By Bob and Frank Durnin, Rainy River, Ontario
The weather was great for the first 3 weeks that October—an extended Indian summer— and although I was busy-busy, my weekends were free. Bobby Green had a nice 1958 Meteor, but the motor was a bit lazy. It needed a valve job. Money was tight, so we decided to fix it in my garage.
We pulled the head off the 6-banger and dropped it off at West End Motors. We would pick it up after West End did the serious stuff, and bolt the Meteor back together on Saturday.
Now we have to go back 2 or 3 months to June or July. My wife was working midnights and I was at home sleeping. Two of my yahoo buddies were indulging at the Emperor Hotel bar and left at closing time. They walked past a pickup in the parking lot, saw a canoe tied on the pipe rack, and took it with them—just good ol’ boys with brain cramps.
They drove around for a couple of hours, realized they had a canoe that they didn’t want, and they decided I needed it. My wife came home in the morning—I was having my first coffee in the kitchen. She asked me where I got the canoe. “What canoe?!”
Sure enough, I had a cedar strip in my front yard. Shortly thereafter, one of the shoplifters called. After hearing their story, I suggested they should get the darn thing out of my yard. They told me not to sweat it—there was no way the canoe could be traced—and when I returned from work that day, it was gone. The theft was reported in the weekly paper, but I was unworried. I was off the hook (???).
So, on Saturday morning in October, Bobby and I put the head back on his motor. We had it torqued down and had just bolted on the valve train when my mother-in-law bolted into the garage. “The field is on fire!” she yelped.
Our house stood alone—a quarter mile east of the village and another quarter mile to the next neighbour east of us. Our yard was surrounded by tall dead grass, dry as tinder and now burning vigorously. My woodpile was in danger, and the blaze, driven east by a brisk wind, was picking up speed.
I told my mom-in-law to call the Lands and Forests, and Bobby and I grabbed two pails of water, a couple of gunny sacks, and shovels. We saved the woodpile and were about to head east when the L&F crew arrived. They had six men, a Wajax and pack pumps. We were told to relax and leave the rest to the pros.
By now it was 2 p.m. We were greasy, sooty, sweaty and coming down from an adrenalin high, but we figured we’d set the valve lash and button up the Meteor before taking a break. By 3 p.m. we were finished.
We deserved a cold one before washing up, and Bobby likes a glass, which he got. He sat at one end of the kitchen table, I sat on one side, and my two giggling little girls sat opposite me, nursing their Kool-Aids. Our tomcat entered stage left.
He was a big old gentle guy. My girls carried him around, draped over their arms—front feet and head hanging down one side, back feet and tail dragging on the floor.
The cat sat and stared at Bobby. “That cat does not like me!” said he.
I scoffed at the thought. “That’s a real pussycat,” said I. “He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
Just then, the cat launched himself at Bobby’s throat. Bobby hollered and went over backward, throwing out his arms, and I got the glass of beer in my face and on my T-shirt. The cat headed for low ground in the basement, I wiped some beer off my face with a greasy hand, we all laughed like crazy, and there was someone knocking on the door.I answered the door, and there stood a cop. “What do you know about this canoe?” he asked.
“What canoe?” said I. It was déjà vu all over again.
“The L&F crew found it. It was reported stolen 3 months ago, and the serial numbers match.”
Well, holy cow, the yahoos had just pulled it into the scrub between our place and the neighbour’s.
The cop accepted my plea of non-involvement. I guess he figured that anyone who looked and smelled that guilty had to be innocent.
And that’s how you do a valve job, fight a forest fire and snaffle a “Get out of jail free” card all in the same day.
Excerpt adapted with permission from I Call Myself a Prospector by Bob and Frank Durnin (coreshackpub.com)
Jules Torti’s work has been published in The Vancouver Sun, The Globe & Mail, travelife, Canadian Running and Coast Mountain Culture. With experiences as a canoe outtripper, outdoor educator, colouring book illustrator and freelancer, she is thrilled to be able to curate, write and read about the very best things in life.