September 24th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 37
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Things my Father Said
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
The Firefighter. Taken after a downtown Coleman hotel fire. You can see the Empire Hotel sign hanging down in the background.
My father, John Kinnear Senior, was a special man who worked most of his life here in the Pass as a miner, mine surveyor, Coleman Volunteer Brigade Fire Chief and Town Foreman. He was known for his willingness to help out in any situation and for his inventiveness. You could count on old Johnny Kinnear when you needed him.
He was also known to kick out a pretty neat phrase or two now and then and some of them have stayed with me and resurface at times.
I had the rare opportunity of working with him at Coleman Collieries as a survey helper and draftsman. Its not often father and son get to work directly together and the two years I spent with him in the engineering office there were a riot.
We travelled to Tent Mountain, Vicary South, B Level, Racehorse Strip and Two Level North coal mines regularly and there was always a lot of work do be done on surface and underground. Pops always managed to inject levity into even the nastiest situations and he had twists of phrase that usually left his crews howling at times.
I recall running a survey base line with him up and over the top of Vicary Ridge to connect to a new mine. Surveying can be tedious, repetitive work but you are out in the elements and sometimes in spectacular scenery.
On this occasion, as we carried our baseline up the road above B Level I remember sitting on a stump about 200 feet away from him as he set up his next station with his old style Gurley survey transit. Drifting over the warm summer mountain air from him as he twiddled with the instrument screws was this gem of a poem. Read it slowly and pause at the periods. It went:

"How well I do remember,
Twas late last November,
I was walking down the road quite full of pride.
My heart was all aflutter as I lay down in the gutter,
And a pig came there and lay down by my side.
As I lay there in the gutter,
Too soused to even mutter,
A lady passing by was heard to say.
One may tell the brute that boozes,
By the company he chooses,
And hearing this the pig got up and slowly walked away."

continued below...

His colourful descriptions were often in simile form like for instance:
"Steep as a cow's face and him drinkin' water. (on describing the pitch of a coal seam). Conversely, there was "flatter than piss on a plate". Now that's pretty flat I'd say. Being a surveyor he would know that liquid stays pretty level.. Unless of course if its inside a beer bottle, then it definitely assumes all kinds of angles. Coming in and going out.
I managed to convince him back then in the early 70's that he should quit smoking Sportsman Plain unfiltered cigarettes. Remember them? Bright yellow package with images of fishing flies on the back. Anyways, I got him to try cigarillos which I felt would do less damage and reduce his smoking. He smoked them for thirty years and took them right down to the plastic tip each time. He would announce quite often and sarcastically: "I gotta stop smokin' these things, the plastic is killing me"!
I can picture him now, perched over his survey transit with that plastic tip sticking out of the corner of his mouth. On one occasion a nosy government engineer approached him as he was laying out the Two Level North road about 25 miles north of Coleman to a new coal mine entry. The engineer asked: "Mr. Kinnear, what radius of curve are you using on your road?" to which he replied: "Why the radius of the hill that it is going around of course."
Quick wit and biting sarcasm were his forte but never to the point of being cruel or rude. As town foreman he always worked alongside his crew even digging sewer ditches. Inevitably a curious bystander would ask: " Whatcha doin', diggin a hole?" to which he would reply: " Hell no, we're layin a foundation for a lawn."
At times his comments could be quite profound and he quoted from Robbie Burns a lot. His favourite saying was from Burn's "To a Louse" . Say it with a Scottish burr, it works better that way. It was: "O would some power the giftie gie us , to see ourselles as others see us. Then again he was not averse to throwing out some well worn Nova Scotian twisted line like: "Throw the cow over the fence some hay."
I recall him telling me that when he came from Scotland they spent some time in Calgary and he went to the old King Edward school in South Calgary. A favourite story of his was about a teacher who asked him about a certain word. He told her it was a preposition. She said how do you know that and he said because I know all the prepositions. She said you mean to tell me you can recite every one and he said: " over, under, on, behind, beside" and so on until he had listed every single one. No small feat as there are dozens of them. He could still recite them when he was eighty. Rock solid old country English education!
Probably one of the most profound things I have ever seen him do was to smash a plate of chile con carne into our black and white TV set on a late saturday afternoon. The TV was gradually taking over in our family and changing our traditional ways.
You must remember that back then TV sets had a protective safety glass in the front, one that he angrily shattered into a million pieces. After he did it he turned to my brothers and sisters and I and said: " I hate that thing, it is ruining my family."
I wonder what he would think today of this world in which many adults and children are staring dull eyed into their devices!

September 24th ~ Vol. 84 No. 37
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