IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING Part II: The Devil’s Challenge Trophy (“The Old Goat”)

Author’s note: this story has a mix of fiction, fantasy and fact with references to real persons. It is not difficult to recognize the differences. I hope you enjoy it.

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The PD Gardener

In this three-part series we take an excursion back to the mid-20th century small town of Altamont, Manitoba; we search for that illusive “stuff” of curling; we renew acquaintances with Altamont residents from past posts and meet new ones who quickly become fast friends; we meet a new Parkinson’s hero; we learn something about the human capacity to overcome adversity, and the price some may pay to avoid it. Learn the difference between “the Old Buffalo” and “the Old Goat.”

We have a rare insider’s perspective into an epic confrontation at the Altamont Curling Club as told to me by three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil, who heard it from another guy named Dick. Prepare to read the play-by-play account of this fierce battle on the curling ice, a curling skills match that shapes destiny.  How much is an 8 – Ender (a perfect end) really worth?   And find out what a “Dunbar” and a “double Gordon” are anyway.

In Part I: “Is it all about the soup?” we explored the many and varied aspects of curling in an attempt to develop a theory about curling and to isolate the “stuff” of curling. No easy task. We reviewed Altamont’s successes in both women’s and men’s curling as well as the historical leadership provided by Manitoba generally on matters related to curling. On January 28, 1961 the Altamont curling Club had just won its first O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”) and were celebrating at the Altamont Rink when the Devil made His presence known just before midnight.

Let’s continue” with

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

Part II: The Devil’s Challenge Trophy (“The Old Goat”)

Okay, some of you are saying, “Come on, PD Gardener! Not another story about the Devil and curling!  Surely, you can do better than that!

Yeah, yeah.  I know that not everyone is W. O. Mitchell and I should be the last one to pretend to be.  Nevertheless, I am pursuing this story line because both the muse and the other voice in my head are adamant that this narrative must be told. In the Altamont Hotel, three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil told me the story of this strange encounter, and they heard it from Dick Mussell… and Dick was there!  I don’t believe that any of these honourable gentlemen have spoken about the details of this sporting challenge to anyone else. It turns out that I may be the sole Soul on earth who has an accurate account, as all four of these men are now deceased (and I trust, not residing with the Devil.)

I am not quite sure who introduced the Devil to curling but I don’t think that it has been a good thing.  Over the years uncorroborated sightings of the Devil at curling events and venues around the world have been logged at the “Speak of the Devil Hotline” operated out of a diner in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. Reports include sightings at bonspiels in what are believed to be His vacation homes in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota and Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. He is rumoured to hold season tickets to the New Jersey Devils in the NHL and the Manchester United Football Club commonly known as the Red Devils but His boxes rarely show any signs of use. He doesn’t show much interest in the Duke Blue Devils or the Arizona State University Sun Devils either and sends a stand in if some presence is required. He seems to have parted ways with major league baseball’s Tampa Bay team who have unceremoniously dropped the Devil from “Devil Rays” to become simply, “Rays.” There are Tasmanian Devils of course but they are largely unrelated to matters of curling on ice.

In Part I of this series I noted that the clearest, documented report of the Devil’s association with curling comes from the small town of Shelby, Alberta, Canada in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. W.O. Mitchell’s The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon captures what has been described as “one Hell of a match” and an “epic confrontation” between the Devil and Willie MacCrimmon in the 1930s. The match featured a Faustian deal between Willie and the Devil – the Devil would help Willie win The Brier (the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship) if Willie agrees to play third forever on the Devil’s rink in Hell. Willie makes a counter proposal – a challenge match for all the marbles. For the record, the Devil’s rink was suitably Devilish with Guy Fawkes shooting lead stones, Judas Iscariot at second and Macbeth as vice-skip.

Since that defeat, the Devil had been keeping a close watch on the curling scene around the country and Altamont, Manitoba caught His eye.  A week long Altamont Bonspiel was held every year in the third week in January. For such a small curling club the bonspiel was well known in southern Manitoba as a ‘spiel where you would have a good time, win or lose, and where some excellent rinks entered to hone their games away from prying eyes. The “A” draw always produced some close matches with stellar shot making on ice that could often be quite tricky. The “B” draw was equally competitive bringing out the best among the second best, so to speak. The “C” and “D” draws, while each was competitive in its own right, featured recreational curlers with a lower quality of skill no matter how you measure it. Still, to win one of these events was a thrill, capping off a great week of curling on the ice and camaraderie off the ice where you made every shot – you even made some you never tried on the ice. I am not saying that curlers tell tall tales but most curlers also fish, if you catch my drift.

Is there really a Devil?

I am not a religious person but I recall many years ago when I was playing hockey in Selkirk, Manitoba, I was invited to attend a meeting of a church council considering the ordination of one of our team’s close community supporters into the Baptist ministry. The candidate presented his desire to be called to the ministry along with his views on various matters of religious and church doctrine. A panel of ministers from other Baptist churches in the area and elders of his own church then grilled him on his knowledge of relevant scriptures and his stated positions on each doctrine.   It was very much like a defending an academic thesis.

One of the questions was “Do you believe there is a Devil?” My friend answered in words to this effect,

Yes, the Devil is real and is at work among us in ways that lead us astray. We must never be so confident as to deny the power of the Devil. For if we underestimate and ignore the Devil we will be defeated. Our challenge is to thwart the Devil’s work and to adhere to and implement the word of God through Jesus.

I recognize that neither the question nor the answer is particularly original or radical in religious and philosophic circles but allow me to expand on these ideas. My friend answered that if you believe in God you must also believe in the Devil. But it doesn’t end there; just as your belief in God is part of your identity, your belief in the Devil must also be part of that same identity. As I said, I am not a religious person and I leave it to you decide whether these ideas are consistent with your own religious beliefs, but for me, the entire concept took on new meaning after I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I am not going to expound on those ideas here because there are other matters that I wish to explore but I do seem driven to write about Parkinson’s, self-identification and the ability to have quality of life while living with Parkinson’s. Look for a personal view in a future blog post about Parkinson’s and identity.

Where the devil was the Devil?

Truth be known, the Devil had been lurking around the Altamont Rink during the week long bonspiel and the following week in January 1961. It seems there were some “almost sightings” in odd (but not so odd for the Devil) places e.g., at the far back of the Rink there was an unlit “lean to” that passed as a men’s toilet; a place where only men whose streams were still strong and boys with bravado dared to piss. Frozen yellow icefalls reinforced the rotting studs of the thin plywood walls – solid enough in winter but rather spongy in summer – the only protection from the minus 35 degree Fahrenheit temperature and the wind that howled through the passageway from the old lumberyard and Bob Lang’s house (formerly Scott’s) past the end of the Rink, across the creek and out into the Fraser farmland, and every inch of that path was cold as Hell (feeling like minus 45F or lower with the wind.)

“Cold as Hell” – funny phrase that, as I always thought Hell was HOT!  Artificial ice is common place these days and if you don’t care about the energy costs I guess you can curl in Hell, Las Vegas…. anywhere really. However, we know that the Altamont Rink is a natural ice surface with its own peculiarities and curling is restricted to about 3 months maximum. Just time to get your game in shape and then its back to shuffleboard or travel to larger curling clubs in search of higher calibre competition.

It seems the Devil (or someone else?) did frighten some of the local women working the canteen at the bonspiel. You see, there were no real bathrooms for men at the rink at that time and in addition to the back “lean to,” they sought relief by going through the pump shed where the water well was located.  and then through another door into an unlit shed behind the kitchen.  My recollection is that there was no bucket or container to hold human waste and the floor or ground took the effluent. I highly doubt that any woman who unwittingly passed through that area just uttered, “That cheeky devil….”; It was more likely “What the Hell!!!”

There was a small women’s “restroom” between the kitchen and the pump house. I was forbidden to enter this room, ever, so I do not know much about it and I am uncertain if there was an actual place for women to go to the bathroom. In the only glimpse of the inside of the women’s restroom I recall, I saw a wall mirror mounted such that women, teenage girls, and girls too young to wear lipstick and make up, applied their lipstick and makeup.

I was too young at the time to be aware of, or concerned about, sanitation. My recollection is that the men’s so-called toilet areas were totally inadequate and in the one case was far too close to the well. The water from this well was used primarily to flood the ice surface but it was also used to refill a large bucket sitting near the pump with impossibly cold water that quenched our thirst as we skated or played hockey. I recall my lips almost freezing to the edges of the metal ladle, which, if we consider the latent heat held by the water, was perhaps, even below the freezing point. Each runny-nosed kid placed a slobbery mouth on the ladle and drank his or her fill. Some older kids attempted to avert germicidal or viral disaster by drinking with their left hand or from the front of the ladle instead of the sides. In retrospect, I believe such precautions were illusory as protection from the virus of the week. Colds and flu spread like wild fire through our community from time to time.

It is not that the good citizens of this community did not want proper sanitation or were willfully negligent in not providing it. It was very much the case that historical precedent, poverty and inertia, carried these practices forward. I know that some folks from my hometown will be offended mightily by my words here but this is how I remember it in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. It is no reflection on the people who lived there – my family lived there for goodness sake! It is however a reflection on the economy and the ability of that economy to support a population no matter how small. The population was meager and their incomes were meager to match. It was not until later in the 1960s that a grant, I believe, made new restrooms at the rink possible. The facilities did not have flush toilets or running water but it was a Red Letter Day in the community nonetheless; small steps forward.

I realize now that the Devil must have liked to hang out in restrooms, stinky ones, because I think I saw Him myself, behind the Post Office and further behind a shed where my father kept coal for the heater in the Post Office, and a few other building maintenance items. The shed and the Post Office building formed a small closed, secluded, dead end where local men went to relieve themselves if they were too far from home or the hotel. I do not believe that anything nefarious happened in that space as might have happened “in the big city,” but it was very stinky back there.

I recall that the Post Office was robbed one night and the thieves took the safe outside and around into that little stinky spot in their attempt to crack it open. They proceeded to whack it with a sledgehammer until it spilled all of its cash onto the ground – right in the prime restroom traffic and dumping area.  I remember my father laughing his sardonic little laugh, and saying he hoped they enjoyed their dirty money. The Devil probably assisted the robbers that dark night because I am certain that He was there every time I came within a nose breath of that place.

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The Devil lived in the shadows behind that shed… or is that Him by the barrel?  Photo: unknown c. 1954

The Devil is not inherently stupid although He does have His moments where His actions may appear ill advised to say the most, or down right crazy-assed silly to say the least.  Nevertheless, He did not want to repeat the humiliation of losing the deal he attempted to strike with Willie MacCrimmon in the 1930s. He had been biding His time but now the Devil was getting anxious to extract revenge. What began as a slow burn escalated over the intervening 30 years to His being steamed, inflamed, heated, and hot under the collar almost to the boiling point. He wanted to strike while the iron was hot. That is why He made His presence known at the Altamont Rink just before midnight on January 28, 1961. Little did the Altamont curlers know that the Devil was seeking ‘oh so sweet’ revenge, avenging the craftiness of Willie MacCrimmon.  He had already picked out a spot on His trophy shelf, close to the roaring, fiery furnaces of Hell in case He was able to wrest some hardware away from the Altamont do-gooders and have it melted and smelted.

One the Devil’s biggest flaws is that He is terribly vain. The Devil doesn’t see it that way though because vanity for the Devil is a desired trait. It is all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? It took all the will power the Devil could muster to keep low after that fiasco with Willie MacCrimmon. And now He could stand it no longer. Vanity won the day as soon as He learned that Altamont, that little, pipsqueak, curling club in the middle of nowhere, had won “The Old Buffalo.” He was not prepared to suffer any insolence from a band of farmers with manure on their boots and almost broke shopkeepers, curling out of a tin shed they called a “rink” with one sheet of curling ice where you had to duck hockey pucks from the adjoining skating surface every Tuesday and Thursday night and sometimes on Saturday afternoons [This may be a run-on sentence but it is reflective of the run-on thoughts that the Devil was having.] In any case, it was vanity and narrow – mindedness that brought the Devil to Altamont and those same traits allowed him to rejoice and revel in the sheer power he had to disrupt what He deemed to be a gathering of curling impostors.  In doing so, He broke a cardinal rule of the Devil – to make you think He does not exist.

“La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas.” [The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.] – Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen.

The Devil tries to be so invisible that you become complacent, begin to believe that you are safe, and believe that He does not exist after all. He may lay dormant for years and then enter through an almost imperceptible rift in your very Being, perhaps a character flaw such as … take your pick … conceit, vanity or pride of which a ‘kind and caring God’ would not approve as each has elements of egotism and maybe even narcissism that may form one of the “seven deadly sins.”

Yet, pride can masquerade as a positive character trait at times, sitting as it does on the cusp of individual achievement. The desire to be successful and being proud of our successes seem to go hand in hand. It does seem though that it is not a great leap from “pride” to “egotism” or “narcissism.” But where is the tipping point from one to another? I don’t think that it is actually necessary to answer this question with any precision. The important point is to acknowledge that there is a tipping point. The Devil watches for those who have no equilibrium on such matters e.g., pride has already slipped into vanity or worse.

OK, OK, I can hear you all shouting, “What the Hell is going on with the Devil when He crashes through the door into the Altamont Rink?”

Well, first of all, He has to crash through the porch door and then the door into the waiting room – two doors, not one. Give an author a little poetic license and the next thing you know he gets the facts wrong….

Back to January 28, 1961 a few minutes before midnight ….

If you recall, the Altamont curlers were about to celebrate their victory over the Wawanesa Curling Club for their very first ever O’Grady Challenge Trophy aka “The Old Buffalo” when the Devil burst with great sound and steam, if not fury, into the Rink.

The Devil looked around the waiting room of the so-called Altamont “Curling Club” and glanced out at the one sheet of natural curling ice and wondered what it was about this place that made His blood run cold. Yes, you read correctly – the Devil’s blood was running cold! He was truly uncomfortable here – except of course in the rink’s stinky restrooms and places that passed for restrooms. The Devil correctly reasoned that not one of the fine upstanding mostly God fearing citizens was going to accompany Himself (the Devil!) to the bathroom. The air in the waiting room should have been redolent to the Devil – a mixture of hockey players’ jersey and jock strap sweat, old skate mustiness, discarded, soiled underwear and snow pants, and manure scraped from bottoms of farm boots. Still, the Devil’s blood did not respond to these fragrances. You see, the lingering aroma of Soul satiating soup – hot bonspiel soup, ironically, made the Devil’s blood continue its downward temperature plunge. His cooling blood was rapidly turning the heat down on the effectiveness of His hissssssing arrival. No self-respecting Devil wants weak sound and fury so He thought it best to issue His challenge and get the Hell out of there before He got a chill – he didn’t mind a fever, but He hated getting a cold.

So, He spat the challenge out in His best Devilish sssssspit. No, the spittoon in the Altamont Hotel would be of no help here.  Gordon Holliston had been the first to speak when the Devil arrived and the Devil preferred not to look Gordon in the eye. Instead He directed His spit at the two Charlies – Charlie McDonald and Charlie Taylor. Both were members of the winning O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”) team and the Devil perceived, rightly or wrongly, that one of them was the manager and the other was the assistant manager.

The Devil’s challenge went something like this:

Chassssss. and Chassssss. [The Devil had to keep as much ssssssteam going as He possibly could because He feared getting cold feet as His blood cooled.]  I, the Devil, hereby challenge the Altamont Curling Club to a curling sssssssskills competition of Dunbarssssss, for “The Old Goat” Trophy and Sssssspoilsssssss, the detailssssss of which are to be negotiated by the two teamssssss, with the match winner to be determined by ssssssunrise, January 29, 1961.

 SSSSSShould I be victorious (The Devil dug down deep and managed to bring up a heartburn heated burp that punctuated the next words,) I will own the SSSSSSoul of the ‘drawmasssssster’ of each and every Altamont Curling Club bonsssssspiel in perpetuity. SSSSSShould the Altamont Curling Club be ssssssuccessssssful, they sssssshall be the duly appointed official home of the “sssssstuff of Curling” in perpetuity. [Note the Curling – at least the Devil has been paying attention.]

[In a smaller voice,] Failure to accept thissssss offer will ressssssult in automatic forfeiture and your credit cardssssss will be debited $666.66 per month plus interest at 666 per cent per annum in perpetuity.

The two Charlies didn’t really need to put their heads together on this one but they did anyway so as not to let the Devil know that they knew they had to accept the challenge. Having played and watched a lot of billiards in their combined days, the two Charlies knew they were snookered. They needed to make a high risk, tricky shot, or even a risky, trick shot to extract the Altamont Curling Club from this matter. And, yes, they heard the small voice part as well (they were just those kind of guys) but no one in Altamont at that time had hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, which is an irrational fear of the number 666 but they did have a rational fear of usury, money launderers and fly by night crop sprayers.   There was no way they could accept such a penalty even if that would have been a real option because ceding the Soul of the drawmaster of every Altamont bonspiel to the Devil would be a disaster of monstrous proportions. The Devil would win every time! And to top it all off, the “stuff of Curling” was a prize that deserved to be wrested from the grubby hooves of the Devil. It is not clear how He came to be in possession of it anyway – through some scurrilous, Satanic scheme no doubt.

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Not just snookered but behind the 8 ball  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

In true synchronicity the two Charlies turned to the Devil and, blowing cigarette smoke through their nostrils, said, ”You’re on, Beelzebub!” A chorus of cheers erupted from curlers and onlookers alike along with the “glug glug” of liquids and the “clunk clunk” of paper cups in mid-toast. Let the game begin!

The Devil turned in disgust. Not only had Altamont accepted His challenge but the two Charlies, of all people, had called Him by His least favourite name, Beelzebub, and they pronounced it correctly, Be ¦ el ¦ ze ¦ bub and not Bee ¦ zel ¦ bub. This was a frightening prospect to the Devil.

The timeline was short. There was much to be done. The Devil had disappeared but was replaced by His apparent vice-skip, Darth Vader, to negotiate the details. The Altamont team put Lynwood Graham forward for the same purpose. It was a little difficult to understand Darth Vader – there hadn’t been this much heavy breathing in the Altamont Rink since M and R sneaked in late one evening and … well … never mind. In a very obvious move to distract Lynwood, Vader kept waving his light sabre around, almost decapitating anyone within reach. Finally Lynwood put his corn broom into Vader’s mask, irritating Vader’s hay fever to the point where he just sat down with his puffer. Negotiations re-commenced in earnest and were quickly concluded.

Ordinarily I would relegate the following agreement to an Appendix but it is germane to the story line so it is best to leave it in this text proper.

But first, I am certain that you noticed the word “Dunbars” in the Devil’s Challenge “… a curling sssssskills competition of Dunbarssssss,…” What in Hell is a “Dunbar?” That is a good question but luckily I can tell you precisely because I witnessed its introduction into curling lingo many years ago. Let me explain before we get back to the dreary details of the negotiation of the Challenge. It seems that the Devil did not want to end up on the short end of the score as he had with Willie MacCrimmon. Skills challenges and “skins” games are commonplace in curling today but in 1961 there were far fewer such events, and many were just informal wagers between individual curlers. The Devil reasoned that a skills challenge of “Dunbars” would be just the ticket because He can unleash enormous, stupidly wicked power on command. You’ll see.

Today, it commonplace to hear, HURRRRY! HURRRRY HAAAARD! as a curling rock hurtles down the ice with curlers keeping pace to brush as commanded. The curling slider (a shoe specifically designed to slide) has made it possible for a curler to slip and slide gracefully from one end of the ice to the other in a flash. Even better, the slider has made it possible to stay with a rock thrown at great speed and, as the rock approaches the house, to avoid “burning” the thrown rock or any other rocks close to its path. Such a slider, or reasonable facsimile, is a critical technological innovation and a necessary precursor for the creation of the “Dunbar.” I would call it a Beneficial Innovation if you recall the formula for the “Stuff” of Curling presented earlier.

The ”Dunbar”

Many readers will know that “Dunbar” is a town in East Lothian, Scotland. Without belabouring the point, it is unlikely that this town has anything to do with a curling shot called a “Dunbar.” Rather, the “Dunbar” [always capitalized] was originally coined by a young lad named Ronnie and, I believe, is a colloquialism specific to the Altamont area. I am not sure that it has ever been used outside of that locale and indeed it might now be considered archaic and no longer in use. Ronnie was a couple of years older than me and his strong, lithe body was well coordinated and well suited to the mechanics of throwing the curling rock. In fact, he had a long smooth back swing reminiscent of Saskatchewan’s legendary, Bob “Pee Wee” Pickering, who would bring the rock back in a smooth arc up to almost vertical over his head as he transferred his weight to his sliding left foot and pushed off with his right foot into a graceful delivery of the stone. Pickering was able to throw any type of draw weight or take out weight from this same delivery.   Ronnie was less successful in perfecting draw weight but he certainly could throw a “high hard one” or what he called a “Dunbar”.   In fact, the “Dunbar” was Ronnie’s “go to” shot as he was able to get a great push off from his hack foot and he could slid forever – clear down to the other end of the rink – aided by his slippery city shoes, of course, as very few in Altamont could afford proper curling shoes and sliders.

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Bob “Pee Wee” Pickering Photo: Curlsask.ca

Whenever the house was getting crowded with the opponent’s rocks, Ronnie would say “I’ll just throw a Dunbar” which was code for “I’m going to throw the rock so hard and fast that all Hell will break loose” when the rock hits the array of opponent’s rocks. [This may be what the ‘Sociables’ at The Brier mean when they say, “Just huck it.”] When the dust settled, Ronnie hoped that his rock(s) remained and all opposition rocks were blasted clean out of the rings. When Ronnie threw the “Dunbar” all curlers scattered hoping not to be collateral damage as 44 lb. of speeding granite collided with several stationary 44 lb. lumps of granite. The word “finesse” does not come to mind when describing the strategy behind this shot.

The interesting thing about shot making in curling is that the laws of physics apply. I didn’t know this stuff then and I barely understand it now. Curling stones come in matched sets usually and are virtually equal in weight (44 lbs.), height (4.5 inches), circumference (36 inches) and running surface (0.5 inches by 5 inches) to each other. During games, the stones are traveling on close to the same ice surface conditions with some variations depending on the exact spot on the ice. The sides of the sheet will be different than the middle of the ice especially late in the game, as the middle will have had much more use from curlers, rocks and brooms. This just means that the rocks are traveling in an elastic environment.

So consider this:

If Ronnie’s stone hits another stone square on, (an interesting thing to say about round curling stones but “round on” just doesn’t sound right) it will transfer most of its kinetic energy to the hit rock making it move forwards at a similar but somewhat slower speed. Note: when the two stones hit, there is usually a loud noise that means that some energy is lost.  Still, in this case, it is wise to stay out of the path of the stone struck by the “Dunbar.”

However, if the “Dunbar” strikes the stone at an angle pushing it into another stone or stones, the struck stone(s) move forward with less momentum and in a slightly different direction. The more stones involved means that the further along the chain of stones you are, the slower the stones will move.

So what, you say? Well, all of this physics stuff tells us that the promised cataclysmic impact of a “Dunbar” might not materialize. If the struck rock hits one rock and it is the only rock moved out of the rings, then the mission (to cause maximum damage by moving as many opposition stones out of the house as possible) of the “Dunbar” has failed. If the stone hits more than one stone on initial impact and there are many subsequent indirect hits, then the damage to the placement of opposition stones in the rings may be maximized but the danger to participants will have been minimized because the transfer of energy and therefore momentum will be less with each subsequent indirect hit.

But you are not really off the hook if you are looking to save yourself from the experience of a 44 lb. stone striking your feet and legs on a slippery surface causing a fall and a concussion when your head hits the ice surface. The speed of the struck rock may be less and you may have some time to jump out of the way, but if you have no idea about angles then you will be in trouble. It is best to brush up on angles before hand just as you would if you were going to play snooker with a pool shark with money on the rail.

I know that there are many “Dunbar” connections in curling but to my knowledge none were instrumental in the development of the “Dunbar” curling shot.

Robert (Bob) Dunbar and his rink dominated the MCA bonspiel in the 1890s winning the overall and individual trophies more times than I care to document here. In 1901, Dunbar moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, but continued to curl in the MCA bonspiel winning trophies up until 1920. Bob Dunbar’s achievements were recognized with an Honorary Life Membership in the MCA in 1920, and he was inducted into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame in 1996. Given his stature within the game, it is surprising that he did not develop the shot that bore his name.

Kathleen Dunbar is from Stony Plains, Alberta and curls with the Leslie Rogers rink of the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton. They play on the World Tour and are trying to win a berth in the Olympic Games. Cale Dunbar curls in the Westman Super League of Curling, Western Manitoba’s Premier Competitive Curling League. There is no evidence that they or several others named Dunbar can lay claim to the “Dunbar” shot, but if they have proof of provenance, I will gladly concede that point.

Okay, now we know that this “skills” challenge involves curling rocks that will be hurtling down the ice at tremendous speeds – with unknown results waiting at the end. With that in mind let’s get back to the administrator’s dream or nightmare of the “Devil is in the details” agreement between the two teams.

Devil 666 Challenge Agreement between Altamont Curling Club and Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club

The agreement in a nutshell:

Objective:

To eliminate as many stones as possible from a pre-set array or distribution of 8 rocks in the house, by throwing a “Dunbar.”

Definition of “Dunbar:” A curling rock or stone thrown by the curler as fast and as hard as that curler can throw it.

Scoring:

Each stone left, wholly or partially, in the house will count as one (1) point. Points are counted after each shot.

The team with the lowest combined score (total number stones left in the house) after 3 ends of play is declared the winner.

A perfect game is zero (0) points

An “end” is defined as one shot per team.

If the score is tied after three (3) ends, extra ends will continue with players shooting in reverse order from the first three (3) ends, and alternating the reverse order every (3) three ends thereafter until a winner is determined after a complete end.

Selection of players:

[There was much discussion over the selection of players as each side wanted to put forward their best but each side was understandably reluctant to face the other team’s best. In other words, each team wanted to complicate things a little in order to gain an advantage. Finally, they agreed on a process of player selection that was a strange cross between hockey player draft and jury selection.]

Each team will nominate eight (8) players;

Each team will have three (3) opportunities to challenge one (1) of the opposing team’s nominations making said player ineligible for play, not to exceed a maximum of three (3) players per team;

After each challenge, the team whose player has been challenged shall select one (1) player to be eligible for play.

Order of Selection/Challenge:

The winner of a ‘draw to the button’ contest has the option to select first or to challenge first. Subsequent picks and challenges alternate between teams until three (3) players per team are declared eligible.

Each team shall provide one (1) player to participate in the ‘draw to the button’ contest; said player may be any member of their curling club i.e., they need not be from the list of players nominated for play.

Rules of play:

Each team must indicate the order in which players will shoot prior to the start of play in the first end.

The “house” shall be pre-set with an array of 8 rocks.

Each curler will deliver one shot to eliminate (takeout) as many rocks as possible from the house.

After each shot, the house will be re-set with the identical placement for the next player.

Teams will alternate shots.

The short hand version is that three players from each team, each deliver one rock directed to a specific array of rocks, with the objective to hit as many rocks as they can out of house. After three shots, the team with the lowest aggregate number of rocks remaining in the house is the winner.

[Hey look, this has to be true because I couldn’t just make this ‘stuff’ up, eh?]

Before getting into the actual play during the challenge, I think it might useful to know something more about the teams and each of the curlers nominated. Personally, I am not  placing a wager on the outcome as anything can happen when the Devil is involved but I know that many curling fans do gamble. I am not just talking about buying 50/50 tickets. If gambling is one of your proclivities perhaps treat these next sections as your racing form

Altamont Curling Club Team and Player Nominations

Manager: Charlie McDonald  One of the “two Charlies,” Charlie McDonald was one of those people who always seemed to be around to help others when they needed it. Charlie married Bessie Holliston in 1936 and they lived closer than a curling stone’s throw from the Altamont Rink. Indeed, Bessie’s family donated the land on which the Rink was built. If Charlie was ever needed at the Rink, he could be there in a flash. I recall that Charlie worked for many years at the St. Leon Co-op Garage in Altamont. He also went south into the United States in mid-summer with Vern Ticknor’s threshing crew to “custom combine,” following the harvest north into Canada in September. His role as Manager of the Altamont team stemmed from his ability to keep things organized and to ensure the performers (curlers) had what they needed.

Assistant Manager: Charlie Taylor  The other half of the “two Charlies” farmed mostly in the Deerwood district but was never far from the Altamont sports scene. I don’t recall that Charlie was a great curler but he did play in four matches of the O’Grady Challenge Trophy including the very first challenge in 1961 and had a record of 2 wins and 2 losses overall. His contemporaries often joked that his initials were Cwt which pretty much summed up his physical stature. [Cwt is 100 pounds in U.S. measurement or 45.36 kg (a short hundredweight or cental.) In the British Imperial System Cwt was equal to 110 pounds or 50.80 kg or a quintal.]  He was never shy to voice his views on almost any subject matter. Charlie probably saw his position as being more “Coach” than “Assistant Manager” but not everyone saw it quite that way.

Murray “Moe” Stockford was, and still is, a farmer, musician, athlete, father, devoted husband to his wife June, and conscientious citizen in the community. A quiet, patient man of considerable prowess, skill and abilities making him a valued leader in whichever role he assumed. He came by these traits honestly in that his parents, Frank and Olive Stockford, were talented individuals in their own right and very giving of those talents to the community. You will also remember Olive from her curling success noted in Part I of this series.

[If memory serves me correctly though, Murray had considerably more patience and less of a temper than his father. I do recall Frank and I searching for about half and hour to find a wrench that Frank had pitched wildly into the deep bush when the baler broke down and we were having difficulty making the repair. We did find it and all was right with the world.]

Murray Stockford is one of those men who never swore, or if he did, I never heard him. The worst words he could utter, even in the most trying of circumstances, was “Garrrssshh!” or the less emphatic “Gooosshh!)

Murray’s curling credentials are excellent and at this time he is just on the cusp of more curling success in the O’Grady Challenge Trophy curling. He would eventually participate in 9 of the 11 O’Grady games Altamont played. [The Devil with his prescience factor would know this fact.]

Lynwood Graham was a strong man, quick to the boil but equally quick to the simmer. He was a farmer, devoted family man and committed to serving his community. His grandparents, George and Della, were among the first to homestead in the Altamont area circa 1878 so his identification with the community had long and deep roots. From the Graham’s farmyard at the crest of a low sloping hill you could gaze across fields of grain and the bucolic pastures of the McGillivray and McCaffrey farms to the Stockford farm. The Grahams and Stockfords farmed collaboratively, joining forces particularly at haying and harvesting times.

Lynwood was an excellent curler, skipping his rinks to many victories. He was integral to Altamont’s success in the O’Grady challenges. I remember Lynwood as having a reddish complexion but that may be because I mostly saw him during haying season with the June and July heat and sun beating down on our heads, necks and shoulders.

As I said, Lynwood was a powerful man and could pitch heavy hay bales all day as if they were bales of fluff. (This was before the big round hay bales of today.) We built haystacks in the fields for retrieval later in the fall or over the winter. Building stacks required an architectural mind to match size and hardness of bales to be placed strategically to avoid corner sag or outright collapse of an entire side of the stack and, of course, to minimize spoilage. Lynwood was expert at stack building and I recall that the bales sailed from his powerful arms across the top of the stack landing so close to their appointed spots in the architecture that they only needed to be shuffled into place. Speaking of power, Lynwood once sneezed an extraordinarily powerful sneeze as he was rounding a corner with a load of grain. That sneeze and the attention that it required, coming as it did from his rather prominent nose, blew him clean into the ditch.

Robert (Bob) Dunbar was, in fact, a “ringer”as he was not a member of the Altamont Curling Club at all and was not even alive at the time of this challenge. [Hey! No one ever said the Altamont team were not “resourceful.”]  You met Dunbar briefly earlier in our discussion of the “Dunbar.” His name was submitted in the hope that the Devil would not notice and waste a challenge as Dunbar was a pioneer in the sport of curling.  Born in Nova Scotia he was an all-round athlete who excelled in track and field, ice-skating, and roller-skating. He took up curling with a passion after moving to Winnipeg in the late 1870s. Curling out of the Thistle Curling Club, Dunbar and his rink dominated the MCA bonspiel for man years.

Bob Dunbar, a man ahead of his time, understood the advantages to changing the ergonomics of the curler’s delivery, paving the way for the slide delivery of today. Moreover, his competitiveness led him to be strategically astute using the “take out” game to his advantage. Interestingly, in future years the rules of curling would be changed to ensure more rocks would stay in play curtailing the advantage that the take out game provided. Nevertheless, to my knowledge, this ‘game changer’ never perfected the shot that would bear his name, “a Dunbar,” but he would most certainly have been suited to it.

Neuro de Generative. In most people’s minds Neuro is a relative newcomer to curling but he has in fact been around for a very long time, since 1817 in fact when Dr. James Parkinson identified his characteristics and gave him some prominence. Still, he stayed mostly in the background, waiting for an opportunity to get into a game that wasn’t called “shuffleboard” although he might shuffle when he does get into the game.

At first Neuro is barely noticeable, just hanging around the fringes; his presence identified only by those who have an extremely well developed awareness of their own bodies and minds; sometimes his face shows no emotion as if masked. Many are fooled into thinking that Neuro has no sense of humour as a result. Fleetingly at first but ever so gradually his true nature appears in the boutique versions of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease,) Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, etc.

Because the average age of curlers in the early years of the sport was somewhere over 50 years old, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s (or “Shaking Palsy” as it was often called) affected curlers disproportionately – or should I say affected former curlers disproportionately because many gave up playing the sport when their condition worsened. It just became too onerous to wrestle with tremor, involuntary muscle movements, cramping muscles, lack of balance, etc. More recently though, curling, boxing, dance, cycling, and a whole host of other activities are all recommended as they give people living with neurological conditions a reason to move, to exercise. Exercise seems to delay the progression of such diseases. This is good news. But the average age of curlers has been decreasing and unfortunately more younger people are  also contracting neurological diseases which are finding a home in the brains and bodies of what is called the “young onset” group. This is not good news.

Neuro was not a fantastic curler with his shaky, unbalanced delivery and slow, uncoordinated sweeping style, but he rarely missed the broom and never gave up even though the neurons in his brain were dying and robbing him of greater and greater measures of dopamine. By the time he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s over 70 percent of his dopamine producing neurons had already died. There is no cure and his condition will inevitably get worse, although exercise, physiotherapy, diet, good mental health, medical advice from neurologists, pharmaceutical therapies, medical devices, social supports, caregiver support, and the love of family and friends will give him many additional years of enhanced quality of life.

At first, it seems difficult to understand why Neuro de Generative’s name was forwarded in the Altamont nominations. In fact, the Devil Himself loved Neuro because he was subtle, stubborn, tenacious, insidious, debilitating, and yes maybe even a little Soul sucking in his approach. These were all traits valued by the Devil and were music to His ears. The Devil was beside Himself with glee when He saw Neuro’s name on the Altamont list of eligible nominees. Any observer, independent or not, would think that the Altamont team had taken leave of their senses … no… had gone stark raving mad … no, had a death wish!

Neuro de Generative was a complex individual; his personality was multidimensional, and many of his seeming failings were also strengths. He never denied those weaknesses but accepted them as integral to his identity. Most importantly, while it took great concentration and awareness of mind and body, he never allowed the weaknesses to overpower the strengths. It seems odd to say that, doesn’t it? But it is such an accurate depiction of what must happen with any degenerative disease. Neuro was an inspiration that way.

Walter John Wilson was one of seven sons and a daughter born to Jack and Eva (née Lyle) Wilson who were married in 1918. Walter was born in 1921 and like his father was educated in Altamont. He joined the 1st Manitoba Mounted Rifles (MMR) and in 1940 he enlisted with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles “Little Black Devils” under the command of Colonel Jack Bingham from nearby Deerwood, an even smaller community than Altamont if you can believe it. The “Little Black Devils” became one of the most famous monikers in the Commonwealth Armed Forces, earned at the Battle of Fish Creek (Saskatchewan) in 1885 where, a prisoner awed by the sharp shooting militia was heard to say, “the red coats we know, but who are those little black devils?” The name stuck and General Middleton himself referred to the MMR by that sobriquet in official documentation. Soon the nickname was officially recognized, and the devil and motto Hosti Acie Nominati (Named by the Enemy,) has been a source of pride and bragging rights ever since.

[The irony here is just too great for me to pass up a comment. The Battle of Fish Creek is widely believed to have been a major victory for the Métis against General Middleton’s forces forestalling, temporarily at least, Middleton’s advance on Batoche.]

I have no idea whether Walter Wilson was a good curler or not but the Altamont team were familiar with his family and welcomed him to the task. They respected his time with the “Little Black Devils.” The Devil, on the other hand, did not know what to make of Walter’s nomination. Was the Altamont team trying to “buffalo” him, as they were the holders of the O’Grady Trophy?  In any case, the Devil was not uncomfortable with Walter’s nomination.

Bert Marshall, former proprietor of the Altamont Restaurant, Postmaster, Rawleigh Products Salesman, husband to wife Kay, father to one son and two daughters, gardener and amateur horticulturalist, conscientious community citizen, and general all around philosopher, scientist, and busybody. He arrived in Altamont in 1950 with his wife Kay and red haired son to operate the local restaurant, poolroom and barbershop. Being neither good cooks nor willing to stay open six days a week until 9 or 10 at night they sold the restaurant about five years later, bought the building that housed the Post Office, and Bert became the Postmaster succeeding Steve Bishop. Bert continued to barber and began to sell Rawleigh Products and Wawanesa Insurance polices while operating the local bus depot, confectionery and comic book store (and you thought I learned to read at school!)

Altamont Post Office Colleen photo 2014

Former Altamont, Manitoba Post Office  Photo: C. Baumann 2014

It is reported from reliable sources that Bert was not a great curler at the time but he would eventually play on three Altamont teams in the O’Grady Challenge Trophy competition. Their record during that time was not great with one win (against Charleswood) and two losses (against Gilbert Plains and Roland.)

Dick Mussell was not quite the hermit, recluse or even the mountain man that people made him out to be but he was an interesting character who kept to himself most of the time. Living in a tiny ‘shanty’ just west of Altamont he was about 70 years ahead of the “Tiny House” craze that has been sweeping Canada and the U.S. recently. It seems you can’t watch any Home and Garden TV these days without watching an environmentalist, youthful idealist, or newly minted single parent with 2 children and a Labrador dog, search for the perfect “Tiny House” of 280 square feet on a budget of $22,000. Well, Dick lived the tiny house life in the first half of the 20th Century and he did not live as a complete hermit or recluse. A hermit usually has some religious reasons for choosing solitude while a recluse seeks to avoid social interaction and prefers a solitary existence. There is no evidence to suggest that Dick’s lifestyle was chosen to meet religious strictures. While Dick might appear to meet some of the criteria for being a recluse, his social side was never very far from the surface. He did enjoy his weekly ride into town on his horse, Queenie, on

Altamont curlers IMG_5472

Altamont Curlers  Far right is Dick Mussell  Photo: unknown

Saturdays to have Bessie McDonald at the grocery store fill his standing order of groceries, while he joined others to quaff a few beers in the Altamont Hotel.  By the way, this infamous hotel stands today, pretty much as it did in Dick’s day and it is not hard to see why Dick might feel at home there.

But there was one other activity that was sure to draw Dick out of his shanty and away from hunting and trapping, and that was a chance to curl. The photo above shows Dick with other curlers from Altamont. Dick always was protective of his personal space. Note how he is slightly separated from the others. Also, note their brooms – no slap,slap,slap from their straws.  Dick never expressed any fear of the Devil so when consulted about his possible inclusion in the challenge, Dick allowed his name into nomination as one of the eight names on the Altamont list.

 The Devil and Dick?

I have a very significant aside to tell you at this point. There is some evidence that, in his early life, Dick had confronted the Devil. As we know, the Devil cleanses our “cerebral hard drives” after any contact.   By all rights, then, Dick should have no recollection of that encounter. Still, there is a belief that Dick and the Devil had a “devil of a fight” and “all Hell broke loose” leaving the Devil enervated as He battled to overcome Dick’s inherent benevolence and humanity. The Devil’s psyche and energies were spent and drained to such a degree that He was not able to fully expunge Dick’s brain of all recollection. Dick managed to mount Queenie and rode off into the woods. Dick, for his part, could only recall the encounter as if through a frozen ice fog, and these recollections happen only when the temperature reaches -40F or -40C i.e., “when Hell freezes over.” This convergence of the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales is not common but Dick lived in rural Manitoba and it happens more often than you might think. Please note that I cannot make any definitive statement about this theory at this juncture as more research needs to done, and you can’t muck around in Devil “stuff” without financial backing. I just don’t want to sell my Soul to the Devil for this project and, believe me, the Devil would make such a deal in a heartbeat. Enough of that for now and I will update you when I have new information.

The Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club team and player nominations with brief biography

Manager: The Devil  The Devil is a bad man.  He wants a bad man in charge.  So, the Devil is in charge. Got it?

Assistant Manager: The Devil The Devil is way more bad than just one bad man so He can be assistant bad man in charge too!

Recall that the Devil’s team against Willie MacCrimmon had Guy Fawkes playing lead, Judas Iscariot throwing second stones, and Macbeth at vice – skip. The Devil was not inclined to use any of those losers this time around. He needed a fresh team, a team motivated to win. The Devil checked the availability of several possible choices but many were not available due to previous commitments e.g., Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was busy working with Fidel Castro in Cuba. In any case, the Devil had a niggling feeling that neither Khrushchev nor Castro would provide unqualified support when it counted. Also, He was sure that Nikita had thrown away one of his curling shoes in that display of temper, October 1960, at the United Nations.

In the end, Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club put forward the following names for players:

The Devil. There is really nothing to be said about this nomination. He is the baddest, bad narcissist and He likes the look of being in charge.

Darth Vader. The Devil believed He could always count on the Dark Side of the Force to be with Him. Who cares if he can curl? The Devil reasoned that Vader’s voice was just crazy, freaky nasty and he had a cooooool light sabre.

Magnus Djävulsson. No one knows much about Magnus although it is rumoured that his family originally emigrated from Iceland to Canada (Winmount, Ontario) in 1870 and bounced to Manitoba in 1875 to settle near Narcisse, Manitoba midway between Gimli and Lundar and close to Arborg which claims the world’s largest curling rock at 4.2 m (13.78 feet) in diameter, 2.1 m (6 ft 10.68 in) tall, and weighing in at 1.5 tonnes. The rock celebrates the historical success of high school curling teams from the area going back to the 1940s.

Magnus’ ancestors were Icelandic on his mother’s side and Swedish on his father’s side. Magnus’ surname, loosely translated, seems to mean son of the Devil. He curled out of several different clubs over the years with varying degrees of success throwing lead or second stones. None of the teams ever came close to winning the Consols, emblematic of the men’s provincial championship.

Although he was a rugged and handsome man, he never married, perhaps because he was terribly vain and couldn’t pass a mirror or window without stopping to check out his reflection. He carried a black rat tail comb in his right back pocket at all times and had perfected its removal and subsequent sweep through his Brylcreemed hair to such a degree that it was often parodied by his friends and fellow curlers. Magnus, lost in his own world, did not seem to care.  An only child, the family lineage in Canada ended with his death in 1970.

Interesting isn’t it that in Greek mythology Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope? He was so beautiful that when he saw his refection in a pool of water, he fell in love with it not realizing that it was just an image. Unable to leave it, he lost the will to live and died. Today, narcissism means a fixation with oneself and one’s appearance. The very fact that Magnus Djävulsson’s family settled in Narcisse signalled that Magnus was damaged goods and the Devil just could not resist adding this depth of vanity and egotism to His list of nominated outcasts.

On the other hand, the daffodil is the common name for the narcissus plant. From the family, Amaryllidaceae, these beautiful flowers pop through the snow shortly after snowdrops and crocus in the spring. They are among my favourites precisely because they are the death knell for winter and indeed, the most common meaning for daffodils is “rebirth”. Some may think that they get a little caught up in their own beauty as they dominate the spring landscape but I feel they are a perfect foil for any early spring snowy Devilishness.

Daffies IMG_1581

Narcissus, common name Daffodil   Photo: The PD Gardener 2014

Johann Faust is the same inquisitive Faust who summoned the Devil in a forest near Wittenberg. The Devil appears as a greyfriar called Mephistopheles and Faust cuts a deal to give Mephistopheles his Soul in exchange for 24 years of service. Faust has a ball for about 16 years and then tries to back out of the deal. The Devil cuts off this notion by producing Helen of Troy with whom Faust takes up a relationship. As the 24 years expire Satan announces Faust’s death and at midnight Faust dies a gruesome death. His eyes are found in his room while his body is found in the courtyard. If the Devil got Faust’s Soul, then Faust will play with Him in this curling challenge.

Robert Johnson, an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist is said to have followed in Faust’s footsteps by selling his Soul to the Devil in return for success and recognition in the music industry. He never lived to see this recognition but his music, recorded largely in the mid – 1930s, has been a major influence on several generations of musicians after his death, attributed to poisoning at the age of 27. Perhaps, the Devil already has his Soul.

Severus Snape, devotee of the “Dark Arts” in Harry Potter. Even though it seems that Snape redeems himself and forms a strong bond with Dumbledore and carries out Dumbledore’s own request to be killed, Snape’s motives are largely unclear. Did Dumbledor sell his Soul to the Devil? Did Snape? Was Snape a double agent? What does the Devil know that we don’t? No matter, the Devil wrote Snape’s name on His list.

Rumplestiltskin seems a strange choice but he was a natural from the Devil’s point of view. “Rum-pie,” as the Devil called him, has the technology to turn straw into gold and the Devil’s challenge to the Altamont curlers was taking place during the hay day (so to speak) of the corn or straw broom in curling. The Devil was always looking for an edge in the strangest of places.

Bernie “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone (pronounced Gee – off – ree – on with a silent “Z.”) Bernie’s main claim to fame is that he is an acknowledged leader in curling technological innovation. He began his career in the mid – 1830s by working on a project to “pebble” the ice surface diminishing friction by reducing the area of direct contact between the stone’s running surface and the ice surface. Pebbling the ice is a very important aspect of the game today as it allows sweepers to make a difference in the rock’s speed and amount of curl.

“Broom Broom” also has been influential in some rules and regulations changes. He was a consultant to a group assessing the impact of the “Guard Free Zone” on the “hitting game” where equally skilled teams could just exchange hit and peel (roll out) strategies keeping scores low and last rock only meant something in the first end.

Currently, ”Broom Broom” has been working on new type of curling broom called the “Devil’s Paint Brush” which has a feathery material of bright colours that allows for greater control over the behaviour of the rock by the sweepers. It does not contain waterproofed fabric, “stiffening” inserts or directional fabric. “Broom Broom” and his principal financial backer, Devil to Pay Inc., are claiming that their broom has been unfairly caught up in a ban of new brooms under the directional fabric broom ban of 2016.  GeoFreeZone is also a principal in the popular hairpiece firm, Devil Toupee Inc., a subsidiary of Devil to Pay Inc. Devil Toupee, not so coincidentally, provides hair to make many brands of curling brooms. “Broom Broom” is both vertically integrated and horizontally diversified in his personal portfolio.

But can GeoFreeZone curl? Who knows for sure? He hangs around the same places (curling clubs) as the elite curlers, but then so do a lot of other folks. If the Devil has to call on him, will he be able to deliver, so to speak? It remains to be seen whether “Broom Broom” can master the “Dunbar”, a shot he had absolutely no input into creating. He just never frequented those small bonspiels where the curling club did not have a private bar to run his personal tab. Actually, most of those clubs had no bar at all and drinks were dispensed from brown paper bags or silver flasks won in some other bonspiel. Nevertheless, the Devil trusted Bernie because Bernie idolized his adopted namesake Bernie Madoff. Bernie never liked “Broom Broom” as a nickname but his full legal name was Gladwynn Wynn Geoffrey GeoFreeZone (with a silent Z) and he didn’t much like that either, so he opted for the more informal moniker “Bernie” in order to cultivate comfortable conversation with his clients. Bernie was successful in keeping “Broom Broom,” his image for marketing curling equipment quite separate from “Bernie,” his image as financier for innovation among elite curlers, operating from 17th floor offices on Bay St.

Challenges and selections: The teams are formed

In true curling fashion they had a draw to the button contest between the two mangers with the winner having the choice to challenge first or second. So, it was Charlie McDonald against the Devil. The Devil won and surprise, surprise, elected to challenge first which meant the Altamont team would select first in the first selection round.

The round by round results are below:

Devil Challenge 1: Bob Dunbar.

The Altamont ruse worked in that it left other good Altamont players to be selected.  Bob Dunbar was rejected by the Devil because Dunbar was just too much of a pioneer, quick to learn and understand change and quick to adapt his strategy accordingly. The risk was too great for the Devil to take.

Altamont Challenge 1: Severus Snape

Well another surprise, surprise! The Altamont team announced they were challenging Severus Snape. It seems that their collective fear of snakes was greater than their collective fear of the Devil. So Snape was kicked to the boards.

Altamont Select 1: Lynwood Graham.

The Devil was furious as He began to realize what had happened. But the rules specified no appeals, just the way the Devil wanted it when He was dealing for Souls. The Devil had wanted to reject Lynwood mostly because the challenge involved throwing a “Dunbar” and Lynwood might just be too strong for the Devil’s liking.

Devil Select 1: Darth Vader

Holy Light Sabre! Everyone was betting that the Devil would protect Himself. Perhaps, He was overconfident that the opposing team would never dare to challenge Him and protected Darth Vader instead.

Devil Challenge 2: Murray “ Moe” Stockford

The Devil just could not afford to have the Graham – Stockford connection working against Him, so He challenged and eliminated Murray “Moe” Stockford. The fact is that when the Devil reviewed Murray’s biography, he was rejected immediately as not having a Soul that was consonant with the Devil’s raison d’être.

Altamont challenge 2: The Devil!

Hey, the Altamont Team did it! The Devil is out!

Altamont Select 2: Walter Wilson

You might surmise that the Devil would not mind the inclusion of someone from the RWR “Little Black Devils” and you are right. The Devil allowed a little smile when Walter’s name was called. Nevertheless, the Altamont team was also content with the selection

Devil Select 2: Magnus Djävulsson.

The Devil’s tail was switching all over the place as it betrayed his vexation with the process. But He needed a real curler on His team so he picked Magnus Djävulsson.  Magnus was very surprised when he was notified but he was a competitor and would do his best when his time to shoot arrived.

Devil Challenge 3: Dick Mussell

As indicated earlier, the Devil and Dick had unfinished business but the Devil was not willing to finish it in this Challenge and opted to keep Dick on the sidelines.

Altamont Challenge 3: Bernie “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone (pronounced Gee – off – ree – on with a silent “Z.”)

The Altamont team could not in all conscience allow themselves to be contaminated by the slime left in “Broom Broom’s” wake even if they were competing against him.

Altamont Select 3: Neuro de Generative

This announcement was to everyone’s total shock, surprise and stupefaction! The Devil grew worried that the Altamont team was pulling a fast one on Him. These rubes, these hayseeds, these bumpkins, these hillbillies had better watch themselves.

Devil Select 3: Robert Johnson

The Devil took great pleasure in announcing that Robert Johnson would be on the His rink as He fully expected that Johnson would write and sing a ballad about this historic confrontation, chronicling the victory of a team He was beginning to call “The Satanic” in a sink or swim attempt at re-branding.

Recap of the final team members

Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club: Darth Vader, Magnus Djävulsson, Robert Johnson. Sweepers: Rumplestiltskin and Johann Faust.

Altamont Curling Club: Lynwood Graham, Walter Wilson, Neuro de Generative. Sweepers: Bert Marshall and Charlie Taylor.

The stones would be delivered from the far end of the sheet so that spectators would have the best view of the house from the bleachers set up behind the glass.

Challenge sells out (or maybe someone sells out?)

As happens in small towns, there is not much that stays a secret for very long and word leaked out about the Devil’s challenge. The good citizens began to converge on the small rink, jamming the waiting room, standing on the skating ice and the walkway between the skating rink and the curling ice. A few children escaped their beds and clambered up onto the rafters above the skating rink. Once they were within the boundaries of the Rink they could not leave until the challenge was over. None of the spectators would remember anything.

The Altamont team was beginning to be concerned for the health and safety of the ordinary, non-curling population, especially the children, but they also welcomed all the support they could get. Besides, Bessie McDonald already had three teenagers, Cliff, Diane, and Margaret selling tickets to those who had already entered or who wanted to enter. Perhaps, they would make enough for a new coffee urn and a soup pot for the Rink’s kitchen.

Bessie and her brother, Gordon Holliston, were settled into their customary seats in the second row of the waiting room bleachers. Jim Sharp, a carpenter/handyman and frequent visitor to Altamont, was passing by and brought a strong odour of beer, cigar smoke and garlic to the affair. Gordon Lowry along with Howard and Dora Andrews also had coveted bleacher seats.

The curling ice was almost ready for play. Young George Friesen shepherded the sheepskin up the sheet and back. At each end he exuberantly swept gray detritus from its woolly surface, proof that the ice surface was now clean. Charlie Taylor grabbed the pebble can and proceeded to lay the pebble down, cigarette hanging from his lower lip as he moved backward down the ice, carefully distributing the fine spray of water droplets from a dented and beat up cylinder of water with an equally dented and beat up sprinkle head. Charlie’s ability to keep that cigarette stuck to his lower lip always amazed me. That, and the ability to keep about an inch of ash on the end of the cigarette and always make it to an ashtray or suitable spot to place one nicotine stained finger on the cigarette to tap the ash off.

Ashtrays, usually tobacco cans, were placed strategically at each end of the curling ice and along its sides. These ash cans are important curling infrastructure as cigarette and cigar ash is not conducive to a smooth and continuous motion of a curling rock. In fact, it can sometimes have disastrous results. Bob Weeks in Curling Etcetera records an instance in the 1936 Brier where Manitoba curling great Ken Watson gave his lead, Charlie Kerr, a cigar to smoke before the game. Charlie smoked it during the game and by this I mean that it very seldom left his mouth even while sweeping. [This would have just made me want to gag.] The Watson rink was counting five when the sixth stone was stopped in its tracks by an ash, falling from Kerr’s cigar, as he was sweeping. When the end was over, Watson counted seven but it could have been eight if not for the cigar ash.

In any case, Charlie Taylor was either oblivious to the possible consequences of a cigarette ash falling to the ice surface or was supremely confident that the cigarette ash had enough structural integrity to remain on the end of his cigarette until he reached the end of the sheet and the pebble was finished. It did not fall until Charlie tapped it into an ash can. Charlie was always confident if nothing else.

It’s game on

The Devil won the right to challenge or select first so the Altamont team would have the right to decide to shoot first or last. A small wave of disbelief rattled the Rink’s tin roof as Charlie McDonald announced that the Altamont team had elected to shoot first. What the …?  Well, it had been a night for surprises and it continued to be.

I am not privy to the logic behind the respective strategies for the selection of players or the order of play. I can only speculate that Altamont was counting on Lynwood Graham to blaze the way with a fantastic, blistering, blast creating so much anger and consternation among the Devil’s accomplices that they would become disoriented and screw up, to use the mild technical term. The Devil, in turn, wanted Darth Vader and whatever force Vader had on the Dark Side, to be with Him on the last shot.

Curling set array 3 IMG_0181

Set array of rocks. Bottom is back of the house

In the meantime, Howard Andrews and Magnus Djävulsson threw eight stones from the far hack into the house at the home end of the ice producing the array of rocks that each curler would face in turn (see diagram.)

[ … Time passes … ]

Years of research have taught me that it is not unusual for significant amounts of time, money, or other things to go missing in challenges or events involving the Devil.  Whether it is the 18 minutes missing from the Watergate tapes, missing millions of dollars thought to have been paid to US lobbyists by Sri Lanka, or missing and misplaced principal residences for Canadian Senators, the pattern is there.

So it was with this challenge. The competition began and the first four stones were delivered – two for Altamont (by Lynwood Graham and Walter Wilson) and Two for the Devil (by Magnus Djävulsson and Robert Johnson)– with no details surviving aside from the score.

I apologize but there is nothing that I can do to retrieve additional details – short of selling my Soul to the Devil, that is.

Stan Mascots 2 IMG_0561

The PD Gardener at work researching the Devil   Photo: G. Bialkoski 2016

So, what’s happening?

We pick it up after the 2nd end with the score at Devil 3 and Altamont 4. In other words, the Devil’s team has left three stones in the rings and Altamont has left 4 stones in the house. The Devil is in the lead by one stone as low aggregate score wins. Only last rock for each team remains. Neuro de Generative will throw last rock for Altamont and Darth Vader will throw for the Devil – an interesting match up in and of itself.

Wait!!! What is Bert Marshall doing?

I hesitate to raise this matter but I feel that I must, in the interest of full disclosure, tell you that my father is the Bert Marshall referenced in this story. Regrettably and with some trepidation, I also disclose that I have uncovered some evidence that Bert Marshall was seen huddling with the Devil at the conclusion of the 2nd end. Only two or three individuals know of this clandestine meeting and I guess I could use my curling corn broom to sweep it under the rug but it is likely better to come clean about the “huddle” to maintain my personal integrity.

I am still picking through a mountain of misinformation and working with a medium (not a Tim Horton’s medium) to channel Dick Mussell who may have some foggy memory that may clarify the matter. At this point I have the following snippets of conversation as told by someone from the Devil’s side who claims to have observed the meeting and heard the informal conversation which took place under the bleachers. [Geez, you would think they could have found a better place.]

“…. the Devil situated himself quite close to Bert and whispered, “If you give me an idea I use, I will make it worth your while….”

Bert took out his handkerchief and blew his nose because … well because that is what he always does. Bert looked off to the side and whispered, “I always wanted to score an 8- Ender….”

What the heck was that all about and why would Bert huddle with the Devil without taking a third party to witness and corroborate any discussion or agreement? It also begs a second question with a potentially more explosive answer. Did Bert Marshall (my father) sell his Soul to the Devil (or worse yet, sell out the Altamont team) for an 8 – Ender? Does the man pictured below seem like he knows curling perfection is in his future?

Raleigh man 1963 IMG_3952

Bert Marshall, 2 years after the Devil’s Challenge  Photo: Unknown

I am still trying to reconstruct these events and reach a definitive conclusion but at this time I am not in a position to address my findings without some independent peer evaluation and corroboration of my research. [No! – that doesn’t mean we are looking for an insane Parkie storyteller!] I will update you as soon as new information is available.

de Generative delivers Altamont’s last stone

Altamont Curling Club supporters shuddered when they realized that their last “Dunbar” rock (the Devil’s team had the hammer or last rock) would be thrown by none other than Neuro de Generative, a curler who

  • Had a bad case of the “shakes” at the best of times;
  • Had more times when he was “off” than when he was “on” but when he was “on” he was really “on!”
  • Was unpredictable as to when he would be “on” or “off.”
  • Often went onto the ice surface and “froze” even when the weather was quite mild;
  • Needed a pat on the behind from a teammate’s broom in order to get moving again;
  • Had to seek the bathroom quickly and often when he was “off;”
  • Sometimes was sapped of all strength and found it impossible to throw the curling rock such that it crossed the hog line never mind reached the house for a take out;
  • Sometimes was so uncoordinated when sweeping that they called for him to be not just “off” but “right off!”
  • Moved very slowly at times making it impossible for him to keep pace with a rock thrown with any speed;
  • Was often so rigid that he could not sit comfortably in the hack to deliver the rock;
  • Sometimes fell into the path of rocks, “burning” them while trying to tiptoe slide through rocks in the house while sweeping;
  • Could not smell ”burned” rocks – or the coffee that he overcooked on the old pot belly stove;
  • And the list goes on … and on – but often “off.”

To put this into perspective, the year is 1961 and nobody really understood Neuro’s condition as a treatable medical one.  Levodopa, the gold standard for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, was not developed until the late 1960s and the brand name drug, Sinemet (levodopa/carbidopa,) was not in widespread use until the 1970s.

In 1961, this was just the way Neuro was and, to be honest, most of the other curlers had the same things happen to them more than once – sometimes as part of the aging process but more often from a love of the more liquid part of the game.

So, what happened when Neuro threw his rock?  The following account is pieced together from Dick Mussell’s recollection as told to those three guys, Scotty, Buster and Phil, who told it to me quite some time ago. Sorry, there were no handy video cameras or telecasts of the games back then. This is the best we have. I can only say that, for my part, I am recounting the facts of the events exactly as they were described to me in the mid-1970s. In order to make it more understandable to the generations who have grown up with live play-by-play of sports (thank you Curt Gowdy and ABC’s Wide World of Sports – “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,”) let’s listen to how the legendary Cactus Jack Wells, and elite curler and broadcaster/colour commentator, Bob Picken, might have called the play-by-play.

DEVL 666 Radio play-by-play of the final stones

The broadcast leads with a verse of “Devil or Angel,” The Clovers 1956 original pop hit playing in the background. [Note: Bobby Vee covered this tune in 1960 taking it to the top of the charts once again and it was fresh on all minds, even curlers’ minds, in 1961.

Network Announcer: DEVL 666 Radio now takes you to Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken at the Altamont Rink for a real treat – The Devil vs Altamont in a winner take all, no holds barred, Devil may care, hotter than Hades, curling shoot off….

Cactus Jack: Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it?

Bob Picken: It sure did Jack and it is such a privilege to be invited to the historic Altamont Rink to witness this unusual curling challenge. As you know, space is limited and people are having a devil of a time finding tickets even though it was put together very quickly.

Cactus Jack: Right you are, Bob. I am often high in the Winnipeg Arena and Bomber Stadium – hmmm, perhaps I should phrase that differently – but we are really up in the rafters here at the Altamont Rink!

Bob Picken: Yes we are, and we have ice level seats!

To be continued:

Next time:  The last rocks are thrown in the thrilling conclusion to one of the greatest curling confrontations ever!  Can the Altamont Curling Club keep the Devil from capturing the Soul of the draw master of the Altamont Bonspiel?  Will the Altamont Curling Club keep the “stuff of Curling” safe from contamination by the Devil, and how will we know what “stuff” is, even if they do?

There seems to be a lot of pressure on the Altamont curlers, don’t you think?  So,let’s put some pressure on the Devil:  Can the Devil avoid eternal embarrassment by not losing to this team of hicks curling out of a tin shack?

Whose side is Bert Marshall on and does it make any difference anyway? And, what is a double Gordon?

The answers to these questions and more in the third and last installment of

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING  

Part III: Down to last rocks; The Devil made them do it

APPENDICES FOR PART II

Appendix A: The Devil and His tricks

This appendix is a caution to disabuse you of any notion that you enter into an encounter with the Devil on an equal footing. The Devil knows that the human foot with five somewhat flexible toes, an arch and hinging ankle, while it has some flaws, is superior to the Devil’s cloven hoof. Therefore He reasons it is only fair that He have some “advantages” (He does not object to calling these “tricks” as His perspective is totally different on these matters) to offset the footing differences. You can decide if they are offsetting factors or if the cloven hoof is inferior at all to human feet when it comes to curling.

Devil Trick #1. When the Devil does show himself in person, He wipes your cerebral hard drive clean which means that neither the Altamont curlers nor anyone else present will remember anything of that particular meeting and any subsequent curling competition where the Devil is present.

Devil Trick #2. The Devil had been following the challenges for “The Old Buffalo”, the O’Grady Challenge Trophy. In fact, He set His DVR “Devil Vision Recorder” (roughly equivalent to today’s Personal Video Recorder or PVR) to alert him and to record the matches. He had predetermined that Altamont, a southern Manitoba curling crazy community with a population of approximately 120 Souls; members in good standing of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA) since 1929; [which mattered to the Devil greatly because He wanted the Curling gurus to provide their stamp of legitimacy on His inevitable victory] would be prime candidates for the Devil’s bait as a number of very good curlers in Altamont had ambitions to be even better.

Devil Trick #3. The Devil has the remarkable ability to suck the totality of information on any subject including both the science and art of curling from any knowledge source (a human brain usually) that enters “The Devil’s Triangle”, more commonly known as “The Bermuda Triangle.” Given the propensity for Canadians (even curlers) to go south for a few weeks each year to escape the coldest days of winter, it has not been difficult for the Devil to find such a brain passing through His triangle as Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico form the triangle’s apexes.   It is true that the Devil does need to find a new brain every few years to update His app to the latest in curling strategy and advances in equipment. The most recent version is D.v. 20.15. Remember, the Devil’s abilities to acquire knowledge this way long pre-date the “mind melds“ of Star Trek or the magic of Harry Potter. I won’t spend any more time on this brief explanation other than to say that the Devil’s skill and knowledge is restricted only by the intelligence of the last human brain to pass though the Triangle.

In present day terms, the travel itineraries of 2016 Brier Champion Kevin Koe of Alberta, Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador, Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario, Mike McEwen of Manitoba, Glenn Howard of Ontario or Pat Simmons of Team Canada would be of interest to the Devil as they are curling strategic geniuses as well as technical and tactical magicians of the highest order – perfect for updating His curling app. All of these gentlemen skipped their respective teams in the 2016 Brier.

In 1961, travel was more limited than today and it not likely that as many top-flight curlers would travel through the Devil’s Triangle. There certainly were many great men’s curlers in that time: Ernie Richardson and his brothers from Saskatchewan, Garnet Campbell from Saskatchewan, Hec Gervais (the big potato farmer) from Alberta, Ab Gowanlock from Glenboro Manitoba, Matt Baldwin from Alberta, Billy Walsh from Manitoba and Ken Watson from Manitoba to name but a few.

And, of course, women curlers in Canada are equally skilled and knowledgeable such that 2016 Scotties Champion Chelsea Carey of Alberta, Jennifer Jones of Manitoba, Kerri Einarson of Manitoba, Jenn Hanna of Ontario, Krista McCarville of Northern Ontario, and Rachel Homan of Ontario and any of their respective team members could provide important updates. The history of women’s curling is rich with talent and who knows if any of these names passed through the Devil’s Triangle: Colleen Jones from Nova Scotia, Vera Pezer, Sandra Peterson and Sandra Schmirler from Saskatchewan, Marilyn Bodogh of Ontario, Lindsay Sparkes and Lindsay Moore from British Columbia, to name but a few.

Collectively their knowledge and experience is, to be blunt, massively massive.

Devil Trick #4. The Devil has what is known as a “prescience factor” of ten (10) i.e., He can foretell future events (up to ten years out) albeit somewhat vaguely but with sufficient sharpness to be able to hedge His bets.

Devil Trick #5: The Devil can intervene in a timeline, from time to time, so to speak. He can pass a temporary, temporal measure where time zones can be “held in abeyance” for short periods. In this case, Manitoba is on Central Standard Time (CST) and that can be converted to Central Suspended Time (CST) with no one really noticing in the short term.

[Note: for those who believe in God, Alberta may be on Celestial Standard Time (CST) as suggested in The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon. God alone must initiate any intervention into Celesial Time while the Devil can initiate Suspended Time. It is commonly known that Saskatchewan does not change to “Savings” time so it stands alone as a province where time cannot be suspended. Newfoundland and Labrador is suspended by an extra half-hour no matter what happens. It is not clear whether God has anything to do with “timing” in Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan.]

Sources:

Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/curling/

Curl Manitoba O’Grady Trophy History http://www.curlmanitoba.org/ogrady-history#.VrDXRCkof9M

http://curlsask.ca/

http://honouredmembers.sportmanitoba.ca/inductee.php?id=262&criteria_sort=name

Bob Weeks, Curling Etcetera, J. Wiley and Sons, 2008.

W. O. Mitchell, The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon, McClelland and Stewart, 1993

http://www.worldcurling.org/history-of-curling

©Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

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