Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



All of My Friends

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Making History

A whole new meaning to 'roasted grains'.
May 9, 1969. 6:45 am.
When most of the world still sleeps, or is just beginning to stir, the ranching families of Southern Alberta are already up and out.
Stock to feed, cows to milk.
Diving into the day’s first chores with unfettered enthusiasm. A smile - brought by the pure joy of work most satisfying - firmly fixed on weather-beaten faces.
Not.
“Spring!” Dad’s first words of the day, spoken with that aforementioned ‘unfettered enthusiasm’.
There he would be, the light from the hall behind him making him into the shadowy cut-out of some avenging God of Mischief, dressed in a white terry-cloth bathrobe and sent to ruin the final minutes of a good night’s sleep.
“Spring!” he would say again, in case we didn’t hear it the first time.
Then, in a puff of smoke, he would disappear. Evil summons completed.
Actually, I just made up that ‘puff of smoke bit’.
The evil summons?
Truth.
This morning began like any other.
A new spring sun just peeping over the horizon filling the clear, blue sky with breathtaking slices of pink and orange.
We humans blissfully ignorant.
Dad’s unfailingly cheerful, completely irritating voice calling happily down the stairs.
The summoned moaning and complaining and beginning to twitch in their beds.
The call came again.
The summoned were throwing off the heavy bonds of sleep by degrees.
Some were actually finding their voices. “Yeah, yeah.”
And yet a third time.
The responses growing equally louder and more understandable, “Yeah, yeah!”
And then the final call. The one sure to either freeze the faithful in their beds, or galvanize them into movement.
“The elevators are on fire!”
I should mention here that the town of Milk River’s elevators stood directly behind us, across our pasture. A short few hundred yards away.
Within toasting distance.
The mere thought of them engulfed in flames struck terror into the hearts of every member of the Stringam family.
Certainly it did that day.
“Yeah, Dad, good one!” A pause. Then, “Dad’ll say anything to get us up!” Laughter.
Perhaps I was a bit more trusting than my brothers.
Perhaps the idea of something exciting happening in our sleepy little town was enough to draw me from my bed.
Whichever.
I scurried into my parent’s room, bounded across their bed and joined my mother at the window.
The entire horizon was a blaze of light.
Two of the six elevators were already burning and, as we watched, a third began to smoke.
Dad was out on the deck, his face a mixture of disbelief, excitement and dismay.
It was an interesting face.
By this time, our cries of . . . disbelief, excitement and dismay . . . had finally drawn my brothers to their window.
“Holy Smoke!”
Truer words were never spoken.
For a moment, fear washed over me.
Were we in any danger from the flames? Those elevators were awfully close.
Dad was quick to reassure.
The wind was favourable for us, pushing the fire, and its attendant sparks to the South, away from the Stringams.
Towards the Garbers, actually. And their barn.
But that is another story.
Chores were given a lick and a promise.
School was . . . poorly attended.
The time was spent watching the fire.
And the fire-fighters.
The entire population of town stood across the street, eyes locked on the incredible sight.
I found my Mom there and went to stand beside her.
“Good thing it’s spring,” I told her. “Harvest hasn’t started.”
My ignorance of the whole ‘grain storage’ thing was woeful.
“They’re right full of grain!” my Mom exclaimed.
As though to prove her statement, a long split appeared in one corner of the elevator nearest us. Followed immediately by a golden stream.
Then pieces of flaming elevator began to rain down.
The crowd gasped and stepped backwards.
Our Sheriff tried his best to keep us away.
Keep us safe.
He even went so far as to order all of the kids back to school.
We scampered to obey.
I'll let you believe that for a moment . . .
He couldn’t have driven us away with a stick. Maybe if he had pulled his gun . . . no not even then.
The elevators burned for days.
When the glow was finally out, the ruined grain was raked into piles and sold for a pittance, for cattle feed or whatever.
But to those of us who witnessed it, the fire would never be extinguished.
Even after the smell of roasting wood and grain finally washed away.
Even after new, modern elevators were built.
All one would have to say was, “Remember the elevator fire?”.
It was the most excitement our town has ever had. Before or since.
Okay, so ‘Thrill Central’ wasn't our town’s middle name.
Meanwhile, the Stringams were back to hearing, “Spring!” every morning.
Once or twice, Dad would try to inject a little excitement by shouting, “The elevators are on fire!”
But he was never believed.
Kind of like that first time.

14 comments:

  1. Yes, the boy who cried Wolf. For sure!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do love a good story and this was a great one. I lived in a small farming community so I can relate to what wakes people up!
    Hugs~

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing goes through you like raised voices at 6:30 in the morning!

      Delete
  3. It was undoubtedly exciting, but somehow I think it was also devastating ... so much work gone in a matter of hours. Good thing no lives were lost.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It truly was devastating. For us kids, though, all we understood was the excitement. And you're right. We rejoiced that the only damages were in property and grain.

      Delete
  4. Exciting, but what a shame to lose all that grain.
    Were the Garbers and their barn okay?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Garber's barn burned to the ground as well. I remember the disbelief when someone first spotted the smoke. Their farm was directly in the path of the prevailing winds, but clear across the river!

      Delete
  5. We had an old school behind our house when I was very little and it caught fire. We still talk about it to this day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's just something about a wild fire. It attracts and repels at the same time. And one never forgets it!

      Delete
  6. Quite a sight to witness - and a shame that your dad had not been joking. I'm sure it was a significant economic loss.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huge loss, Susan. Yeah. It would be like Dad to make something like that up. I totally would have preferred it!

      Delete
  7. Thanks for reminding me of that day!
    Love
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exciting for us kids. Not so much for the adults!

      Delete

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