By RENE J. ROY
– with files from Rosalyn Roy
There have been a lot of changes to Red Rocks over the years, but it seems Lloyd Taverner remembers them all. During a walk-along tour of the area, Lloyd easily points to spots where the old telegraph poles were, where the generators sat, the name of the old “Peter Station” facility, and everything in between.
His father, Colin, was a diesel mechanic. He moved the family, including one-week-old Lloyd, to Red Rocks in 1952. The area had been selected as base to construct a communications station for Terra Nova Tel, a subsidiary of Canadian National Telecommunications. They were the telephone company of the Dominion of Newfoundland from 1949 to 1988.
“They looked after all the communications from here right to St. John’s,” says Lloyd.
What remains now are hollowed-out concrete ruins filled with brick fragments, peppered with graffiti (albeit some of it quite impressive) and little else. Nearby there are a few half-moon stands that once housed large fuel tanks to keep the generators running. Lloyd continues pointing to various spots, where components were placed, where poles were once raised.
“Right here is where the generators were,” he says. “Right here is where my house was.”
He grew up here, scampering around the grassy ridge close to the shoreline. He remembers watching his father at work.
Two duplexes once stood here, with separate apartments for the operator and four technicians who operated the telecommunications system along with their families.
Water was obtained by way of a pipe installed in the brook nearby, about a kilometre away.
“There were four families here at all times, and my father was the diesel mechanic here,” he explains.
Lloyd recalls one night that lightning struck the nearby Cape Ray Lighthouse, but isn’t sure how old he was at the time.
“We were in our bedroom watching it burn, and I guess they had some drums outside, gasoline or something and lightning hit it.”
A quick bit of research tells us that the lighthouse was damaged by fire in 1959. When the telecommunications facility switched to microwave technology, towers were installed, some of which are still there. It also had some added benefits for the families working there.
“We were top of the arc really, because we had power, we had television, before anyone else,” he chuckles. “We had top of the line.”
Being so close to the Table Mountains and the Wreckhouse area wasn’t without its risks either.
“When they put in one of those towers, well it blew down. So then they put the buildings in, and they just put in metal type buildings, and my father looked at them and said, ‘Well you’re just wasting your time and wasting your money. It’s not going to stay there.’”
Lloyd points to the concrete bunker style frames still standing.
“This is what they ended up putting in, there was that much wind.”
There used to be a wind gauge installed, and Lloyd remembers that they once recorded winds of 152 miles per hour (244 km per hour) blowing through.
“Thats when the gauge gave out. Well, it blew off!,” laughs Lloyd.
Being bored never seemed to be an issue growing up, even in such an unforgiving little pocket of land, but Lloyd says it was the least of their worries back then. Even the weather used to be different, harsher, more fierce. They would get socked in by snow and wind and go about their business anyway.
“I remember my father had friends over to the lighthouse, and he got on a tractor and blew his way out there through a snowstorm just to have a game of cards!”
These days ATVs roam up and down the gravel where the tracks used to run, but back then going anywhere meant hitching a ride on the train.
“If you wanted to go to Port aux Basques, you would just go out there and flag the train down. If they weren’t too busy they would stop and pick you up. We all used to do that.”
He recalls they loved to hop on the train to get to town, hoping to catch a movie sometimes, but he didn’t do it too often himself. Unfortunately, Lloyd remembers the sad death of a neighbour, who used to do just that. He ended up being struck by the train when he slipped while trying to step off the railway line.
“There was just no time for the train to stop.”
Initially the railway track used to run along the shoreline, but it eroded enough to necessitate a causeway. That seemed to mark the beginning of the end, says Lloyd, as not long after services began to shut down.
The entire facility began fully shutting down when Lloyd turned 16, and his father bought one of the company houses for the princely sum of one dollar. The family moved it just down the road, just handy to the little wooden bridge.
Today, little remains of the communications station other than the concrete shells. There are no old houses, no long-forgotten furniture. That might be why most people who don’t know its history are under the impression that the area was a military facility of some kind.
“That seems to be what most people think, and my brother said boy, thats history there, that’d make a good story.”
Lloyd has numerous fond memories of his time at the Red Rocks communications station, and is a diesel mechanic but spent most of his career working as a stevedore for the ferry service.
“I went into the mechanical side of things, and that was my main business.”
He also worked with the railway for fourteen years, until it also shut down. After 20 years as a stevedore, he retired last year. He has also been a member of the Rangers for the past 42 years, and still goes on three or four outings a year.
But the little shoreline spot is still there, still putting a “little taste of salt on your lips.”