The Parable of the Pipefitter


Illustration by Richard Comely

In celebration  of the Easter season we are pleased to share a poignant story about a pipefitter on Good Friday.

In addition we were gifted with a compelling ink drawing of the main character by Richard Comely, the creator of Captain Canuck.


The Parable of the Pipefitter

Leo came from East of Gatineau. He went into the trades, worked through the apprenticeship program and got his pipefitter’s ticket. When I knew him he was a Class ‘A’ pipefitter in the paper mill that spanned the Ottawa River. There were quite a few strong fellows in the trades as the work was physical, but I think Leo would have won any strength competition.

Leo was a friend of mine. He was known as “Leo: The Human Fork Lift Truck,” to a few of us Anglos in the paper mill where I worked. Perhaps in French he was “Leo: Le Humain Fourchette Ascenseur Camion.” I don’t know, really. As you can tell my French isn’t very good.

I remember someone calling him the ‘gentle giant’ because of his easy-going nature. Leo was your basic, all around, good guy. I never saw him explode and, if you saw him — he was a pretty big guy – you’d think that would be a good way to keep it.

When I left the maintenance area I didn’t see the pipefitters very much. But a few years later I came back to that area during a paper machine rebuild.

In order to keep the machine downtime to a minimum, the schedule for the project started on the Easter long weekend. For those not familiar with how a plant usually runs, paper machines are large pieces of capital equipment that generate zero revenue when they aren’t running.
I was with the group rebuilding the dryer section. This, as the name implies, is where the paper gets dried. If you ever drive by a paper mill plant and see the white clouds billowing out of the roof, you are looking at the top of the dryer section where the steam from the process condenses back to water.

I remember it was Good Friday, and there were no white clouds coming from the roof. No noise either. It was almost completely silent as I stood outside near the entrance to the power plant.
It was break time – or pause-café in the other official language. The break started at 2:40 and ran for about 15 minutes. It was a warm day and I was outside alone. I was enjoying the stillness of the Statutory Holiday shutdown. Anyone who has been at a plant on a Statutory Holiday will know what I mean. That day, I could just make out birds singing in the distance.

It was shortly after break when I saw him. A solitary figure coming towards me from across the plant yard. Big guy. Carrying something on his shoulder. It looked like he might have been wearing green work clothes but from the distance it was hard to tell. At that point he was just a moving silhouette. Mind you, a silhouette that became even bigger with each step.

When he got to the half way point from where I first saw him I could see what he was carrying on his shoulder. It was a large steel pipe. I watched, probably without blinking, as he closed the gap between us. A little while later I finally could make out who it was. Leo.
As for the large pipe, that just confirmed it. I silently smiled to myself as I thought “That’s Leo alright. Couldn’t wait for the fork truck.”

The entire time from when I first saw him neither of us spoke. In fact nothing else could be heard but the sound of the heels of his work boots clicking against the pavement. When he was about 15 feet away he suddenly stopped.

He turned slowly to look at the sky and said, “It’s getting dark.” He was right. It had gotten darker within the last few minutes. I looked up I saw dark clouds, that weren’t there before, swirling overhead. Without even a shrug of his load he turned back to look at me. On his face was an expression that I wish I could describe. To say that it had elements of sadness, understanding and kindness would be a start, but only a start. As he looked at me he illuminated the darkness by saying, “It’s because He died right now.” Then he walked into the plant without another word.

I will remember that moment until my very last day. In fact, if I am ever in a situation where my life flashes before my eyes, I will ask if we can replay that memory a second time.
If a Jewish carpenter who lived 2000 years ago, can touch a guy the size of my friend Leo, then even for the most skeptical of people, there is something about Easter worth knowing.

Story by: James Wywrot