|Robert, son of
and Robert Tunks, was born 18 February 1854 in Mosa Township, Middlesex County, Ontario.
Somewhere along Bob's business career, he decided that a man in business should have a
second name; "Robert Henry" so to speak, was born.
Thirsa, daughter of Benjamin Hewitt and Catherine Beaul, was born 30 January 1855 at Middlesex County, Ontario. Looking at the 1861 census, it's easy to guess how the two met; they were next door neighbours142.
Thirsa was the oldest child, and had to stay home and work. Because of that, she didn't get much formal education and couldn't read very well. Many years later, her daughter Mary gave her a picture bible - a bible in symbols - for her to read.
Bob was the "interesting one". As the story goes, he was involved in what one could not be construed as a "family business"; more like gambling and rum running. Then a Presbyterian minister came to town and he became a changed man. That changed man was the one his daughter Carrie remembered.
"I can remember we kids would be all up stairs in the morning, and dad would be singing ... always singing a hymn. Oh it's just dad singing hymns, and we'd turn over and go back to sleep, until he'd get the fire going."
Carrie went on to say that sometimes her father would be singing little ditties of a monkey chasing a baboon type song, but mostly he'd be singing Hymns.
Bob was involved with oil wells and his daughters-in-law all agreed that the Tunks' money was sunk into the ground. It was the male pursuit for the "big one". Bob had a portable saw mill at another time, so he could move right into the woods and do the cutting on site. Thirsa would go with him and do the cooking for the men; fried onions was a favourite entree.
Bob started his blacksmith shop in 1892. The Reid's Mill143 was going strong and Bob looked after the machinery. If anything went wrong, two short blasts of the steam whistle was the signal for him to go to the sawmill. It was the training ground for Bob to eventually take over the Bothwell Basket Factory in 1910. Bob utilized the (then) extensive elm and hickory timber nearby. He had basically made all the machinery in the Basket Factory by this time. Not many people who were living in the Bothwell, Ontario area from 1910 onwards into the 1950's can say that they didn't work at that factory at one time. Anyone looking for some extra cash - even children - could work for as little as an hour. They would get paid for whatever they did, and off they would go. Employing up to forty people, the business enjoyed a large trade.
The logs were cut into veneer at the sawmill, then into splints for the weaving process. Women would be on piece work, weaving mats by hand and there was good money to be earned. From the initial weaving, the mats were then pressed into shape and a rim would be inserted and tacked. The basket was cleaned up by knife, a handle nailed on and then thrown in a heap. From this heap, children would put them into bundles of four to be loaded onto boxcars and sent off to Windsor or Erieau, Ontario to be shipped to their destination.
A wagon load of finished baskets
Great grandson Joseph Tunks said that, "Everything was so simple. That old man built everything". He could cut circles from planks using a square. "He would take an old belt or tire ... and one would rub on the other ... just like a clutch ... and by God ... it would work like a dream." "... Hell of a good mechanic." Itís been said "there was no machine ever built in his day that Bob couldn't build or better it in some way.144"
The basket factory had one of the first veneer machines (though not known as "veneer" at that time), and one of the first boilers. It was that boiler that started many men on their way to getting their Stationary Engineers Certificate.
With the basket factory a going concern, there was this car. It was the second one in Bothwell. It had a 2-cylinder chain drive and 2 small acetylene lights, one on each side. There was a big brass light on the front of the dashboard measuring about 8 or 9 inches across. It had room for five passengers, with a removable back seat converting it to a two-passenger truck. The steering wheel was a large handle, and it was an old relic when it was purchased. In 1919 it was put to use by taking their business product - baskets - to the surrounding area to sell. Once the business started rolling, the car lapsed again into disuse. After several years it went back to the dealer where it was purchased and given an afterlife; the story goes that it was shipped to the Ford Museum in Dearborn as its final resting place145.
Bob and Thirsa had thirteen children: Annabel, Elizabeth, William, Mary Ellen, Charles, Emma, James, Robert, Harry, Gladys, Catherine and Carrie Alva. The thirteenth child was found in the 1901 census, Harriet. Harriet was born 18 April 1892146 and nothing else is known of her.
Niece Jean (Johnston) Downie recalls Bob as being a small person, compared to the rest of the family. She recounted one particular incident when Bob came into the kitchen and Aunt Thirsa mixed up soda and water to soothe Bob's stomach. Jean learned later that this was a common occurrence.
Maria Catherine was the only child who didn't marry. Bob told daughter Carrie that Catherine "was a very quiet girl", and that "she liked to sew". Catherine was born 19 September 1874 in Mosa Township and died 13 February 1894 from cancer of the stomach147. She was buried in the West Bothwell Cemetery, at Bothwell.
Robert Henry died from Myocarditis on 19 May 1932 and was buried in the West Bothwell Cemetery at Bothwell148. Thirsa died on 5 June 1938 and was buried with her husband.
Thought to be from a Windsor newspaper dated
17 February 1931
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2015 by Jack Parr