|Uncle Rin was a man of many stories and memories - one of my childhood favourites was watching Uncle Rin swimming up and down the river with "Jenny dog" sitting on top of him. A grizzly bear exterior yet a teddy bear interior. I was blessed to grow up next door to my Nona & Uncle Rin. His wisdom, compassion and determination, along with the love and support shown to all his nieces, nephews and great nephews created a strong family foundation. The famous "one steppers" rule has once again been past down to another generation - one of the lessons Brendon and Devin learned during their many adventures with "Uncle Rin".
P.S. They are still not allowed to sing "Rin's" version of "The Bear Went over the Mountain" or other "customized lyrics". He will be truly missed!
May your star shine bright ... you will be remember always!
Brenda Gray, Brendon & Devin (Scott) - Beamsville,Ont
When railroaders get together for any reason, the talk inevitably gets around to “do you remember when…”, or “you know, I remember a trip when…” Some experiences will remain in our memories to the end of our time just like they happened only this morning. One such memory involved Ren Lancia.
Early in the summer of 1964 a work train was called out on the Ruel Sub. There were still a number of culverts under the track that were built from timbers and these needed to be upgraded to galvanized steel.
The crew was made up of “Tates” (for Tete Rouge) Vaillancourt, Conductor; Romeo Laroque, Tail End Brakeman; myself as Head End Brakeman; Gus Normore, Fireman and Ren Lancia, Engineer.
While I don’t recall how long we were out on that job; it may have been only a couple of weeks, but I do know that I packed in enough of life’s experiences to keep me warm for the rest of my life. For those of you who have known the men that I mention above, you will, I’m sure agree with me when I say that they were among Capreol’s finest. I couldn’t have had better mentors to begin my life on the railroad.
We were to batch wherever we stopped for the night, so the meals shared in the van or the enginemen’s bunk car were as fine as one could imagine and the company at the table was warm, welcoming and wholesome. Some days, there would be fresh fish in the pan and local carrots and lettuce too. Ren knew where to find a patch of rhubarb that had gone wild some years before and we bought a bag of sugar at Gogama and he made a large pot of stewed rhubarb which he doled out in bowls that were far too small.
When our bellies were full, Ren would take me outside to teach me many of the “holds” and “breaks” he had learned in the military. Gus would laugh, saying “Ren was in a Special Forces Unit” as I picked myself up off the ground.
We worked 18 hour days back then and we swam naked in lakes and rivers to freshen up and wash off the dust, sweat and diesel. When the gang of track workers had dug up the track and pulled out the old timber culverts, we hauled away gondolas full of debris and brought back more gondolas with new metal culverts.
We were ordered to stop the culvert work for a few days while a fire burned out of control in the forest near Gogama. Instead, we were at the disposal of the Provincial Government’s Lands and Forests Department and used to haul water, men and equipment between Gogama and Tionaga. I can still recall the look on the face of the fellow from Lands and Forests when he ordered us to report to the local town hall for fire fighting duties; Ren quietly told him that we were railroaders and couldn’t be conscripted for fire service.
I had my first beer in a public establishment while tied up at Gogama. After dinner one evening, I was told that the crew was going over to the beer parlor for a couple and I was invited. I immediately admitted that I was only 18 years old and couldn’t get into a beer parlor yet. Ren said that I should tag along anyway and we’d see whether or not I would get served. “After all” he said, “they’ll just ask you to leave if they don’t believe you when you tell them you’re 21”. Well, the inevitable happened. When we stepped into the darkened room which smelled of tobacco and beer, the bartender watched with a scowl on his face as the five of us pulled out chairs and sat down. With the exception of one old man sitting at a table for two, we were the only customers in the place. Every able bodied man in town had been conscripted for fire fighting.
The bartender came over to our table wiping his hands with a bar towel and asked for our order. Going around the table each man asked for a couple of glasses of draft. When it was my turn, I choked back my fear and asked for “one please”. The bartender immediately said that he didn’t believe I was of age and wasn’t even going to ask me for ID. Ren looked up at him, then stood in front of him, toe to toe, you might say. All Ren said was, “My friend would like TWO glasses of cold beer.” There seemed to be no hesitation and within a couple of minutes I was raising a glass of beer with my friends.
We worked six days a week and went back to Capreol on Saturday afternoons for a very short weekend off. But it was inevitable that at some point we’d finish our work on the Ruel Sub and Road Master, “Buck” Dasti would cancel the work train and send us home.
That last run into town, from Westree to Capreol, was kind of bitter-sweet in that it was good to be going home, but at the same time our time together was drawing to a close. Gus was at the throttle and Ren got up from the seat in the cab and said he was going to drop back to the bunk car to wash and shave. Since Romeo was also on the engine, Ren chuckled and, rubbing my thin chin whiskers, suggested that I come to the bunk car for a wash and shave too. When I said that my razor was in the van, he said I could use his. I agreed. On that day, while the old wooden bunk car rattled down the track at 40 miles an hour, Ren sat me down, lathered up my face with his bristle-hair shaving brush and shaved my face with his straight razor. I don’t think that I took even one breath while he shaved me for fear of causing his hand to slip, cutting my throat.
This letter is about Ren and the time I spent with him, or rather, the time he spent with me. He was a great guy, and I can honestly and happily say that he was a very positive influence on my life every day after that June 1964 work train.
To Ren, Tates, Romeo and Gus, wherever you may be, I am grateful for the way that you tutored me, helped me in many ways and most of all, befriended me.
Ex-pat now living in Powell River, BC, but whose heart never left Capreol.