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Ruby really a block of granite

FALKLAND, B.C. — On Sunday night, Dec. 9, 1956, pilot Allan Clarke and his
Trans-Canada Airlines North Star DC-4 left Vancouver’s International Airport for Calgary.

An hour into the flight, at 10,000 ft., Clarke radioed he was looking at a
flashing light, indicating a fire in his No. 2 engine.

Although he didn’t see the flames, he told the tower he was returning to

Then the blip went off the radar screen just east of Hope.

The DC-4 slammed into 2,610 metre-high Mount Slesse, southeast of Chilliwack.

Sixty-two people, including four Saskatchewan Roughriders — Mel Becket,
Mario Demarco, Ray Syrnyk and Gord Sturtridge — as well as Winnipeg Blue
Bombers’ Calvin Jones, were killed. They were returning from the 1956 Shrine All-Star football game in Vancouver’s Empire Stadium, which the West
won, 15-0.

The wreckage was found five months later in the treacherous area.

Another Canadian Football League all-star, Saskatchewan’s powerful two-way
tackle Martin Ruby, missed the doomed flight because his first wife wanted
to go shopping in Vancouver.

Although it’s more than 40 years ago, Ruby, still a great block of granite,
with his face and hair now snow covered, vividly remembers that tragic day.

“I was due to come back on that plane,” explained Ruby, who happens to be a nearby farm neighbor. “My wife had come out (to Vancouver) and we decided to stay over. We were due to go back on the same plane that went down. We decided to stay over an extra day because she’d never been to Vancouver. It was a lucky deal we missed the plane.”

At noon that Sunday, Ruby said they were all up in the bar at the top of
their hotel, and Demarco and “the boys” were getting ready to go to the airport. “Then there came an announcement there was something wrong … the plane would be an hour late, so these guys didn’t have to go out that
early. I remember Demarco, who didn’t like to fly anyway, being really upset when he heard something was keeping the plane from taking off on time. Whether it was some kind of mechanical problem, I don’t know.

“At the time, it was really traumatic. As for my wife, it was all I could
do to get her back on the plane to Regina for the weather was still bad a
couple of days later. It was really quite a jolt since I was really close
to a couple of those guys — Demarco and Becket. In fact, they owned one of
the service stations there (in Regina) that I took over after they were killed.

Ruby’s football career ended the following year — 1957 — when he injured
his knee.

In 1994, the B.C. government declared the crash area a Heritage Wreck Site
at the insistence of Calgarian Martin Struthers, whose father, John, was

among those killed, and Andy Cleven, of Maple Ridge, B.C., who founded the
Families of Slesse.

Ruby, born and raised in Waco, Texas, attended Texas A&M from 1939 to 1941, taking its physical education program, with his goal eventually to become a football coach. Then, along came the Second World War, with Ruby in the U.S. Air Force for four years and stationed in the South Pacific, on a tiny island next to Guam.

“The closest I came to getting shot was from my own people,” he chuckled.
“When the Japanese surrendered, everybody was going out and shooting off

guns and celebrating, you know. I was officer of the day, drivin’ around

trying to stop some of these guys. That was my closest call.”

After the war, Ruby started playing pro football with the New York Giants
and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the old All-American Conference.

It was in New York where he fell under the influence of Giants’ coach Steve
Owen, whom Ruby considers the “father of the NFL” along with George Halas. “Steve (Owen) ran a T-formation and if it wasn’t going well, he’d run an A-formation and put another quarterback in. Steve was a pretty shrewd old guy.”

After five years in the New York area, Ruby surfaced in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1951.

“I had just signed a two-year contract before I came to Regina. But for
some unknown reason, Glen Dobbs — he and I were real good friends, in the
army and so on — had taken a job as an assistant coach and player at Regina. He called me up one day, asked me to come up and play. I’d never

heard of Regina, you know. A friend of mine from my hometown, Jack Russell, and I were playing with the New York club at the time, so he (Dobbs) asked both of us to come.”

Ruby and Russell had played side by side as a tackle and end, and Russell
wanted to get out of New York because of contract problems. “He talked me
into coming with him. That’s the way I got there.”

And “there” was like nothing he’d ever seen.

“I’ll tell you … they took me out and showed me Taylor Field. At that time
it didn’t seat more than 14,000, that’s with them sitting down in the end
zones. The first night I got there, and looked through that knothole and I
thought, ‘Cripes, I don’t know how they can pay my salary, much less run a football club.’ They paid me $12,000, which was pretty good. The one
thing that really swayed me to come up there and they’d paid me all my traveling expenses. That was really something new, because in the NFL you
didn’t have anybody there. They didn’t let you have a car.”

The other selling point, however, was the Regina folks shared Ruby’s passion for duck hunting. “Right then and there, I decided this is where I
wanted to stay.”

When he was playing football, he traveled between Regina and Texas, and in
1958, he began operating a couple of service stations for Imperial Oil on a
full-time basis.

Ruby, now in his late 70s, still follows the Canadian game, although he
deplores the Americanization of the CFL, and he keeps tabs on his favorite
NFL teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. He once played with former Dallas coach Tom Landry when they were Giants.

In his post-football years, he re-married, raised Hereford cattle and drove
a school bus.

One of those students on the bus remembers him well.

“One thing you didn’t talk back to him,” emphasizes Bruce Robbins, who now
has a farm close to Ruby.

After all, it’s never wise to argue with a block of granite.