Fred, the friendly curmudgeon of Cochrane, bikes to Beyond

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 9, 2016

Fred Palen, famous for his controversial opinions, contagious smiles, and greeting Walmart customers with happy-face stickers, was accompanied by his Cochrane biking buddies June 6 at start of his Final Journey.
Top photos supplied, bottom photo and collage by Warren Harbeck

One of our coffee companions, the elder statesman among Cochrane motorcyclists, just set out on a journey from which he will not return. And no doubt he’ll be gifting his new community with those contagious smiles for which he was legendary around here.

I first met Fred Palen years ago at his wife Rose’s Sure Print Copy Centre. Almost from the start, his winsome ways made me want to keep coming back.

For example, he took note of the exact settings for some copying I did regularly back then and assigned my name to a key on their copier. All I had to do was press that key, and to my delight, the copier did the rest! And yes, I have kept coming back.

More recently, visitors to our local Walmart would speak often about this amazing guy who greeted everyone with his contagious smile, a fellow who even put happy-face stickers on kids’ hands and foreheads. I think his welcoming ways kept them returning, too.

And of course, Fred could be counted on to liven up coffee conversations at the A&W with his curmudgeonly take on current affairs that almost always ended in happy faces and building bridges of goodwill – even among those who continued to strongly disagree with him.

Did I say building bridges of goodwill? Well, probably no better example of that could be found than among the friendships he developed in Cochrane’s motorcycling community. That was made abundantly clear at his June 6 funeral. (Fred had passed away on May 30 at the age of 78.)

His biking buddy Bob Furtney, whose garage serves as headquarters for the Cochrane Motorcycle Club, delivered words of remembrance on behalf of its members:

“For almost 20 years on Wednesday nights we met at the garage,” he said.

On his road trips around Canada and the United States, “he didn’t always get to his destinations. This didn’t bother Fred.”

There was that time, for instance, when “it took him three tries to get to El Paso, Texas.” But his 1937 sidecar contraption kept breaking down. Nevertheless, “his determination got him there. He just said, ‘When I break down, I just meet more friends!’”

Well, his friendly determination also won him the loyalty of many bikers around our community, too. In fact, about two dozen of them formed a cortege to lead Fred’s funeral procession to Cochrane Cemetery.

Bob concluded by announcing that every June 1 from now on, just as they did last week, local bikers will hold the Fred Palen Memorial Ride.

Well, Fred, what a ride it’s been, eh? You’re an original whose winsome ways I can only hope to copy. Happy trails, my friend!


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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