Friday, June 13, 2014

"A very Fortunate Life"

Although we have paid considerable tribute to the veterans of World War II in recent years, I think we still fall short of appreciating, much less "venerating" the elder members of society in this country.Two years ago when I was waiting for my car to be serviced at a garage in Estes Park, Colorado, an elderly man wandered in, dressed in somewhat shabby clothes, and after checking his car in for service looked for a place to sit. There were only a few chairs around and I cleared some newspapers from the chair next to mine to give him a place to sit. Instead of letting me read my book in peace, he was interested in chatting, so I closed my book and we had a very nice talk. It turns out he was a widely published physician who had established the neurology training program at UCLA many years ago. It was truly one of those "you can't tell a book by its cover" moments.

More recently, I was returning from work at the hospital in Vinton, Iowa, and saw a small sign for "railroad depot" which directed me a couple of blocks off the main road to a very nicely preserved/restored railroad depot sitting on the tracks. I stopped to take a quick picture before continuing back to Cedar Rapids, and as I was about to get back in my car, a gentleman pictured below pulled up in his car and rolled down the window and inquired of my interest in that particular building.

Keith Elwick

It turns out that this gentlemen, who is 96 years old (born in 1918 and about to celebrate his 75th wedding anniversary), was a significant part of the history of this old railroad depot. He was  not boastful, but neither was he reticent to answer my questions regarding his life, and I wish I could have taken more time to benefit from his stories over a long cup of coffee as he had suggested. As we talked, it became apparent that not only had this man been part of a successful farm family, but was quite an inventor and had built an agricultural machinery manufacturing business from scratch. He had been personally presented from Queen Elizabeth two awards for innovation and excellence in agricultural machinery manufacture, but he never mentioned this significant fact; I only learned it later by some internet research.

In 1964, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip presented Keith Elwick (right) and the Howard Rotovator company, which manufactured his side-delivery manure spreader in England, with an award for British implement of the year.
 Keith's original manufacturing company was located in an old canning factory next to the railroad tracks in Vinton, but some years later they required some new administrative offices and it turned to the old railroad depot across the street which had been closed and was being offered by the railroad to a suitable caretaker. Keith's company purchased the depot for a nominal sum and then spent over $100,000, a considerable amount at the time, in complete restoration and renovation, preserving not only the exterior, but also all of the original benches, counters, and instruments in their original state. His company then donated the entire depot to the local historical society on a leaseback for his company use, thereby ensuring that it would remain in its state of historical preservation into the future.

Mr. Elwick a couple of times noted "I have had a very fortunate life" and during our discussion never mentioned his meeting with the Queen of England or many of his accomplishments I only read about online after our meeting.  Not everyone will have a story such as his, but I wonder how many equally fascinating lives we fail to share by not taking the time for conversation with those who have lived longer and may have seen far more than we can imagine.

Click here for a link that has some commentary about Keith's life from the award ceremony when he received a "Silos and Smokestacks" award.

Vinton RR Depot
Built in 1900

Passage way to the tracks
Opposite view
Old Motor Car Garage containing preserved
old hobo signs