Tonight I am going to tell you a true story about a rock & how that rock played a part in my life from the late 1940’s right up to the year 2003. The story spans several eras in my life & includes a couple other people. A mystery for those 2 people, with the answer hidden away deep in my mind for a very long time. It involves the tiny village of Tavistock in southern Ontario & the nearby city of Stratford. Toronto plays a minor roll in the story as well. So, with that, let me begin…………………….
It was sometime late in the 1940’s when I really had my first recollections of anything. Like anyone in the early years of life, things are hazy & a bit sketchy at best. I lived with my Mother, Uncle, & Grandfather at the time & I do remember my Grandmother passing away like it was yesterday. We lived in an old house owned by the Zimmerman Box Factory Company located just a few hundred yards behind our house. My Grandfather was the machinist there.
The small dead end street we lived on was known as Station Street. Only 3 houses on the north side. On the south side ran the railroad tracks alongside the villages train station. It was just a couple stones throw from our old house. I grew up the first 14 or 15 years with trains just beyond our front yard & across the road. Steam locomotives for the most part of those years. Even got to ride in a passenger car pulled by a steam engine from Tavistock to Stratford one time. My Uncle Ted took me for that ride once & I recall it being on a Sunday night.
At the very northeast corner of the train station sat a large gray unassuming square looking rock. May have been a little concave at the top. My Grandparents told me that was from so many hobos sitting on the rock over the years as they passed through town in the 30’s looking for work. I, & other neighborhood kids often sat on that rock as well as played around the train station thoroughly annoying the station master at the time. Think his name was Jim Sparling.
Years passed. The Box Factory burned to the ground one night, my Mother re-married, & we all left the house on Station Street moving to another part of town. The rock at the corner of the station was not in my playground anymore & was all but forgotten. Or, was it. With the coming of diesel train engines & finally the demise of the rail line running through town there was no functional purpose for the tracks or train station anymore. The station was sold & moved to another part of town where it still stands today as a remodeled house. Train tracks were ripped up & a Tim Hortons coffee shop now stands where the train station once stood. For a long time I never knew what became of the hobo rock at the corner of the station.
Now, we fast forward from sometime in the mid fifties to the late seventies. The train station hobo rock, which from here on I will call the Rock, is nearly a long lost childhood memory. That is until one Spring night somewhere around 1978 when that large Rock & I suddenly met again….face to face. Only, I didn’t recognize my old friend right away.
This part of the story takes place in a time frame of my life that I don’t talk about a lot. It was a time of many stories, a time frame of embarrassment, regrets, happy times, sad times, depths of despair & fleeting moments of joy, hopes, & dreams. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I had a major problem with alcohol back then & it was during this era that, on a dark night, I met up with the Rock again.
As was custom in those late waning years of the 70’s I would head for the hotel after work on Wednesday night’s & spend many hours with ‘the boys’ around table loads of beer, laughter, sillyness & a lot of BS. I lived in Stratford Ontario at the time & my watering hole of choice was the Dominion Hotel. It was my habit not to stay at the same hotel/bar for hours & hours at a time so this particular night, with a few of the boys aboard, we decided to take a drive over to my old home town of Tavistock, a short 10 miles away where I had another gang of ‘old friends’. Back in those days I could easily have been known as Mr. Sociable. My, my, how things have changed.
Tavistock’s Arlington Hotel was located on the main drag & right across the street sat a small coal & lumber business office. It was owned by the Rudy family in town. Remember that name, two people from that family will soon enter the story.
Behind that building was room for lots of parking. That office stood only about 50 yards from where the old Tavistock train station once stood. I was driving a Ford van at the time. Remember the hippy van craze in the 70’s, shag carpeting on the floor, bed in the back……yep, that’s what I had alright. There were cars parked on the street in front of the hotel so I decided to park behind Rudy’s coal & lumber office. It was dark behind the building as I cut a short sharp left turn into an open space. ‘Crunch!!!!!’
I heard the crunch about the same time as the van jolted up a bit on the driver’s side. What the………..!! We all stepped out & could see I had driven up on something. Back in the van & backed up a bit. In the darkness I saw it was a large rock. Now, there is a huge difference between the logical mind of a sober person & the shaky illogical mind of someone who has been drinking too much. It was that second mind which figured if I were to load that rock up, take it home & put it in a flowerbed, I would never have to worry about running into it again.
Didn’t take long to convince ‘the boys’ to lift that big rock into my van. A few grunts, a bunch of swearing, & minutes later we had muscled the rock up off the ground & into my van. No questions asked. Later that night I headed back to Stratford, dropped the guys off & motored on home. I knew my wife Marty would be asleep so I backed the van across our front yard close to our neighbors property line, opened the van door & wrestled the big rock out letting it thud heavily to the ground. Parked the van in the driveway & that was it for the night. Probably went to sleep with a big smile on my face. The smile may not have been so big in the morning though. That was often the case after a night out.
I don’t remember what goofy lame duck explanation I gave Marty in the morning as to why there was a big rock sitting on our lawn. Might have told her it was a meteorite or something. But I knew one thing, there was no way I could move it from where it was.
Then came the whopping surprise………. Went out in the morning to see what kind of a rock I had dragged home the night before. I recognized it instantly in the full morning light. There before my eyes was the very Rock that had stood at the corner of the train station oh so many years ago. Gray & square with a concave top. It was my old childhood chum, my playground Pal of old. The very Rock I had sat on many times as a kid pretending to be an old box car riding Hobo. What a find, what a piece of luck I thought to myself. But what to do now with the big Rock sitting on our front lawn.
Out came my shovel & it wasn’t long until I had dug in a flower bed around it. I later planted a couple shrubs & a Mountain Ash tree beside the Rock. Now, for all intents & purposes, you would think that would have been the end of the story. But no, it was just the beginning of another era for, ‘the Rock’.
Little did I know at the time that just one year later I would lose my drivers license for a second time due to impaired driving. My drinking days & a whole way of life came to a crashing halt literally over night. That life change, with it’s new ethics & perspectives still continues to this day nearly 34 years later. But, taking that Rock from behind Rudy’s lumber office in 1978 was one of the things that was to uncomfortably linger in the back of my mind for many more years.
And, many more years it was, until one dark night in the late 90’s about 5 a.m. in the morning somewhere on Canada’s infamous 401 highway between Tavistock & Toronto Ontario, the Rock once again became front & center to me again.
One of the many jobs in my life was driving for a company based in Stratford Ontario called, The Stratford Airporter. Driving both full & part time I, along with other drivers, transported people from the Stratford, Goderich, St Marys, & Tavistock areas to & from Pearson International Airport in Toronto. This particular night I had a pick-up in Tavistock going to the Airport. And, I knew the lady. Her name was Doris Rudy. Remember the night I blundered into the Rock with my van about 20 years before. And remember the small building it sat behind. Well that building was owned & operated by Doris Rudy & her son, Bob. Bob will play an important role in this story later. But first, back to one dark night somewhere on a highway between Tavistock & Toronto.
Soon as I saw Doris Rudy’s name on my trip sheet the previous day, I thought about the Rock & could this somehow be a way to return the Rock to where it truly belonged, with the Rudy family. Picked Doris up around 4 a.m. & we headed for the Airport. Truly a nice lady, well known & well respected in Tavistock. We had ourselves a nice chat heading for Toronto. We knew a lot of the same people in Tavistock. I was nervous thinking how I could bring up the subject of the train station Rock. I led the conversation into some of Tavistock’s older buildings asking Doris something like, “wonder what ever became of the Tavistock train station”. Doris said it had been moved & was now a remodeled house in town. Of course I knew that but it was a lead into my second question. “Wonder what ever became of that Rock that sat at the corner of the train station”?
Of course Doris knew exactly what Rock I was talking about & told me how they had temporarily moved that Rock over to behind their lumber office before the train station was re-located. The Rock was special to the Rudy family. She said it was a mystery as to how that Rock suddenly disappeared & how disappointing it was to her & her son, Bob. Bob, living next to her in Tavistock’s east end had a bed & breakfast with a railway theme. Even a real train Caboose for guests to stay in I think. That hobo train station Rock was to be a part of Bob & his Mother’s railway B&B theme. Oh boy, if I felt bad about all this before…….I was really feeling bad about it now as we made our way though the night. I wanted so bad to tell her I had the answer to the mystery & would so much like to help in the return of that Rock. I wrestled with my conscience from that point on all the way into the Airport. But, in the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to tell Doris I was the guy who took the Rock.
The guilt feelings inside me were crushing, but I carried them with me for another 5 years or so. And then, I happened to be going through a stack of old Tavistock newspapers one day. Spotted an article in the TAVISTOCK GAZETTE that once again, brought the Rock right back into my life. The article was titled, ‘Tavistock’s Last Whistle Stop’. It was about the train station & a fellow in Tavistock who collected railway memorabilia. I recognized the fellow’s name instantly. His name was Bob Rudy. And, Bob Rudy had an email address.
With that email address in my mind I immediately set a plan afoot. Thanks to the internet, the final chapter in my long story about the Rock began to take shape.
I slowly began devising a way to get in touch with Bob because it was my intent this time to return the Rock back to it’s proper owners no matter what. And, I was going to try & somehow do it without implicating myself. But of course, you know me, & implicate myself I eventually did.
The rest of the story will now be told in the actual email correspondence between Bob Rudy & myself. Luckily, I saved most of the emails that went back & forth between us. Those emails are kind of a story in themselves. My first email to Bob was sent on February 10th, 2003. Not wanting to reveal my identity in the beginning, I used the alias…………… ‘Rocky’.
Hello Bob; Feb.10/03
I have a little piece of information for you that may brighten an otherwise cold, dull, & boring winter's day. While reading a stack of old Tavistock Gazettes over the week-end I came across the article entitled, ‘Tavistock's Last Whistle Stop.’ Dated, Wednesday, September 19th, 2001. Reading about your enthusiasm with railroad memorabilia I was reminded
of an incident that occurred around 1978 or 79 behind your Dad's former oil,
lumber, & coal office across from the Arlington Hotel. I feel it is time for
me to clear up a mystery for you. You will remember the large rock that used
to sit at the corner of the train station for many years. Often, passengers
would sit on this rock while awaiting trains. Hobos were also seen sitting on
the rock because I can remember that. When the train station was sold &
destined to be moved, that heavy square shaped gray rock was apparently moved
over to behind the Rudy fuel office in an assumed intent to save it. That is where I personally encountered that rock late one night.........…..As far as I know, that rock is still alive & well & living the last 23 or 24 years about 10 miles from Tavistock. If your interested in knowing it's location I would be very happy to tell you........."the rest of the story." I will give you a hint to my identity because you will find out anyway when I tell you the location of the rock. Hint.....the last time I talked to your Mother was about 5 a.m. in Toronto
about 5 years ago. Have yourself a good day Bob & "hello" to your Mother.
Hi Rocky, Feb. 10/03
Mother & I both remember that rock. It saved the eaves trough & corner of the office from the trucks while making turns. Mother particularly remembers it well because her father was the station agent where the rock originated from. As a child she sat on it. She always wanted to
put it in her garden. Never knew what happened to it. She is now almost 82 & cannot remember meeting you at 5 a.m. (I think it was at the airport?). So we are ready for "the rest of the story".
Hello Bob; Feb. 11/03
First & foremost I would like to sincerely apologize to your Mother for not having that rock returned to from whence it had come. I thought of it several times over the years but never came up with a clever way to conveniently & "mysteriously" return it.
You say the stone was there behind the building to protect the eaves from turning trucks. Well, that clears up a mystery for me about why the stone was there in the first place. And guess what.....I came driving in there with a truck (van)late one night. My destination that particular evening was the Arlington Hotel. I had a few of "the boys" with me & we had just come from the Dominion Hotel in Stratford. As I pulled into the parking lot & swung left to park behind the building there was a "crunch" under the center left of my van. I had foundered on "the rock!!" I backed off it & we all got out to assess the damage, which turned out to be minimal. In my hazy state of mind I deduced that if I were to load this rock in the back of my van, take it home, & put it in a flower bed, that I would never have to worry about driving over it again. At this point I did not realize it was none other than the old station corner rock. With a lot of huffing & puffing, swearing & grunting, four of us somehow lifted that rock up & wrestled it into the van.......From here on, things get a little foggy but I remember getting home later in the wee hours of the morning & backing the van across my front lawn. I knew I had to somehow get this boulder out of my truck before morning. With a lot of pushing, pulling, tugging, wedging & whatever else it took, I was finally able to tumble the big rock out the back door onto the grass. The next day I had to get busy with my shovel & create a flower bed around the stone because there was no way I could move it anymore. I think it was at this point that I recognized the rock as the one from the train station corner. Too big & heavy for me to return by myself so I left it. Knowing me, I probably told my wife at the time that it was a meteorite or something that had crashed on our front lawn from outer space. (ex-wife that is) As I recall, I also planted a Mountain Ash tree near it shortly afterwards.......
I can tell you that your assumption about the Toronto Airport is correct & that also tells me you are rapidly narrowing the gap on my identity. Therefore, a short explanation in defense of my absconding with the rock is in order. My judgment, integrity, & honesty, that night were impaired by alcohol. As were so many other nights back in those young & foolish years. In 1979 I had my last drink (thanks A.A.)& have been happily sober for nearly 24 years now. I've been bothered over the decades thinking the reason that rock was behind the building was because the Rudy family had probably wanted to save it as a souvenir.
I will give you one more clue as to my identity & then I shall send you one final e-mail in the next few days & tell you exactly where that rock is. Or, at least was, the last time I saw it years ago.
Clue -- I once climbed up the old Tavistock water tower with another Tavistockian boy & we foolishly wrote our names on the tank for the whole town to see..........
The Rocky guy.
(I think I’m missing Bob’s email here)
Hello Bob; Feb. 14/03
Well, it is now time to wrap up the mystery once & for all. Strangely enough the rock has maintained a railway connection all these years. It is located in Stratford which of course was a big railway town years ago. It is also located about 1 block from a major railway line which services London, Kitchener, & many points beyond. And,
it is located on........................"Railway Avenue" in the south end of the city. 146 Railway Avenue to be exact.
If your standing facing the house at 146 Railway the rock should be located about half way to the house, right of center. A mountain ash tree should be to the right of it if I remember correctly.
My ex-wife still lives at this address & her name is Martha Stewart. (no, not the TV personality) Martha is a nurse on the first floor, east wing of the Stratford General Hospital. I haven't spoken to Martha in many years but she is a good person & would probably be co-operative if you had any interest in returning the rock to it's rightful place in yours or your Mothers garden. It would make a good conversation piece to go along with the rest of your railway memorabilia. I shall remain anonymous because I feel it is best that way. I do feel better about finally getting this off my chest. It was not my rock & I should not have taken it. My only regret is that I never brought it back many, many, years ago.
All the best to you folks and take care.
The Rocky guy.
Hi Rocky Feb. 18/03
Thanks for the location of the ROCK? I drove by yesterday and all I could see was a 20 year old mountain ash as the snow was to deep.I am still looking into the water tower episode and the next time I e-mail you I hope to thank you for solving this mystery by using your actual name.
Hi Rocky May 20/03
Thought you would like to know that Martha Stewart no longer owns the house on Railway Avenue. Thankfully the new owners had no attachment to the rock and it now resides in the garden at my Mother's house. It was a perfect Mother's Day Gift. Thanks for your assistance Al.
Hi Bob; May 20/03
Well, that sure is great news about the rock finding it's way home at last. That is a fitting end to something that has been in the back of my mind for many years. I had so much wanted to tell your Mother the story in the wee small hours of the morning when I was driving her to the Airport a few years ago but I didn't feel it was the time or the place. I remember in our conversation I asked her if she remembered the rock at the corner of the train station & she said, "yes, but I don't know whatever happened to it." I knew!! Thanks to you & your Mother for being good sports about the rock incident. Just curious, but how did you get that rock from Railway Ave to Rudyville??
Have yourselves a good day down there Bob. Toodles........ Al. Bossence. Bayfield, Ontario.
The Rock got to Tavistock in my van, A friend from work and myself loaded it and my son who lives in Waterloo helped unload it. Hope you have a good summer…….Bob
And that my friends, brings to an end the story of the Rock. Bob’s Mother, Doris, died a few months ago & I never did see her again after the night I dropped her off at the Toronto Airport those many years ago. Bob I have not seen since I lived in Tavistock some 50 years ago. And the Rock of course I have not seen since leaving 146 Railway Avenue in Stratford Ontario nearly 30 years ago. But I have a warm fuzzy inside knowing the Rock finally made it’s way safely back home to Tavistock, close to other railway memorabilia it was always a part of. And close to a railway interested family where it is appreciated. I was also glad to hear it ended up in Doris’s garden. Sometimes in life we just have to do what is right. And sometimes, those things work out for everyone & result in a happy ending:))
Post Script: It was a conversation I had with Aunt Jean last week about our life in Tavistock many years ago that reminded me of the Rock story. I briefly related it to Jean & then a few days ago, decided to write about it. To the readers who made it to the end, I say, thank you for your patience…..AL:))