Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Pennies in the Locomotive BY SUSAN HARRIS

Bob could hold an audience captive. In colloquial terms he had the gift of gab. His stories were as wild as they were true, and kids and oldsters found him equally fascinating. 

With the announcement of the penny’s removal from the circulation came the idea to pen its traditions, language created around it, and it’s once-upon-a-time worth. That’s when I interviewed Bob. I scanned the details for exaggerations, prodded into the veracity of people involved, and the story became the most notable in Little Copper Pennies (for adults).

We heard the sad news that Bob passed away in late April. I’m sharing his story as a tribute to a simple man whose goodness touched the lives of many. 

"Do you have a penny from the years when you were a boy?" Mark asked Dan as he placed two coffee drinks and doughnuts on the table. 
The tall man shook his head. "I don't keep a lot of pennies," he admitted. 
All the same, he reached for his wallet in the inside pocket of his red and white coat, and to his surprise, a single penny—Copper—tumbled out amidst other money. 
"You're in luck." He turned Copper over to Mark, who held it to the light to read the year of its production. It was not as old as the man.
Dan removed the lid on his cup. The red baseball cap he was wearing backwards gave him a more youthful appearance than his sixty-something years of age.
"I just keep a few pennies for fixing things." This was not a surprise. Mark was familiar with Dan's expertise as a mechanic, and had heard a story or two of his unique uses for pennies. Mark's black jacket was in sharp contrast to the orangey-gold walls of the cafĂ©. The green table top that held their drinks was speckled with tiny black dots, and hollowed out on the dusty pink backrest of their chairs the word Robin's in cursive letters
"What is the most unusual thing you have fixed with a penny?" the younger man asked Dan. Delighted by his rapt audience Dan answered without hesitation, "The locomotive." He went on to describe a day in 1997 when he worked as a machinist on the engine of the Canadian National (CN) railway. 
The CN is not just Canada's only transcontinental railway company. Spanning the Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia to the Pacific coast in British Columbia (BC), the CN offers integrated transportation services: rail, intermodal, trucking, freight forwarding, warehousing, and distribution. It also serves fourteen states in the USA, and links not only the east and the west but the Gulf Coast as well.1
The locomotive is the railway vehicle that provides the motive capability for the train. It is powered by diesel which flows through fuel lines connected to injectors. The engine was a 16-cylinder motor that was propelled by sixteen injectors. Each injector had two fuel lines connected to it, giving a total of thirty-two fuel lines.
Each injector also had a nozzle at the tip which controlled the flow of the pressurized diesel. On that day, the nozzle of one of the sixteen injectors was broken. Instead of a managed flow though a thin hole, the injector was gushing a larger quantity of unwanted fuel into the locomotive through its wider, broken nozzle. As the automotive mechanic, Dan's job was to provide emergency back-up in acute situations, and on that evening, he had to plug the leak. A routine enough job on any day. 
The train had left the station in BC and was on its way to its next major stop in Winnipeg, then to its destination in Montreal. All was well as it passed through Alberta, but well into Saskatchewan, the crew on board phoned the station at Melville to say there was a bad fuel leak. 
The nozzle must be replaced, or at minimum, the fuel lines must be plugged. If they were plugged the diesel would not flow and the injector would not be flooded.
A quick search revealed that no replacement plugs were housed in Melville, but the necessary part was available at the Winnipeg station in Manitoba. Only at certain terminals in BC, Winnipeg, and Montreal was train maintenance performed, and parts readily accessible. There was no way to get a plug to Melville that night. The leaking injector could not be repaired. 
"I was asked to do a temporary fix so the train could get to Winnipeg, but there were no spare units to fix it with," Dan reminisced. "So I got creative."
"What did you do?" Mark's curiosity was heightening. He knew it was well over 400 kilometres to the station in Winnipeg, from Melville, the smallest city in the province of Saskatchewan, located on its eastern side.
 "The circumference of the fuel lines was the same size as a penny, so I unscrewed the nozzle cap of the faulty injector and placed a penny in each fuel line."
"Did they really fit?" Mark sounded a bit breathless. 
"Oh yeah, and then I screwed the cap back in place," Dan explained breezily. "The pennies plugged the lines and the fuel could not flow into the injector." 
"How could the engine run if the fuel was shut off?" Mark did not quite understand. Dan, who was a bit hard of hearing, asked Mark to repeat the question. As he did, Mark studied Copper as if trying to gauge the diameter of the fuel lines.
Dan explained that the other fifteen injectors were still intact, and could provide enough diesel to move the locomotive. 
"I asked the crew to get the injector repaired when they arrived in Winnipeg, and remove the pennies," he continued, scratching the grey stubble on his cheek before sipping his coffee. 
Swallowing the warm beverage, the mechanic stated that he gave the incident no more thought as trains were pulling up frequently at the CN station in Melville, and he was kept busy.
"Did the locomotive make it to Winnipeg?" Mark couldn't wait for the end. His eyes were translucent pools of green as he drank in the details of this brave feat. His half-eaten doughnut lay cold in its white napkin, like Copper lying next to it.
"Not just to Winnipeg but to Montreal as well," was the humble reply. 
Seeing Mark's quizzical expression, he added, "It was not until a few days later that I was called to my boss's office." Dan grinned. "There were two managers in the office and they were not smiling."
Though not easily fazed, Dan admitted that he got a bit worried when he realized the 'big boss' from Montreal was on speakerphone.
"I had no idea why I was called in," he shrugged. He had forgotten about his quick fix a couple days before.
It turned out that on arriving at Winnipeg, the locomotive seemed to be running well, so the crew shuttled it off to Montreal without performing any repairs to the injector. Dan's two pennies set off for an additional two thousand  kilometres on a train with one injector down and a full load of cargo on board.
The Montreal station was a maintenance site, and the locomotive went in for servicing when it arrived. Servicing included checking things like the air brakes, oil, and fuel lines. It was then that the penny plugs were discovered, and the little copper coins, dark and tarnished with diesel, had a black suspicion cast on them.
It didn't take long for the Montreal office to trace the source of the pennies. This led to Dan’s being summoned before his bosses in the Melville office, and while he was not expecting a 'thank you,' neither was he prepared for the query: "Did you sabotage the locomotive?" 
"I had to defend what had happened," the former CN employee recalled. "I told them that there were no plugs available, and we needed to get the train to Winnipeg. I had called ahead to Winnipeg and the crew there verified that they would attend to plugging the fuel lines, or replacing the nozzle. I gave the lines my best shot and plugged the leak with the pennies as a temporary fix." 
In mechanic school Dan had learnt numerous quick fixes, and this one had paid off big time.
"Were you disciplined for the fix?" Mark had visions of grievances and time off work. Even a firing. Fortunately, there were no negative reprisals. Dan's explanation rang true, and he joked that one of the bosses had shaken his head and said, "Either you are crazy or you are a genius, Dan." Here the hero of the locomotive paused and sipped his creamy 'double double'—coffee with two creams and two sugars.
"Did they shake your hand?" Mark asked.
Dan's humorous reply was, "Not at all, and neither did they give me back my two cents."
"Why didn't the Winnipeg crew put in proper plugs?" Mark wanted to know.
Dan's reply was speculative. "Maybe they did not want to have to explain the pennies, or maybe the locomotive was working as it should." It was the most courageous story of a penny that Copper had heard, and wished that it was one of the tiny coins that had plugged the line and got the CN to safety. All the same Copper was proud to be a penny. 
Proud to be Canadian. Proud of what Dan had done for the national carrier.
Mark was impressed and anxious to hear more, so he questioned the senior gentleman. "Will you miss the penny when it's gone?" 
"Not me." The cheerful answer was surprising. "I think the penny became a nuisance around 1975 or so. I keep them in my car on the dash and it fills up so quickly. You can't get anything in 2012 for a penny like we used to when I was a kid. But what I really use the penny for is fixing things."
It was a bittersweet moment for Copper. A penny could be a hero or a nuisance, or maybe both at the same time depending on someone's mood. 
Mechanic Dan would miss the pennies primarily for their household uses. He recounted to Mark that, in bathrooms and kitchens, he had stopped the flow of water caused by broken lines using a penny to quench the gush. Later, the families would obtain the proper part and the plumber would do his job. He said he chose copper because it bends fairly easily. 
"Have you used the penny on farm equipment?" Mark too was raised on a farm, and any advice would come in handy.
Dan leaned back, revealing the red and white checked shirt under his coat as his eyes lit up at another memory. He told of a part in a tractor that had become dislodged. It was the spring that held the clutch in place, and Dan was trying to put it back where it belonged. The heavy steel spring was resistant to pull, and could only be stretched a little. Dan had the idea that if something small was placed between the rings in the spring he would be able to stretch the stubborn steel. 
What better to use than pennies! They were the right size and shape, and were available in the right quantities too. Painstakingly, Dan had placed penny after penny between the rings, moving on to another after he had stretched one to its max. Slowly the unyielding steel lengthened, and eventually he was able to clasp the hook into the latch.
"You just have to bend the coil when you're finished and the pennies will tumble out." He grinned again and his blue eyes crinkled half shut as he finished the story.
Mark had followed the explanation fully, and made a note to use that knowledge if he ever needed to stretch stiff springs. He asked if there were any more tips for using the penny on equipment.
Dan, who seemed to have the gift that keeps on giving, produced another chronicle. "Once at the farm a hydraulic line in a machine blew and it was letting out too much oil. We wanted to restrict the flow, and not having a washer of the right size, I drilled a hole in a penny and fitted it across the line. It worked perfectly and we never replaced it with another washer." It seems stopping flows with pennies, be it water or oil, were Dan's pet uses for the little coin. 
"Isn't it illegal to tamper with currency?" Mark felt sure that it was.
"Oh yes, now I know it is illegal, and I wouldn't encourage anyone to destroy the coins." Dan laughed. "Nor should they place pennies on rail tracks so the train can flatten them."
Copper felt exhilarated to be a penny. The little coin might not be necessary to trade, but it was still desirable for its shape and size, and that felt good.

This chapter is a tribute to “Dan” whose  real name is Bob Lindsay. Bob passed away on April 26, 2020. 

Little Copper Pennies: Celebrating the Life of the Canadian One-Cent piece 1858-2013 (Susan Harris 2012, Borealis Press 2014)

The Pennies in the Locomotive


Monday, May 11, 2020

In Our Time

In a Sunday message recently, I heard a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien and The Fellowship of the Ring that expresses what many of us are thinking about now as we “shelter in place.”


“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I," said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.”


To be clear, I have not seen the whole Lord of the Ring series. I’ve only read the first Tolkien book, so I can only imagine the trouble they face. Frodo and Gandalf are perplexed about what they ought to do next, just as we are. And perhaps they are also afraid. Already they have faced the unfamiliar and terrifying and now there’s more.


            While heeding best medical and leader’s advice, we wish this would be over, and that we didn’t need to contemplate further news of the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts have compared it to other times in history, perhaps trying to give us historical evidence and hope that one day this difficulty too will pass. 


Tolkien continues, “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


And that’s where we find ourselves too. Yet we know, as Christians, “who” we have in our corner, as our hope. We know who sees all, understands all and knows all. 


We can be honest about where this situation leads our thoughts and emotions, especially when people are out of work and perhaps with a limited budget, and teaching their children at home. 


I’ve been hearing stories not just about our front-line workers in health care and food services, but also of others striving to make the best of a difficult time. A fellow author shops for groceries for frail seniors in her community; children tape their artwork in the windows of their home to bring cheer to those who pass by; people have porch-to-sidewalk conversations with neighbours, family, and friends. Other individuals are sending positive messages on Twitter and Facebook. 




Maybe this is the best we can do for now. That and offering hope to those who have none, and praying for those who need our prayers, as we stay safe and strive to remain healthy. 

Until we can gather again, take care of yourselves.   



 Carolyn R. Wilker  






Sunday, May 10, 2020

Richard & Margaret Baxter: the Fire of Love in Difficult times -HIRD

By Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird
-an article published in the May 2020 Light Magazine
titus2talk: Margaret Baxter (1639 - 1681)
In 1665, Richard and Margaret Baxter survived the Black Plague in London where 15% of Londoners perished that summer.  King Charles II and most wealthy people fled London.  The poor people were not allowed to leave.  Only a small number of London pastors and doctors remained to cope with the overwhelming onslaught.  Plague houses, quarantined by guards for 40 days, were marked with a red cross on the door with the words ‘Lord Have Mercy Upon Us”. Richard commented: “The sense of approaching death so awakened both preachers and hearers, that multitudes of young men and others were converted to true repentance.”
Richard and Margaret, who had only been married three years earlier, were a powerful team caring for the sick and leading many to Christ.  As a confirmed bachelor, 47-year-old Richard had surprised many by marrying Margaret who was twenty years younger than him.  Because of his dedication to renewing the Anglican Church, he, along with 2000 other Anglican clergy, were ejected from their churches and forbidden to preach within ten miles of a local town.  As the 17th Century’ most visible pastor, Richard had been leading a spiritual revival in Kidderminster with his 800-strong congregation of weavers.  Margaret, as an upper-class dilletante, was an unlikely convert.  Richard observed that she had in her youth been tempted to doubt the life to come and the truth of the Scripture.  Margaret didn’t think much of Baxter or the people of Kidderminster, merely attending church to humour her godly mother.  But God reached her and changed her life.  As a new Christian, she almost died from tuberculosis, but the humble weavers prayed and fasted for her.  God heard their prayers, giving her a miraculous recovery. 
As a wealthy heiress, Margaret loved to serve the poor and invest in her husband’s ministry to the lost.  In a neglected part of London, she founded a free school where poor children were taught and learned about Jesus.  In one rented facility, over 800 gathered to hear Richard preach. Suddenly the building began to collapse. Margaret ran outside, immediately hiring a carpenter to put an extra support in the building so that the congregants would not die.  It worked.  The memory of this near disaster left Margaret with nightmares.  She was both very fearful and very courageous simultaneously.  Her father, Francis Charlton, Esquire, was a wealthy leading justice of the peace.  One of the traumas of her early childhood was the demolition of her home Apley Castle by Royalist troops in 1644, during the Civil War.  Men were killed right in front of five year old Margaret. Three times more, Margaret faced death, leaving her with PTSD symptoms for the rest of her life.
Her husband, Richard, was often fined and then sent to jail for preaching the gospel.  When Richard was thrown in prison, she cheerfully joined him there, bringing her own bedding.  After building a church building for her husband, jealous neighbours had the visiting minister arrested, thinking that they had captured her husband.  After being forced ten miles out of town in 1669 for preaching the gospel, the Baxters had to live in a dilapidated farm where “the coal smoke so filled the room that we were even suffocated with the stink. And she had ever a great constriction of the lungs that could not bear smoke or closeness.”
The Baxters entered marriage with their eyes open.  Packer commented: “Vividly aware of each other’s faults, they loved each other just the same, ever thankful for having each other and ever eager to give to each other.”  Marriage for them was more about spiritually maturing than getting their own way. Richard commented “If God calls you to a married life, expect…trouble…and make particular preparation for each temptation, cross, and duty which you must expect.  Think not that you are entering into a state of mere [pure and unmixed] delight, lest it prove but a fool’s paradise to them.”
Richard wrote 168 books, many after his ejection from the Kidderminster pulpit. Even though Baxter’s books were largely forgotten after the Great Eviction of 1662, they were later rediscovered by John Wesley, William Wilberforce, and most recently by Dr. JI Packer.  Margaret, who spoke her mind, informed her husband that he should have written less books, spending more time writing each book.  She also told him that because of his prolific writing and extensive ministry, he was not spending enough time in secret prayer with her.  Margaret was a passionate prayer warrior who often out-prayed her academic husband.
Richard, who suffered from chronic pain in his later years, regretted how it sometimes affected his temper and communicativeness around Margaret.  He was convinced from age 20 that he would not be long for this life. So, he preached “as a dying man to dying men.”  Baxter’s physical ailments included “a tubercular cough; frequent nosebleeds and bleeding from his finger-ends; migraine headaches; inflamed eyes; all kinds of digestive disorders; kidney stones and gallstones.” Because Margaret was very sensitive to loud noise, Richard worked hard to modify his sometimes, hasty way of speaking. He greatly loved and admired Margaret, saying that she was “a woman of extraordinary acuteness of wit, solidity, and judgment, incredible prudence and sagacity and sincere devotedness to God, and unusual strict obedience to him...”
In their nineteenth year of marriage, Margaret took a turn for the worse and died.  The bloodletting by doctors had only hastened her demise.  Richard was heartbroken.  As part of his grieving process, he wrote a book Breviate about his dear wife.
J.I. Packer believes that Baxter’s book (renamed Grief Sanctified) can transform our marriages in the 21st century.  The Baxter’s marriage represented a commitment to covenant relationship that brings a course-correction to our self-indulgent culture.  Richard, in grieving the loss of Margaret, focused on the goodness of God in time of tragedy. Rather than being resentful and bitter he was grateful for the time that God graciously gave him with his wife. They show us how to make it till death do us part.  God used the fire of the Baxters’ love to transform many lives for eternity. May we too, in this difficult time of COVID-19, trust that the fire of God’s love will strengthen and revive our families and marriages.
Richard Baxter - Wikipedia
Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird
Co-authors, Blue Sky novel

Sunday, May 03, 2020

A Third Awakening? by Rose McCormick Brandon

In 1821, Charles Finney, a twenty-nine year-old lawyer, had a longing for God so intense that he retreated to the woods to pray in private. What he experienced transformed him. "The Holy Spirit seemed to go through me, body and soul," he wrote, “like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way."*
Finney left law for ministry. He became the first to urge people to make a public commitment to Christ by coming to the front of the church following his sermons. His preaching style was direct, more like a lawyer’s argument than a refined sermon. His descriptions of hell caused his critics to accuse him of using scare tactics.
In 1830, against the advice of his friends, Finney followed the Lord’s leading to Rochester, New York where he preached for seven months. A heavy conviction of sin settled over the city. Home and public prayer meetings created a stir. The Spirit of God rested so heavily that Christians couldn’t walk down a street without weeping over the lost. 
The poor welcomed Finney’s message first, but a deep sorrow for sin penetrated all levels of society. A majority of Rochester’s city leaders came to Christ. Doctors, lawyers and business people flocked to Finney’s meetings to repent and give themselves publicly to God. 
Once, Finney was invited to preach to the workers of the New York Mills cotton factory near Utica. About 500 workers had already been converted. That day, as he preached 3000 employees wept. So great were their tears the owner closed the mill for the day. Almost all gave their lives to Jesus. Many miraculous events like this occurred during Finney’s lifetime of preaching. This period became known as The Second Great Awakening. It changed the moral fabric of the eastern coast of the United States. Its influence carried through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. 
Today, we find ourselves in serious need of a third awakening. Is Jesus speaking to us, as he did to the Ephesian believers: "I have this complaint against you. You don't love me or each other as you did at first" (Rev. 2:4). Are we standing on God's side? Do we court the favour of unbelievers by compromising His Word? What is our spiritual condition? As individuals and as the body of Christ?
Before the first and second awakenings, Christians had lost their love for Christ, their zeal for telling others about Him, their trust in the Bible. They were seduced by pleasure, prosperity and rising atheism. Much like today. 
Some signs point to a coming third awakening. If it comes it will be through united prayer. And through Christians who refuse to compromise the Bible. Only they can speak for God to throngs marching closer to the day when time will run out. Jesus said, "You know the saying, 'four months between planting and harvest,' but I say wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest" (John 4:34). 
May all believers everywhere unite in prayer for a world-wide harvest of souls.

*Finney, Charles G., The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, 1977 (p.21)

Friday, May 01, 2020


From Google Images
Luis and Sofia thought they were in charge of their own lives. They had one little girl that they adored and when she was 10 they decided they would like to have another child. Before long Sofia was pregnant with a little boy. They were absolutely delighted! 
However their joy was turned to sorrow when after a visit to the doctor when Sofia was twelve weeks along, he had difficulty hearing the heartbeat.  Filled with fears and sadness, that she would not be able to bear this son, she was told to return in one week and they would monitor the situation. When she returned, her worst fears were realized. There was no heartbeat to be heard. The baby had died and the family were devastated. How could they explain this to their excited ten-year old, Maria, who was thrilled at the prospect of having a little brother?

Things had been going so well for them. Their situation was coming together nicely for them financially. They had a fine group of friends, most of whom shared their faith. Much of their life centred around the church where they were both growing in their faith and Luis was dedicating himself to his task as an assistant leader of the congregation. 
The question that haunted them was how they could explain to their little girl that God had let them down. The God they had been teaching her about had allowed Maria’s  baby brother to die before he was even born.  As they feared her reaction was not good. She burst out in anger at a God who would take away her innocent little brother. 
   Sofia could not respond intelligently to Maria, as her own heart was broken. Luis felt hopeless and totally ill at ease in the midst of the turmoil and did not how to deal with it all. On top of his concern for the emotional state of his wife and daughter, was the anxiety that while funds were available to him to cover the medical expenses, he did have a cash flow challenge and could not produce them immediately. They lived in a country that did not provide medical coverage for its citizens.  
They felt their faith was being put to the test. Tearfully Sophia tried to reason it all out. The Lord had provided for their material needs and then He had taken away what they most wanted. Why? While she could not understand, she tried to trust that God knew what He was doing. At any rate, she could do nothing to change the reality of the situation. 
Luis tried to push his questions away so that they would not upset the balance of his faith and push him into the emotional turmoil in which his wife and daughter were struggling. He clung tenaciously to the words from the Bible in Job 1: 22, “The Lord alone gives and takes. Praise the name of the Lord.”
From Google Images
In the midst of their grief and sorrow Luis and Sofia discovered the support that came from their friends that helped to carry them through this difficult time. Though many of them did not know what to say or sometimes made inappropriate remarks, they came and surrounded them with love and care and that was what they needed. Those who have not suffered in this way cannot completely understand the experience, but the kindness they showed helped to ease the pain. 
From Google Images
It comes as no surprise to those of us who have travelled the faith journey for many years that these challenging days were instrumental in the growth of their faith. 
Looking back now, Luis and Sofia can see how God used this sad experience to take them to greater depth in their relationship with Him. He also blessed them as through adoption He gave them their son, David. 

From Google Images
Luis says, “I know that we lost a baby, that’s a fact that won’t change, but God gave us the opportunity of receiving David into our lives. He offered a different way of having a son. …David changed my life... I didn’t know I was going to be able to love him the way I do. I didn’t know it was possible for me to love my two children in the same way, even though both came by different means. Both of them are part of my life in the same way; both of them cause me happiness in the same way; both of them have made me work hard on myself in the same way. I know God knew what he was doing in me that day.”   

Maria, now a young lady, has been delighted to have a little brother to nurture as he grows. 

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award
Eleanor Shepherd from Pointe Claire, Quebec has more than 100 articles published in Canada, France, the U.S.A., Belgium, Switzerland and New Zealand. Thirty years with The Salvation Army in Canada and France including ministry in Africa, Europe, Haiti and the Caribbean furnished material for her award-winning book, More Questions than Answers, Sharing Faith by Listening. Other award winning stories appear in the books Hot Apple Cider and Christmas with Hot Apple Cider. She co-authored with her husband Glen the Bible Study book Why? Families. As well as writing, she conducts workshops on listening skills and prayer. Eleanor recently retired from being the pastor of an English speaking congregation in Montreal with The Salvation Army. She is currently pursuing studies to become a Prayer Companion. Eleanor and Glen have two adult children: John who is pursuing a PhD in Rehabilitation Therapy in Toronto and Elizabeth who is a professional musician, nominated for Juno awards for her last five jazz albums.  

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