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My Grandfather, Elmer Askwith
by Kabrina Rozine

Continued from Home Page

Claudina’s father happened to be the head Conservation Officer for four counties and he arranged for Elmer to work in a fire tower. Elmer was very grateful, as the country was in the middle of the Great Depression and work was scarce. Elmer sat in the fire tower 10 hours a day, 7 days per week for six summers. If he noticed a fire, he would call a nearby fire tower to pinpoint the location so they could dispatch a team of people to put the fire out. So many people were out of work, that the government offered jobs through the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC). The CCC was helpful in putting out fires and was also employed to plant new trees. Unfortunately many people were desperate for work and would purposefully start fires so they would be paid to put them out and plant new trees. Although Elmer did report many fires, the days in the tower were long. He

Elmer in the Fire Tower
Elmer in the Fire Tower

would pass the time by making wooden items including a crib, a violin and a model of his future home.

Elmer completed an apprenticeship as a piano tuner and tuned pianos ranging from homes as small as shacks to the extravagant Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island. He appreciated the wonderful people that he met while tuning and was known for his attention to detail and fairness in pricing.

Elmer’s primary job was working at the locks in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. He worked there for 35 years and 5 months, ending up as a lock master. Each day, Claudina would pack him a sandwich for lunch and he would walk to work. Upon retirement, Claudina mentioned that she was relieved she would not have to make sandwiches anymore. Without skipping a beat he said, “How do you think I felt having to eat them?” Needless to say, he did not have sandwiches for years afterward, but has begun to enjoy them occasionally again. He has now been retired for 39 years. The job provided a pension, and Elmer would often joke with another retired co-worker that the government didn’t make any money on them!
 

Elmer tuning a piano
Elmer tuning a piano.
 

Elmer in uniform at the Locks
Elmer in uniform at the Locks.
 

Elmer built his own home, digging the basement by hand (which was no small feat in undisturbed clay soil). When the city contacted him to say that they needed the land his home was on to build a school, Elmer dug another basement and moved the house on large timbers down the road.
 

Never afraid of work, he added a family garden, often having to break up the soil with a sledge hammer, and began to grow food for the family. To this day, he still enjoys and works in his garden, still duking it out with the clay after 60 years!

Elmer’s approach to life is practical. He attributes his long life to hard work and the fact that the higher power is not ready for him yet. He still lives at home, enjoys telling stories and continues to learn about gardening and alternative energy. He occasionally says with a smile, “We never know how long we will be here, so we should make the best of each day.”

 

Elmer working in his garden
Elmer working in his garden.

 

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