The day was Thursday March 21, 2019. That day I brought a nice change of clothes with me in to my work at Busch Systems. It was a very special day for me, as I was being treated out to lunch at a nice restaurant as a Thank You by my superiors in whom I really looked up to. They were my Warehouse Manager Derek, Human Resources Manager Stephanie, VP of Operations Marty, and Executive VP and COO Bill. It was such a wonderful lunch. I enjoyed my time out for lunch so much.
When I arrived back at work, my supervisor and warehouse manager Derek asked if I would come into his office. Since tomorrow would be my last day, he wanted to know what I actually did during my day. I wore many hats at my work at Busch Systems. I picked and packed orders in the warehouse. I wrote articles for the companies website blog. I also had a name on my badge which read “Facilities Coordinator”. I would best describe it as a glorified name for a janitor, with other duties such as shovelling snow in winter and cutting grass in the summer. After a few minutes Derek asked if I would take him on my rounds so the worker taking my place would be able to continue where I left off. Approaching the main glass boardroom I quickly noticed it was completely filled with my work peeps. Derek motioned for me to go in. And when I did, I was greeted with a thunderous round of applause. As the tears were streaming down my face, I realized my work had somehow pulled off this surprise retirement party for me.
Three weeks before that party the word “retirement” was not even close to being on my radar. It seems I have always worked as long as I could remember. But I would say my work history “unofficially” began when I was fifteen following the death of my father. In the blink of an eye my adolescence was thrust into adulthood as my seventeen year old brother and I tried to keep our 300 acre farm going after dad’s sudden death. For me it meant running the farm and continuing to attend high school the same time. The only time I had the time to study was when school ended at 3:15, until I boarded the bus to go home at 4:00. Once home it was chores until 9:30 pm and back up in the morning at 5:30 am. We managed to keep the farm going until it sold, but my grades plummeted. I graduated with enough credits, but barely.
I would love to have been a farmer. But I could never start up a farm on my own from scratch when you factor in the costs of both land and machinery. So I had no idea what to do with my life. Some of my high school colleagues went off to colleges, universities and trade schools. They would become teachers, nurses, dentists, electricians, police officers and chartered accountants. There was great pay, job security, benefits and the promise of a pension at retirement. These were the professions we were told to aim for. But for me, I just did not have high enough grades. I could not get into any college or university. And colleges and universities don’t look at life history for recent high school graduates. They only look at grades. And besides, if I did get in, what studies would I take? I had no idea.
There was work out there. But the only thing I was qualified for was unskilled labour. My first job was a labourer for a construction company. Lots of hand digging with shovels and carrying loads of lumber for the carpenters. There was lots of work. Unfortunately the company had money problems, and after a few months, pay was hit and miss. I was kept being told “next week” to be paid and I trusted their word. When the company went under I ended up being out seven weeks pay. Even without that seven weeks pay, I was able to purchase my first car, a 1968 Buick Wildcat. It was ten years old, I paid $50 for it from a friend named Rick, and it cost me just over $200 to get it certified for the road. Then after that, I worked as a labourer for a block layer. I got payed for when I worked but there were a lot of days I would drive to the job site, sometimes up to 45 minutes away. If it was raining when I arrived I would be sent home and was not paid. There came a time in the summer where there was no job site to go to. After a couple of weeks I learned that the bricklayer I was working for was now working for someone else as part of the Bricklayers Union. And I also learned I wasn’t needed anymore. That was okay though. Every new job you do learn new life skills, and it was time to learn something new.
Then I phoned a local water well driller inquiring if they were hiring. They said no, and asked who I was. I said “Carl Wright”. They did not know me, but in the conversation they learned my dad was Harold Wright, who they heard lots about. Without a resume, application form or interview they said to start the following Monday morning. Snider Drilling was a great company. They had around 25 employees which operated seven drill rigs. Also being a dealer for new and used drill rigs, Snider Drilling was one of the largest operations of it’s kind in Ontario. The most incredible thing was there was work each day when I went in to work. AND I got paid. I also worked on the rig that was operated by the owner of the company himself, Ralph Snider. Ralph found me a hard worker and also found me really easy to work alongside. He hand picked me to be his rig assistant. I found that to be a huge honour and compliment. We worked very well together.
Well drilling is heavy work and can be dangerous. With a mud rotary rig you mix a bentonite clay with water which is circulated down the hole we are drilling in the process of finding water. The job site is often muddy and slippery. Adding lengths of drill bars and breaking the joints when pulling back out of the ground is tough on fingers. In four separate accidents I broke five fingers. And I always wondered if something more serious was going to happen. And it did. One day I was working right alongside Ralph Snider, the owner of the company on a large town well project in Wasaga Beach when he was killed on the job. There was nothing personally I could have done. Ralph Snider was 41 years old and left behind a wife and pre-teen daughter. I was in my early 20’s with no wife and no dependents. I took Ralph’s death very hard, and have often asked the question “Why couldn’t it have been me”? I never talk about it, and have carried the heavy burden of Ralph’s death right up to this day.
When Ralph Snider died, his wife Sheila took over the company. She never once blamed me for the death of her husband. If fact to the contrary, she was really concerned with how I was coping. Back then there was very little in the way of PTSD counselling. But Sheila mentioned to me many times if I needed a leave of absence for however long I need, to simply take it and there will always be a job for me when I came back. Over the next six years I took leaves three times. The longest leave was seven months long. Each leave I travelled to some of the most spectacular wilderness areas in North America. Alaska, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Northern British Columbia, Sierra Nevada’s, Canyonlands, and the list goes on. During my seven month leave, I had the privilege of taking a three month Outdoor Leadership course led by Ross Cloutier. This was a life changing experience. Ross went on to be climbing leader of the 1991 Mount Everest Canada Expedition. This was before climbing expeditions became commercialized, catering to guided climbs for novice climbers with fat wallets. Big mountain climbs before commercialization were often by invitation to join a national team. Incredibly, seven years later Ross did extend an invitation for me to join him on his Everest expedition. This was to be on more of a support role for the Canadian team. I ended up turning it down as I would miss out the on birth of my first child. Being there for the birth of Naomi was extremely important to me, and there has never been any regrets.
The deep recession of the early 1980’s was tough on a lot of small businesses. At it’s peak, the Bank of Canada rate hit 21%, and the inflation rate averaged more than 12%. A lot of private wells that Snider Drilling drilled never got paid for because of personal bankruptcies. With the commercial contracts, drilling companies were lowballing their bids on the few contracts out there to keep the drilling crews working. Snider Drilling ended losing a lot of money during that time, and never did recover when the economy started to improve. Snider Drilling filed for bankruptcy in the mid 1980’s.
I then travelled out to Eastern Canada where I eventually met the young lady who would later marry me. She was from New Zealand. Interesting enough, I almost made it to New Zealand previously for some mountaineering with a couple guys from my outdoor leadership course. But it never materialized. But what I had planned to embark on was going to be so much better. I was going to marry this New Zealander and live in New Zealand. And I would spend the rest of my life backpacking and climbing in those paradise islands. Oh yes, I also needed money, so I would also work there.
I arrived in New Zealand two weeks before my wedding and Lynne and I got married on October 16, 1988. To completely start a brand new life in New Zealand, I quickly learned this was not a good time. Back in 1984 the country technically became bankrupt the weekend after the national elections. This meant the incoming government had no money in its coffers to do anything but stagger from day to day hoping that the news of the country’s bankruptcy wouldn’t hit the media. Interest rates were well over 20% and there was massive unemployment. The restructuring that the incoming government put in place was hard-nosed and tough. But it had to be done. I had applied for my residency which would entitle me to legally work. But I was not going to receive it. Jobs were for New Zealanders only.
Out of the blue, seven months later I got a job offer back in Canada from a company called Clearwater Drilling, owned by the former foreman of Snider Drilling. He asked if I would consider coming back to Canada to work with my brother on a second drill rig for his company. My brother had also worked at Snider Drilling. Lynne and I talked it over and soon we bought one-way plane tickets and had shipped wedding gifts and all our personal belongings back to Canada. But the most ironic thing is the day before we left New Zealand my residency arrived. It was good for 4 years, which needed to be renewed in person. I never made it back to renew it.
I never expected at all to be back on a drill rig, but it was really nice to be working with my brother Allan. My brother and I get on really well. And we work together incredibly well as a team. After about a year working for Clearwater Drilling my brother made the decision to start up his own drilling company, calling it Allan Wright Water Wells. Shortly before Allan left Clearwater Drilling he asked if I would consider working with him with his new company. And if possible promise him a year to help him get established. I ended up working for my brother not just one year, but for nine years. We ended up drilling together many hundreds of water wells. I would have stayed even longer. But with my wife being a Stay at Home Mom, I was finding it more and more challenging to provide for the growing family. Winter hours were inconsistent and I was really longing for benefits for the family. This was really weighing me down. So I started looking for other work.
With three young children at home, and a fourth on the way my brother gave me his blessing when I got a job offer to work in a factory. The company was called Dana Canada. At forty years of age, there were a lot of firsts. The first time I filled out a resume. The first time I had a job interview. The first time I had benefits. The first job I was working indoors. The first job that had shift work. My benefits would kick in three months after my start date. After two months one of the top management came out to the production line to see me. I was thinking, “Am I in trouble”? I was handed this envelope and was told to open it. It was my benefit card a month early, just in case I needed it for this new baby to be born any day. I learned later than the company in operation for over 25 years and with over 300 employees had never done this before. This really blew me away.
My area of work was trailer axle. If you ever see those big rigs on the highway pulling trailers, we built the axles for those trailers. Welding on brackets, installing brakes and drums, every order was different to whatever the customer wanted. The pay was excellent and there was lots of overtime. There was a wonderful group of people I was working with. I fully expected to stay with this company until I was ready to retire. Then another recession (which the governments call “economic downturn”) hit. There was a lot of turbulence in the manufacturing sector. Instead of riding out the storm, the bean counters at Dana World Headquarters in Toledo, Ohio decided to close Canadian manufacturing, and relocate it in Mexico. Share prices plummeted. Those same shares became worthless when the corporation went into receivership. Canadian operations ceased, and the plant where I worked at was relocated in Mexico under a new restructured name called Dana Holdings. When the Barrie, Ontario plant closed there were 212 workers that lost their job at the time of closing. And interesting enough, the Mexico operations only lasted a couple of years. Quality there was said to be subpar, and there was no worker loyalty. Workers were constantly leaving to work elsewhere when the wages were as little as 25 cents an hour higher. Operations were subsequently moved back to the United States.
When Dana closed it’s doors in Barrie there was to be a government sponsored action centre to help workers transition following the loss of their jobs. A lot of my co-workers were telling me I should apply for this coordinator position for this action centre to help them transition after the plant closing. They said I had that “helping personality”. I’d be working alongside an employment agency. But I had no idea how to use a computer or even send an e-mail. I ended up applying and got the six month contract only because no one else wanted it. The action centre was called “Next Step Action Centre”. I felt the centre did help a lot of people in one way or another.
When my contract ended with the action centre I was in need of work myself. It was recommended that I return to school. Through a program called “Second Career” my tuition and books would be paid for by the provincial government. I thought “Wow, this is my opportunity to get into eco-tourism”. I had been wanting to get into this field for decades. But with family commitments I could never make it happen. I took over a couple hundred hours to put it together, but my portfolio on eco-tourism I felt was extremely impressive. It talked about the current opportunities and a great future in eco-tourism.
My request was turned down flat. In fact it wasn’t even considered, as eco-tourism was not one of the careers covered under the Second Career program. Having been given a personality analysis it was determined I was the perfect fit for the Social Service Worker program. This was my only option if I were to receive funding for my tuition. There was a promise of “tons of work” out there, and I felt this was my only option. Simply put, I needed work.
This time around I was shocked how easy it was to get accepted into college. I still had those low high school grades. But now with loads of “life experience” I was accepted at Georgian College without a second thought. As a “mature” student in his 50’s, I was pleasantly surprised how accepted I was by my peers. Many were in their early 20’s. In fact, some were in college straight out of high school. I made some tremendous friends in college. I studied hard, applied myself and ended up graduating with honours with a combined average over the two years of 86.9%.
I was so proud of my accomplishments and was ready to take on the world. It came as a major blow when I discovered all those promised jobs no longer existed when the government pulled funding for all their programs. I had a lot of interviews and second interviews for the few jobs out there. But the new requirement now seemed to be university degrees, which I did not have. With my wife working part time we were never able to make ends meet when I myself was not working, particularly with four teenage children at home. And our household debt grew substantially. I was scrambling to get whatever work I could find. I was one of those pesky census people. I did seasonal work at the ski resort. I set up bikes and put them away at the local bike shop. And I worked casual labour whenever and wherever I could find it. I also became lay pastor of the local church (which I am still doing).
During this time my mom’s health was also failing. She was living in an apartment in a senior’s village, but it got to the point where she badly needed full time care. My sister Linda and I tried to find long term care for her, but there was a massive wait list. We were unsuccessful and the two of us ended up looking after mom ourselves 24/7, taking turns around the clock. Eventually after five months mom was bumped to the top of the nursing home list. She went to an excellent nursing home where the workers were so caring and compassionate. But mom’s condition continued to get worse and a month later her organs simply shut down and she died.
I took mom’s death hard. I was now the older generation and I could not even find steady work to provide for my family. I had no self worth. I was in a state of depression and our marriage was struggling. Around this time, completely out of the blue I got a phone call from Derek, who I used to work at Dana. He was now supervisor and warehouse manager at a company called Busch Systems. The company was growing quickly, and my name came up as they were looking for (as Derek described) “good workers”. I went in for an interview, a second interview and incredibly I was hired. This could not have come at a better time. My first full time job in five years.
I found Busch Systems a great work environment, and it did not take long for me to get back to my old self. I initially started in the modifications department working with a side project called Big Dog Shred Bins. After a couple of years it was phased out and I worked in pick/pack in the warehouse. A couple more years later, I also took on the role of Facilities Coordinator on top of pick/pack. And the last fourteen months I had another title added to my badge. Creative Writer.
Being able to write for the company was a huge confidence booster for me. During high school I was given an automatic fail from an English teacher, when I could not get a book read and report completed in the time allotted. When my report card from that teacher said lazy, unmotivated, a failure, I took that report card very personally. Forty years later it took a running club at work to give confidence in myself that I could run. And also the confidence in myself to write about my experiences.
With my work at Busch Systems, pastoring a church and running more intense ultras each year life has become extremely busy. For the longest time I have been running on the edge of burnout. In addition this year something came out of nowhere it fell right on my lap. A 4,300 kilometer one time only relay run called The Monarch Ultra, a relay which follows the path of the Monarch Butterfly between Canada and Central Mexico. There will be approximately 70 runners running between 50 and 100 kilometers each. When I heard about it, I was so excited about this run I registered immediately for a 100 kilometer relay section north of London on September 22nd. I was NOT going to miss this opportunity. Little did I realize there was going to be more. Program director Carlotta James had been reading my work articles, which I often share on my personal social media platform. She contacted me soon after, commenting about my passion for life and the environment and asked if I would consider volunteering myself as an ambassador for the project. Being asked was a huge honour for me. And I said yes. It was later that night I realized how much more there was on my plate all of a sudden. I was way over my head with all my commitments. As I tried to fall asleep, my head was spinning so fast. I felt so weak and overwhelmed.
MEANWHILE, things were also happening with my wife. She was a stay at home mom ever since our first child was born in the spring of 1992. The last 14 years she has had a small, but very important 15 hour a week (3 hours a day) job of school crossing guard in Hillsdale. In addition, the last 12 years she has had a 5 hour a week part time job in the post office. Every year there are usually 1 or more area postmaster openings, and Lynne would apply for them, but never was successful. So when she told me that she had an interview for the Waubaushene post office, I never gave it a 2nd thought. But she got the position. As crossing guard, Lynne has had a real connection with the kids she crosses. The township and Lynne were discussing the challenge of finding a replacement for her. Lynne has seen me struggle every day of my commute since being involved in a serious accident last July during my commute and later asked if I might be interested to be Hillsdale’s new crossing guard. (I was used as a backup when I was going to college, and I was “technically” still a backup. Even though I was never available these last 6.5 years). I said “naa, maybe, I don’t know”. With that “maybe” Lynne contacted the township to contact me. The township sent me an e-mail offering the position. I had 2 days to decide before it was posted to the general public. I needed to crunch some numbers. With Lynne’s new position, I could “retire” and take over as Hillsdale’s new crossing guard, and financially we would still be on the same ground. So what has happened? My wife has gone from 5 hours a week as a part time post office worker to a 40 hour a week full time postmaster position. I would be taking over Lynne’s 15 hours a week crossing guard duties on Monday March 25th. I look forward to serving Hillsdale as crossing guard for many years.
So having this little job to do will be very important. Particularly on those winter days when I might not feel like getting out of the house. I have huge shoes to fill. My wife has really invested herself into the kids she has crossed over the years. Many children she has crossed from JK to Grade 8. In 2012 she was awarded “Canada’s Favourite Crossing Guard”. She had no idea that all of Hillsdale had submitted this portfolio on her. It was massive with testimony after testimony from the children she has crossed over the years, parents, teachers, community members and the impact she has made on their lives.
I would have more time in my church work. Every week seems to be a huge struggle to get my message prepared for Sunday. Previously it has been like 7 day weeks for the past 6.5 years, with no time to catch my breath. And I am really excited to be a part of The Monarch Ultra. I think back 6 years ago I struggled so much to complete that 1st half marathon. And now I am pinching myself as I realize I will be in part of a feature length documentary on monarch butterflies and ultra-runners. It is going to seem very surreal being around (and followed) by videographers. I am very honoured that it all began here at Busch Systems. This company and the dear people who I work with have been such an important part of my life. I have deeply appreciated so much the values embraced at Busch Systems, such as the strong Corporate Social Responsibility and the Project Rise charity give back initiative.
So I typed out both my acceptance letter of crossing guard duties for the Township of Springwater and my intent of retirement letter to Busch Systems on a Thursday night. And that Friday morning there was an anxious drive while I contemplated how on earth was I going to present this. If I possibly could, I really wanted to break the news to Derek (my supervisor) and Stephanie (the human resources lady) together. They were the two people who had hired me. I opened the back door of the warehouse and entered like I always have. And it felt like my jaw just dropped to the floor. There was Stephanie talking with Derek. You see, I have walked through that back door of that warehouse for six and a half years. Stephanie is hardly ever in the warehouse, and NEVER once have I seen Stephanie back there before 8 am. This really gave me goosebumps. It was like Stephanie was there waiting for me. Derek acknowledged my arrival, and I awkwardly said to Stephanie and Derek if I could speak with them. We all went into Derek’s office, and the door was closed. But the words just were not coming. Looking at Stephanie I finally blurted out “I’m so sorry”, and the tears starting streaming down my face. As I shared what had transpired there was a ton of hugs and tears.
I know so many people who have gone into retirement, and shortly after pass away. I think particularly of 35 of my colleagues working at Dana the year it closed are no longer alive. Recently after working out in the gym I sat in the sauna with some fellow sexagenarians. Five or six strangers, and the conversation ended up being about our male contemporaries getting old. Ourselves excepted, of course. We talked about different acquaintances our age getting dentures, hip and knee replacements, prostate cancers, stents and so on. And then one fellow very randomly blurts out “And the only thing that is stiff when he wakes up in the morning is his back”. And there was an awkward, nervous laughter of recognition among us all. We all knew exactly what he was talking about.
There is no denying the fact I am getting older. We all are. The last 20 years of my life since I started at Dana has flown by so fast. It feels like it was just yesterday. They say that “60 is the new 40”. There may be some truth in that. My running has connected with a younger version of myself. One that loves to always being outdoors and active. I am also discovering the importance of cross training to counter sarcopenia. It is the one percent per annum of muscle mass that our bodies begin to devour as we age. Even while we sleep. It is so hard to keep muscle as we age. Yet, I am so fortunate and blessed to have my health. And I realize that can change very, very quickly.
My bucket list is getting shorter by the year. It is not because I am crossing items out. It is because I am running out of time. If the next twenty years goes by as fast as the last twenty, it will be a blur. And I have never heard as much anywhere that “80 is the new 60”. Plus my priorities are changing. I have done some amazing adventures in my lifetime. But hands down, the most fulfilling thing I have ever done was with my own flesh and blood. It was just over two years ago when I went to New Zealand to see my daughter Naomi graduate from teacher’s college. And then we embarked on a couple weeks of epic hiking, backpacking and climbing. Naomi had gotten ultra-fit in New Zealand. And it took everything I had in my then 58 year old body to keep up with her. But boy, was it ever worth it.
So I walked into that glass boardroom at Busch Systems and I was greeted to a thunderous round of applause. And I was shaking, being overcome with emotion. There was certainly going to be so many great friends and work colleagues I was going to leave behind. There was moving speeches from Stephanie, Marty and Derek. It was so humbling that Busch Systems would recognize me in this matter. So appreciated to have this chance to say goodbyes.
But the real thank you should go to Derek and Busch Systems for what they did for me. It took that random phone call from Derek when he was looking for (as he described) “good workers”. This was when I was wallowing in low self worth, depression and suicidal thoughts. The job offer could not have come at a better time. The running club was the best thing that ever happened to me. After that first half marathon I had that renewed confidence. And I am so excited and honoured to be invited to still be a part in the ongoing running events where Busch Systems is a part of. And thank you to Busch Systems to have the confidence in me to write for the company blog. In total I have written 48 articles. Forty seven of these articles have been published, and one is tucked away in a time capsule, hidden in that brand new warehouse built over the past several months. Thank you Busch Systems for being such a vital part of my life story.