Lo­cal boy made good in Bos­ton States

The Compass - - NEWS - BY BILL BOW­MAN

Long be­fore they started mi­grat­ing to Toronto and other parts of On­tario’s in­dus­trial heart­land in search of work, New­found­lan­ders had been go­ing to “the Bos­ton States.” Most of them found work, set­tled and raised fam­i­lies there, never to re­turn to their home and na­tive land.

One ex­am­ple of a lo­cal boy who went away and made good was Gil­bert H. Crane of Car­bon­ear.

Born Septem­ber 17,1909, Gil­bert would live to cel­e­brate his 100th birth­day, and died in De­cem­ber 2009 in Bel­mont, Mass.

Ge­orge Gar­land of Car­bon­ear South, who knew Gil­bert well, also grew to ad­mire and re­spect the man for what he had ac­com­plished in his life­time, de­spite some for­mi­da­ble odds against him.

De­scrib­ing Gil­bert’s hum­ble be­gin­nings, Ge­orge said, like many peo­ple in New­found­land in the early part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Gil­bert’s fam­ily was “as poor as church mice.”

His fa­ther op­er­ated a butcher shop on Wa­ter Street, John. C. Crane & Sons, along with his son, Char­lie, be­fore the son moved to the States.

Gil­bert Crane was nine years old when a hor­rific ac­ci­dent hap­pened that would change his life. He lost his foot when it was run over by a train.

Thrill-seek­ing ju­ve­niles would of­ten jump the train on the south­side of town in those days and catch a free ride to the north side, where the train would stop at the sta­tion.

The train tracks ran along near Gil­bert’s house, which was lo­cated near Earle’s meal plant on Car­bon­ear’s Lower South­side Road.

Ge­orge says Gil­bert and a friend, Ge­orge Davis, were dig­ging pota­toes one day when they saw the train com­ing. Be­cause it was a dan­ger­ous and for­bid­den prac­tice, the rid­ers used to jump from the train, usu­ally be­fore it stopped, and run as fast as they could to es­cape the au­thor­i­ties. When Gil­bert jumped from the train, his foot got caught un­der its wheels.

He was sent to the Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in St. John’s for treat­ment un­til the stump that was left of his leg healed. When he re­turned home, Ge­orge says the lo­cal boys used to poke fun at him.

Canon Rusted, a prom­i­nent Angli­can cler­gy­man in Car­bon­ear at the time, made a wooden leg for Gil­bert. But be­cause it was a straight leg, it used to slow him down and he used to take it off and run around on the stump. Even­tu­ally the stump got in­fected and for a while they thought he might loose the rest of his leg.

Ac­cordin g t o Ge­orge , Dan O’Driscoll, who also lived on the south­side, ad­vised Crane’s mother to boil some wa­ter on the stove. Ev­ery day for sev­eral days, they would push the stump down into the boil­ing wa­ter un­til it was cured of in­fec­tion. “ They say the pain of hav­ing his leg im­mersed into boil­ing hot wa­ter was so ex­cru­ci­at­ing, his cries could be heard all over the south­side,” Ge­orge said.

An­other Car­bon­ear man, Johnny Butt, made an­other wooden leg for Gil­bert, this time with a hinge at the knee so he could bend it.

At 13, Gil­bert Crane found his first job on The Labrador, where he worked at the sum­mer fish­ery.

When he re­turned he went to work for Saun­ders How­ell, a prom­i­nent Car­bon­ear firm, where he was paid four cents an hour. The firm of­fered him a one cent an hour raise to come in early in the morn­ing and oil the ma­chines. When Gil­bert asked for more and the com­pany re­fused, Ge­orge says he told them to “take the job and stick it, and he quit.”

The 13-year-old boy with one foot also shov­elled snow, but he never got paid for that at all.

So he de­cided to go to the States where his brother, Ge­orge Crane, was al­ready work­ing as a painter. The first thing he did there was to break his good leg.

“I don’t know how he ever got into the States with only one leg in the first place,” Ge­orge says.

It was the decade known as “ the hun­gry 30s,” brought on by the bank crash of 1929 and the Great De­pres­sion that fol­lowed.

Times were tough. But Gil­bert “did ev­ery­thing in the world” to make the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion, Ge­orge says.

He used to col­lect dis­carded watches and sell them.

Even­tu­ally, he de­cided to go into busi­ness with a part­ner. To­gether they started a ren­der­ing plant called Bay State Tal­low in Low­ell, Mass. They used to col­lect fat, chicken and bees and ren­der the ma­te­rial out to pro­duce fer­til­izer and soap. When his part­ner died, Gil­bert took over the busi­ness and ex­panded into other

Well con­nected po­lit­i­cally, Ge­orge said a photo of Gil­bert and for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan hung on Gil­bert’s wall.

From his mea­gre be­gin­nings in Car­bon­ear, the self-ed­u­cated man went on to be­come a mil­lion­aire. By the time he re­turned to his home­town, on one of his ear­lier vis­its, he could have bought the com­pany that had once re­fused to give him more than a one cent an hour raise.

He could also af­ford to pur­chase the best pros­thetic limbs money could buy.

Af­ter sell­ing his busi­ness and re­tir­ing, Gil­bert made many vis­its to his home­town.

“ If you met him and he shook hands with you, he was the kind of man who just left a last­ing im­pres­sion,” said Gar­land.

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