The Smoking Gun!
The Christmas Tree Adventure
By: 13077 Dean Black
It was early December 1977 and we were only three weeks away from the holiday period. Winter had definitely arrived; snow plows had been quite busy during the previous month as almost three feet of snow had accumulated during that time. On this day, however, we were going through a bit of a warm spell. The temperature was slightly below zero and there was a threat of fog – pea-soup fog, to be precise.
It was on this day that I was informed of an important tradition in Frontenac (4) Squadron. It seems that members of the 1st year class were responsible for the squadron Christmas tree. I was probably a little gullible, but no one can claim I wasn’t part of the team. My fellow 1st year member 13187 Mark Walker agreed to venture out with me to find a suitable tree. The fact I might have been the only 1st year in 4 Squadron with a car might explain why I was picked for this seemingly important task.
With Mark in the front seat of my 1972 Pontiac Strato Chief – one beast of a 4-door with a massive engine under the hood – we headed up Highway 15 north of the city. I’m pretty certain we were both dressed in #4s, which in retrospect now seems rather odd. We were also equipped with an axe. Nevertheless, about 30 minutes down the road we chose what looked like a suitable side-road into the woods. We had not noticed how quickly the fog was thickening until we had found a reasonable tree, cut it down and thrown it into the trunk. I remember closing the trunk, looking up to say something to Mark, and realizing I could not make out any details from the background behind him even though he was standing only six feet away. What I wanted to say to him was that I had noticed it had begun to rain – freezing rain, that is.
From that moment on we tried to retrace our footsteps, back to the college. The fog was incredible. I could not see beyond ten feet in front of the car. Consequently, while we were indeed actually moving, it was at such a cautionary speed that the speedometer registered nothing. That is when I saw the stop sign. It was too late. My foot found the brake pedal almost as soon as my brain had registered seeing the sign. However, the freezing rain was so effective there was simply no perceptible sign of any braking. We slid perfectly through the T-intersection, as if we were flying in mid-air, and down into the deep ditch that awaited us. The front end of the car went right through a wire fence conveniently between two sizeable posts. The road level was almost four feet above the roof of the car, so deep was the ditch. I tried in vain half-a-dozen times to reverse out of the ditch, but we were knee deep in snow and my wheel ruts were already glistening with freezing rain.
Mark and I agreed that he should walk down the road toward a faint light. We supposed it might be a house light beckoning to us from about 200 yards away. After Mark struck out on his walk I decided I would try to reverse out of the ditch again. I must have tried it another three or four times when, out of frustration I really put the pedal to the metal. For some reason the tires gripped and I flew out of the ditch – backwards – out into the dangerous intersection. I was beaming with pride, but apprehensive about sitting in the middle of an intersection. With great excitement I aimed the car in the appropriate direction and moved off at a snail’s pace looking for Mark.
Mark soon heard me, and jumped into the front seat. On our way back he said he had spoken to a woman who asked us not to worry about the fence. She was only too pleased that we were safe and that we had managed to get the car out of the ditch on our own. Her husband (the farmer who owned the property and the fence) was away but she was certain he would agree with her assessment and her compassion. We made it back to the college safely, and the 4th years were very impressed with our tree. The entire adventure faded from my memory, and Mark’s, until late Spring, some six months later.
It was the beginning of May, 1978, and I had received a phone call summoning me to the Commandant’s office. H4860 Brigadier-General de Chastelain apparently wanted to speak to me, of all people. The last time I had an audience with the General, he was in a suit at the Fall barbecue and I had reached out to shake his hand, as I mistakenly said: “Colonel Annand, my name is Dean Black”. Seems I got the Commandant and the Director of Cadets mixed up. In any event, I entered General De Chastelaine’s office, not knowing what it was about, when all of a sudden he holds up the license plate from the front end of my car asking if I recognized it. Of course I did, and of course I had immediately put two-and-two together. When I went through that fence I had obviously left a calling card dangling from the wires. Surprisingly, I had not noticed the front plate had been missing all that time.
After I explained the whole episode I assured him that I would indeed make amends. Turns out the farmer disagreed with his wife, and was interested in financial compensation ($200) for the fence. I went out to the farm that evening and wrote a cheque. The adventure turned out to be rather expensive for me – probably the most expensive Christmas tree I would ever find in the countryside. Sadly, none of the 4th years seemed interested in helping me with the debt. Most if not all of them were days away from graduating. I understand their lack of interest.