Dealing with storms during our youth


by J Pinsent

Let me say first that as a kid I cannot remember any particular storm, only incidents that happened as a result of a large amount of snow or rain that fell during a short period of time. One incident in particular that brings to mind was when I had my first pair of long rubber boots. I must have been 7 or 8 years old but it was after a rain storm that I wanted to try out these new rubbers. My mother dressed me up in my raincoat and rubber boots and away I go looking for large puddles of water to walk in.

As I left our apartment building, looking across the old parade field on the Army side, towards the Star Theatre, I set out to test my new boots. The field was like a lake, the ground being completely covered with water. Tufts of grass could be seen sticking up through the surface in the more shallow areas .Walking about  in 3-4 inches of water was boring. I wanted to walk in water deeper than I could wearing my old knee rubbers. Down by the drill hall, past the swings, seemed like a good area. So off I go. We must have had a huge amount of rain because even the ditches had disappeared. I thought I remembered where the road way was, leading from the field to the drill hall, but I misjudged. The next thing I know I am up to my neck in water. I had completely walked into the ditch.  

My mother gave me heck when I went home drenching wet with water running out from the top of my new long rubber boots. Not so much from getting wet, she later told me, but the fact I could have drowned. My first lesson learned. You could not walk in water deeper than the length of your boots or over your head. I can also remember lightening striking one of the fuel tanks. I am not sure if it was the same storm or not but I can remember hearing the explosion. I can also remember  looking at the result of the explosion with my father.

Now snow was a different matter. I loved snow. There were so many things to do after a huge snow fall. Huge drifts would allow you to dig tunnels, make snow forts and best of all, high snow banks or drifts gave you that extra bit of height to climb onto areas that were not assessable before. Once up onto a shed or building you could jump into the deep snow below. I was not afraid of heights and I just loved to jump. If I was given an aptitude test at that early age I’m sure I would have been accepted into training on high steel construction or maybe the paratroopers.

There was one incident, of many, involving roof jumping. It was during lunch time while on our way to school  we discovered a way to climb onto Jack Lush’s shed roof, where he stored the empty drink and beer bottles. Not wanting to wait till school was finished for the day to start our fun, I was going to give it a try. The snow was a little softer than anticipated and I sunk to my armpits when I landed. I was completely stuck. There was no way I could move. The few boys in the group tried to free me but without any luck. Time was running out. School would soon start and it was a fair distance to walk. Finally it was decided, I was to be abandoned on the field of battle. Rather than risk being late the boys left me, all except one. Roy Rideout stayed and was determined to get me out of this predicament. He found this long piece of board, using it as a shovel, started to dig me out. Getting out of that hole was a relief so it was off to school and face the music. It was 50 lines of “I must not jump off roofs” and 50 lines of “I must not be late for school” and we were out of school for the day and back to Lush’s shed to get in a few jumps before dark.

A problem we had living on the Army side was the lack of vertical snow. Some of us had sleds or coasters but no place to really put them to their proper use. We could slide down the banks of the gravel pit or down the piles of snow that were left from the snow plows but it wasn’t a very long trip down those embankments. Later when we moved into the new town we had access to the hills leading down to Gander lake. It was great going down but I hated that walk back. Besides I was getting a little too old for those childish games by this time. I was going on fourteen.

We would dig miles of tunnels through the snow drifts during the course of a winter. Spending hours digging out secret lairs only having it foundered in by someone walking overhead. Fortress were built generally atop those giant banks of snow plied high from street clearing. From these castles of ice, the snow ball battles were carried out. We would spend hours just making piles of snow balls for the reserves in the event of a frontal attack by the enemy. We would even have a volunteer bunch of sappers who would secretly out flank the enemy fortress and destroy their snow ball reserves. On a signal from them, when their mission was complete, we would attack. Only to find out that their sappers were waiting to destroy our snow balls while we were on the attack leaving a retreat perilous.

One of the drawbacks, as a result of a large snowfall, it made those shut cuts disappear. No longer could we take that trail up past the power plant and hennery going to school. We had to walk the road. My father had a mini set of snowshoes made for me and like the long rubbers, I quickly learned you couldn’t walk every where, especially in soft fluffy snow. But when the snow did settle, it allowed me to walk over the old WWII barb wire barriers that surrounded the Army side wooded areas, creating even shorter short cuts. But it didn’t last a long time. Maybe a day or two and you would tangle in the wire sticking up through the snow as the levels sank. The tangles weren’t so bad but the ripped snow pants led to trouble at home.

Schools didn’t close because of snow storms back in those days. The only closures were if the school furnace didn’t operate, which happened occasionally. You would only find out about it then after you arrived at school.

There were no school buses. Those living on the American or RAF side traveled via the public bus operated by Jon & Robert Newhook’s parents. The RCAF had a bus to transport their kids to school but was restricted to only RCAF dependants. If the bus couldn’t get the kids down from the American side because the streets weren’t plowed, then they just missed school unless they were willing to walk. Runways were plowed first, then the streets.

Sometimes parents would keep the little kids home but the bigger ones went to school. I would complain about the weather, any excuse to stay home from school but my mother would say “If it is too stormy for you to go to school, then it is too stormy for you to go out side and play” so off to school I would go. There was no way I was staying indoors all day. Besides you could even be late and not be punished. The class would be half full so no new lessons would be taught. The teacher would dream of all sorts of things to amuse us. It would be just a fun day. It also made us feel like we were more of an adventurer than others, braving all that snowy weather. Of course the diversions with all that snow made the coming and going more enjoyable as well.

A lot of snow or a lot of rain, only led to excitement and fun for a kid while growing up in Gander back in those days. The important thing  is still  to keep these memories.



 Morley & I