The’Cannonball’ once rolled through

“Oh listen to the jingle, the rumble and the roar,
Of the mighty rushing engine as she streams along the shore.
Hear the mighty rushing engine, the bell and whistle call,
You’re running through the woodlands on the Wabash Cannonball!”

And an estimated 50 or more new guitarists here attempt to pick out the chords while Roy Acuff, the Smokey Mountaineers, and the WLS Barndance get you going.
It’s a Saturday night’s obsession for many as the Cannonball in various versions takes over for another pre-war jamboree.
Everyone wanted into that rhythm and Fort Frances once had a guitar teacher who could put you there with help of books by Gene Autry and Nicks Manaloff.
His last name was Clarkson and I wasn’t old enough to use his first name anyway, but he had a lot of us hooked, especially when the deal for 52 weekly lessons at $1 each included a free guitar! So, who could resist?
We practised with his guitars until parents sprang for big new ones with famous names like the Stewarts and Martins, and enough new strings to replace those broken by carelessness or poor tuning, which I never fully mastered.
But somehow, enough of us got along well enough that a few of Clarkson’s pupils such as Angelo Dittaro of the “Rainycrest Rascals” are still going.
My old guitar went to Winnipeg with a daughter, but I still own one here that I should get practising on—even if my voice needs tuning much worse than the instrument.
I must have been told that monotone voices never succeed, but I kept on trying to sing, something other guitarists rarely attempted, that not being their main objective.
Mrs. Norman (Marge) Urquhart, a gorgeous soloist who once occupied that Second Street East corner house where Dave Bougeault lives today, wanted to encourage my efforts with voice training. But I missed that opportunity to improve even though she insisted there was no such thing as a monotone.
Reluctance never made a star, although I stuck privately to western and railroad songs that are all lumped together today under the “country” label.
There being little demand here for my vocalizing, I developed somewhat as a accompanist for a Hawiian guitarist and also entered the high school band under Miss Alderson, who later became Mrs. Bert Henry.
With the Hawiian partner, actually a Scandinavian lad named Melvin Bylund, I got on stage across the river in the Moose Lodge through influence of his mother, a lodge member.
After a while though, our guitarists were dropping wayside and the Second World War carried some away, while the pressures of growing up proved too much competition for any musical talent I may have started with.
But there was one moment at Carleton University in Ottawa when I came on strong with my own group of, well, let’s say singers, or classmates anyway, and we had non-paying audiences applauding our rendition of that old Spike Jones classic, “Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women.”
I doubt that Spike, himself, would have bestowed as much applause on our efforts to extend his fame, but we weren’t really expecting much, college days being what they are.
Then only last Christmas when my spirits needed reviving, I received a postcard from a former classmate wondering whether I had continued performing or kept in touch with my stage group which apparently still lives on in legend down there in Ottawa under the name, “Succotash Seven.”
It also gave me top grilling as soloist and only instrumentalist.
We were so horrible as to never be forgotten, I guess, but there’s nothing, it’s said, that beats music as an attention-getter.
No, I didn’t send that Christmas greeter a big cheque for remembering so well, but I would have and cheerfully. Only I doubt very much the record industry could stand such a shock!
Anyway, I still remember all the verses of that railroading tune, including:
“From the Hills of Minnesota where the laughing waters fall,
No change is to be taken on the Wabash Cannonball.”
• • •
Alvin Alexander of Barwick wants it known that his sawmill engine came from the same 1938 Fort Frances grader that was pictured in Pither’s Point Park between two towering snowbanks while being operated by my own late father-in-law, Andy Shortreed.
• • •
Rollie Crawford of the Legion continues to receive condolences over his wife Betty’s passing recently in Texas. Yet Rollie still can’t be topped for good humour and jokes as he moves around town.
Rollie comes originally from Ireland, and agrees with doctors who still declare that laughter can be the best medicine.
• • •
Donny Mason, long since well-established as an International Falls storekeeper, has stayed in close touch with the Fort Frances hockey fraternity. His twin sons are a source of pride because both also did well with their sticks and skates, Gordon Calder reports.
Calder, the all-around mixer, gets kidded about often getting his name in the paper, but anyone else can if others become that active.
• • •
Songster Diane Maxey doesn’t let grass grow under her feet either while she pursues fresh activities such as the World Health Organization and community safety. An international convention coming up here May 7-9 is expected to arouse much feeling, she reports.
Doug Anderson of Betty’s also has been another local leader in those interests.
• • •
Concerning that old prison farm west of Barwick, Dave Marsh remembers how it was regarded as an important source of fresh meat, eggs, and vegetables for the district jail in Fort Frances.
• • •
“The Allan Cup Trail” author, Neil McQuarrie, has been in town and going into other Fort Frances activities for our young people. He wanted to know about everything from figure skating to horseshoe pitching, lawn bowling, log rolling, and even music festivals!
Neil is the Brandon University professor who will speak at the Canadians’ 50-year banquet here in June.

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