By Greg Clark, May 11, 1935
“A h-hum,” sighed Jimmie Frise, as we bowled southward and homeward from our first real trout fishing trip, “things never turn out as good as we think they will.”
“Somebody,” I muttered, “has been fishing our stream on the sly.”
“We shouldn’t feel bad,” said Jimmie. “We ought to know, at our age, that things never turn out the way we hope they will. What I mean is, by the time a man is forty, he should be incapable of feeling disappointed.”
“The weather was rotten,” I said. “A nasty wind. We couldn’t cast right. What we need is a nice soft southerly wind.”
“No, you’re wrong,” corrected Jim. “Don’t waste your time thinking up reasons for this trip being a failure. Of course it was a failure. All trips are failures. It wasn’t the weather that was wrong. It wasn’t that there were no fish. It wasn’t that somebody has been poaching. It was simply that we built up hopes far in excess of what we have any right to expect.”
“Do you want me to go fishing,” I cried, “in a pessimistic frame of mind? Do you expect me to start out on a fishing trip in a sour, cynical mood, filled with doubts, expecting nothing?”
“Not at all,” allowed Jim. “Be as full of expectations as ever. But don’t be disappointed when it is over. It is the expectancy that is the best part of a fishing trip. It is the whole week, from Monday morning to Saturday noon that is the real fishing trip. The plans, the dreams, the imagination, the hopes. When you leave the city Saturday noon you might say the fishing trip is over. The minute you leave the city limits.”
“That’s absurd,” I stated.
“Sure it is,” said Jim. “What isn’t? Isn’t it absurd to see us bowling down this highway with our car full of mud? Isn’t it absurd to hear us talking hoarsely together, both of us with bad colds? Wasn’t it absurd to see us yesterday evening standing there in a raging muddy crick, the ugly bare woods on either side filled with icy bog, no beauty anywhere in the world to attract us? Wasn’t it absurd when you tripped over that hidden log and fell on your face? Wasn’t it absurd to see you on the bank, struggling out of your waders and holding them up to drain water out of them?”
“I hardly think it was absurd,” I protested. “If it had been you, I wouldn’t have laughed. I would have come out of the stream and helped you.”
“The whole thing is absurd,” went on Jim. “But will we be out again next Saturday?”
“We’ll go to Martie’s Mill next week,” I said. “There’s where we’ll get the trout, Jimmie. We should have gone there this time. That’s where the trout are. If you had taken my advice…”
“Right you are,” said Jim. “Next week we’ll go to Martie’s Mill. It ought to be a swell week-end, according to the law of averages. A nice soft day, just a little cloudy and a faint breeze to ruffle the surface of the water. You fish from the mill up and I’ll fish from the mill down.”
No Way To Enjoy Fishing
“It’ll probably be sleeting,” I growled.
“Tut, tut,” protested Jimmie. “That’s no way to enjoy your fishing.”
“Look at this car,” I muttered. “Mud from headlights to tail lamp, inside and out. Your back axle strained by that pitch-hole we got stuck in. Racing your engine the way you did has strained it, too, I’ll bet.”
“And not one fish to account for it,” laughed Jim. “However, I’ll have her all washed up. I’ll have the boys at the garage tune up the engine. Next Saturday, the roads will be dried out. The sun will be shining softly, as only it does in May. We’ll go to Martie’s Mill, and the birches will be showing their first faint veil of green. The trout will be rising to the fly. The water will be clear and low. Oh, boy!”
“And yet,” I said, “all the time you are saying this, you know in your heart it won’t be like that.”
“As I said a mile or two back,” said Jim, “nothing pans out as good as we expect it to.”
Through the cold rain we drove. Jim’s engine rasped a little. Something in it ticked loudly. The poor old car had been through a lot in the past twenty-four hours.
“You’ve strained her,” I said.
“She’s all right,” assured Jim. “She’s a tough old boat. I’ve had her through worse roads than those yesterday. She protests a little, maybe, but she never lets me down.”
And with those words, the engine stopped.
“Ah,” said I.
Jimmie stepped on the starter, pulled and pushed the choke rod. He waggled the switches and gadgets. Then he ran her over to the shoulder of the road.
“Maybe we’re out of gas,” he said.
But we were not out of gas. So Jim stood out in the rain and lifted the hood and stared at the rusty insides.
“I guess,” he said, coming to the door, “I’ll have to hail a lift down to the village and get a mechanic.”
“I wish you hadn’t said it never let you down,” I argued.
“We’ll be all right in a few minutes,” said Jim, buttoning up his collar and shutting the door. He stood out and hailed the passing cars and the fifth one stopped and he got in.
In half an hour, he came back in a truck, and a mechanic and Jim stood looking in at the engine for another ten minutes. Then the truck man backed up and hitched a rope on to us. And on the slithery pavement, we were towed five miles into a dismal little village, and to the door of a reformed blacksmith shop which was a garage.
“We’ll be on our way in five minutes,” said Jim, cheerily.
“Nothing turns out as good as you expect it to,” I warned him. “Let’s start imagining we’ll be here all night.”
Jim left me sitting in the car while he and the mechanic went out and did some more staring down under the hood.
An hour passed. Not a kick did they get out of her. They took things off and carried them inside the blacksmith shop, then carried them out again and screwed them back on. They got under it. They got on top of it. They got behind it. They towed it half a mile down the road with Jim frantically stepping on this and pulling at that. Then they towed us half a mile back.
Walking To the Nearest Pump
“We’ll be here all night,” I said.
“Keep your shirt on,” said Jim, just a trifle less cheery.
A farmer pulled up for gas in an incredible old car all rags and tatters.
“If he can make that go,” I whispered to Jim, “maybe he can make this go.”
So Jim and the mechanic and the farmer stood staring into the hood for another while, and then the farmer got a hammer out of his car and came and gave Jim’s engine one loud thump.
“Now try her,” he called to me.
I tried her and she went like a charm.
“Hooray,” we all yelled, paid our bill and drove on.
“Ha, ha,” laughed Jim. “My dear, temperamental old car. All she needs is a good swift kick in the pants.”
And down the dismal highway we sportsmen sped.
“We’ll be home and warm and cosy in less than two hours,” said Jim. And he gave her the gun and we hummed into the gray evening.
We hummed until, on a particularly desolate and lonely stretch of the highway between Shelburne and Orangeville the engine coughed loudly, sputtered and coughed again.
“Gas,” said Jim. “Gas, by golly.”
And by golly it was gas. There the little finger on the dashboard pointed to empty, where it had been half full the last time we had looked at it at the village blacksmith shop.
Over to the shoulder of the highway she rolled and came to a coughing stop. The tank cap was missing. The open hole stared darkly upward.
“We must have left the top off at the garage,” said Jim, “and she has splashed out at the speed we were going.”
“And the jerky way you drive,” I added.
“Well,” said Jim, “there’s nothing for it. I’ll just get another lift down to the nearest pump.”
So he stood in the rain by the road side and signalled all cars south until the seventh one stopped. More dreary sportsmen. And there I sat looking out at the homely fields and waited forty minutes until another truck drew up and Jim dismounted carrying a can of gas.
I heard the gas gurgling in.
“Keep the rain out of it,” I shouted.
He tied a handkerchief over the gas hole.
“Well, well,” he said, leaping with character and determination into the driver’s seat. “What a time we are having!”
“I doubt if we will ever get home,” I hastened to say. “I bet we don’t get home until some time to-morrow.”
“Wouldn’t be surprised,” admitted Jim, changing his jaunty manner to one of dejection. “We’ll probably have a blowout or two, maybe there is water in the gas, and possibly we’ll end up in the ditch down by Caledon mountain.”
“Now you’re talking,” I cried. “You’ve got the right idea at last. For heaven’s sake, don’t smile again until we get to my side drive.”
“Okay,” said Jim, setting his jaw and sneering into the windshield.
And in silence we ran another fifteen miles.
“Ah,” said Jim. “even in the rain, I always like this view from the hill above Orangeville.”
“Shut up.” I ordered. “Look sour. Sneer. Expect somebody to side-swipe us.”
Jim was very busy for a few seconds, keeping the silly great car from slewing right off the road. It skidded, bumped, swayed and skidded again.
“Blow-out.” said Jim.
Jim Makes an Amendment
“What did you think I thought it was?” I inquired.
“How about getting out and helping me with it this time?” he asked.
“What would be the use?” I asked. “What’s the use of either of us getting out? Why not let us just sit here and give up.”
“Come on,” said Jim, getting out.
So we got out and dug right down through all our fishing tackle and bags full of sporting clothes and rain coats, and empty creels and thermos bottles equally empty, until we got the tools. And in the mud, we jacked her up.
“I wouldn’t wonder,” I said, “if the spare tire was flat.”
Jím prodded it.
“It is,” he said whitely.
“Have you a pump?” I demanded.
“No modern motorist has a pump,” retorted Jim.
“Then?” I inquired.
“Maybe we could borrow one from passing motorists,” thought he.
“Maybe they’re all modern,” I surmised.
Five cars, no pumps. Five irritated drivers pausing and driving snortily on.
“I’ll take the spare down to Caledon,” said Jim.
So he took the spare down to Caledon on a truck that came by, and in fifty minutes he came back and we detached the old one and put on the new one.
“About the only thing now,” I said as we drove off, “is to be pinched and to end up in the ditch.”
“Of course,” said Jim, “we might get into a collision, and both be killed. Maybe the car will turn over and pin us down, while the engine catches fire and cooks us. That would be something.”
Out the rainy window pane I saw something moving.
“A speed cop there, Jim!” I hissed.
Jim looked out into the murk and there, undoubtedly, was a speed cop dimly in the night, keeping right abreast of us, turning his face to us, and signalling.
“Heck,” said Jim, stamping on his brakes and steering for the shoulder.
The car skidded, slid, sleazed. I felt it hit the shoulder. I saw Jim heave up on the wheel mightily. Then the car lurched.
“In the ditch,” gasped Jim.
I wasted no time on words. I got out. The ditch was knee deep in water and mud. And things floating. The cop had pulled up ahead and was now walking back in the headlights.
“I just wanted to tell you,” he said indignantly, “that your tail lights are out.”
“Well,” said Jim.
“How about arresting us and taking us in your side car?” I suggested. “Arrest us for murder or embezzlement or something.”
The cop looked at me.
“What’s eating you?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I said. “We’ve been fishing.”
So Jim got another lift into Brampton and got a truck with a derrick and thirty-five minutes later, we were hoisted out of the mud and set on the road.
“Don’t let us speak at all.” I suggested. “From now on we will sit here perfectly speechless.”
“Well, just before we go,” said Jim. “I’d like to make one amendment to what I was saying away back there some time this afternoon when we were so happy over our fishing trip.”
“I’d prefer if you said nothing at all,” I submitted.
“It’s just this,” said Jim. “Not only does nothing ever turn out as well as you hope it will. Everything always turns out worse than you fear it will.”
“All right,” I said, tightening my lips
So we did the last of the journey in total and imminently expectant silence.
Editor’s Notes: Old cars were not like cars today, where you can just turn the key (or press a button) and go. You had to pull out the choke rod (via a knob on the dashboard) to close a valve on the carburetor to limit the air intake. Then you can turn the key, while pressing on the gas pedal. After the engine starts, you have to push the choke rod in to smooth the engine running.
Another common occurrence in the early days of driving, was the flat tire. Having a spare tire or two and the ability to change them was a necessary skill. This became less common by the 1930s with improved tire technology. As Jim mentions, it would be uncommon for a 1935 motorist to carry a pump for blowing up tires, whereas ten years earlier, they would have had more luck.
They mention the local blacksmith being a mechanic. As cars became popular in the 1910s and 1920s, many blacksmiths converted their business to garages and became mechanics. The smaller the town or village, the more likely he would have to keep the blacksmith portion of the business going as rural people were slower to by cars.