Farewell Uncle John: He was from an era that fixed things. All things.

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There is (or was) a small church in the Eastern Townships of Quebec that bore an unusual scar. It stood strong for decades, but if you knew where to look some of the building materials were of a slightly different color.

It’s against this wall that my family history was forever connected to the trucking industry.

My Uncle John was driving a gravel truck in those days, and for some reason or another his brakes gave way. Let’s just say this was in an era long before anyone monitored weights and dimensions, and safety ratings weren’t exactly a thing.

At the last minute, though, he jumped from the cab just before the careening vehicle hit said wall. My grandfather is the one who repaired the structure, and while I can’t say for certain, I’m pretty sure a young Uncle John would have been enlisted to help.

Because Uncle John fixed things. All things.

The man who always reminded me a bit of John Denver was from a generation, now fading, that didn’t simply toss things away. They always found a way to repurpose and reuse what they had in front of them.

And his abilities left me in awe.

Uncle John never held a mortgage, for example. It’s because he built the family homestead. One room at a time. The garage came first, and my cousins and aunt camped out in that one summer as he built the first main room for the house itself.

Then there were the many mechanical things that he always found a way to keep on the move. I’m told that my cousin Roy once came home with a box of motorcycle parts. Uncle John simply set about working with him to transform everything into a working motorcycle. During one Christmas visit, at an age barely into double digits, I remember the thrill of having the chance to take the controls of one of several snowmobiles, no doubt part of a fleet that he cobbled together himself. And when a tree crushed his car during his retirement years, inflicting damage that would see most people call for a tow, he rolled it into the barn and set to work pulling everything back into shape.

When home computers emerged, he even became fascinated with them as well, cobbling together the used parts to build and repair systems for little old ladies living around Lennoxville. That’s where he also cared for the local curling rink. He could speak for hours on how to properly build the base and maintain that pebbled surface.

He just had this uncanny ability to understand how things actually worked, and a fascination with the way things were connected. When my brother Rick came home at a young age, saying that he didn’t understand why he’d ever need to know the Pythagorean Theorem, Uncle John was the one who sat down to explain exactly how it applied to work that he did in a shop where he worked at the time. He needed it to build things, to fix things.

One of my last memories of him came in recent years, when Rick and I hopped on our motorcycles to visit. Uncle John and I happened to wake up earlier than anyone else one morning, and the conversation shifted to trucks, as they tend to do whenever I’m around people who are interested in talking about such things. We sat there over a coffee, as I soaked up his memories of days gone by, talking about things that he fixed over the years.

We said farewell to Uncle John this week, but I’ll choose to think he’s helping out somewhere, tinkering away and putting things back together. Because we all need to lean on those who know how to fix things.



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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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