After Doc had the kidney stones removed and recovered from that operation, he could hardly wait to get out of the hospital! The bone graft in his spine had healed — and he was walking, using his braces and two canes. After nine long months at the Regina General Hospital, Doc checked out. His friends, Bob and Diane Hilderman, welcomed him into their home to live with them in late January 1959. Although he owned a home in Regina it would have been difficult to live alone at that time. He was so appreciative to be staying with Bob and Diane.
And I was then living with another set of Hildermans, Bud and Mavis, just a block away.
There were many challenges of being on the outside as in getting out of the hospital. Doc was able to get around with the help of those two canes and, of course, he could drive his car. As you could imagine, for a man who had previously been running everywhere he went, a go-getter, athletic, always doing something, trying to replicate that person he used to be was difficult. And then there was the pain.
He was employed by the Co-Op Refinery when he had the accident, as an Operator.
That was quite the exciting job for Doc. A refinery is a complex operation and, at that time, I do believe it was one of the technology leaders for refining oil anywhere in the world. It operated 24/7 and there was a large contingency of employees working the three shifts needed to keep it running. As I noted before, Doc was one of a few operators that actually liked working shifts: many of his co-workers/friends could never get accustomed to the shift work and left the refinery for other employment.
The nature of refining oil has many dangers with gases being flared and the possibility of major fires always a risk. You could compare the operators at the refinery to firefighters not just in the nature of the work, but with their camaraderie of saying, “I’ve got your back” – and meaning it. There was a great need for everyone to be on the same page and Safety was Number One with all the employees. The job was physical, climbing and descending dozens of stairs each day, taking measurements — it was a physical job where a great deal of attention had to be paid to the job at hand.
On his daily trek to work, going from his home in Lakeview, Doc would often stop at the service station at Winnipeg and 10th that was owned by Dave Hilderman. On the street that led to the refinery, it was one of the few service stations in the north east section of Regina back then.
Ever since Doc had started working at the refinery and moved in to Regina from Wilcox in 1953, that service station was a pull for him, a constant hub of activity. While a number of his co-workers would head for the Drake Hotel Beer Parlour for a beer after work, you would more than likely have found Doc at the service station because that’s where all the nice cars were.
Dave and his two sons, Bud and Bob were three big men and all three of them were salesmen. They had personalities that were larger than life and you would never know they had come from a small town, like Duval, Saskatchewan. They seemed more likely to have come from New York City.
The Hildermans loved to party. And Doc loved cars. The service station had both.
But soon after Doc got out of the hospital, the Hildermans were looking to get out of Regina. They had had a contract hauling equipment for the Saskatchewan Power Corporation which had come to an end; the old man, Dave, wanted to retire, and his two boys had become partners in other ventures. Dave put the station up for sale and Doc agreed to buy it. Why not? He knew cars, and how they worked, and it didn’t seem possible to go back working for the Co-op Refinery. A service station seemed like a perfect solution.
Doc loved cars!
And although it seemed like running a garage and pumping gas would be a perfect fit for him, it wasn’t. Doc had no relatives (besides, eventually, me) to help him run that station and most other stations were family-operated, with the mother doing the books to a brother working alongside other mechanics in the garage to keep an eye on things. Doc had no one. And it wasn’t just the staff that was robbing him blind.
Doc was far too trusting, a trait he probably inherited from his father the Doctor. If someone told him they would pay him later, Doc expected that would happen, but it never did. And although that first service station had been popular for the Hildermans, without the party going on, it became less of a destination for the folks in Regina’s east end, even if he’d never changed the name.
Another factor is that although Doc had been a boarder at Campion College, he didn’t grow up in Regina and did not have a following of friends from the city. Most of his friends were 30 miles to the south, in Wilcox, guys who didn’t come into the city to buy their gas but bought it in Wilcox, at Dutchie Lawrence’s station. And, with the pain he had, he found he didn’t have the energy he needed to do regular businessmen networking, like going to service club meetings, etc. He’d been in the Knights of Columbus forever but I don’t think any of them supported him! He was exhausted just carrying around the braces for the long hours at the service station.
And although he thought he was just the same as he’d always been, it just might be that people didn’t feel comfortable buying their gas from a man who was walking funny.