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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Elmer Rosenberg recalls rescue from slush puddle on Sultan Road among challenging moments during years in Chapleau

Elmer Rosenberg, who taught History at Chapleau High School for three years, leaving to take a position in Southern Ontario in 1980, contacted me recently. I was so delighted and surprised, as Elmer was one of my best buddies during his time at CHS. He found me on the Internet, that great people finder. 

When he told me that he had written a story about an experience on the Sultan Road, I asked if I could share it with my readers. He agreed, and here it is -- and I am sure that many had similar experiences to Elmer while travelling on the highways and roads in the Chapleau area. I know I did. Elmer calls it "The Road Not Taken" with credit to the great American poet, Robert Frost.

Thanks Elmer and it is great to be back in touch. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

The Road Not Taken

By Elmer Rosenberg



I've just completed year one of retirement and had the time and opportunity to reflect back on my career in education and especially my first years as a teacher in Chapleau, Ontario. I was  aware of Chapleau's existence but I had never ventured that far west along Hwy 101 from my home town of Timmins, Ontario.  

After completing high school in Timmins, I moved to Toronto and was hoping to land a teaching position in southern Ontario after completing university.  As luck would have it, the only job offer I received was from Chapleau High School. Far away from the familiarity and comforts of home, my three years as a brand new teacher presented several challenging moments.  

However, the majority of students at Chapleau High were polite and friendly even if they weren't always interested in the lessons I taught.  I'm certain their lack of enthusiasm had more to do with my ability as a first year teacher than the quality of the students there.  

I have many wonderful memories of my stay in Chapleau and was always grateful for the opportunities afforded me and a deep appreciation for the people I met.  One incident in particular stands apart in my memory  and speaks to the generosity and spirit of the people of Chapleau and area.  
 
I began my return trip to Chapleau late on Sunday morning after spending the 1979 March break in Toronto visiting family and friends.  The weather was mild but there was still a considerable amount of snow on the ground as I travelled north.  In an attempt to save time and distance, I decided to take the Sultan Industrial Road from Hwy 144 to Sultan and then proceed on to Chapleau.  

For the uninitiated, the Sultan Road is a private road  built  by the E. B. Eddy Company and used primarily by logging and lumber trucks.    This gravel road begins at Highway 144 and travels west through uninhabited bush to the tiny community of Sultan (population  of  about 50 people and approximately 60 kilometres from Chapleau). A previous decision to take this road saved me time, but in the end, cost me the price of a gas tank replacement. 
Elmer at English Channel after Chapleau

Now, the road was snow covered, so I geared up to give it another try. Unfortunately, I didn't take into consideration the mild temperatures during the day.  As I turned off Hwy 144, patches of slush on the road confronted me.  My car breezed through the first few.  I had a bad feeling but foolishly kept going.   Then I met a much larger patch, containing more water than snow.   

I  accelerated to  gain as much momentum as possible without losing control of my vehicle.  I made it to the other side of what was now more like a pond than a patch of slush. I was wishing that I had taken the paved road and driven the extra miles to Hwy 101 but there was no turning back at this juncture. 

 Darkness was descending and I had yet to see another  car or truck on the road.  My anxiety level was increasing with  every patch of slush I encountered and they seemed to be getting larger and more numerous. Then I came to the mother of all slush puddles at the bottom of a hill.  Not a pond this time but more like a lake.  Even though I was able to gain considerable speed, my car came to a stop somewhere at the half way point.  

I stepped out of my car to  survey the situation and found myself in about a foot of slush and water. Not only was I stuck but now I was wet as well.   In an attempt to ease my way out of this mess, I got back in the car but the engine refused to turn over when I engaged the ignition.     
 
Here I was, in the middle of a Northern Ontario bush,far from civilization, getting colder and more desperate.  I debated whether I should start walking or spend the night with my car. As I pondered the situation, another vehicle approached and drove around me through to the other side.  

Two young fellows got out of their  jeep, approached me and without asking if I needed help, started assessing my predicament.  One went to the back of his vehicle, pulled out a tire and attached two chains to the opposite sides of the tire. He attached the end of one chain to my car and the other to their jeep.  The driver returned to his jeep, put his vehicle in reverse and backed up close to the tire.   

He then  drove forward causing the tire to act as a large rubber band.   My car inched forward.  The driver repeated this action for what seemed like  an hour until my car was on higher ground.  By now, it was completely dark and cold and we were all wet.  

Although I was out of the water, I was unable to start my car. One of my rescuers raised the hood and began tinkering with the engine.  In the dark, he took off the distributor cap - who knew cars had distributor caps -  and wiped it dry.  Within a few minutes the  car was running   

As it turned out, I was only a few miles from Sultan and not far from paved highway.   I offered the two young men money as a token of my appreciation but they wouldn't hear of it.  I regret and am ashamed to say that I never learned their names.   

These words don't accurately convey the time and effort these young men exerted to help  a complete stranger without any expectation or acceptance of financial reward.  This memory has stayed with me for  35 years and on occasion, has inspired me to help other people in distress.  

At the time, I wished that I had avoided the road less traveled but now I'm thankful that I made the decision to turn off Hwy 144 towards Sultan.  I feel the same way about my decision to take a teaching position in Chapleau.

3 comments:

Chris Knowles said...

It's now been 17 years since I left Chapleau (the same number of years that I lived and taught there), but I still think of the place - more accurately the PEOPLE in the place - every week. As Michael says, everyone has stories of random acts of kindness committed by people from Chapleau - it was that kind of community when I lived there, and bet it still is.

There are a lot of people who have left Chapleau over the years, but Chapleau will never leave anyone!

Peter G. Elliott said...

Elmer,

This is a wonderful story. You must submit it to the latest call out for submissions to the latest Chicken Soup Book for Canada. Here is the link:

http://canadiansoul.com/submit.html

Cheers

Peter Elliott

Peter G. Elliott said...

Elmer,
You must submit this wonderful winter story to the latest call for submission for the a second Canadian version for Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Here is the link:

http://canadiansoul.com/submit.html

Cheers

Peter Elliott

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet

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