Chatting with seniors: Reg Carroll

Reg Carroll in his backyard workshop. – @Ryan King / Wreckhouse Press Incorporated


MARGAREE – FOX ROOST — When you enter Reg Carroll’s backyard shed, the first thing you notice is the variety of woodworking tools that line the walls. The second thing might be several impressive wood working projects, like a model cabin complete with furniture. The obvious craftsmanship of his work is made all the more impressive since Carroll has been doing his carpentry projects with one hand, having lost his left hand in an industrial accident.

Carroll was born in Burgeo, and lived with his family on Deer Island until he was seven years old. His father was a fisherman who moved to Port aux Basques for work.

“I’m 75 now, so I’ve been here a long time. I went to school here, but I didn’t do well in school. Because way back then, my parents were poor, and we had to go out at a young age, 14 or 15, and go fishing with the old man,” says Carroll.

Carroll’s love of woodworking began at home, when he helped his father build a house.

“I jumped right in and I said, ‘Yeah, I kind of want to work there,’” recalls Carroll.

Carroll also began working as a fisherman for a few years, before moving into construction. However, he kept up his love of woodworking, though he was reluctant to let anyone know.

“I guess, way back then, if I said, ‘I’m a carpenter,’ and did some jobs, they’d might say, ‘You’re a damn poor carpenter.’” shares Carroll. “But I built five or six houses here in Margaree, over the years. I built two or three since I’ve had the accident.”

His work in construction as a driller and blaster took him to Port aux Basques, La Scie, and back to Burgeo. Burgeo was also the place where Carroll lost his arm.

He was landscaping for the new hospital, performing drilling and blasting work for the building’s groundwork.

“It was March the 5th, 1992. It was a cold, real frosty morning, and rough. You couldn’t see your hand before you almost. Really rough, but we mucked away and worked. I had a pair of rubber gloves on my hands at the time, but then I had two full hands. I think it was about 8:30 (a.m.) or so, and I said ‘Well the sun came out. I don’t need no rubber gloves now,’” recalls Carroll.

He then went into the lunchroom and took off the rubber gloves, and pulled on a pair of old woolen mittens.

“They were wet. So I came back out and set up the machine again, and it was about quarter-to-nine. I still remember. I saw sparks coming from the coupling above,” says Carroll. “I was one of those guys where, if I get an honest day’s pay, I like to put in an honest day’s work.”

Looking to get the job done, Carroll then did what he could to get the equipment running.

“I held the coupling in my mitt and hit the rotation on it, and boy, they are fast turning machines – the old Gardner Denvers. I took the coupling, holding the hammer down, and the mitt was stuck to the coupling and (I) didn’t know it,” says Carroll.

It was at this point that things took a dangerous turn.

“I remember seeing my arm go around the shaft, just like a piece of rope. My friend from Rose Blanche, dead and gone now, he was downwind from me,” remembers Carroll. “I got her stopped and I thought, ‘If I get my hardhat off and throw it downwind, all ice and snow, my buddy might see my hat go by.’ But that’s all I remember, and I just blacked out. That was about quarter to nine in the morning, and I woke up Sunday night in St. John’s.”

Carroll’s recovery process began with an eight week stay at the Health Science Centre, followed by four years going back and forth for therapy. With the hand still stiff, more surgical intervention was needed, including removal of the index finger and operation on the thumb. However, despite his medical team’s best efforts, Carroll lost feeling in the hand. Amputation was then done on his left arm, and in its place he was given a prosthesis.

“He said, ‘Mr. Carroll, the only way out is I’m going to amputate your arm, and leave you that.’ So, it was a blessing. But now, I don’t even know I have it. It’s been some 20 something years and now, I take it off in the nighttime before I go to bed, or jump in the shower, or whatever, and get up the next morning the first thing I do is put it back on,” says Carroll.

At first Carroll could not make use of his woodworking tools, and was persuaded to sell his tools to his brother-in-law.

“He was married to my sister at the time. He used to come over, and where I couldn’t do much at first, he would say, ‘You might as well sell your tools.’ I said, ‘No, Brian, no yet.’ But he kept on and kept on, and one day he came over, and I said, ‘For frig’s sake, take it. Give me $50 and take it. Take the works.”

However, it was through a gift from his wife that he realized that his woodworking days were not over just yet.

“After that, the wife got me a model boat of the Bluenose, and I built that with one arm. And I said, ‘I’m not dead. I got to get back into carpentry.’ So, I had to buy my own tools over again.”

Carroll is not the only member of his family to face such a challenge. His grandson, Brandon, was diagnosed with cancer on his 16th birthday and needed to have his left leg surgically removed. Carroll was in Fort McMurray at the time and travelled back home with his son.

“When we got home, I seen him come across the road, before the surgery, and well, I broke down. He said, ‘Now Pop, don’t do that. I don’t want anybody to cry over me. I got cancer. Cancer ain’t got me,’” recalls.

Brandon then went to St. John’s for 45 weeks of chemotherapy and was welcomed home with a motorcade.

“Then he went back to St. John’s for surgery, and he had a 17-hour surgery. At that time, we were in the church with the minister praying for him all day and I guess the prayers worked.”

The surgery took place on Dec. 7, and Brandon returned home on Jan. 22, hopped on a skidoo and went for a ride.

“He hasn’t stopped,” says Carroll with pride. “He’s been positive right from the beginning.”

Such a positive outlook likely comes from the example that his grandfather set for him in facing such a challenge.

“Well, I think that’s what he’s saying. He said, ‘I learned that from Pop.’ Because I had this before he was born.”

Carroll believes that never giving up is key.

“Keep going b’ys. Don’t give up and look around you. There’s always someone worse.”

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