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.
Sunday Tea Party
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.