Paddy Riley's pickup and suitcases in Carbonear

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“Set the gull’s eggs under a broody hen ‘n’ you’ll get pet gulls,” advised Harry, he all of nine years-of-age.

Dr. William O'Flaherty

Harry had two of them and declared that they “wuz jest as smart as pet crows,” and needed only to be fed caplin and little fish from Cummin’s Pond, up there in Northern Bay.

We were over in the Westward Beach searching for gull’s eggs when a loud commotion occurred; it was coming from the Salmon Drung, down a little ways below the highroad.

“Dat’s Tucker’s truck, comin’ down to the beach, dat’s wot it is,’’ said Teddy.

The four of us scrambled up the cliff and headed to where the sound was coming from. A short distance up the drung was a truck making an awful racket, and spewing blue smoke, parked in front of Paddy Riley’s place. Standing proudly by was Paddy himself, declaring to whoever would listen that he was home for good and was going to make his living “hauling fish.”

Well, the like of that was never known before in Long Beach: Paddy Riley with a truck. Or, for that matter, anybody else there with a truck.

Nobody in the place had a motor vehicle except, of course, the priest; further down the shore the Tuckers had a general store, a coal shed and bought salt fish in the summer and fall; they needed a truck. But the rest of us, the crowd in Long Beach, we got by using a horse and slide in the winter, a horse and box-car in the summer, and, more often than that, our two God-given legs.

Well, sir, the word soon got around about Paddy Riley’s truck, and half the children in the community came to look her over. To us, she was the grandest thing you ever did see and it was obvious that she possessed a powerful engine — as demonstrated by the wondrous sounds that she emitted when Paddy got behind the wheel. Mind you, there were a number of rusty spots, a crack in the windshield and a broken headlight, but hey, nothing is perfect, and we youngsters immediately adopted her as a proud part of Long Beach.

The following Saturday — a few days after Paddy arrived from St. John’s — we were all out of school, and we heard that he was planning to drive to Carbonear on trucking business and was willing to take us along for the ride. Most of us had never been that far; indeed the only one I knew who had gone there was an older boy, 10 years-of-age, who went there with his father to meet somebody at the train station. When we questioned him about that faraway place he stated that everybody in Carbonear walked around with suitcases. It appeared to him that everybody there was on the move, going somewhere else. That was of minor importance to us; all we hoped for was a day trip to that town in the back of Paddy Riley’s truck.

Four of us got permission from our parents, yours truly included.

Early on Saturday morning, with lunch bag in hand, we piled into the wooden back of the truck and Paddy started her up. With a great roar, with blue smoke billowing from the tail pipe and from under the hood, up the Salmon Drung we travelled for a quarter-mile until we reached the highroad, close by the graveyard, and there the engine died.

Undaunted, with head underneath the hood, Paddy tinkered with the beast, helped along by various people walking along the highroad who were quite liberal in their advice as to the cause of the engine breakdown.

“The damp weather,” stated one, “jest like my battery radio that gave up one week ago; the fog is the cause of it all.’’

“Water in yer gas; dat’s it; guaranteed. Wot’s-his-name English had the same trouble last week. Had to get a fella from Carbonear to fix the problem.”

“No spark in yer battery.”

The factor that was common to all the advice given to poor Paddy Riley was that none of the people knew what they were talking about, and, the truth be known, neither did the unfortunate owner of the truck.

The four of us stayed in the back of the pickup until noon; then, not seeing much progress being made, we ate our lunches and went home when Paddy threw up his hands, swore a mighty oath and walked down the lane toward his home close by the salt water.

The next day was no better. A man from Burnt Point — said to be knowledgeable in matters of pickup truck engines — visited and declared it was a miracle that the vehicle “ever made it round the bay in the first place.”

The next day the truck was pushed down the Salmon Drung and came to rest next to the fish flake, just bordering on the Westward Beach. There she stayed, deserted and mournful, the grass growing up under her, her tires slowly going flat.

Paddy Riley went back to St. John’s to work in the tunnels underneath the Southside Hills, the employ where he made enough money to buy the unfortunate vehicle several weeks before. He never came back to Long Beach.

We visited the truck occasionally, getting behind the wheel to make believe we were going to Burnt Point, and even all the way to St. John’s. Once or twice we pretended to go to Carbonear, and were advised to bring along our pretend suitcases, so as to fit in with the locals.

— Dr. William O'Flaherty worked a 40-year career as a country doctor in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. He was the country doctor in Western Bay, on the north shore of Conception Bay, from 1967 to 1989, and was born in the tiny fishing village of Long Beach, at the lower end Northern Bay. He writes from Moncton, NB.

Geographic location: Carbonear, Long Beach, Northern Bay Newfoundland New Brunswick Western Bay Conception Bay Moncton

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