At Home, Part Four: The “Store;” Alex’s Other Work Shed

We generally call them “stores” but you might be more comfortable with “work shed.” My Father-in-Law, Alex, has several. Lately, this is the one he uses the most. It’s not as close to the water as are the other two but it’s closer to his vegetable garden (it’s on the hill above the store, top right in the picture) and its closer to his house (not shown but it’s off to the left). This picture was taken while walking down to the wharf, where he was at the time. When I turned to come back to the house he was inside.

A visit to the store is always worthwhile.

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That red paint: it’s not paint at all. Like the fishing stage the store is finished with red ochre; the same red pigment that led to our native Beothuk being called “Red Indians.” I guess the name was half correct! Our ochre is primarily hematite; iron ore. If you think it’s blood red there would be some truth. Hema (a little more correctly “αίσμα” in old Greek) meant blood. Blood, part of the trio that included also sweat and tears–no stranger to all those who toiled away in my province in the not-too-distant past.

Alex has worked his way through the worst of it and is now able to enjoy retirement. For him, though, retirement still includes work–not necessarily the type of work that takes away your heart and soul, though. It is, rather the good kind that restores it. It’s working; Alex’s heart and soul are very strong.

You might find anything inside the store. What else would you expect from a workplace that’s been used for generations? How about the user manual for the engine in his last fishing vessel? It’s been used a fair bit, can’t you just tell!

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He’s working away; intent on what he’s doing. He knows I’m there but we only talk occasionally. He’s snipping triangles of metal from that strip in his left hand. They will hold a window pane in place once he puts it in the sash. Last week a pane got broken in his fishing stage so he is getting ready to repair it. The speedboat from the previous post–or rather the trailer that was used to tow it to the store–had something to do with the broken window.

And Alex is not the type of person who leaves things broken for very long.

The flooring you see is made from hardwood, rescued from a school up on one of the resettled islands. The school was torn down and much of it burned, but not the flooring.

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The jig on the table is not related to the task at hand. It’s for bending bows used as spines for lobster pots (pots are traps). He makes lobster pots right here in the store, just as he always has.

See these pieces of wood? They came from old pallets that were no longer needed. The warehouse guy holds them for Alex. He takes the pallets apart to get these planks.

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He then runs the planks through his table saw and makes lattes.

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The lattes, plus the bows turned on the jig you just saw, plus net that he knits himself from twine, become lobster pots. They are things of beauty.

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If you ask nicely he’ll make a few for you.

Its easy to feel at peace when you are in Alex’s company in the store. Alex is always busy, using skills that, through over seventy years of use, have become second nature. He makes it all look easy. It isn’t. It’s all about flow, the feeling that comes when you exercise skills that, through practice, have become a part of you.

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Those are skewers used for holding bait in crap pots. Every one made by hand.

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A piece of driftwood can become a walking stick. Maybe even an ‘ugly stick.’ Some rescued pine becomes a shelf. Experiments abound. See the table made from rescued pine and driftwood?

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And all this ‘stuff.’ It all has a use but you have to ask. I know what a lot of it is for, but I, too, have to ask often. He doesn’t mind.

Alex uses this casting net to catch capelin, which he not only uses for food but also to fertilize his vegetable garden. Click here to see a beautiful collage put together by my sister-in-law Madonna Delaney that shows Alex using the net. Go ahead–it’s worth the look.

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Horses and Newfoundland Ponies were an integral part of Alex’s early life. These days, with oil-powered equipment so cheap and ubiquitous you’ll scarcely see a trace (is that a pun?).

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The ponies were not pets. They pulled slide-loads of firewood and helped plough the rocky, shallow fields.

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And those boots: I wonder if they were from the bounty that his great-grandfather got from selling the rights to the lead mine (they’re not).

Around here buoy is pronounced “boy” not “boo-ey.”

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See that green thing top right in the picture above? It’s a kerosene heater.

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Here’s another one just like it. We call them ‘blue-flames.’ Out on the smaller islands in the bay and even here before the electricity came through (which was only 1965 for Southern Harbour) every house had at least one. Oh, and the beer case–just a few recyclables. You won’t find Alex “drinking on the job.”

These are propeller shafts.

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One is from a 5-Acadia and one is from a 3-Atlantic. Those were old make and break engines used all over the place from around the time of the great war and even into the 1960’s when diesels almost completely replaced them. The engines made a distinctive sound; so unique that experienced fishers could identify each individual boat from just the sound.

People say the old fashioned make and break, because it is only low powered and not capable of bringing large boats up to any significant speed, have no place in the modern fishery. I say those people are short-sighted and are promoting an approach to industry that is ruining our planet. Lower power but highly reliable energy sources are just what we need, as far as I am concerned. A modern take on that old design–preserve the small size and power but engineer in more efficiency–might not be a bad idea for a rejuvenated inshore fishery.

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This is a Killick, a type of anchor made from renewable materials. It uses a large rock for weight. These are not generally used directly for anchoring boats but, instead for fixing in place fishing gear and mooring lines.

This thing below was a complete mystery. Take a close look at it. Alex’s father used it for the last time more than 60 years ago. At one time these were common around here.

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Can you guess what it is for. There’s a hint right in this line.

Refrigeration technology, coupled with the rise of railroads, brought about changes that led to them being less needed.

Here’s the other side.

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Another hint: lobster fishers used them.

Taking a step back (the object is still in view at the left), here’s a load of unusual objects. Can you see the wooden barrel hoops?

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Of course there’s loads of ordinary tools too. This is a work shed, not a museum!

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Back to Alex. Looks like he’s done with the metal-cutting and is now ready to work on the glass for the broken window.

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This piece of glass came from another old window. He’s stripping the old putty and weather stripping away now so it can be used as if new.

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That piece of glass might just be older than you.

It’s not cold in here today. But that would not be much of a problem.20130902_104458

There’s a wood stove and plenty of wood when it’s needed. Later, over the winter, when Alex is down here it will get lots of use.

And the mystery object? It’s for sealing cans. There’s an old can still in it. Years ago Alex’s father, John, canned lobster for sale, as did many fishers here. In our modern age with refrigeration and high-speed transport, consumers have decided that fresh, live lobster is more to their liking.

As an aside, my Dad used to tell me that, long ago, lobster was something that Newfoundlanders only ate when there was no other choice. If you were that hungry you’d get your ugly cockroach-like crustaceans and hide away somewhere, for shame’s sake, to cook them up. How things, and tastes have changed!

Let’s  finish it off with a quick look up the hill behind the store to see Alex’s garden. It’s late summer so his crops should be fairly mature.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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15 Responses to At Home, Part Four: The “Store;” Alex’s Other Work Shed

  1. Martin says:

    Thanks for this wonderful peek into Alex’s life. It’s inspiring to read of him chugging away, saving, salvaging and creating. Thanks too, for the time and effort you put into the post Maurice.

  2. Mjollnir says:

    Another great post Maurice. Alex seems like a chap who doesn’t let the grass grow 😀

  3. jennypellett says:

    What a wonderful tour of Alex’s work shed – can almost smell it! A place for everything, with everything being needed for something – my Dad had a workshop like that. To the rest of the family, it was Dad’s ‘muddle’ but to him, it was the place he went to potter, relax, mend a clock, make a wooden case, repair broken household miscellanea.
    Great photographs – I loved the mystery object – I thought it was some sort of press.

  4. Thank you for a lovely tour, a besutifully organised one, the collage? Excellent

  5. Mary says:

    Thanks for these photos and story of work that ‘restores heart and soul’

  6. elkement says:

    Impressive… and it makes today’s ‘knowledge worker’ jealous whose work bench just consists of a computer and a desk. Actually, insights like these have made me switch gears career-wise… I wanted to work with real stuff again. But still – when dealing with machinery today you are concerned with electronics most of the time.

    Unfortunately I don’t need lobster pots 🙂 But recycling palettes is quite a big trend – there are websites dedicated to building furniture and all kinds of items from palettes. We have given our palettes to a neighbor who is quite a tinkerer 🙂

  7. This is a fascinating story. Although from a very different life in terms of livelihood on the seas, it reminds me strongly of the life my dad lives. The “store” is there too in my dads place. And certainly it’s a story of a life much more natural and healthy.

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