My Parents and the Early Days
I was a boy conceived in the roaring new riches world of 1926 and born into a new land of opportunity on June 24th of 1927. It was a heady time. My father Len, with his brother John, were very successful young businessmen, both starting a young family and in debt up to their armpits.
My Grandfather Cooley was a very successful dairy farmer on an 80 acre farm just outside St. Paul, Minneapolis. This is where my father Leonard Jewitt Cooley was born and raised. Len was born on June 6th 1897. He emigrated to Alberta in the spring of 1917, at the ripe old age of almost 20.
Grandfather Cooley enjoyed modern things including cars and farm machinery. This is where Dad learned his early mechanical skills. Dad liked to tell the story of the gramophone which Grampa Cooley bought before anyone in the district even knew there was such a thing. When the neighbors were asked over to hear this new fangled thing, they had to look in the other room to see where the sound was coming from. They knew no box with a horn hanging from it could reproduce the human voice.
Len and his brother John were ambitious young men and they heard of a great opportunity in a province called Alberta in Canada. John was the first to go for the gold. In 1916, John wrote back to Len extolling the great future available, and Dad followed in the spring of 1917.
The Canadian deal went like this. For a fee of ten dollars you were entitled to a quarter section of virgin prairie. With this came a few stipulations however. These restrictions did not allow you to sell the land for three full years, and required you to break and work a certain number of acres each year as well.
Apparently John and Dad (probably with some help from Grandpa) bought a 12 bottom plow and a big steam engine tractor and proceeded to do custom breaking of every farm within a 25 mile radius.
This was a good deal for all the newly arriving land owners, since all the farming was done by horses in those days, and to set about to break up virgin sod with four horses and a two bottom plow, was a monumental task.
By the end of three years most of the land was broken, worked, and in crop. The big steam engine and 12 bottom plow, had served well, time to move on. The Cooley brothers, as they were known, sold their farms and bought the biggest thrashing machine in the country. They then bought bunk cars and a cook car and went into the business of custom thrashing for all those farmers whose land had needed breaking three years ago. This new farm land was rich in nutrients and the yields were high. Prices were good and the brothers' bank account swelled.
By this time the brothers owned a Model T touring car as well as a truck and Titan gas-powered tractor. A place was needed to repair and store this equipment every year as winter approached. A huge livery stable (the largest in the town of Chinook, Alberta) one block off main street was purchased in 1922 and served as the dealership under the name ame of Cooley Brothers Garage, agents for Ford and John Deere.
Dad married Eva Victoria Ray, my mother, in June of 1925 in a little church 12 miles west of Carstairs, where the Ray family farmed the proverbial quarter section. After the reception at the Ray farm house, bride and groom took off for the Banff Springs Hotel where they stayed for their honeymoon. Dad drove a top of the line Model T sports coupe cloth top with Ruxell axle and eisenglass side windows. The Ray's were very impressed with this young entrepreneur, who had the world by the tail, on a downhill pull.
On June 24th 1927 Ray Eldon Cooley (me) was born to the happy couple. who were living in a nearly new, one and one half story three bedroom home in Chinook. Len and John had bought four lots on main street, and were in the midst of designing the biggest garage on the Goose Lake Line, which is what the road from Hanna to Kindersley was called.
By this time Cooley Brothers had purchased a 110 volt diesel power plant, installed power poles and lines, wired every building in town, and Chinook was the first and only town on the Goose Lake Line to have power, 24 hours a day, including street lights which were on until one o'clock every night.
The planning for the new garage left nothing to chance since it was to be the biggest and best on the line. The building boasted running water (no one else had it) men's and women's toilets with sinks, and a make up room with couch in the ladies (it was said brother John often joined the ladies here after his divorce) and steam heat. The steam boiler was taken off the big steam engine, the one that the brothers bought when they went into custom breaking in 1917. The showroom wall facing the street was solid plate glass and could hold three cars - another first.
In the fall of 1927 Cooley Brothers Grand Opening took place. It was a grand affair complete with six piece orchestra playing while the crowd danced on the new freshly painted shop floor which had been covered with corn meal to make for easy dancing. For the first hour the corn meal and paint glued itself to the dancers' shoes, but shoe scrapers were brought in and the dance went on and on. The whole thing was such a success that from the day of the grand opening until the crash of 1929, new cars and machinery were being sold faster than they could be delivered. Cooley Brothers were a household name throughout the land.
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