Guest columnist Paul Curran dips back into his book of past co-workers to introduce to a driven man who made bread. But before that … Well, let Paul tell you all about Harry.

Your Barrista -- Paul Curran

Your Barrista — Paul Curran

Sunday Tea Party

Website: http://www.lifeinthebatcave.com/a-tea-party-with-cadbury/

Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, air-conditioned, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. There are thunder showers this morning with a high just over 80 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger. We can relax with a cuppa in the air conditioning while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. Have an electronic sweet – all are all calorie free – or indulge in some German cuisine and beer special this week! How has your week been? Are you enjoying the weekend? Any special activities?

A Special German Treat This Week

Website: http://jacksonville.com/entertainment/food-and-dining/2015-10-07/story/go-beyond-beer-and-treat-yourself-traditional-german

We’ve met some of my trucking colleagues, explored some current porch conversations and of course spent some time with Penny. There is a notable character who helped to hew my work attitudes and perspective when I was but 14 and working at my first job – a character who definitely bears mentioning. Now this was almost 45 years ago so a lot of the players were either WW2 vets or were youngsters during that war.

Harry Ruggeberger was German to the core and the finest Master Baker perhaps in all of Canada. My first summer job at 14 was working in a commercial bakery – a big bakery that served all of Atlantic Canada and employed about 500. My Dad had gotten me the job but was not my boss. Harry and my Dad were friends and Dad and I used to drop out to Harry’s home occasionally to visit and sip tea. I didn’t work directly for Harry at the plant but when it came to anything in the bakery Harry had a say. Technically the org chart said he had no employees and reported directly to the VP of operations. He was responsible for all product quality and ingredients and developing new products. In actuality, when Harry said “Jump 1.7 meters”, everyone, up to and including the VP replied : ”Thank You Harry.” Everyone knew from experience that Harry did not order, direct or even speak unless every word had meaning and the sentences were as economical as possible in conveying important information. And nothing was repeated unless by request and even that was frowned upon.

Exiting the Proofer at Ben’s Bakery

Website: http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1276689-mcilveen-ben%E2%80%99s-bakery-closure-marks-end-of-moirs-food-dynasty

So Dad and I would go to visit Harry at his house about 15 minutes out of the city of Halifax. Harry’s wife had passed and his children were grown adults, so he lived alone. The house was filled with pictures and memories – paintings, awards, certificates and degrees. Harry came across as effeminate as he baked and sewed, loved soft pastel colors, studied and taught ballet, and normally spoke softly. Pictures of him in ballet tights hung on the walls. For anyone who knew him though that was just Harry, and in fact he was a very demanding, fearless, type A personality masquerading behind his interests. Beside the ballet pictures were pictures of a young Harry posing with the German Panzer tank he commanded in WW2.

Panzer IV in North African Desert April 14, 1941

Website: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/401172279282702997/

Harry enjoyed telling stories of the war. He was a German Panzer tank commander under General Rommel in the North African desert. Rommel was so successful that the British gave him the nickname of “The Desert Fox.” Harry told many stories of Rommel and the tactics used by the Germans. Bear in mind that few of Rommel’s tankers were Nazis – they were just troops dedicated to their country, same as any other soldiers, a situation tolerated by Hitler because of their professionalism and distance.

Rommel In North Africa Feb., 1941

Web Site: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rommel-in-africa

One memorable story occurred when the British outnumbered Rommel by more than 2 to 1 in tanks. The Panzers were more effective in the desert than the British Commander tanks but Rommel was having a very difficult time getting parts and fuel as his supply lines were intermittent at best and sometimes non-existent. Rommel found himself with more than 1/3 of his tanks unable to fight due to lack of parts. He knew the British were not far away and they knew his location. Under cover of night the tankers stripped down the broken tanks, taking off all usable parts and did temporary repairs just enough that they would drive straight ahead. Rommel split his small force into three sections – good tanks went left and right around the coming battlefield and the stripped tanks were aimed right up the center towards the oncoming British – no steering, no ammunition, no workable guns. Harry was alone in one of the broken tanks when they set out towards their enemy. The tanks were followed by a group of military trucks.

The British saw the German Panzers coming straight at them and assumed that was the spearhead of Rommel’s force trying to break through British lines. The British pulled their tanks into a tight formation and went to meet the Panzers head on. As the struggling German tanks approached the British, the drivers – one per tank – jammed the accelerator on full, opened the escape hatch in the floor and dropped out into the desert. According to Harry there is not much clearance under a Panzer tank (something I never wish to test), so the driver had to lay perfectly flat and suck in his chest as the tank rumbled over top – the huge steel tracks passing left and right of the drivers’ shoulders. Then the driver had to scramble to one side lest he be crushed by the next tank. The broken and stripped tanks headed straight for the British, driverless, while the drivers were picked up behind by the trucks following.

Column of Panzers

Website: http://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panther-tank/german-column-6-panzer-v-panther-ausf-a-tanks-along-road/
By the time the British figured out that the German tanks were a ruse, the operational German tanks had closed in from the sides and behind and caught the British all arranged neatly in a tight group – like shooting fish in a barrel. Despite being outnumbered and with a third of their tanks unable to fight, the Germans won a decisive victory that day. And young Harry was a part of it.
It was this bravery, military discipline, and out-of-the-box thinking on which Harry built his future life. He was an avid baker, taught by his mother from childhood, and he pursued that in post-war Europe. After years of training and even more years of apprenticeship and experience, he finally earned the designation of Master Baker, the highest accredited international level. Having trained with some of the best bakers in Europe, he decided to immigrate to Canada, where he settled with his family in Halifax – the largest Port of Entry at a time when most immigrants came by ship. He was immediately hired by the bakery where I worked and had been there for years. In Harry’s life, success was dependent on organization, meticulous planning, and innovative thinking, along with a learning culture. In other words, Harry credited his success to his tank driving experience and military training under Rommel – “The Desert Fox.”
Oh, one more thing – even after years Harry still had a heavy German accent.

Bread Trailers Being Loaded

Web Site: http://www.hankstruckpictures.com/canada_bread_trks.htm
So, one hot summer’s day I’m in the shipping department loading trailers. It was a very physical job that entailed pushing 7-foot stacks of bread on plastic trays up an incline from the shipping floor into the trailers. Each stack contained about 130 loaves of bread and weighed about 250 pounds. In the heat (you can’t air-condition a bakery as it messes with the ovens and proofers) I was drenched in sweat but was young and fit and full of energy. The lead shipper was a hilarious man by the name of John. John’s turf was about an acre of shipping lanes where he assembled the route orders being loaded into the trailers. As each order was complete, he would notify the loader. When not in use the area was just empty concrete floor. As the various varieties of bread came off the line, John made up the orders and the amount of bread in the shipping area grew. Once the varieties were done, the white bread started and the loading would commence. So if I needed say, route No. 45 for a trailer, I would first load the required white bread going by a manifest and then seek out that route in the shipping area, where John would have the rest assembled. One route could be anywhere from four to 30 stacks of bread. Just as loading began, the shipping area would be a maze of orders with walkways between them – a sort of jungle of bread piled 7 feet high. The only way to communicate with John was to holler your question into the maze and an answer would float back – looking for him in person was like looking for the Yeti.

Orders Being Assembled
If We Were Having Coffee
Website: http://www.gettyimages.ca/event/operations-inside-the-orlando-baking-co-as-wheat-climbs-507258863#palettes-of-bread-and-rolls-sit-stacked-for-delivery-in-the-shipping-picture-id453616136

This particular day Harry was leaning on a handrail on the mezzanine that overlooked the shipping and wrapping department. Whenever Harry paused to reflect you could see the wheels turning – something was about change. Thousands of feet of conveyors rumbled around the 35-foot high ceiling over the area, carrying and cooling the bread between the ovens and the wrappers. From his viewpoint John’s Jungle of picked orders was at his feet and I was loading trailers off to his left. There was always an awareness of Harry, wherever he went. All were careful that they were working hard and accurate. Harry came down the stairs and walked over to me.

Cooler Conveyor Hung From Ceiling
If We Were Having Coffee
Web Site: http://www.gettyimages.ca/event/operations-inside-the-orlando-baking-co-as-wheat-climbs-507258863#freshly-baked-breads-and-rolls-move-out-of-the-ovens-before-being-picture-id453616188

“Change the angle of the stacks by 15 degrees and they will go up the ramp easier.”
Then he walked away. I had tried what he was suggesting before and knew it was true but it meant running faster. I did do that occasionally, but today was very hot and I wanted to move slower.
Suddenly from the maze of orders came John’s voice with a heavy fake German accent, floating up from between the stacks with what was to become my mantra – learn about yourself first and then proceed:
“So, you vant to be a breadman, eh? First you drive ze tank!”
Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea on this weekend. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Oh and roughseasinthemed, your bottle of chilled Muscadet will be on the table on ice every week now. Have a great week all.

Tea Time
If We Were Having Coffee
Website: http://www.gettyimages.ca/event/dogs-attend-britains-biggest-tea-party-for-blue-cross-animal-charity-81069488#romi-watches-freddy-eat-cake-at-a-tea-party-in-the-oxo-tower-on-may-picture-id81079073

48 thoughts on “Harry

    • Thanks so much for the read and comment Aussa. I was so pleased to hear that you were published – wonderful. I hope you get your job situation straightened out. Please give my regards to Alex and your large Dog.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Paul, I enjoyed your post for several reasons. Your story and the history were interesting and fascinating. I just recently successfully grew my own sourdough starter. And I have been baking sourdough bread. It has been very rewarding and fun. Also, I have a dear friend in Germany who has been doing the same! Thank you for sharing this story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for the visit BBS. It is a pleasure to have you here and i am pleased that you enjoyed the story of Harry. That is fun about the sourdough bread.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s fun to be in an area of assorted characters from places far and wide. (What a picture that is of HArry and the tank. Rommel was quite a fox all right.)
    This is a great comparison: ” looking for him in person was like looking for the Yeti.”
    Looking forward to TX Hill country and the Greman fests – I think the sausage one is just starting – with German beer gardens getting ready for the cooler weather of fall.
    You baked up another fascinating post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for dropping by Phil! I’m pleased that you enjoyed the story. I love German food as well. Here in Ottawa where there are embassies of most countries, they close off one section of downtown every ear and have food festivals and beer gardens. Love the German food. Oh, and BBQ ribs (southern US) as well – I stagger out of the festival as full as possible.

      Harry was a complex and fair man – you would have enjoyed meeting him Phil.

      Thanks again for the visit – greetings to HRH RC, Molly and Bob.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Barb! Thanks so much for the read and compliment. I lost track of Harry when I left Nova Scotia. He did not come to my Dad’s funeral (Harry wold have been about 90 then) so I figured he was organizing heaven by then. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • I see you’ve found the Muscadet roughseas – excellent. Thanks so much for dropping by to read and comment- I am honored. The last picture in the post is of a few of your fans, dressed in their finest to meet you – so please have a seat. 😀

      Yeah, escape hatches in a tank are somewhat problematic. I can see the engineers giggling to themselves as they drew the plans:

      “Did you see this Gunther ? Those silly bunts want us to put a door in the bottom of the tank! Bwahaha!”

      “I saw that Ziegfred -one of those barmy muck-a-mucks at head office promised the Generals they could get their men out in an emergency.Imagine! Under a Tank! And they gave us the contract based that – we were the only company that made that promise because all the others thought the generals wouldn’t be stupid enough to buy it. Ha!”

      “I understand the generals like it so much that we got the contact for the newest submarines too – provided we design a door the bottom.”-

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Harry seems like a very interesting person. I think I would’ve enjoyed meeting him in person, if only just to talk about ballet (and taste a slice of cake, perhaps!)
    Very well-written piece, Paul. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so very much Barry – I am pleased you dropped by and honored by your compliment.Hope all is well with you – it’s been awhile since you posted. Take care Barry.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome Beth! A pleasure to have you drop by for a read and comment. Yes, Harry was quite a character. He “policed” that bakery so that it ran more efficiently than any other.There was no doubt that he was the driving force behind the bakery. The stories he could tell about his past were fascinating as well. You and he would hit it off well Beth.

      Thanks s much for dropping by – I am honored.


    • Thanks Berlinda! See, it wasn’t sad like the last story. I wrote this when you jiggled my memory of Germans.Thanks for the muse. And thank you for dropping by for a read and comment. P.S. Love your cows – ha!


  4. I have ambiguous feelings about war stories. They’re fascinating and you can learn stuff. But I never forget the underlying plot point is death and destruction. Romanticizing war is how they got a 14-year old child to walk into a wedding reception and detonate an explosive vest yesterday. But I liked the bread part very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ummm, like I said above, I had concerns about writing this story because there are still bad feelings circulating about Germans and their part in the Nazi regime. It is about a person though and not a war. Harry was a complex and powerful person whose tangential involvement in my life left quite an impression. Harry would have tilted the stack that extra 15 degrees and moved faster because it was more efficient regardless of the heat. He taught me to beware of judging a person, to find a way to succeed that was right, that it is possible to be associated with that which you abhor when there is no choice and not abhor yourself.

      I wrote a post some time ago about another friend of mine – a Russian Jew who spent time in a Nazi Death Camp. I don’t think that writing about Harry diminished Dora’s story one bit- especially given that Harry did no soldiering after training, within a thousand miles of Germany.. War will always be with us and to me it would be ignoring reality to not acknowledge the lessons it can teach. And Harry had lessons to impart.

      Yeah the bakery was a fun place to work and it always smelled great. I did most of the jobs there over the years and learned a lot.

      Thanks so much for the read and comment Mark. I am honored that you dropped by. 🙂


      • Strangely, I didn’t connect Harry with the story up-front much. I saw them as two distinct tales; the first a story of war and the second the story of an individual. I saw the two tales linked by only the most slender thread. I see Harry clearly in the second part but not so much in the first.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, when I wrote it, it came out that way. I think it is because Harry was very young when he was a tank commander and he had an enormous respect for Rommel. Harry absorbed Rommel’s tactics, his way of thinking, his dedication to the job. There was little of Harry in those years – he was learning at the feet of a master. I think that is what breaks the story into two – the learning years and then the teaching years.

        Interesting comment Mark.


    • Thanks so much for dropping by NBC. A pleasure – and it was a great first job. I debated whether to write this post because even after 70 years there is still a strong anti-German feeling left over. The neo-Nazis are a growing group in Europe and the US – hating is always so easy. Thanks again and please drop by anytime.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for coming by for a read Art. Harry was a fascinating man and I did not do a good job capturing his complexities. He was very motivational because he had 100% certainty that if a problem or life was approached with an open mind and a strong skill set, that every single problem could be solved. No exceptions – you could always win, if not the battle, certainly the war. He had a strong sense of honor and recognized effort and “right” in life. As a strong influence in my first job, he certainly got me off on the right foot.

      Thanks again for the visit and I’m pleased that you enjoyed the piece.


  5. This is a good reminder that not every German soldier in WWII was a Nazi and that many later traveled to other countries to become good, hardworking citizens. I wonder, though, how much grief Harry must have suffered because so many people would have looked down on him.

    And now I have a taste for some fresh-baked bread.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Hi CM! It is true, we used to sneak unsliced, unwrapped bread – especially raisen bread, off the conveyor as it came down from the ceiling into the slicers. The company always kept a fridge full of butter for anyone who wanted to eat hot bread in the lunch room. Actually Nazis were in the minority amongst the German people. Few of the navy or tank corps were Nazi – in fact Hitler used to assign a good Nazi as a political officer where he could – like ships and submarines – but it is hard to squeeze a political officer in a tank and Rommel hated the Nazis. He made sure that any that came sniffing around his troops were run off.

      Thanks so much for dropping by CM.Have a great week!


  6. How interesting, Paul! Harry sounds like a fascinating character. I can see how you went from loading trucks to driving trucks, good choice! One of my first jobs was in a bakery too, but a tiny one, a donut shop. At the end of the day they gave us all the left overs. I had so many donuts and cakes to eat, that to this day I can hardly stand the things.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for dropping by IB. It is a pleasure to have you here and thank you for the compliment. Driving was a natural progression – in fact the trailers were on private property and I used to back them in and pull them out when I was 14 years old. ha! I used to come to work Friday after school and work all night long backing trailers in, emptying out the returning bread trays and then pulling the trailers back out and lining them up in the yard. By Saturday morning I would have the whole fleet emptied and parked.


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