Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.
- Arnold H. Glasow
New Job, New Challenge
Our biggest challenge was to motivate the UGG and Federal Grain agents to sell fertilizer, as they were Sherritt's main outlets in Western Canada. When Federal Grain sold to the Wheat Pool, about 35% of Sherritt's outlets were gone. The need to find and develop independent dealers became a priority. In 1968, Jack Latham signed up Roger and Merelyn Henry, and they became a Sherritt Fertilizer dealer. The company was called Sturgeon Valley Fertilizers Ltd. Shortly after, I became their dealer development rep.
With some help from the Tappauf boys and Gordon Frank, Roger brought in some bags and stored them in the quonset and an old granary. Some neighbours came in the spring to buy the bags. He also sold bulk picked up at Sherritt. I am not sure if customers came because Roger was such a nice guy or because of Merelyn's good looks. I think maybe both.
Roger bought a big conveyor so Merelyn could help them load, unless, of course, there was a ladies' softball game. Merelyn was a very good ball player and loved to play. Roger was wise and let her play. Our boys, Mike, Gerry, Doug and Ron, would ride up the conveyor and thought it was great fun.
SVF was selling bags and bulk. At about this same time, Sherritt bought out Bartins, a large NH3 dealer in southern Alberta. They had 10 delivery trucks and 23 applicators. I could see they were one delivery truck short. I knew that Moris Goudreau of Beaumont had one for sale. Roger and I bought the truck, and we leased it to Sherritt.
It was at this time that I became a partner in Sturgeon Valley Fertilizers. Sherritt's plan was to start applying NH3 in southern Alberta and the grain company would book the acres with the farmer. The fleet would move through, working north, to apply the NH3. The NH3 was unloaded from rail cars. Jack Latham was a Sherritt rep and the NH3 expert. He coordinated spotting of rail cars, and repaired pumps and meters. At times Jack used unorthodox methods to keep the big wheel turning, which often did not meet management's approval.
For the most part, University of Alberta students drove the NH3 delivery trucks. There are many entertaining stories about those young guys moving from town to town. They worked and played hard. The hotels spent most of their profit on repairs. The local young men were glad to see them go. The young ladies? Well, we're not sure.
Our lease didn't go too well. At the end of the season, we owed Sherritt $360 for mechanical and pump repairs. We had to use our own money to make the bank payment.
The next step was to buy a new GMC truck and mount the two 1,000-gallon tanks on it. This NH3 truck became known as "Mother," I guess because it was the first new truck of more to come. Mother solved the mechanical problems, but we had to learn a few tricks when she decided not to pump. We then bought two applicators with financial help from Roger's dad, Fred, a really nice and respected man.
So with the new delivery truck and two new applicators, we sold some NH3 in the St. Albert and Legal area. We didn't have any storage tanks, so all the product was picked up at Sherritt in Fort Saskatchewan. I was still the Sherritt rep for the area, but when the NH3 season came, the office knew where to find me. We had a customer (Carmar Holdings), up at Maykut Flats, north
of Barrhead, so Roger and I would top up our applicators at night, reload and head up to Maykut Flats, fill their two tanks, reload again and be ready for the morning.
I had been on the go for two days without sleep. We had a man helping us, so he finally took over my truck while I crashed on a bed in Roger's basement. About an hour later, Merelyn woke me up saying she was sorry but the driver had to go home because his wife was seeing ghosts. They were renting the house on the old Gamache farm just across the road from the present SVF plant. So the day ended with Roger and me going to Maykut Flats again that night.
Roger helped a lot with deliveries, repairing and promoting sales with friends and neighbours. He also had his own farming to do. Merelyn took the bookings, and my wife, Pat, was the bookkeeper. In our first year, we sold 75 tonnes of NH3. Sherritt had a program where, when a dealer reached 300 tonnes of NH3, they would provide a storage tank. When we reached that, there was a steel shortage, so we weren't able to get one.
Tanks had to be made from T1 steel. I went to Calgary with an idea… Aren't pipelines T1 steel? How big of a pipeline is available? The result was the birth of the so-called "sausages." I got a manufacturer to cut the largest-diameter T1 steel pipe in 75-foot lengths, capping the ends. We plumbed two together and put them at Roger's farm. Later, we added two more. Several other new dealers had to use the sausages until the larger tanks became available about two years later.
Before we moved to St. Albert in 1976, we lived in Fort Saskatchewan for about 14 years. SVF was operated from the Henrys' farm for the fertilizer spring and fall seasons. Therefore, from about 1970 to 1976 I spent a lot of time at Roger's, often until late, having to drive home to Fort Saskatchewan. Plus, with my job at Sherritt, I was on the road four days a week. Whenever I got home, Pat had been caring for our three children and was ready for some adult conversation and an update on what was happening. She claims I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. There is a price to be paid for success, and I came to realize that Pat paid just as much as I did.
I recall one Saturday when my son Ron and I went over from Fort Saskatchewan so I could work with Roger on NH3 equipment and Ron could play with Gerry. Ron was about 9 or 10. As we usually worked until dark, we were called in for supper. We just sat down when the phone rang. Merelyn answered. It was Pat. Merelyn's response was "Oh! Oh!!-Oh!!!" She hung up and announced to me, "It's your anniversary, and Pat has made a special supper." Ron and I excused ourselves and headed home. I said to Ron, "Dad's in big trouble. I forgot our anniversary. Do you think I should stop and pick up some flowers?" He thought for a few minutes and said, "I don't think I would bother. She is going to be upset anyway and you will have spent the money." So I didn't, and he was right.
Our anniversary is October 6. Another oops happened when I was still raising cattle. I came home late, and I could sense something was wrong. If you are a man reading this, you know what I mean. After very little small talk, Pat said, "Well, at least my dad phoned today."
I said, "Oh, what did he want?" Pat said, "What day was it when you turned the bulls in with the I cows?" I said June
28. She burst into tears and said, "How come you can remember that and you can't remember our anniversary?" When my daughter, Heather, got a little older, she saved my bacon more than once.