After a pleasant, but uneventful run of 129 miles, we came to a stop in front of the station at South Parry, near the Georgian Bay city of Parry Sound. This was in the summer of 1964. I was looking forward to getting something to eat at Bert's Beanery, situated near the yard at South Parry. I wasted no time in walking over to Bert's to see what he might have on the stove.
Dining at Bert's was much like dining at a logging camp. The building was large, open and brightly lit by sunlight that poured through many windows. To your right, as you walk in were long dining tables occupied much of the big dining room, and a couple of smaller tables that would seat four to six were over in the far corner of the large, open room. The galley, or kitchen was at the other end of the room, to the left of the entry and was dominated by a very large cast-iron cook stove that might have been fuelled by oil. The stove itself was glossy black, with bright, polished nickel accents on the oven door, the firebox door and the hot water reservoir at the side. The top of the stove was, like the sides, polished and clean. Bert's experience as a 'camp cook' was evident in his beanery.
And that big stove was the source of the wonderful smells that filled the dining hall and the woods outside. I could never guess what Bert might be serving on any given day. The top of the stove held a large tea pot which was never washed, just dumped, just before the tea became bitter. Then it was quickly refilled with hot water from the ever-present kettle. The addition of fresh tea bags, taken from a large square tin with a tight-fitting lid would soon produce another pot of hot tea.
The coffee pot was handled in a similar fashion. Patrons were encouraged to help themselves to the tea and coffee, as Bert was often involved deeply in a conversation at one of the tables with an off-duty railroader or two. And sometimes, he would be playing cards with a group of men who had made their way from Parry Sound to the Beanery, just to pass the time with Bert.
The stove-top also shouldered a very large pot with a lid on it. Inside that pot was the soup of the day which was invariably made with whatever the special of the day had been the day before. There was no menu at Bert's Beanery. No matter what you ordered or wanted, you got what was in the pot on top of the stove, or what was in the big roasting pan in the oven.
Nobody ever complained, and certainly nobody ever left there feeling hungry.
As good as it was, a meal at Bert's had to be topped off with something special, and Bert's fruit pies tended to be a big seller. If the pie shelf was empty, There were shops in Parry Sound to explore.
So off to Parry Sound I went. It was a three mile hike into town, but the hike was well worth the effort. On the corner of Bowes Street and Great North Road, was the Georgian Bay Creamery, the home of the best ice cream I'd ever eaten. The building is now occupied by Orr's Fine Meat Ltd. Yes, Bobby Orr can ask for a discount when he shops there!
When I was a lad, my father was an engineer and I would pester him to take me with him on a run to Foleyet, Brent, or South Parry. Whenever we went to South Parry, he and I would walk into Parry Sound for an ice cream cone, then walk along the docks among the boats tied up at the harbour.
After buying an ice cream cone, I would walk down to the harbour and sit on the docks watching the boats coming and going.
Now, I mentioned this experience to Cliff Beagan, who is a regular reader at Caboose Coffee and he shared a bit of his history with me.
First of all, he surprised me by telling me that he had once owned the Georgian Bay Creamery and also that he had worked on a CNR Extra Gang for a time before switching to the CPR.
This is what Cliff shared with me:
My first job with the CNR was shovelling snow at South Parry in the aftermath of the snow storm of the Century at Christmas time 1947 when I was 15 years old. Got paid 0.60 per hour and made about $40.00.
The next one was on an extra gang in Parry Sound picking up rail, tie plates, and angle bars between Parry Sound and Waubamik with Extra Gang Foreman Delpapa from Capreol. I skipped a few days of high school on that one in 1948 or 1949. The Conductor was Murray Chisholm. Brakeman Lorne Jacklin took sick and Murray used me as a brakeman.
He laughed at me when I could not throw those damn CNR mainline switches. He says, "you're too light in the ass Cliff".
The next one was an extra gang somewhere near Gamebridge south of Orillia. I rode down there on 'old Sparky' from Parry Sound one summer in the late 1940's.
Why I ended up on the CPR instead of the CNR, I will never know. But the CPR mainline switches were much easier to throw I found out.
Ah the good old Steam days, Bruce.
I will wait patiently for your next episode on Caboose Coffee, which reminds me of my favorite Caboose Coffee. An old Conductor always bought “Hayhoes” Mountain Blend Drip Grind. Put in a pinch of Chickory and a pinch of salt, pour the boiling water into the top reservoir, and let it drip through the grinds just the one time. Add Carnation canned milk and a touch of sugar..............oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I can still taste that beautiful cup of coffee. If you ever have the time, “Google”Hayhoes Mountain Blend Coffee. The Company is no more but it did have an interesting history.
Best wishes Bruce,