I have to admit, before the Dit project I was never a Boston Bruins fan. That was at least until I started to do the research just about two years ago, roughly coinciding with Pack Expo 2010. It was hard not to be a fan after reading about those times and hearing some of the enthusiastic narratives of the “bugs,” the everyday fans who raced up the stairs to find the best seats in the Garden, or who waited to slap players on the back on the street before the game or at the train station. (Not so much for the occasional lowlife who would smuggle in bricks or sacks of squash to fling at opposing players or referees.)
The book was the brainchild of Stewart Richardson, longtime industry colleague, who happened to grow up in Hastings, Ontario – the hometown of one Aubrey “Dit” Clapper. Like other people with those eastern Ontario connections, there was a legacy of frustration that the area’s greatest progeny, among the most celebrated players of his era, had been largely forgotten as successive waves of new stars took to the ice. (Dit, sort of like reusable packaging, never received his full due.)
Dit was respected as one of the most powerful, yet widely respected players of his generation. He punched with such bone jarring force that players avoided altercations with him, yet he would go out of his way to be respectful to other players and officials. But he did have a temper when provoked, and one night in the Montreal Forum he lost his cool, flooring referee Clarence Campbell with a single punch. Campbell went on to become the NHL president, and all forgiven, was on hand to make presentations to Dit some ten years later on the night of Feb. 7, 1947, when he retired as the first player ever to reach the 20 season mark. Dit was also the first to have the waiting period waved for immediate entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I ended up collaborating on Dit based on an impulse, after Stewart emailed me some 1940s magazine spreads of Dit (who didn’t smoke at the time) promoting Camel cigarettes in Life Magazine. We had previously co-written a book about pallets so I had an inkling (not an entirely accurate inkling unfortunately) of the long road ahead. Dit’s story now told, I can refocus once again more fully on the world of reusables and pallets.