I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but somehow I’ve ended up with three non-functional cars adorning my front yard and none of them are mine. They seemed to just sprout themselves like weeds one summer night. But here in the Big Eddy, where vehicles are often “built, not bought,” I suppose I’d be the odd man out if I just had plain old grass.
Crossing the one-lane bridge is a trip to the other side where logging trucks, mountain bike-laden Tacomas, and classic cars fill the lot in front of the renowned Big Eddy Pub. Residents aren’t too bothered by things like boil-water advisories, but some get a little nervous when the bylaw officer comes around. The Big Eddy is an unpretentious place where the ‘live and let live’ ethos attracts a fantastically colourful spectrum of people.
With this in mind, I set out on foot on a uncharacteristically cold day in November to see a little more of my neighbourhood. Lou Brown and his collection of vintage motorcycles immediately come to mind and a short walk brings me to his shop just as the bikes are going into storage for the winter.
“You came at just the right time,” says Lou, motioning to the classic iron hovering precariously on the hoist. “This one’s 1,000 CCs and it’s a bit of a beast to get up to that upper deck.”
As we pass tow straps and shackles back and forth, we talk shop. Lou downplays his skills as a commercial metal fabricator, calling himself as a “non-professional” and his livelihood as a “non-occupation,” but when you consider his long list of local clients who sometimes wait months to bring his skills to their project, his humility is apparent. The stainless steel rack just behind us will soon grace the new La Baguette kitchen and the metal work is flawless.
“I’ve got lots of clients. It keeps me busy. But when there’s downtime, I work on bikes. It’s a passion of mine.”
The machine that we’re strapping down is a 1949 Vincent HRD Rapide, purchased just six months earlier. It was the fastest and most expensive motorcycle of its time and it’s the only one of Lou’s four post-war era British bikes that he bought complete.
“I’ll take it apart, solve the weaknesses, and put it back together.”
With the HRD now lifted high on the scissor jack, we reach the critical stage of manually rolling it up a short ramp into its resting spot, just behind a 1951 BSA that’s just a tidy collection of parts. With a little bit of coordinated effort, we get the bike in place, just in time for me to continue my journey around the Big Eddy.
“I’d never do this professionally. Don’t make your hobby into work or it just becomes a chore,” Lou offers as we shake hands and part ways.
I’m back in the cold and thankful that my next destination, an unassuming industrial building across from the taxi graveyard, is nearby. It belongs to Ray Brosseuk and out front is a crew of people unloading a trailer. I don’t really know what’s going on so I pitch in and start hauling bags of clothing inside.
What I do know is that Ray is a gold miner who has placer claims just outside Revelstoke and in the Yukon. He also builds high-end mining machines that are sold worldwide. But what Ray may be most known for are the generous charity shipments that he sends to needy people overseas.
“My mom always said that money doesn’t grow on trees. But it does come out of the ground, so I figured I’d get into gold mining,” says Ray of his professional background.
Gold mining treated Ray well in his early years but, nevertheless, he saw inefficiencies and waste in the dredging machinery. In 1994 he built a superior machine and by 2005 other miners started to take notice and ask for their own. Ray’s machines use none of the toxic chemicals often associated with mining, they require 80% less water, they’re easy to move, and, most importantly, they yield 30% more gold. With demand for his machines jumping by 50-80% each year, Ray could rest on his laurels but instead he turned his attention to something very different.
“I got a letter in the mail from Fiji inviting me to a 20 year school reunion,” says Ray, whose parents served as missionaries in several Third World countries through Ray’s childhood. “There were all my friends that I grew up with and they didn’t have much. I came back thinking ‘Wow, what can I do to help?’ and that’s where it all started. The first thing I did was try to help a lot of those schools.”
Clothing, food, and medical supplies were the mainstays of the initial shipments to Fiji. The scope of the donations has grown exponentially since then. One school received a portable sawmill and subsequently instituted a profitable furniture-making program that gave students employable skills. Enrolment grew from 80 to 300. Another school received a tractor and had similar results with their agriculture program. And yet another received an entire commercial bakery packed into a 40-foot container. Nowadays the dozen containers that Ray sends annually also support similar efforts in Belize, Swaziland, Thailand and the Ukraine.
As for the bags of clothing that arrived today?
“We get 150,000 pounds a year from the thrift store. It’s just astounding,” says Ray of this arrangement that recovers useful items that would otherwise end up in our landfill.
I’m soon on my way home, feeling refreshed not just from the brisk mountain air, but also from the conversations I’ve had today. Both Lou and Ray have found unique paths in life and they exude the creativity, wild-eyed vivacity, and raw funk that makes the Monashee side of town tick. Shuffling into the Big Eddy Market to check for mail, I notice a bizarre 4×4 van idling out front with smoke emanating from a rooftop chimney.
“Yeah she’s mine,” the disheveled owner admits. “I had the fire chief read me the riot act once for driving downtown with a fire going in the stove. In the Big Eddy though, I blend in with all the other free spirits. It‘s just that kind of place.”
This article first appeared in the December print issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.