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Les Guthrie: Good delivery in bad weather

(With files from Les Guthrie) Les Guthrie, who currently resides in Harwood Manor in North Battleford, wrote a short book of stories detailing some experiences he had after the Second World War.

(With files from Les Guthrie)

Les Guthrie, who currently resides in Harwood Manor in North Battleford, wrote a short book of stories detailing some experiences he had after the Second World War.

Guthrie, who will turn 100 in October, began working as a circulation representative for the Saskatoon StarPhoenixand stayed with the newspaper from 1946 to 1982.

Guthrie was born to Samuel and Maimie Guthrie in 1918 on the family homestead northwest of Swift Current. The family moved to Eston in 1919 and Saskatoon in 1925.

Quotes are from Guthrie’s book:

“While in Grade 12, I got a part-time job with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix sports department. Upon graduation I continued with this part-time job until I got a full-time job in a furniture store as an apprentice upholsterer, which also meant selling when the store was busy. I eventually decided that to make more money I would have to get a better paying job.

“I got a job in a grocery store, a grocery warehouse and the Canadian National Railway.

“I served in the army during the war. Some years later, after receiving my commission from the navy, I served several years as a Sea Cadet Officer. In 1946, I got a job with the StarPhoenix as circulation representative for North Battleford and the towns in between, which meant a move to North Battleford. Part of this job required me to transport the afternoon edition of the paper to North Battleford, which meant having to buy a vehicle.

“There was a shortage of cars in 1946, as they were not produced during the war. I bought a 1936 International half-ton panel truck and started on my 36-year newspaper journey. The driver’s seat was propped up with a board and a box served as a seat for a passenger. It didn’t have a jack. Fortunately my brother was in the tire business and was able to get a jack for me. I didn’t have a spare tire. When I had a flat tire I would take it off and bum a ride into town, get it repaired and then bum a ride back to my truck. The truck did not have a metal roof, but a treated canvas one. When it rained it leaked.

“One time my agent at Maymont needed a ride to Saskatoon. Shortly after we left it started to rain. His question was ‘Is it wetter outside than inside?’”

Weather heavily affected how Guthrie could do his job. Highways at the time weren’t like they are now, as, Guthrie wrote, they were often two lanes of gravel without shoulders.

Some stories detail roundabout ways Guthrie delivered newspapers after his vehicle would malfunction or get stuck, or how he would help people out of those same situations. In the spring, parts of the highway could become, as Guthrie puts it, “big mud holes.” Sometimes Guthrie delivered newspapers with the help of the train.

“My agent in Ruddell owned the hotel. He was a real character. He would stand on the corner with a big gold watch in his hand and inform me if I was late or early. One day he showed me through the hotel. I was amazed at the size of the kitchen, which contained a huge stove. We went into the room that had been the bar. It looked just like the bars in the old Western movies. There was a big mirror behind the bar and a brass foot rail. As I had been told that Charlie could fix anything, I took notice that the bar was covered with all kinds of things waiting to be fixed.

“One night I was driving into Saskatoon when the car broke down about a mile from Ruddell. I walked into Ruddell to see if Charlie could be of any help. He said that we might as well wait until morning, so off to one of the hotel bedrooms I went.

 “When we got to discussing my problem he said, ‘You’re driving a Dodge!’  I said, ‘Yes, a 1940 model.’ He said the carburetor in that model had a hole in the bottom containing a screw. He asked me if I chewed gum and I said ‘Yes.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘the screw probably fell out, so you chew some gum and then put the gum in that small hole.’”

“I kind of wondered about this. However I did as I was told, started the car up and away I went.”

Blizzards were also an occupational hazard.

“There were quite a few blizzards and blocked roads. In one of the worst storms I got stuck six miles west of Radisson. I walked to a farmhouse and asked the farmer if he could pull me out. He said anyone who would be out in the blizzard deserved to be stuck. I said I was the StarPheonix man and had to be out. He said that was different, hitched up a team of horses and pulled me out. I eventually got back to Radisson after a lot of snow.”

Of the years he spent on the road, Guthrie said the winter of 1947-48 was the worst, as “there were snowdrifts up to the top of the telephone poles and snow tunnels on the highway.”

“There were many times that the highway would get plugged and I would get snow-bound some place. One of these places was Langham. The storm was starting when I left the StarPhoenix. When I got just outside Saskatoon they were stopping the traffic. I stopped and when they looked at me, they said “Oh, it’s you. Good luck.’

“And away I went.

“The storm kept getting worse and by the time I got to Langham the visibility was so bad that I decided to stop. I took my papers to the railroad station and made arrangements for them to be put on the train for North Battleford. When I went to check into the hotel I could hardly see the lampposts across the street.

“There was a girl sitting with us in the lobby and she asked how the bedrooms were heated. One of the men asked if she had seen the metal grate in the floor in the middle of the hall. She said she had. He explained to her that was where the heat came from. She then wanted to know how the bedrooms were heated. He explained that you keep your door open. She replied that she couldn’t do that.

“It was later found out that her door was half open the same as the rest.

“Later that evening as we were sitting in the lobby, two men came in and said that they had to have a meeting and they needed [the hotel manager] to form a quorum. He said that he couldn’t go. They came a second time and got the same answer. Getting the same answer on the third visit they asked him why. He replied that he had to open the beer parlour or he would lose his licence, and the hired man couldn’t get into town because of the storm.

“I said if [he wanted] to go, I would look after the beer parlour. He asked if I could draw beer. I said no but I could sure take the cap off a bottle. In we went. He got the stove going and gave me some magazines and said, ‘there’s the beer and there’s the money’ and away he went.”

Guthrie married Marjorie Clark in 1949 and together they had three sons.

Guthrie was also involved in the Kinsmen Club, K-40, Associated Canadian Travellers, Band Parents Association and the Navy League of Canada. Provincially, he was on the executive of the Navy League of Canada and the swimming association.

Guthrie worked in two North Battleford elections, one he covered for the Canadian Press and the other as an assistant to the returning officer for the advance poll. He ran for the public school board, but wasn’t elected. He was also master of the Ionic Lodge Masons and president of the Battlefords Shrine Club.

Coaching was also part of Guthrie’s life as he coached hockey for seven years, was assistant coach and manager of the swimming club for seven years, coached and managed the speed skating club for five years and was chairman of speed skating for the 1977 Saskatchewan Winter Games. Guthrie was also a member of the Legion and served on the United Church board of stewards.

Guthrie also took photographs, and some can be found on his walls at Harwood Manor, along with other activities.

“After the floods were over in the spring I would take my dog and pick up driftwood to take home to polish up. I also refinished a wooden chair that had been in the Clark family for years.”

Guthrie keeps his stories in a brown envelope that features the names of the people who read them.

His 100th birthday celebration will take place Oct. 6 at Harwood Manor.