cold weather & penguins

After an unseasonably mild winter, we’re finally into cold weather. This morning, the temperature was at -24C (about -11F). With the windchill factor, it was supposed to be about -37C (-35F). It was colder during the night. The snow has taken on that dry, granular quality that allows it to quickly sift in to fill footprints, and form sharply sculpted drifts. The wind is frigid and makes your eyes water if you face into it for too long.

Yesterday, Don and I spent about two hours back in the woods cutting a new trail into the farthest corner of the farm. It was always difficult to reach that corner as there was a lot of brush and broken trees. We finished the worst part of the trail just as a cold front began to move in. When a front moves in quickly, all of a sudden you notice that your fingers are starting to go numb and you feel as though there is a slab of ice pressed against your face. Breathing becomes more difficult as the air feels like it’s burning when it hits your lungs. We decided to call it quits and come indoors — a good decision as the air felt even colder by the time we reached the house about 20 minutes later.

Despite the cold, I’ll probably venture out for my daily walk in the woods with Sabrina. However, in this weather, indoor projects are distinctly appealing. On the weekend, I finally got around to buying a new flatbed scanner. I’ve been wanting one for some art projects, but also to archive some photos, slides and other documents. I gave it a test run by scanning a bunch of photos of a little amphibious vehicle that my dad and a couple of other fellows designed and built at a factory that they set up in the town of Carleton Place in the 1960s. It was called a Penguin. Back then, my dad envisioned it as a useful vehicle for people who had to work in the kinds of places where he used to have to travel when he serviced communications towers in the 1950s and 60s. I have photos of him in snowshoes pulling a big crankshaft out of a generator along on a toboggan as he transported it to a communication tower in northern Quebec. I’m sure he would have loved to have had a Penguin back then. Actually, now that I think of it, it might be pretty darned handy for doing stream surveys in some of the places I’ve been. Of course, now that there are ATVs all over the place, it doesn’t seem like such a hot idea — and he would probably have come to the same conclusion if he were still alive, as he was quite a conservation-minded person. Still, it’s fun to see the photos as they bring back memories of when we had a Penguin up at our cottage. The photos are all up in this gallery on Pbase for anyone who might be interested. My dad, Ed Kay, is the man on the right shaking hands in this photo. I’ve posted an interesting photo down below – kind of a blurry one and not the fault of the scanner. This is the Penguin that was presented to Queen Elizabeth II, by the Canadian government, during her visit to Canada in 1964 (that’s Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to the left, and his wife, Maryon Pearson, between the Queen and Prince Philip). I’ve also found this photo on a Canadian government website that is captioned, “Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh are intrigued by an amphibious “penguin” car presented to them at Prime Minister Pearson’s residence.” For some reason, I like that word intrigued.


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11 Responses to “cold weather & penguins”

  1. Peter Says:

    Wow! Your father must have been proud. I would love to hear more stories about it, if you ever find the time.

  2. pablo Says:

    Well, now I’m wondering what the Queen did with her Penguin.

  3. robin andrea Says:

    What a great story, bev. It is so interesting to read about your father and how creative and inventive he was. I have to admit how surprised I was to see a photo of the Queen, but how cool that she is “intrigued” by something your father helped design.

    Sounds very cold there. Stay warm. Scan more pictures.

  4. Dave Says:

    It was only -2F here this morning, but I guess it’s supposed to get colder tonight. -18F is the coldest temperature we’ve ever recorded in 35 years of residence. But Pennsylvanians are total wimps. Half the schools are closed, and people are told to stay indoors. It’s ridiculous.

    I wonder how seaworthy the Penguin was?

  5. burning silo Says:

    Peter – Yes, it was kind of a big deal at the time… not just for my dad, but for the town as well as quite a few people worked at the little manufacturing plant. I don’t remember a lot about it as I was about 9 at the time, but I do know that a special set of keys were made up for the Penguin. If I remember correctly, I believe they had 14K gold maple leafs on them.

    pablo – Funny, I’ve wondered the same thing. A friend that I showed the photo gallery too also asked me that. I think I’ve heard that the Queen has something like a little museum where such gifts are kept. However, I like to think that perhaps Prince Philip liked to take the Penguin out for a spin around the countryside now and then. (-:

    robin – Thanks. My dad was a very creative person and was always designing, building and fixing things. He always had a project on the go – putting an addition on the house, building a floating raft for diving at the cottage, designing or improving various kinds of machines for companies. He was a master of so many skills – electrician, carpenter, engine repair, designing things on the computer with CAD programs, etc… He always believed that a person could learn to do anything if they really wanted to. I’ve pretty much tried to apply throughout my own life and have found that it’s quite true.

    Dave – They closed the schools there? That’s rather amusing. I don’t think anything ever closes down because of the cold up here. However, I suppose they might keep kids indoors through recess if it were really cold (although I can’t remember ever hearing of that).
    I’m not sure if I’d want to take it out into a bad current, and definitely not into rolling waves or anything. However, we used to drive the Penguin out into the river in front of our cottage and it was quite stable. I think it would be best used for going out on quiet lakes, or crossing small rivers or creeks. There’s a photo of it floating on a lake, and it’s pulling a trailer across a section of a small river in this shot, so it could go along okay. We have a movie of it — unfortunately no projector to play it, and I think there’s some footage of it in the water. If the movie footage is still okay, that’s something that I want to see about getting digitized sometime soon, along with a lot of my dad’s slide collection. He worked on communications equipment across the northern part of Canada in the 1950s, and there are quite a few interesting slides from that time. I’ll try to scan them over the next few weeks.

  6. Doug Says:

    I still have 2 of them.I used it to run around on the ice in the 1000 Islands.There were about 6 of them here.They would go about 40 mph so were exciting to drive and if you went through the ice(very possible) it was not too serious.
    They were a great idea.

  7. burning silo Says:

    Hi Doug – Very interesting to hear that you have 2 penguins. One of my younger brothers just bought one in the U.S. and brought it “home” in the autumn. It’s neat to see it again after all of these years!

  8. Claude Says:

    I found the person who had the father-in laws 1964 Penguin.It had been stored for 20 years.Put a new battery in and put gas in the carb and away it went.My 6 year old twin boys love it.It is ablast to drive.Also have the trailer.Would Doug know of another one for sale?

  9. john Says:

    Ed Kay,
    Was a man with a great insight towards ideas that could be done.
    Thats (mho). Just from researching about “Penguin by Pengor”.
    Only for a few short hours today.
    My girlfriends parents have a penguin, I’ve seen it stored in the rafters of a barn. I told her then that we need to restore that. Her father passed away a few months back and today she hands me this folder with a models B & D illustrated parts list and a jan 5/66 Penguin Price list from something R R # L Keswick, ONT.
    Inside the folder.
    She didn’t remember that I’d seen it before, the Penguin, and said I could start thinking about fixing it up.
    She said that her brothers and her had a lot of fun with it in the 60’s.
    Something about reverse being broken was reason it had been parked years ago and that steering wheel was used by one brother for other project and now missing.
    Her being youngest leads me to belive that she had little to do with driving it when four older brothers had to be ahead of her. Also that when I told her about it not having a real reverse but just restarting in the other direction she looked a bit shocked and said that she was told thats what needed fixed, “the reverse gears”.
    I’ll get a look at it tomorrow maybe, and not up close unless I get a chance to go out to the barn alone, I’m still able to climb around like a man of 40 something years less experience than I have, but other people get a bit worried when I do that stuff so it’s best done with few people around. LOL!

  10. burning silo Says:

    Claude – Maybe Doug will be checking back on this thread and can answer to that. The only other thing I can suggest is to watch eBay. One of my younger brothers found and bought a Penguin that way last autumn. Good luck!

    John – Thanks for leaving your interesting comments regarding the Penguin. We too had a lot of fun with the Penguins at our cottage back in the sixties. Although young at the time, I have some interesting memories connected with the Penguin. The prototype was designed while we were living in Toronto. I remember visiting the workroom and seeing the body being designed and cast using plaster. At some point, an old schoolhouse was rented outside of Toronto, and more of the prototype work happened there. I’ve been gradually scanning old family photos and will also scan some slides and get this material up online as I have time. Good luck with your project to restore the Penguin. I hope you get it running soon! -bev

  11. Kevin Percy Says:

    After Pengor closed down a company in Keswick started building a vehicle very similar to the Penguin. They called it “The Beaver” and until they had their own Manuals and Parts Lists printed they used Penguin ones. I have a Beaver that was originally purchased in 1967 and it was delivered with Penguin manuals and price lists. I also own a few Penguins and there are only a few parts that are not interchangable between the two. From what I saw at the old Beaver factory it looks like they may have assembled Penguins there until they got the Beaver design sorted out.

    I have a copy of an article from The Ottawa Citizen covering the Royal Visit of 1964 and it mentions that Prince Philip wanted to know if the Penguin could be taken to Montreal and loaded on the Royal Yacht Britannia so he could try it out while they were in the Caribbean. That is the last mention of it I have seen.