Darla’s Coin-Operated Refrigerator…

God's Railroad
“God’s Railroad”
© Les Becker, 2005
Taken April 10, 2005 with Polaroid PDC3070

September 6, 2014

Somewhere between Wawa and Hawk Junction is a little town called Magpie…

Sometime during the 1930’s, Ruby’s sister Darla, and her husband Harry lived there. In fact, that’s where Ruby’s nephew Satch was born 78 years ago, and he still gets a kick out of telling people where he originated, since nobody’s ever heard of it.

At some point, traveling by rail between Wawa and Hawk Junction, you can be diverted to Magpie. I should have got more detailed directions from Ruby – not that I can imagine actually getting there by train anymore, but it would have made for more interesting blog fodder, I think.

Darla is part of what Ruby calls her parents’ “first set”. They had five kids to start with, and started again on a second set seven-or-so years after the fifth was born (they kept the first set, mind you…). The last three kids were Rex, Ruby and Joycie – Ruby and Joycie are the only ones left, now. And, sadly, Joycie’s not doing so well these days.

But let’s carry on with the story…

Harry was the Section Foreman in Magpie. As fans of Ruby know, her father was a section foreman too, in Northland, where all his kids were born and raised (by Ruby’s Mom, who had.



Back in the day, the ACR had a section foreman who oversaw the maintenance of the railroad for every eight miles of track. Eight miles! This news made me wonder how many miles today’s section foremen were responsible for. This is what I found out (you may want to skip this bit – it’s scary-scary):

According to this report –

The assigned workforce between Mile 42 and Mile 76 (Temagami section) [That’s 34 miles, folks!] consisted of one track supervisor, one foreman, two track maintainers and one truck driver. Normally, the track supervisor performed the track inspections. In the absence of a track supervisor, the track inspections were performed by various track foremen or track maintainers. On this section of track, the assigned responsibility for track inspection changed 11 times during the 15-month period from January 1999 to March 2000. The regularly assigned track supervisor was absent from this territory for approximately 50 percent of the time during this period, having successfully bid to work on work gangs. During his absence, his track inspection duties were assigned to three relieving track supervisors (one of whom was not trained as a track supervisor). During the same 15-month period, the responsibility for track maintenance in this section of track also changed 11 times. The assigned foreman who was responsible for maintenance was present for approximately 1.5 months. Just under eight months were covered by trained foremen; the remaining time was covered by track maintainers who had not completed the track foremen’s training course.


Poor Harry was killed on his section while manually switching a track. The switch-arm came back and hit him in the stomach – he died in hospital a few days later.

Darla and the kids moved to the Sault to a house on Pardee Avenue and she needed a fridge but had no money to buy one. She was offered a rent-to-own option, though…

A store in town had her sign a contract, and shortly thereafter, delivered her new fridge to her kitchen. Attached to it was a coin-box. If she wanted to open the door, she had to put a quarter in the slot first.

Now Ruby’s a little fuzzy on that part – she “kinda has the idea” that one quarter would allow Darla to open the door several times, not just once. Myself, I picture Darla putting a plan down on paper – what to get out of the fridge and what to put back in it while the door is open – so as to get the most out of that quarter.

Ruby is clear on two points:

1) Once a month a rep from the store would show up and empty out the coin-box attached to the fridge. The takings constituted Darla’s monthly payment for the fridge rental.

2) Darla’s kids spent many of their own quarters opening that fridge. I’m not sure how they came by their money back then, but if their primary source of amusement was opening the refrigerator, the Sault must have been a big let-down for them after Magpie.

During the writing of this post, I googled “coin-op refrigerators” and discovered that this way of buying a fridge was quite common back then. All of the references, though, state that one of these was also attached to the fridge:

It's a "Money Meter"
It’s a “Money Meter”

These references say that rent-to-own contracts required a certain allotment of quarters to be inserted within a 24-hour period. If the requirement wasn’t met, the fridge turned off. Now, there’s incentive, for you! I’ll have to mention this to Ruby and see what she says…

I don’t know how long it would have taken for Darla to pay off that refrigerator. Probably years. I can, however (probably very accurately), imagine how proud she’d have been when the store rep showed up and took that coin-box off. Rightly so, Darla.

2 Replies to “Darla’s Coin-Operated Refrigerator…”

  1. Oh now, you see, this coin-op thing would so work at my house. What an incentive not to open the damn thing just on a random whim. I think it would be much better than the current system of padlock -criss-crossed duct tape-Police Line DO NOT CROSS accoutrements currently in operation. (i.e. Only In My Head…)

    1. The only thing I found that worked to keep my husband and step-kids out of my fridge was to label everything “breast milk”.

      Mind you, if the police tape is for you, elle… hmmm. Just send all your leftovers to me, what say? 😀

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