The Fabric of a Community

Let me tell a story.

A couple weeks ago while getting ready to take a vacation, a friend decided to bleach his well. The once every six months or so cleansing of the water. He dosed it good, waited and started the well back up. Nothing. He reset the motor. Nothing. He heard the solenoid click, but no motor, no water.

All this was recounted the next day at the big table in Freshies - late the morning before he was scheduled to leave. Another friend said, “Well let’s go down and talk to George about it.” After hemming and hawing, reluctantly the first finally agrees, they walk down the street to talk to George.

Here we need a note of background. George and Susan Beese own BRT Hardware. Sitting on Victoria Avenue between IGS and the Brickhouse, half of BRT is an un-mapped warren of hardware parts, pieces plumbing fixtures, heating materials and leftover inventory from the last 30, maybe 40 or 50 years of building in Fernie. The other half is a wide selection of baskets, Christmas decorations (this time of year) and other giftware’s. That half is where you start when you have to build a gift basket for a friend in the hospital. The other half is where you start if you have any problem with mechanical functions in your home.

The first time I walked in, I had disassembled a leaking tub/shower assembly to discover the center cartridge mechanism was corroded, chipped, completely chingered and needed to be replaced. Maybe 40 years old, I had little hope of finding a replacement part and realistically thought I’d be ripping out drywall to get at the back to replace the whole deal.

George took one look at the little round brass tube in my hand, maybe a couple inches long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and said, “Oh that’s from a blagh blagh blagh. You need this.” And walked over, struck his hand in an unmarked bin to pull out a couple of the little tubes, brand new and in vintage packaging. I paid my few bucks and walked out onto Victoria Avenue a convert to the Church of BRT. Holding in inventory one single part that literally saves hours and hours of work, on the off chance that someone will need it some time in the future is completely counter modern business models. Most hardware stores carry what sells. Period. If it doesn’t sell in six months, it’s returned. Gone. You need to tear out the wall and replace the whole deal. Bummer. Too bad.

Back to the distressed well pump the day before a long planned vacation.

Down at BRT, as the problem was posed to George, he shook his head. “Well, what are you doing right now? Let’s go out and look at it.”

They loaded up and drove out to examine the recalcitrant wellhead. With his tester, George flicked a few switches here and there. Checking the electric feed at the panel and at the wellhead, George quickly determined the well motor was toast.

“Pull it out and I’ll come back this afternoon and I’ll replace it. If I remember, it’s a blagh blagh.” And off he went back to the shop.

Pulling a 180-foot deep well motor is not an easy task, but with the tight gang, it’s a quickly accomplished task.

In the early afternoon, George drove back, tested the motor directly. Toast. In a matter of ten minutes he’d replaced the motor, re-connected the fittings and all was good. Dropped back down the well, the pump worked like a champ and the well-deserved, long-planned vacation started without the overhanging drama of where’s the water coming from tomorrow?

So here’s the rub. BRT closes at the end of this month. Susan and George sold the building and are retiring. There will be a hole in the fabric of our community. An irreplaceable hole. We will lose a substantial portion of our unofficial community history.

In every community history lives little pockets. This history exists outside the conventional machinations of City Hall, the historic society, the school system, the Arts Station, the Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus and all the other official and fraternal organizations. These independent individual pockets of history live on their own personal supply of oxygen. Self-sustaining and replicating, they live.

Originally Quail Hardware, George and Susan took over in May 1993 and renamed it BRT Hardware. In the intervening years they carried on the legacy of the Quail’s, first Bill and then his son Doug.

When asked what they’re going to do, Susan replies, “Well, I’ve decided to keep the giftware’s going. We’re moving to the old shoe store down the street. Jen (her daughter) will manage it and I’ll just come in a couple days a week. We have 160 acres and George wants to go back to his farming roots.” She laughs, “He’ll still do the odd heating job.”

With all institutions some are replaceable and some are not. As a community grows, the institutions grow and fill a need. Sometimes, like with BRT, they grow to become such an integral part of the community, there is no way to replace them if they close. They die. They leave a hole. And that part of our history dies with them.

In the next few months and years, there are going to be a few more walls with holes cut in the drywall to get at shower/tub facets, a few more people that lose their water for a few days or more. And a few more stories brought out about how George saved the day and it’s too bad he’s not still around.

On the first of January, we start a new year with a hole in the fabric of our community