various wires from the little transmitter. and un-hooking the antenna. He took the transmitter and disappeared back down the hall to his shop. I'm not sure if I returned to class that day or even to school for that matter.
Many years later I received a phone call from John Binet asking if I would drop in and see him. When I arrived, he held a small plastic bag in his hand. Contained therein was my little transmitter. "I thought you might like this back," he said, grinning as he handed me the small package.
If you should happen to hear a mysterious station crackling over your radio . . . don't come looking for me!
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.
Born in Leduc, AB, Allan finished High School in Edmonton. He attended Prairie with the intention of becoming a missionary with the SIM in Africa, but due to a skin condition, he was unable to go. After university, he taught school in St. Paul and Edmonton before moving with his family to Three Hills where he was a teacher at the Three Hills School from 1967 to 1975. In the fall of 1976 he began teaching at Prairie High School.
In our town, court was held in the provincial building once a month on a Thursday. If you were in one of Mr. Bienert's classes on that Thursday, off you went to court. He loved the banter between the lawyers and the crown. He reveled in watching the judge and seeing if he could predict what verdict would be reached. We loved any excuse to get out of class, but this was a real bona fide learning experience. Court was not the only thing Mr. Bienert would round us up for. There was also hockey. Whole car loads of students, both boys and girls, would trek to hockey games all over the province. With Mr. Bienert at the helm you were always guaranteed to have some type of an adventure.
Mr. Bienert was not a casual hockey fan. This man LOVED the game of hockey. If there was a puck dropping within a hundred mile radius of our small prairie town you might just find Allan Bienert in the stands. Whether at a game locally, in Red Deer, Drumheller or Calgary he enjoyed and appreciated all levels of hockey. Both Ken and Keith, Allan's sons were solid hockey players and enjoyed the game as much as their Dad. Mr. Bienert also coached the game and I had the privilege of being coached by him for at least one season.
Attending a hockey game out of town was a big deal for us kids growing up. When we were quite small we would usually get to at least one Calgary Centennial game a year. Sometimes we would go several times and watch players like Danny Gare, Mike Rogers and Ron Homenuke compete at a Major Junior League level. As a side note, these three players all went on to play in the NHL. The old theatre organ would wail, the crowds would go crazy, the players would fight and we would have us a good 'ole hockey game. More importantly we witnessed some outstanding junior hockey, played by young athletes in their prime hoping to make it to the big show. After waiting for autographs at the end of the game, we would head off to Peter's Drive-In. A double cheeseburger and large shake were the order of the day before returning back to Three Hills. Why Peter's has never become a franchise, I will never know.
Christmas of 1977 was the inaugural year for what has become the very prestigious Mac's Midget Hockey Tournament. The Mac's tournament brought together sixteen of the top midget teams from Canada and the United States for a week of intense hockey. Scouts from all levels of pro hockey were in attendance at this tournament. Mr. Bienert suggested to some of us that this would be a fantastic opportunity to watch a lot of quality, competitive hockey and invited us to travel to Calgary with him for some of the games.
Mr. Bienert was a complete sideshow all by himself at a hockey game. From assisting the referees with their calls, to giving advice to both coaches and players, he was never at a loss for words. In particular, he would enjoy it if there were fans in attendance that were cheering for the opposite side. If they were in close proximity of where he was sitting, so much the better. He not only could find their buttons, he could push them, and he did.
For the Mac's tournament, we bought tickets in the home end, about 8 rows up from the ice. Mr. Bienert, sons Keith and Ken, Dan and Phil Callaway and myself arrived bright and early in the morning for the first game at 8:00. We witnessed outstanding hockey all day. Of particular memory was a lady who had become somewhat of a legend around the Stampede Corral. She had a gigantic purse which she would use as a battering ram against the glass pane directly behind the goaltender. During one of the last games of the afternoon there was some particularly lively banter in the area where we were seated. Fairly good-natured heckling and ribbing went back and forth between various parties with Mr. Bienert being in the front and centre of much of the goings on.
Someone in our party had brought a large bag of nuts to share at the game. These were passed around and shelled as the day went on. I'm not sure exactly what was said, but at some juncture Mr. Bienert thought he should throw a whole peanut over his shoulder in the general direction of the last comment. So, up and over the peanut went and Keith, looking back, noticed that it had actually made contact with a giant of a man. This guy appeared to be related to Paul Bunyan. He didn't look like someone you would want to meet in a dark alley. Leaning over he hissed at his Dad, "You hit that guy!" "Really?", was Mr. Bienert's reply and he sort of chuckled. I don't think he realized the gravity of the current situation. We went back to watching the game and cheering for our team. Mr. Bienert decided that the other peanut was probably lonely for company and launched another one in the same general direction as the first one. Not two seconds later, a booming voice hollered, "Hey you down there, cut it out!"
"Dad, you've hit him again!" intoned Keith. Amused, we were all killing ourselves laughing and egging him on. "Impossible!", exclaimed Mr. Bienert. "What are the chances of that ever happening?" he said, as he reached into the bag of nuts and chucked another in the same direction. About five rows up from where we were sitting, the same voice thundered. "You hammerhead! . . . If you do that one more time, I'm going to come down there and shove your head through the glass!" There was a noticeable hush in our end of the rink. All eyes were now looking in our direction. This was more fun than Mr. Bienert had signed up for.
They say the third time is a charm, but at that moment sitting there in that arena, no one was feeling any charm. Evidently the peanut had managed to find it's target for the third time. We had a little group huddle and talked about what we should do next. It was decided that it would probably be best if Mr. Bienert didn't chuck any more peanuts that day. He suggested that before the game actually ended we use the age old, proven "divide and flee" strategy, in case our adversary decided to take his complaint to another level. At the end of the game we scattered like sheep, all going down different rows and aisles as we made our way to the lobby. For the next game, we found new places to sit.
For years after, as I would pass Mr. Bienert in the hall or on the street, he would cup his hands in my direction and call out "Hey Rendall . . . you Hammerhead!" and a huge grin would spread across his face.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.