Rudy Johnson is a great storyteller and he has many, many stories to tell.
In the last few years, Rudy, who still lives with his wife, Helen, in their own home, has enjoyed the company and assistance of a housekeeper Adele Hamilton who loved to look at the family’s old photographs and listen to Rudy’s stories.
“You should write a book,” she’d tell him.
Well, thanks to Adele’s repeated assertion and the recordings she made of his storytelling, along with several other family members and close friends, Rudy’s story is finally in print.
Simply titled Rudy Johnson, the book is a marvellous record of not only his personal journey from the time he was born in 1922, his arrival in Canada, his early years and finally his move to the Cariboo in 1947 and all the adventures he’s had in 92 years of living, but also chronicles the development of specifically the Williams Lake area but also Cariboo North.
Rudy admits he’s kept a journal of his life since about age 13 but also admitted he’d lost most of them.
“I was busy with a lot of things and moved around a lot, so the journals would get lost or destroyed, I never imagined I’d write a book,” Rudy said.
His son Randy became the custodian of Adele’s recordings and with the help of his wife, Donna, the job of sorting through and forming a book began.
From the first time he watched a logging operation in the Lower Mainland after arriving from Sweden, Rudy knew he wanted to be a logger. The allure of life in the Cariboo and the tremendous logging opportunities drew this ambitious, tenacious and very hard-working man, his wife and their growing family to the Williams Lake area.
Through the pages of the book, Rudy’s story is revealed and the public is provided a glimpse at the events, activities, businesses and forward-thinking which shaped his actions and choices.
“When I came here in 1947 I saw lots of good timber, a nice climate and a good place to live,” Rudy said. “Helen and I had come here hunting before moving here and the family adapted to life in the Cariboo very well.”
Rudy was a pilot, a prospector, a sawmill owner, a rancher as well as the force behind the construction of the Rudy Johnson bridge across the Fraser River which he completed in 1968.
Of all his many accomplishments, Rudy says building the bridge was his most notable. The government’s bridge engineer told him it couldn’t be done and that was the incentive for Rudy to prove him wrong.
He purchased a redundant bridge in Alaska, had it shipped first by water to Prince Rupert, then by train to Prince George and finally by several trucks to the site. Rudy, who was by this time quite skilled at figuring out how to accomplish what he needed done, drafted up plans for the construction of the foundation for the bridge and how he would span the Fraser River. With the help of a friend who was an engineer, Rudy was granted permission to construct the bridge.
“One whole wall in the bedroom was covered in drawings of what I wanted to do in building the bridge,” Rudy said. “The engineer looked them over and said he wouldn’t change a thing and agreed my plans would work.
“It was six months from when the bridge arrived on site to completion. We had a four-man crew and myself.”
A few years after completion, Rudy sold the bridge to the government and it is still in use today.
The family often drives out to admire the bridge. People are astounded to meet the man who built it.
At 92, Rudy is far from idle. Although he’s given up most of his businesses (and there were a lot of them), his mind is still very active.
About four years ago he put forth his proposal for an alternate route down into the Bella Coola Valley which would have reduced the current 18 per cent grade on the existing road to a six per cent grade on his proposed route and would cut off about 20 – 25 miles. Rudy also suggested a pipeline route, straight west from Prince George to Bella Coola which would have cut off about 150 miles of other proposed routes.
“Bella Coola has all the elements of a great deep sea port with better in and out access than Prince Rupert,” Rudy said.
“I’ve talked to several ferry pilots and they agree its a perfect outlet to the Pacific Ocean.
“There’s projects I keep telling the village (Williams Lake) about things they should be thinking about but they don’t think far enough ahead.”
Together with his still very active wife Helen, Rudy continues to see so much untapped potential and beauty in the Cariboo.
The couple will celebrate 72 years of marriage this year.
“It’s been a great partnership for all that time,” Rudy said.
To meet the author, visit the Tourism Discovery Centre in Williams Lake Friday, Dec. 12 between noon and 3 p.m. where Rudy will be selling, signing and speaking about his book titled Rudy Johnson and looks forward to meeting people in Williams Lake, many of whom have connections to many of the places and businesses named in the book.
Johnson will also have a book signing at the Station House Gallery from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 20.
Copies of the book are also available by e-mailing Randy Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.