Goodbye, Hughie

Some years ago I arranged to have Hugh Murray come to my farm to do some custom hay baling. I explained to Hughie that I would call him when the hay was perfectly dry and ready to be baled. I called one night and suggested the next day would be perfect. The next day was sunny and bright and I waited and waited, but no sign of Hughie. The following day was ideal too, but still no sign of Hughie. The day after turned overcast with a slight drizzle of rain. Late that morning I could hear the rumble of the diesel International as it made its way along Steeles Avenue. “Howdy,” said Hughie as he pulled into the hay field. “Some fellers came along at the last minute and I couldn’t get away,” he said as he spit a wad of tobacco juice on the tractor tire, “and yesterday I couldn’t get the baler to tie properly.” At that point he handed me his business card.

The dictionary defines unique as “being without or having no equal or like” I believe his business card pretty well supports the following story which I will share with you about my cousin Hughie.

There’s an old poem which begins with:

Timothy took his time to school
And plenty of time he took,
Some he lost in the tadpole pool
And some in the stickleback brook.

Hughie was very like Timothy. He didn’t care much for school in general and I’m sure he was late many times as he trekked across country fields to the old Kilbride School. I’ll even bet there were many days when he never arrived at school at all (his mom and dad would never know as there were few telephones around). He drifted away from school at an early age and worked on neighbouring farms for a few summers and saved his money. He purchased his first car when he was 14 years old from Eric McArthur. Within hours of buying the car, he rolled it near Lowville, wrecked it badly and injuring a passenger. Some years later be purchased a 1930 Chevrolet coup car which met the same fate – a bad accident in Millgrove. Because Hughie wouldn’t pay the $800 judgement against him, his licence was never returned to him. From that time until his death he used his International tractor to get his groceries and visit friends.

From very early in life, Hughie had a keen interest in machinery, old cars, trucks, bulldozers, motors and almost anything mechanical. He hung around the local garages in Kilbride and Carlisle, helping the mechanics at his own pace and on his own terms. Mostly he received no salary, perhaps a little gas from time to time. He was self taught and his hobbies became a significant part of his life. He hauled old cars, trucks, buses, and tractors onto his farm prior to municipal planning policies and guidelines. He obtained a Provincial Wrecking license in good standing down through the years. He built a small workshop and did small mechanical repair jobs for farmers and neighbours as well as selling used car parts. His place became a “school of learning” for many of the young teenage boys who gathered in his garage to repair their dirt bikes, snowmobiles, bicycles, tractors, etc. Hughie was very patient and loved their company and would chat and chat and tell stories (trying to discourage them from leaving) and could he tell stories! These boys gained valuable mechanical experiences which they still use in their adulthood. Some of Hughie’s “apprentices” include Mike Twiss, Jim Paul, Berry and Wayne Pickett, Jeff Inglis and Roger Coulson, to name a few.

One could not go to Hughie’s, buy a car part that was required and leave immediately. He became quite agitated – he expected a two hour social visitation as part of his service (sort of built into the price). He once told me of a fellow who just came around when he wanted something, so you see his service was unique as was his funeral service which had to be postponed due to weather conditions so that Hughie could keep his friends with him a little bit longer. I’m sure that Hughie contributed to this delay, somehow. Farewell, my friend!

Contributing Author: Jim Watson

Source: Kilbride Chronicles, Issue 15, page 5
Transcribed by: Lyndsey Innes