By Ross Fish – Vernon, B.C.
When you think of New Year’s Eve you picture scenes of happiness, gaiety and celebration. People wearing goofy hats, blowing whistles, rooms decorated with streamers and balloons; people dancing to music provided by a band which after the countdown to midnight would break into the traditional, Auld Lang Syne.
The following New Year’s Day was a time for families to gather, a time for comradery, fellowship, and socializing, usually followed by a sumptuous dinner. I was anticipating all this on Dec. 31, 1945. What actually followed was about as far from my expectations as one could get.
My buddy and I, both 19 years old, were hibernating in a small village in southwest Saskatchewan. Outside of the curling rink, there was little in the way of entertainment during the winter, so we were desperate for something to do when we heard there was to be a New Year’s Eve party and dance in Eston, 14 miles west.
We began making plans to get there. The connecting highway was sometimes blocked by snow but someone was reported to have travelled over it that day and said that aside from a couple spots, it should be passable because there was very little wind to cause snow drifting.
Without gauge, it was risky
My buddy arranged to borrow his father’s car, a 1936 Hudson-Terraplane, for the trip. The car wasn’t equipped with a thermostat or temperature gauge.
To regulate engine temperature and provide a little heat in the cab from the heater, part of the radiator was sometimes covered with a piece of cardboard.
Without the temperature gauge to guide you this could be risky, especially with methanol in the radiator. It boiled at a much lower temperature than water. All the good ethylene-glycol antifreeze was going to the military and was unavailable for civilians.
That evening, dressed in our ‘Sunday Best’, we set out. Everything went well for the first five miles then the road passed through a small cut in a hill. Here the snow had drifted into the ruts and we promptly got stuck.
At highway speed enough air passed through the radiator for cooling, but in trying to extricate ourselves, the engine overheated and began to boil. Once methanol started to boil you couldn’t stop it. It all ended up on the ground. Our driving was finished.
No train scheduled
It was about 15-below zero, too cold to sit in the car all night, so we set out walking to a farm about a mile further along and 100 yards off the highway.
Bruce Secord and his family were preparing for bed but they graciously invited us in to spend the night. Space was limited so they prepared pallets on the living room floor for us to sleep.
New Year’s Day dawned clear and cold. It was 25-below. Bruce said he would drive us into a village two miles away where we could catch the train back to our home, if his car would start.
After breakfast we walked down to the highway where his Model-A Ford was parked. It started and we rode into the village. No train was scheduled until the next day so we got a room on the second floor of the little old hotel.
The room was lavishly furnished with a lumpy double bed, one wooden chair, and a washstand with a pitcher and bowl set and a kerosene lamp. It was kept above freezing by the heat escaping from the barroom below.
There we spent the day reading old magazines. In late afternoon, while picturing our families enjoying a big turkey dinner at home, we made our way down the street to the little Chinese cafe where we got a ham sandwich and a soda.
Next forenoon a mixed train came through and we caught a ride back home. We arrived about noon – cold, tired, hungry, and thoroughly discouraged. Happy New Year? Bah, humbug!