Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fellow Traveler

My friend Gerard had a little essay about the repair of Red Wing boots. I hate to admit it, but I've got a pair of Red Wing boots. The part I hate to admit is that they're my good shoes now, not my work boots. I found a video that shows the process, which I love. I love to see people with hand skills. Doesn't matter what sort of skills they are, either. Chef or glassblower or hod carrier or guitarist; whatever. 

I remember watching slackjawed as my mother typed nearly a hundred words a minute on a manual typewriter. Without errors. Literally awesome. She was like Cassius Clay confronted with a midget wrestler when electric typewriters showed up. I could go really fast on that.

I mixed mortar for my uncle and watched him butter a block perfectly, every time, with two deft swipes of his trowel. He never missed. I couldn't even get the mortar to stay on the trowel, or place the blocks in a row as fast as he could use them. I worked with men that could drive finish nails all day with a hammer and never leave "elephant tracks." I find manual dexterity, distilled by repetition to fluidity, fascinating.

I'm not alone in that. As society gets more complicated, people become farther removed from the physical production of anything. They often get the same thrill I get when they encounter someone that can do something with their head, heart, and hands really well.

Factories are important, and many things should be made in a big faceless building filled with robots and drones. I don't really need an artisinal flatscreen TV. But I need to see artisans, and feel like one, too.No one's holding a gun to your head and forcing you to shop for everything at WalMart and IKEA and patronize no one locally except a trash hauler. Some of your neighbors make things and do things. Do the neighborly thing and seek them out. 


Leslie said...

My daughter makes cakes. They are completely edible, and incredibly beautiful. She is an artist at 19.

Here is one she made yesterday:

Casey Klahn said...

There was a shoe repair shop in Seattle that was top drawer. I remember that well.

My father-in-law, Jim, who is a wheat farmer, is a Great Depression/WW II era fellow. I once watched a video of him, and five strong men, digging a pit for roasting a pig. They did this in my garden.

The strong men were flashing shovel loads everywhere. Jim was gliding in, getting full spades from the exact right place, and moving the dirt. He got five times as much product for his effort than the others combined. It was a thing of beauty.

Don't get me started on his farming. You'd cry at the beauty.

SippicanCottage said...

Leslie- That's amazing.

Hi Casey- My father called a shovel "an Irish banjo."

Sixty Grit said...

My good shovel, the one I always use when the shovellin' is important, was made in Ireland.

Just noticed my jeans were made in Lesotho. I mention that because a carpenter with whom I have worked on over a dozen projects lived and worked in Lesotho. I enjoyed hearing about what it was like there.

I couldn't butter a brick or a block to save my life. I worked with guys who could, and they could pick up two of the largest cinder blocks in each hand. And drive a 16d nail with one blow.

When I was in practice I could nail okay, but man, that is a skill that evaporates like being able to play triplets over a boogie left hand figure. Use it or lose it, baby.

As we always said in the world of cycling, the older I get the better I was.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I know your uncle, Sipp. And you`re right, he could butter those biscuits like lightning. He`s still kickin and we speak of you often.


dadofhomeschoolers said...

Hello Sip.

Here is a video of our boiler makers forming the backhead for a locomotive we are restoring.

A form, some heat, and 20lb sledge hammers.

Poke around, all of our wooden coaches are restored/rebuilt as well.

You can get a lot of things done in this county if you know what barn door to look behind.

Anonymous said...

The greatest compliment when you can do something fairly well, is an onlooker saying, "You make that look so easy".

Nigel Johnson said...

A friend of mine, Alan Medlicott, was a hammer hand at the world famous Beyer Peacock Locomotive works in Gorton Manchester, England.Can you imagine doing that job five and a half days a week. He was about five foot ten tall and weighed twelve stone.168 English pounds. They were also fined if they missed the strike. Regards, Nigel.

Jonathan Cook said...

Always late to these games, but I'll add my $0.02: in a past life I was working on building a recording studio that was being finished with the finest red oak I've ever seen. The company made sure only their best finish carpenter worked on that part. I often found myself forgetting my laborer duties as I watched this artisan ply his trade: no wasted motion, no goofs, exquisite results.

Jewel said...

The only profession worth having these days is in repairing things. Lord knows we don't manufacture them much, anymore. Might as well fix what we can fix.
Strasburg isn't far from where I live.

H. Gillham said...

I grew up making repairs. We had windows with glass panes -- and the panes were always cracking and breaking --- we learned at a young age to take out that piece of glass, get a new one cut, and putty it back in....

we repaired the shingles on our roof, stripped wooden doors and cabinets, rewired lamps, and replaced tubes in our television ---

my brothers grew up taking things apart [toasters, fans, radios] and then putting them back together -- they loved all that stuff...

God created our hands -- and we should use them --- they are amazing.


Nigel Johnson said...

My comment was in response to forming the backplate of the locomotive boiler by dadofhomeschoolers. Regards, Nigel.