Curious Calgary #8: Firestone Tower

A short-lived tire plant — and one daring protest.

Curious Calgary is a mini-comics series by Sam Hester that can be read online—and/or printed at home and folded into a zine! The entire comic fits onto a single page of 8 ½ by 11 paper. All you need is a printer.

Download this comic, print it out and follow these instructions for how to fold and cut it. A how-to video is at the bottom of this page.

Notes from the editor

The story of Dave Schiedel and his solitary protest on the Firestone tower 50 years ago is a local play waiting to happen, perhaps in the vein of David van Belle’s Buzz Job! The True Story of Cal Cavendish (2009).

In 1975, Cavendish, a disgruntled folk musician and renegade pilot, took off from the Springbank airport, flew dangerously low over the city, buzzed the Calgary Tower, and, as The Albertan put it, “bombed the city with 100 pounds of manure and 100 copies of his newest record,” dumping them out the airplane’s side door over Inglewood and the east side of downtown.

Cavendish died last year at age 83. His obituary notes that in addition to being “Grandpa Cal,” he was also the “Mad Manure Bomber.”

But a year before Cavendish took to the skies, Dave Schiedel made his own ascent, rung by rung, in a little-known slice of Calgary labour history that pitted a worker against not only his employer, but also Calgary’s summer storms. (I have to wonder: What was it about the mid-’70s that inspired such zany protest antics?!)

Like Cavendish, Schiedel was fed up with lousy treatment in his line of work.

Schiedel was a Firestone millwright and a United Rubber Workers shop steward. In June of 1974, he was one of 18 workers who walked off the job in a wildcat strike, seeking a cost-of-living wage increase.

The company was unmoved. So Schiedel ascended the Firestone tower at around 4:30 a.m. on Friday, June 21, with a sleeping bag, a radio, a flashlight—and a safety belt. He was determined to stay up there “until I get blown off or until the company gives us a guarantee it will bargain in good faith,” he told The Albertan, doing interviews from the top of the tower via walkie-talkie.

The summer sun blazed down. Schiedel pulled up food and water with a rope.

“He decided he had to do something, but nothing violent,” Dorothy Schiedel, Dave’s wife, told The Albertan from the ground. “That would be wrong. What he’s doing, climbing the tower, is quiet. It’s not hurting anybody, and hopefully it will make them smarten up a little.”

But the quiet didn't last long. On Sunday night, a wicked lightning storm blew in.

Schiedel had dealt with heights before but nothing like what met him atop the Firestone tower: winds exceeding 70 km/h that had him clinging to a conduit. The safety belt he’d brought up proved very useful. “There was a lot of static electricity and I got some shocks,” he later told the Herald, “but it only lasted an hour.”

Schiedel’s stunt was international news. Headline writers had a heyday with puns:

  • 'HIGH' DEMAND SEEN FOR WAGES (Spokane Chronicle, Washington)

  • 'UPPITY' WORKER PROTESTS WAGES (The South Bend Tribune, Indiana)

  • HIS DEMANDS ARE TOWERING (The Courier-News, New Jersey)

A bus driver brought Schiedel suntan lotion—sent up by the rope system, presumably—and honked in support when he drove by the tower. Other passersby also honked their encouragement. But by Monday, the company had had enough of Schiedel’s hijinx and cut off his food supply.

On Monday afternoon, another thunderstorm bore down on Calgary. This one forced Schiedel down. “I wanted to live a little longer,” he later told the Herald.

There was a lot of static electricity and I got some shocks, but it only lasted an hour.

Dave Schiedel,

Firestone millwright and striker

On the ground, Firestone fired Schiedel for insubordination, deepening the plant's labour dispute. In July, 240 workers walked off the job. An order from the Board of Industrial Relations forced them back two weeks later. The board order also reinstated Schiedel to his job.

Firestone fired him a second time half a year later.

When the Calgary plant closed in 1978, the Herald tracked down Schiedel to get his take. He didn't buy the company's explanation (changing trends in tire manufacturing) and sympathized with the 350 workers losing their jobs. “As far as I’m concerned, they got a real bum deal,” he said. “I found Firestone the hardest company to deal with as a worker.”

Thus ended Firestone’s relatively brief stint in Calgary. And so began the much longer saga of Fire Park, a vastly underused inner-city site right by a CTrain station.

But that’s a whole in-depth story—more specifically, a Sprawlcast—for another day, so stay tuned.

Sam Hester is a Calgary-based graphic recorder and longtime indie comics creator. Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.

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