We cannot direct the wind,
but we can adjust the sails.
- Bertha Calloway
The Big Decision
In 1976 SVF bought three acres at our present site from Dave Terrault's dad. It took some lobbying with Peter Rocee of the Department of Highways to get approval to build on that site. I knew Peter from some dealings my dad and I had with him regarding some highway issues with the Blue Bird Motel in Innisfail. With a loan from Sherritt of $80,000, we built the bag, bulk and office complex. To justify the loan from Sherritt, I, as the area rep, had to do a five-year projection as to the anticipated sales. We surpassed the five-year plan in the first year.
Eldege Belanger was in charge of the construction. The concrete was done and we were just starting to lift up the first wall section when a man showed up with his lunch pail, ready to help. I didn't know him, but it was Gordon Fuhr. He said he just thought a Frenchman (meaning Eldege) might need some help. They, of course, knew each other and loved to poke fun at each other. Gordon stayed and was a great help. Phil Sommers was also a good hand, and Lionel Rouault did all the electrical. Roger and Merelyn's sons, Mike and Gerry, and our sons, Doug and Ron, were about 12 and 13, and they all helped pound nails and shingle the roof.
One day we had a young boy come looking for work. I told him he could help the boys shingle the roof. He asked what I'd be paying, So I asked if he had ever shingled a roof before. He said
no. "Well, then the rate for inexperienced help is $3 an hour." He went to the roof and started helping. Two hours later, he was asking for a raise because now he was experienced. Needless to say, I told him that two hours of work does not qualify you as experienced. The next day, he didn't show up.
At this time, SVF was buying lumber from B.C. by the truckload and reselling it to farmers. We actually sold several loads but had a lot of 14-foot two-by-sixes left over. The walls of the warehouse needed to be at least 16 feet high, so we made the cement wall around the building two feet high, allowing us to use up all our 14-foot lumber. We sold a lot of lumber, but the profit was left on the ground in twisted and knotty boards.
When we ordered the blender, a one-ton paddle blender was the most common. I wanted something twice as big as normal, so we got a two-ton. It was mounted on a Toledo dial scale and fed with a skid loader.
Our official opening was in the spring of 1977. CFCW was present with the gold Lincoln. Over 150 people were there, and we served beef on a bun, among other things. Dignitaries from Sherritt were present, and the film Making the Most of a Miracle was shown. Our good friends Larry and Madeline Andrukow came to help celebrate. Many door prizes were given out. It was a successful day.
Now, where can I find some good help? Well, I knew Herb Booth had a dairy farm and some boys. I knew if they were Herb's boys, they would know how to work. We hired Darrell Booth to drive an NH3 truck and his brother Tim to run the bulk plant. Thirty-six years later, Darrell is still with us as shop foreman and has been a very loyal and competent employee. He worked with Aubrey Harrold for over 20 years and has the same work ethic. There is nothing that upsets Darrell more than if he thinks someone is taking advantage of SVF.
Our first year-round employee was Aubrey Harrold, who was multi-talented, hard-working, honest, reliable and one in a million. Aub was the shop foreman. He supervised, instructed, organized and taught the other men and, at the end of the day, had actually done as much work himself as anyone. Aub was a straight shooter. He said exactly what he was thinking. One day a sales rep who he didn't like came to sell him some drill bits. Aub came to my office with the salesman right behind him. They stood at my door and Aub said, "This guy's got some bits that I think are better than what we have. They are expensive and I don't know if I should try two or three of them because I don't want to encourage him to come back." So I said, I "Well, Aub, if they are better, it's OK that they are expensive. So why don't you buy a dozen. Then he won't have to come back as often." So that's what he did. I thought that was hilarious. SVF will never forget the contribution Aub made, but he was not the only talented one in his family. His wife, Christine, is a great cook. When Aub got married, the lunches he brought to work were the envy of everyone. There was not only quality, but also quantity. Aub often shared pie, cake, cookies and casseroles. Christine is also very artistic. She did the portrait of me that is displayed at the office.
By the mid-'70s, I could see that SVF was growing fast and that I should be looking for a suitable site for relocation from Roger's farm. Many times I came west on 37 to Highway 2 and stopped. (There was no overpass then.) I would look at the 20-acre triangle piece across the highway and think, "What a great location for a fertilizer outlet." I started inquiring with the county and the highways department as to the possibility of getting approval to build there. There were many obstacles. At the same time, I was struggling with the direction my life should take. I often prayed about it while I was stopped there. I finally resolved that if God wanted me to leave Sherritt and commit to SVF, he would guide me through the hoops and remove the many obstacles. And He did.
Because the volume of business was growing, we had to acquire more NH3 equipment and dry spreaders. By 1976 we had outgrown working out of the farm. One of us had to be operating SVF full time. I guess I was the natural choice as there was no way Roger would quit farming. So, with Pat's support, I left Sherritt after 21 years, the last nine as area manager for Dealer Development. At that point in time, fertilizer dealerships were sidelines to feed mills, implement dealers, fuel dealers or grain companies. I was sure that the fertilizer and chemical business could stand on its own.
I am struck every time I look at It by how talented Christine is and how much I appreciate that gift.
Blending liquid Avadex with urea became popular, so we needed a system to store bulk Avadex then measure it into the blender. As this was a Monsanto product and a growing concept, who would know what to buy and how to set it up better than Monsanto? Surprise, surprise they didn't have a clue and were not interested in finding out. So I found an old hot water tank and mounted it above the blender. I mounted a site gauge on it, writing the gallons with a marking pen. I filled I it from a 45-gallon drum with a small pump. It was not exactly up to the weights and measures code, but it worked. Two years later, we installed a 1,000-gallon Polly tank outside and put a Neptune meter on it, and the hot water tank was retired. We could then take semi loads of bulk Avadex, at the peak of its popularity. For two years running, we were among the highest sellers of Avadex from a single outlet in Western Canada. Then, in Monsanto's wisdom, they announced that we had to have a stainless steel bulk tank in an explosion-proof building as well as all stainless steel fittings, and explosion-proof motors and electrical. If we didn't comply, they would refuse delivery of bulk liquid Avadex in the spring. So, at a cost of $50,000, which at that time was a lot of money, we did what they wanted. We were ready by spring, but I also found out that only three other dealers complied. The others just kept their old Polly tanks sitting outside and told Monsanto to go you know where. Monsanto delivered to them all anyway and dropped their requirement for stainless steel storage. Oh, how I loved Monsanto. Nevertheless, our relationship with Monsanto has improved considerably in recent years.
Filling a two-tonne blender with a skid loader was too slow. I learned that a dealer in Didsbury had bought a four-compartment wooden overhead bin system, but CN would not allow him to put it up where he needed it, so we bought it for $16,000. Now we had 50 tonnes overhead, which was an improvement, but we were still only loading two tonnes at a time.
Next, Doug and I were off to the fertilizer convention in Winnipeg. We walked in, and while I was greeting old friends, Doug disappeared into the many displays of the latest equipment. In less than an hour, he found me and said, "Dad, you have to see this. " He showed me an eight-tonne weigh hopper with an eight-tonne blender. 40-foot It was sitting on a lowboy, all painted up. It looked fabulous.
Doug said, "Now Dad, let's get a pop. We need to talk." We sat down, and Doug explained that the system was exactly what we needed. Customers were getting away from those split boxes of fertilizer in front and seed in the back. In fact, some were taking a full single-axle truckload that was four two-metric-tonne batches. Even a few tandems were showing up, and that was seven batches. This eight-tonne system would mean one batch for a single axle and two batches for a tandem. Well, needless to say, the sold sign went up on that unit, and Doug was right.