Lifestyle

Another day, another project for Ron Francis

Thousands of specialized tools fill the woodworking shop of Ron Francis, 84, who holds a scale model of a 1934 Chevy, made from at least three different types of wood, all left in their natural colour. - Paul Rudan/The Mirror
Thousands of specialized tools fill the woodworking shop of Ron Francis, 84, who holds a scale model of a 1934 Chevy, made from at least three different types of wood, all left in their natural colour.
— image credit: Paul Rudan/The Mirror

If he wasn’t doing something, 84-year-old Ron Francis doesn’t know what he would be doing.

“I’m a survivor. I enjoy life and I work hard every day,” he says at the home he built with his own hands.

Growing up in London, England, Francis survived the German bombing raids, hiding in the steel underground bunker buried in the family’s backyard.

“I remember sitting there in ankle deep water,” he recalls.

In the late 1960s, he survived a serious health scare that nearly killed him.

And in 2009, he survived emotionally when his wife of more than 60 years, Grace, died. He points to the beautifully-crafted wood box he built where her ashes lie, awaiting his.

“When I go, my ashes are going in there too. They’ll be scattered in the salt chuck in front of our house,” he says looking at the sparkling water near the Big Rock.

But then Francis blinks back a tear and offers a smile, “They’re going to have wait a while.”

There’s just too much too do and too little time for the ever-busy Francis who admits to “spreading myself too thin.”

His list of projects is exhausting. He greets the visitor with a firm handshake and points to the vintage Tyee rowboat, built by Dr. Dick Murphy, that he’s refinishing under the carport.

Then he waves his arm to indicate the flower gardens, all grown from seed in his cozy sun room.

On the kitchen table is the autobiography he’s working on along with a print – saved from the family home in London – that he’s refinishing, and then there are the hand-built custom glass cabinets that hold his intricately-built wood models of cars, trucks, trains, machinery, jewellry boxes and assortment of carvings.

They all stem from his beginnings as a cabinet maker in England where he spent seven years as an apprentice.

During the Second World War, Francis joined the Welsh guard and spent several years looking out for the British Royal Family.

After the war, he sent Grace to Canada to join his sister. He would join her in Chemainus after his military stint where he went to work in the sawmill.

They raised two children, ran another business and then moved to Campbell River in the mid-1960s.

He later worked at the Myra Falls mine, but he also became a fishing guide and ran Coho Charters for 30 years. During this  time he also helped form the Guides Association.

And just to prove he was a good guide, Francis brings out the gold-plated Mitchell reel presented to him as a thank-you by the late American actor James Whitmore.

“Nice reel – never used it,” says Francis.

But most of his days are spent in his tool-filled workshop that even has a Francis-designed sawdust vacuum system made from PVC pipe.

He shows off the bird houses he’s building and will be selling to benefit the local Senior’s Centre at Campbell River Common.

And then there’s a box of old metal dinky cars that he will fix, re-paint and take to the hospital for the kids.

However, the show-stoppers of his collection are the wood models of new and old vehicles. Every little piece is handmade and the different woods are left in their original colour.

“I’m spent at least 150 hours building the Hummer...it’s painstaking, but I don’t care.”

 

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