Author Tags: Biography, Transportation
“For a good part of my life I had the sense of being a little behind the times, then completely out of date, but by hanging on as long as I have it seems I’ve gone right off the scale and become an object of historical interest. And, you know? It was the easiest thing I ever did. All I had to do was wait.”
---from the preface called “I became an artifact” from Frank White's second book
Frank White, pioneer, raconteur and author of bestselling books, has died at his home in Garden Bay, B.C. on the Sunshine Coast. White could claim to be the province’s oldest active author when he published his memoir That Went by Fast at the age of 100 in 2014, a follow-up to his 2013 bestseller Milk Spills and One-Log Loads.
A workingman and small businessman who didn’t retire until age 80, White wrote about his long life in a colloquial, unvarnished style that got his books onto the B.C. Bestseller Lists. They are still popular on the BC Ferries newsstands. White’s trademark was his self-deprecating humour.
“I’d got used to thinking my life hadn’t amounted to much,” he wrote, “and it seemed most people agreed with me on that. Now it’s, ‘Oh, you rode in a horse and buggy? You worked on a steam donkey show? Your girlfriend was a flapper?...You should write a book!’ By hanging around so long it seems I have become an object of historical interest.”
His was a typical life for a British Columbian of his time, comprised mostly of endless hard work, although on the evidence of his stories it was seldom dull. He grew up in Abbotsford the son of the town butcher and at age eight began serving customers in his father’s shop by standing on a butter box so he could see over the counter.
His father bought the first Model-T delivery truck in Abbotsford but couldn’t get the hang of the horseless carriage so young Frankie taught himself to operate it, lying about his age to get his driver’s licence at age 13. “By the age of 13 I already had two professions: butcher and truck driver,” he wrote.
He built on his early start to follow the trucking boom that hit BC in the 1930s and 1940s, pioneering highway freighting then truck logging. In the 1950s he became a small-scale “gyppo” logger before moving to the coastal fishing village of Pender Harbour, where he operated an excavating business, a gas station and a municipal water system.
Along the way Frank White endured shipwrecks, topped 200-foot spartrees, fought forest fires, got physical with log rustlers, built houses, built boats, raised a family, dabbled in politics, built early computers, buried a beloved wife and daughter, travelled the world and wrote books.
At age 92 he married the former New Yorker writer Edith Iglauer, 89, and they continued to live in their small waterfront cottage in Pender Harbour until the present. He died peacefully with his family and caregivers around him and his sense of humour intact. In his final hours when a nurse asked him how he was, he whispered between gasps, “Hundred per cent!”
White was bemused by his longevity and the celebrity that came with it. “When I was fifty and still had most of my marbles,” he wrote, “all people wanted me to tell them was why their car stalled at the intersection. Now that everything is starting to get hazy, they’re not satisfied unless I can tell them the meaning of life.”
On that score he wasn’t venturing any great pronouncements. “Life is life. It’s not under our control and it doesn’t follow any script. It just is.” He might have added, life goes a lot easier if you have a good sense of humour.
Franklin Wetmore White was born May 9, 1914 in Sumas, Washington. He leaves behind his wife Edith Iglauer, a daughter Marilyn, two sons Howard and Donald, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He died on October 18, 2015.
ADDENDUM TO OBITUARY
As a 100-year-old former truck driver, logger, gas station operator, “excavationist” (bulldozer operator extraordinaire) and waterworks technician, Frank White released the follow-up to his Milk Spills and One-Log Loads: Memories of a Pioneer Truck Driver (Harbour $32.95) that was published in spring of 2014 when he was only 99. He was accompanied to the book launch for his second, 400-page volume of memoirs, That Went By Fast (Harbour $32.95) by his 97-years-young wife, Edith Iglauer, author of Fishing with John.
According to publicity materials for the first book: "Harbour Publishing is sometimes teased for the high average age of its authors, many of whom are west coast pioneers writing memoirs late in life. The champ until now was Rex Terpening, who wrote the bestselling Bent Props and Blow Pots at age 90, but this week he was deposed by pioneer truck logger Frank White, who breaks into print with his first book at the tender age of 99!...
"Frank White started writing the story of his life as a pioneer BC truck driver in 1974 when he was only sixty. His boisterous yarn in Raincoast Chronicles about wrangling tiny trucks overloaded with huge logs down steep mountains with no brakes won the Canadian Media Club award for Best Magazine Feature and was reprinted so many times everyone urged him to write more. He started in his spare time but kept having so many new adventures he didn't finish until this year—his hundredth under heaven (which he doesn't believe in). Although Frank set out to tell the story of his life in transportation, starting in the horse and buggy age and chronicling the growth of trucking in the BC freighting and logging industries, Milk Spills and One-Log Loads is much more than that: this is a vivid account of life as working people lived it on Canada's west coast during the rough-and-tumble years of the early twentieth century."
The first book appeared on the BC Bestseller List in January of 2014. Both books were edited and co-written with the assistance of Howard White, his son and publisher.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Milk Spills and One-Log Loads: Memories of a Pioneer Truck Driver
Milk Spills and One-Log Loads: Memories of a Pioneer Truck Driver (Harbour 2013) $32.95 978-1-55017-622-3
That Went By Fast (Harbour 2014) 978-1-55017-668-1
Globe & Mail Obit
by Tom Hawthorn
Frank White butchered hogs, delivered raw milk to dairies, hauled logs out of the woods, operated a waterworks, bit into the earth as an excavating contractor and pumped gas at a station in a picturesque fishing village on the British Columbia coast.
Late in life, at the age of 99, he added bestselling author to his résumé with Milk Spills and One-Log Loads (Harbour, 2013), a thoroughly engaging memoir of his time as a pioneer trucker.
By the time he died on Oct. 18, at 101, he had a second title to his credit, with That Went By Fast: My First Hundred Years. He was thought to be the oldest active author in the province, if not the land.
In 1939, Mr. White married a farmer’s daughter named Kathleen Boley, who was known as Kay. The couple had a successful union until her death in 1978. A few years later, while on a bus trip to New York, he called on Ms. Iglauer, a widow who maintained homes in Manhattan and on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. He told her he wanted to see the opera, about which he knew nothing other than it was one of her preferred entertainments.
Theirs was a Green Acres relationship: A self-described “bush ape,” he spent years in logging camps and had the manners to prove it, whereas she travelled in sophisticated circles that included the sorts who not only read The New Yorker, but produced it.
He found in her a firecracker of enthusiasms for the arts, while she found in him a kindly, generous autodidact whose lack of formal education had not restricted an inquisitive mind. He had even built an early computer from designs in a magazine, using the machine to record the notes used in his memoirs.
Mr. White died at his home in Garden Bay, B.C. He leaves Ms. Iglauer, whom he married in 2006 after a quarter-century courtship; a daughter, Marilyn Plant; sons Don White and Howard White; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife and by daughter Cynthia (Cindy) Wilson, who died in 2005. He was also predeceased by five siblings, including Wesley James White, a lance sergeant who was captured at Hong Kong and died of diphtheria in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in 1942.
While he rarely left British Columbia in his first 60 years, Mr. White travelled extensively afterward. On a trip to India, he could not bring himself to hire pedicabs, seeing it as too exploitative a mode of transportation.
One day in Delhi, though, he got lost and in desperation hired a pedicab to return to his hotel. Mr. White insisted on exiting the pedicab at the foot of every hill; he also insisted on buying the driver a meal at the hotel. In turn, the driver invited Mr. White to join his family for dinner at home, a squatters spot on the sidewalk, where they dined on chicken and vegetables, which, despite the impoverished setting, turned out to be the most memorable meal of his sojourn.
The books resulted from a prize-winning autobiographical magazine article published in 1974. For nearly four decades, he wrote scattered notes to jog his memory, snippets of facts and details that read like found poetry.
After Mr. White reached his ninth decade, his son, the author and publisher Howard White, began tape recording his father’s reminiscences, jogging the old man’s memory with the lyric notes filled with haphazard punctuation and capitalization: “Neighbor sawing wood at fence. We kids enjoy the noise and sawdust. … Cooking the small potatoes for the pigs, Breaking the windows. in the old house his father built.”
The son then transcribed the tapes, resulting in a 180,000-word manuscript. At first, the results disappointed the senior White.
“I can’t believe a man’s life can be made so small,” he complained.
The son read aloud the results to an audience of two – his father’s second wife, the former New Yorker writer and one-time war correspondent Edith Iglauer, and their Filipina caregiver. Their approval convinced the subject his life was worthy of being shared.
The two volumes offer a rare glimpse into working-class life in a province where so many of those jobs have disappeared over the years. The elder White had lived so long that his recollections of such things as logging with a winch known as a steam donkey crossed from the mundane to the historical.
Franklin Wetmore White was born three months before the outbreak of the First World War, on May 9, 1914, to Jean (née Carmichael) and Silas Franklin White. The family lived in Aldergrove, in British Columbia’s fertile Fraser Valley, although the boy was born just across the frontier at Sumas, Wash.
His father had an adventurous life, including a stint as a barnstorming prize fighter, who worked carnivals by taking on local farm boys and other tough guys.
Once married and settled, he operated a butcher shop in which young Frank learned to slaughter hogs at a young age. The boy also sold magazine subscriptions door to door and became so adept a driving that he operated a truck for his father years before he could legally drive.
Many other jobs followed. He was an apprentice box maker in British Columbia’s bountiful Okanagan region, drove milk trucks, hauled freight and worked the woods as an independent, small-scale operator known as a gyppo logger.
“He was a working fool,” his son said. “He just worked and worked and worked. His whole life was about work.”
Known by his neighbours as a kindly and warm-hearted figure, he was also a voracious reader, though he mostly eschewed literature, preferring instead histories and obscure treatises on equipment and mechanical operations. For many years, he subscribed to Hansard, reading verbatim accounts of debates from the House of Commons in far-off Ottawa. These tended to occupy flat surfaces throughout his gas station, undoubtedly disappointing workers who used the men’s room, where might be expected a more titillating publication.