I know Joyce Kilmer’s wonderful poem ends with, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree,” but this morning I was remembering how one day I made what might have been the world’s first talking Christmas tree. In 1973 our Santa Train was a huge success for Grand Trunk Western Railroad and so I was fishing for an idea that would add some special fun for children visiting the train. I looked around my cluttered office for inspiration and saw a speaker I wasn’t using. I put on my jacket and headed for the Salvation Army Retail Store where I picked up a small used artificial Christmas tree with a stand.
The Santa Train by Art Fettig – Kindle Edition available from Amazon.com
Then I stopped at the drug store and bought a roll of cotton. I rushed back to my office and put the speaker on the floor, covered it with a bed of cotton and then found a lavaliere mike I wasn’t using and clipped it to the tree. I hooked it all up with an amp. When we set it up on the first coach of the Santa Train tree we ran lines to a small room at the back of the gutted coach not far from the tree. We had a two way speaker system and Mrs. Burdakin and the other ladies would take turns being the voice of the tree. Thousands visited our Santa Train each year and kids loved that talking tree. I was amply rewarded with all those smiles and the laughter.
I believe it was back around 1972 that I first came up with the idea for a Santa Train for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. I was their employee communications officer and we were looking for ways to bring top management and the workers closer together and eliminate the awful feeling they all had about each other.
After talking with Paul Dessinger at the DT&I about a few of the folks trimming up a caboose and taking some orphans on a train ride my mind took a hitchhike on something much more elaborate, a Santa Train on Grand Trunk and I submitted the idea to John H. Burdakin who was then Vice President of Operations. My idea was to put a special train together and take it from city to city on the Grand Trunk. Have several coaches the employees and their whole families could walk through meeting the top executives of our railroad together with their families. Our goal was for every employee to have the opportunity to shake hands with the top boss and for the top boss to meet every employee and their families. Of course everyone would meet Santa Claus too and get presents.
A while later I got a call from John Burdakin inviting me to attend a meeting at headquarters. They were calling in everyone that might make the Santa Train idea come true. I believe that was 1972 and recently I googled Santa Train and discovered that the Santa Train is still running. Grand Trunk has become CN/IC, that is Canadian National/Illinois Central and the Santa Train is making stops at both railroads with several on the old Detroit Toledo and Ironton too. There is nothing as powerful as an idea who’s time has come.
I have been so blessed in my speaking and writing career that when I sit down and examine it I feel like one of the luckiest guys in the world. Freedom is a precious word and the more I look at these past forty plus years I am amazed at the freedom that I demanded for myself and the abundant freedom I was granted. When you are in business sometimes you might get the idea that everyone is your boss but with my career if I didn’t like how a client behaved I would simply move on to a new client. There seemed to be an inexhaustible source of them just waiting for a call.
I have four thick books of testimonial letters from clients and as I read many of them I realize that there was something other than me going on out there in those performances. I say this with humility. I was just not as good as some said. There were times when people in an audience heard a different message than the one I delivered. There were moments where there was a sort of healing going on with members of the audience that was way far above my possibilities. I eventually learned that if I could get my big fat ego out of the way and let good things happen they really did. Often the audience reactions were far above the quality of what was being delivered. I wasn’t that smart, or funny, or inspiring, or skilled or handsome or whatever. God knew that, and I think He intervened many times just out of pity or mercy or perhaps He just figured the people and the occasion demanded something special. Or maybe it was just because I had asked for help.
Perhaps we should ask for God’s help more often. And in my case after I ask for help I should learn how to listen; really listen because as I look back on things there probably were a great number of answers I did not hear because I was talking too much.
I had an exciting teaching experience this week and I do believe that I learned a whole lot more than anyone attending that session. When we are sharing we seem to bring more home with us that we left with. That is just the way it is though these days. I was reminded how blessed we are and how I should give some special thanks this Thanksgiving. When I get out into the world and mingle among younger folks I can see that things are not easy for them these days. People are often working two jobs or unbelievable overtime and they don’t have much time for hobbies or new relationships and everything has to be done in a hurry on the way to doing something else. I am so blessed to have my health and many of my marbles and so I give thanks to God and to all of you good people that I have encountered along the way. I wish you prosperity, happiness and sufficient funds to buy a friend a Dairy Queen Dilly Bar or such. – Art Fettig
Here is a story that our speaking group circulated the other day. Evidently Dr. Black shot a photo of a sign that read “No photography” A stupid act? Maybe, but it is something I might have done because, being overly creative like Dr. Black, it would seem like a funny thing to do. That little kid in my mind might say, “Shoot a picture of a sign saying don’t shoot a picture.” That’s funny! What could be less harmless. And now Dr. Black has been in jail for several weeks trying to find a way out of this dilemma and possibly facing five years in prison.
EXCLUSIVE: American grandfather, 70, facing five years in jail in Arab Emirates for taking picture of ‘no photography’ sign pleads, ‘Just get me out of here, I want to go home’
- Architect Dr Robert Alan Black was lecturing at a conference in Abu Dhabi when he innocently took a picture of sign banning photography
- 70-year-old from Athens, GA, was held by police in United Arab Emirates’ capital for seven days before a translator alerted his family
- He has finally been able to speak to his son, Scott, and ask for help to be released to see his family
This is one of those happenings where you sit there thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I’m sure glad I am here safe at home enjoying life and no longer chasing around this world making presentations. Ah, but would I accept such an assignment today if the enticements were right and it sounded right? Probably I well might and so my concern is great for a fellow speaker who I had contact with just a few months before because of our shared interest in creativity. This is a dangerous world we live in and in many, many ways. Efforts are being made through The State Department and other channels to free Dr. Black, apparently with no positive results so far. This just came in, CPSI has set up a legal defense fund to help in this effort. GoFundMe.com for information.
Did you ever get the feeling that you were raising the kind of kids you didn’t want your kids to play with? Well, I think that a lot of safety trainers have a similar feeling. They would be happy to see some of the people they trained quit and go to work for the competition. I’m a great one for studying my own behavior and frankly, in many ways I am really disappointed at the way I am turning out. Yesterday I was making up a few copies of a book that I co-wrote with a fellow names Myers Barnes. It is titled How To Follow Up For Greater Success In Sales.
As I made the copies I started reading some of the stuff I had written. It was fantastic. What wonderful ideas and I know for a fact, having tested them myself, that they work. Once in a while I actually do what I suggest and when I do I am always pleased with the results. But, for some reason that I cannot understand, most of the time I just do what I feel like doing at the time and nothing more. That old bromide, “Ideas without action are useless,” is so true that it makes me shudder.
What is my point? Just that instructing somebody on how to do something is not enough. They have to try it out and do it again and again and again and if they aren’t encouraged to continue doing it for their own benefit then don’t be surprised if they fall back into the old way of doing things, no matter how unsafe they might turn out to be.
When you start out attempting to write a Memoir or call it an Pictorial Autobiography, well all sorts of stuff starts a cropping up in your mind. First it trickles from your mind onto the computer page and then all of a sudden it starts gushing out and there is just no way you can keep up with the constant flow. Well, I turned this sucker on just about a month ago now and in no time I was up to five hundred pages and it keeps on flowing. Some of the stuff is good and some of it is bad and some of it makes me downright uncomfortable. That’s life, good times, bad times and some times when you just don’t think you can get through it.
I’ve opened up so many boxes of photos and matched many of them up with memories and put them down on the screen and sometimes they bounce around like they have a mind of their own. Still I try to be patient and carry on. It seems to be taking some shape. I’m eighty five and so I figured that is eight and a half decades. In those first ten years of my life there were darn few photos. I remember during the depression a man used to come into our neighborhood with a fine looking pony and he would try to persuade our moms to pay his price for a photo of your kids on the pony. I guess we were too poor then because I haven’t found one pony picture yet. There were four of us children, my three sisters and me and my brother Joe came along later. There are so many stories yet to be told and it seems that every time I capture one on paper another comes flying out of my memory and into my imagination.
I’ve already discovered that I have been so blessed to have so many wonderful people come into my life. It makes a fella grateful just to still be alive and to have a memory that is still functioning reasonably well. I’m blessed.
State Fair Great music, fantastic food, and people. Breathtaking rides, prize winning animals and people. More people everywhere and sometimes it was fun to watch the people having the times of their lives. One thing about the North Carolina State Fair was how, how friendly the folks are and I didn’t see a semblance of a rough gang or a hostile person all day. The grounds were clean too. Orderly lines and can you believe it, we found a stand that offered banana splits with 3 toppings and 3 different ice cream flavors plus whipped cream and three cherries for just $5 each. I couldn’t resist that offer. The Village of Yesteryear was my favorite stop, not because of the stuff inside the building but for the…(you probably guessed it) yes, because of the people. I met and visited with Robert Hall,a really cool artist who loved what he was doing and with Michael Calhoun a “Traditional Potter”. Chalk up another wonderful day at the State Fair. May God Bless America and bring us the miracle of world peace.
If you have ever felt fear when you stood up to give a speech then I have good news for you. The news is that you are in good company. I’ve discovered after associating with speakers of all kinds for over fifty years, that if they ever get to the point when they do not feel some anxiety or nervousness then it is a good indicator that they should sit down and shut up. Often lack of nervousness and anxiety is a good indication that the speaker just no longer cares about the audience they will be facing or the topic involved. Or it might mean they are totally stoned. “What audience?” they might ask. I have found though that the better prepared I am the less stress I encounter. When I used to talk about stress I would say that without stress buildings would collapse. That stress is a good indicator that we are alive and doing something worth caring about. So the next time you feel that you just might drop dead with fear and excess stress just smile and say to yourself, “I am in great company. I still care.”
Sometimes I get the feeling that the media itself is the cause of many of America’s biggest and most frustrating problems. Instead of news reporters we seem to have titillators and agitators and instigators and an army of broadcasters hell bent on keeping a story alive for yet another day. Once a network bleeds every drop of blood out of a tragedy they rush on to another. Once they have turned us all into a nation filled with fear they find another weak spot in our psychological armor and chip away at that.They move about like a band of famished wolves hungry for the taste of blood. Why is a network never held accountable for their blatant errors, their exaggerations, their outright lies, their rush to judgement and condemnation. Why is “OOPS!” an explanation for outright irresponsible damning and incorrect reporting? If you point a finger at somebody and take a look at your hand you will discover that you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. Maybe it is up to you and to me to demand something better than the shabby treatment they are giving us.