Empty Sidewalks on Tobacco Road

Home where Danny was born and raised
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This is a continuation of a previously published story that I wrote in 2012. 

Please read The Summer of ’66 before reading this story; otherwise, it won’t make much sense.  Thanks! ~ Hugs, Danny

The road to Tobacco Road had sidewalks, but there were none on Vittoria Road – or at least, none on the section of the road in Vittoria, Ontario, that I remember.

I am sure that there were sidewalks in the town, but I can’t picture any in my head for the life of me.

That section of the main road is known as Old Brock Road.

Besides, choosing ’empty sidewalks’ makes for an interesting title (in my opinion).

My memory is fading each day as I get older.

The names of people I write about may not be accurate, or I have forgotten them altogether.

But I remember almost every face I met in Vittoria – and how they became a significant influence on my personal development as a young man.

I wanted to continue writing stories about my three summers in Vittoria, Ontario (1966-68), made famous in the song ‘Tobacco Road.’

No, it isn’t, Danny!  The song Tobacco Road wasn’t written about Vittoria!  

Relax, Spanky!

Although you may have a significant guitar collection, as well as many 8-track cassettes, it does not make you an authority on music history.

And yes, Tobacco Road is a song that was originally written in 1960 by John Loudermilk, a blues/folk singer who actually grew up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, and not Ontario.

The version I knew and listened to was the one recorded in 1964 by the Nashville Teens.

But the song has been recorded by dozens of other musicians over the years, including a 17-minute version by Edgar Winter, on his initial LP.

The Jackson 5 played the song for their audition with Motown Records, and Eric Burdon of Animals fame recorded a 15-minute version.

I have included both song versions for your listening pleasure:

My musical tastes are different from when I was sixteen – I now prefer John Loudermilk’s original version.

Spanky sent me a message, after reading this installment, that he preferred the Nashville Teens version.

Sadly, Loudermilk’s version never made it on the North American hit charts.

But I think that I know the reason.

In the early sixties, many folks in the evangelical community did not approve of rock and roll and thought the Devil inspired it.

It is probably why later versions of the song omitted the references to the Lord and God.

Things didn’t change until the Beatles appeared on stage in North America for the first time, on the Ed Sullivan Show.

I was in grade nine at the time (1963).

I purchased the original Tobacco Road song from iTunes this morning – and it was only .69 cents!

The original song is probably still playing on CKLB, the AM radio station in my hometown, when Dude and I hitchhiked to Vittoria, Ontario, during that summer in 1966.

I was sixteen years old but seldom listened to that radio station.

I preferred the rock and roll music that played on CKEY during my teenage years.  I even remember one of the radio personalities, which is the fastest talker I’ve ever heard.  His name was Dave Mickey.  He later went by David Marsden, which is his real name.  He is one of only three Canadian jocks to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Later, I switched to CHUM FM, and I have never listened to music on AM radio again.

But on that first summer morning, in 1966, I heard CKLW in Windsor for the first time.

At the time, it was considered as one of the greatest rock ‘n roll radio stations in North America!

Sorry, but I keep distracting my thoughts on other things that are not really related to this story.

But I love music!

So, thanks for your patience if you’re a new reader.

If you’ve been following my stories for the past eight years, you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking – why can’t Danny stay focussed?

********

In 2012, I wrote about that magical summer in Vittoria.

It was my first time away from home, rules, and curfews.

Here’s the link to the story:  The Summer of ’66, in case you didn’t already read it.

It is important to read that story before this one – otherwise, you might get confused and frustrated, like my friend, Spanky!

For clarity, I will be combining the events from the 1966/67/68 summers into this concluding chapter of the story.

********

However, before I begin with my story, I need to apologize to my friend Spanky.

There are only a few people who know the true identity of whom I refer.

Here’s his photo:

Western Region Reunion – Cambridge, Ontario (2015)

This photo was taken ten years after I retired from General Motors.

These were three of the guys I worked with and still stay in touch with.

From left: Maurice, Gerry, Danny, and Al (Spanky).

And although I tease and make nasty and unflattering comments about Spanky – he is actually a brilliant guy and an accomplished guitar player.

He’s also a great salesman – as are Maurice and Gerry!

In the early 2000s, when visiting Spanky in Winnipeg, he was single and living in a three-level, older home.

He owned more than 20 guitars at the time, a Hammond organ, and a set of drums.

I remember having a few drinks and jamming with him in the early hours of the morning.

I played drums, and he strummed his guitar – but we were both too inebriated to sing.

Spanky inspired me to buy my drums from the music store in Winnipeg the very next day.

I shipped them back to Vancouver, BC, on a Greyhound Bus.

Oh, and one other thing, before moving on with the story.

I haven’t played the drums since getting them because of Holly Golightly, my dog.

My Holly Golightly – she’s a Coton de Tulear.

My drums have been in storage for more than a dozen years.

I want to donate my drum set to a young boy or girl who’d love to play drums but doesn’t have the money to buy.

Initially, I planned to donate them to the public school down the street, but I have decided that I would rather give them to a youngster – who might otherwise not have realized their hidden talent.

If you know someone – please drop me a line, and I will contact you to discuss.

I am not interested in selling them – I want to give them away – with no strings attached!

The drums are stored in cases and are in mint condition.

There are also noise pads to put on the drums and cymbals.

They reduce the sound but make it too muffled for my taste.

But hey, they are free – so who is complaining?

And one more thing, Spanky is happily married, with five or six kids – I am not sure what the count is at present.

He is living in southern Ontario and doing well.

And so are Maurice and Gerry – all are my best friends forever!

********

Chapter One – Coaching the Girls’ Softball Team

Coaching the Vittoria girls’ softball team was my idea of meeting single and unattached girls.

I’d heard from one of Ma Jacobvit’s daughters that the team didn’t have a coach.

I told her that I used to play softball for Connaught Park in Oshawa and would like to volunteer to be a coach.

However, I didn’t tell her that I spent most of the time on the bench.

But I’ve always loved sports – particularly baseball, and know the rules and how the game is supposed to be played.

And it was a thrill as a kid to wear a Connaught Park baseball jersey.

I don’t know what happened to that old jersey, but I think it was a red t-shirt, with white or yellow lettering.

But I would love to own a jersey from that Vittoria team.  I would prize that more than a Toronto Blue Jays or Seattle Mariners jersey, even if there were ‘D-cup’ bumps on the shirt’s front!

My buddy Dude was the other coach, and within a couple of weeks, we knew almost all of the girls in town.

I wish I could recall more about my coaching skills – but not knowing how to dance never stopped me from asking a gal to dance.

I also remember that many of the girls’ parents attended the games, so it seemed all of the town residents were getting to know me by name – the Saint!

And I went from being shy and bashful to being popular.

I had never felt like that before – like I was somebody!

However, I don’t remember dating any of the girls on the team that first summer.

Besides, I was writing letters to Eleanor Kirkpatrick, the girlfriend I left behind in Oshawa.

You might remember Eleanor, from my The Warwick Hotel, Hookers and Tattoos story.

 

Chapter Two – Getting my 90 Day Beginner’s Driver License 

When I arrived in Vittoria that first summer, I had one thing on my mind.

Well, that’s not entirely true – I had a lot of things running through my teenage brain at that time, including buying new clothes – I didn’t even own a suit at the time.

But what I was really hoping for was to own my own car.

When my two older sisters turned sixteen years old, my dad couldn’t wait to take them to the Department of Transport to get their 90-day beginner’s license.

But the day I turned sixteen, my Dad refused to let me get my driver’s license because he said his car insurance premiums would increase significantly.

At the time, girls under the age of 21 did not have to pay higher rates – but boys did.

Probably because boys got more speeding tickets and were involved in more accidents than girls.

I’m not sure if that’s still the case or not.

But back in 1966, I didn’t want to drive my Dad’s car – I wanted to drive my own car.

So, I don’t know why Dad was so difficult – but that was typical of our relationship in those days.

I don’t remember my Dad ever telling me that he loved me.

He also didn’t teach me much, if anything – but I guess that’s the way he was raised.

I probably hitch-hiked to the Department of Transport office in Simcoe to write the test.

I remember how excited I was to finally have a driver’s license – even though it was just a beginners’ license.

But I wasn’t planning to enroll for any driver’s instruction – I already knew how to drive.  Or at least, I thought I did.

And having a beginner’s permit didn’t mean that my new friends would feel obligated to let me drive their cars.

Besides, guys are fussy when it comes to their cars and trucks.

It’s why some give their cars a girl’s name.

But over the next few months, I would drive the next best thing – a tractor!

I still remember it was a Farmall tractor I first learned how to drive.

Chapter Three – My first car 

That first summer, I got my first car – a 1958 Ford Fairlane, which I bought from John Walsh, for $75.

’58 Ford Fairlane is like mine

All it needed was a new generator, which I got from a salvage yard in Simcoe.

This is the shortest chapter in this story because I can’t remember what happened to the car.

I didn’t smash it, and I don’t remember selling the car to anyone – but I have this sneaky suspicion that it was stolen by one of the guys in the bunkhouse I was living in during the tobacco harvest.  But that’s another story.

Chapter Four – The Tobacco Harvest

The Bunkhouse

That first tobacco harvest in 1966 was the first time I stayed in a bunkhouse with grown men.  Two of them were from New Brunswick, one from North Carolina, and two were from Quebec.

There was also a man from South Carolina, whose name I still remember:  Strony Honeycutt.  Not sure if that’s the correct spelling of his name, but he’s probably no longer living.

At the time, he was a semi-retired farmer and only came to Canada during our annual harvest.

The bunkhouse had six beds and a fridge, and that’s about all.

Every once in a while, someone would do a ‘beer run’ into Simcoe, and we’d store the beer in the fridge, so we’d always have a cold beer at the end of the day.

The toilet was an outhouse, like the one at Walsh’s farm, but the farmer here had a washroom inside, but it wasn’t for the hired hands.

We also had a sink to wash our hands.  But the shower was in the greenhouse and was somewhat private.

The one thing I liked, though, was the fact that we ate all of our meals in the farmhouse.  And the farmer’s wife was an excellent cook.

I think that they were Ukrainian and I have always loved that kind of food.

KILNS

Strony was the person who ‘cured’ the tobacco.

He stayed in a separate, small cabin near the kilns because he had to check the kilns every four hours to adjust the temperature.

Tobacco kilns in Norfolk County, OntarioKilns were the place that we hung the sticks of tobacco leaves.

It took about a week for the curing process, and Strony had to maintain a close eye on the kiln’s temperature.

Kiln fires were always a constant threat because as the tobacco leaves ‘cured’ and got dry, a fire was always an expensive loss, and I’m not sure whether they were covered by insurance.

I remember hearing that farmers could get crop insurance for frost, but the coverage was only until the end of August or the first week or so of September.

********

At first, I really missed being with my buddies, but most of them had full-time jobs and weren’t working on farms.

I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side.

But John Walsh and Ernie Church both had younger brothers, and I hung around with them and Dude.  And during harvest, there wasn’t a lot of time for partying – but I’ll write about that in another chapter.

 

Priming Tobacco

When I first heard the term ‘priming,’ it referred to pouring a small amount of water into the pump to get it ‘primed’ before you began pumping the water.

Typical hand pump

It’s what the Walsh’s had in their kitchen.

But Dude said that ‘priming was the term used for ‘picking’ tobacco.

He didn’t explain why it was called priming rather than picking, but I stopped trying to understand the English language when going to school.

********

The farmer came into the bunkhouse that first morning to wake us up at about 6:00 am.

Breakfast will be ready in 5 minutes, he shouted.

Before that first summer away from home, breakfast at home was either a bowl of porridge or Rice Krispies.

Once in a while, on special occasions, we would have bacon or sausages and eggs.  Served with toast and milk.

But when we sat down at the long table, the farmer’s wife had prepared a sumptuous breakfast, consisting of a choice of juice, cereal, toast, eggs, bacon, home fries, and coffee.

That was the biggest breakfast that I ever ate in my life.

Sand Leaves

The farmer then took us to the barn to hitch up the horse that pulled the tobacco ‘boats.’

Tobacco boats were long wooden crate-like boxes that sat on metal skis that we put the tobacco when we were priming.

The horse pulled the boat up the rows of tobacco.

The fastest picker was stationed in the row in front of the horse, and he set the pace.  The horse only stopped when the picker in front of him stopped.

So you had to be quick to keep up with the horse and other pickers.

You started in a certain row of the field, and that was your row for the rest of the harvest.

The plants are about five feet in height, and the leaves are usually wet from the morning dew.

The three largest leaves at the bottom of the plant are known as ‘sand leaves.’

They are probably called that because some of the leaves lay on top of the sandy soil.

You have to bend down to almost touching your toes to pick the sand leaves.

You remain bent over while picking until your underarm is full of tobacco, and then you walk over and put the leaves into the tobacco boat.

We continued picking each row of tobacco until the sand leaves were all picked.

But we only picked a certain amount of tobacco each day – enough to fill one kiln with ‘tobacco on sticks.’

Essentially, once the horse and its boat reach the end of the row, the farmer replaces the filled boat with an empty boat, and we start all over again in the next row of tobacco.

When the farmer returns to the kiln area, he unhooks the boat.

Gathered at the kiln are several workers, who unload the boat, hand the leaves to the tier in bunches of three, and the leaves are tied to a three-foot stick.

I think that there would be between 96 and 100 leaves per stick.

After the stick is tied with tobacco leaves, the stick is placed on a conveyor belt, and it goes into the kiln and is grabbed by a person who is straddling the beams to hang each stick from the top of the kiln, downwards.

When the kiln is full of tobacco, the workday is finished.

However, we did stop for lunch each day.

And our lunch was just as sumptuous as breakfast.  And so were our dinners; the farmer raised his own beef and chickens, and their garden was filled with vegetables.

But before we ate dinner, we took turns having a shower in the greenhouse.

The farmer had a 50 drum filled with water on an overhead platform.

The greenhouse kept the water hot.

I loved taking the showers – and they were my first because, at home, we only took baths.

*******

Taking Out the Kiln

After the tobacco was primed and the kiln barn filled, a man would ‘cure’ the tobacco by setting the heaters’ temperature and then keeping a careful watch over the barn every four hours.

Once the curing process was complete, we would remove the sticks of tobacco from the barn.

Each morning, the farmer would come into the bunkhouse to wake us between 5:45 – 6:00 am.  We would take out the kiln before we had breakfast.

More than morning, the farmer came into the bunkhouse, and we weren’t back from partying the night before!

But we wouldn’t get the day off – but nobody complained.

And ‘taking out the kiln’ was the opposite of filling the kiln because all of the primers, and the farmer himself, took part in the process.

The hanger started at the bottom and passed the cured tobacco stick to one of the primers, who passed it along to the others who would pile the tobacco sticks on a flatbed trailer.

I can remember that my face and eyes would get covered in the sand coming off the cured leaves.

We then took the trailer of cured leaves into a large storage barn.

While doing a Google search for photos of tobacco farming, I had hoped to show you the various stages of the harvest.

But I found a video on YouTube of a tobacco harvest in 1947.

It is as close to how we did the harvest in 1966; the only difference is the conveyer belt we used to fill and empty the kiln barns.

I should have mentioned earlier that the harvest usually ran for about five to six weeks.

Dude, and I wouldn’t get back home to Oshawa until the second or third week in September.  We missed a few days of school, but that was a bonus!

Pie in Pontypool

During that first harvest in Vittoria, I started as a primer but got promoted to tractor driver after the sand leaves had all been picked.

My back has never been the same after those brutally, difficult days of priming, and I appreciated the farmer giving me an easier job.

That is about all that I am going to write about actual tobacco farming.

However, I want to mention that Jimmy Walsh and I actually spent the last weeks of the 1966 harvest at his older brother, Pye’s farm in Pontypool, Ontario.  I don’t know if ‘Pye’ is how he spelled his name or even if that’s his real name or just a nickname, like so many of us had.

But he was the nicest person that I have ever worked for, and I still remember his big smile.  He was married to Bobby Cooke’s sister, and she, too, was a great cook.

I think Pye’s wife was pregnant at the time, but I’m not sure.

Bobby’s younger sister also lived with Pye and his wife.

Jimmy and I stayed in a bunkhouse near the house, but all of the other workers came from their own homes each day.

********

To be continued.

I hope my stories are a gift to your head and heart.

Hugs,

Danny

Click on this Index to view my 210+ stories.

Today’s tune from Danny’s library (purchased):

Hey Tomorrow – lyrics

Hey tomorrow, where are you goin’
Do you have some room for me?
Night is fallin’ and the dawn is callin’
I’ll have a new day if she’ll have me

Hey tomorrow, I can’t show you nothin’
You’ve seen it all pass by your door
So many times I said I been changin’
Then slipped into patterns of what happened before

‘Cause I’ve been wasted and I’ve over-tasted
All the things that life gave to me
And I’ve been trusted, abused, and busted
And I’ve been taken by those close to me

Hey tomorrow, you’ve gotta believe that
I’m through wastin’ what’s left of me
‘Cause night is fallin’ and the dawn is callin’
I’ll have a new day if she’ll have me

‘Cause I’ve been wasted and I’ve over-tasted
All the things that life gave to me
And I’ve been trusted, abused and busted
And I’ve been taken by those close to me

Hey tomorrow, where are you goin’
Do you have some room for me?
‘Cause night is fallin’ and the dawn is callin’
I’ll have a new day if she’ll have me

I’ll have a new day if she’ll have me

Songwriters: James Croce

About Post Author

Daniel (Danny) St. Andrews

An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor (as in almost pregnant) living in Vancouver, BC His other passions include cancer patient advocate (he had stage 3 throat cancer), walking with the Vancouver 'Venturers Walking Club, and of course, spoiling his dog, Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).
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By Daniel (Danny) St. Andrews

An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor (as in almost pregnant) living in Vancouver, BC His other passions include cancer patient advocate (he had stage 3 throat cancer), walking with the Vancouver 'Venturers Walking Club, and of course, spoiling his dog, Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).

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