Cars And Carpentry

What has the post title got to do with Marge, Bob or us?  In a way, an automobile is a tool. Its main purpose is to give us personal mobility.  We don’t have to rely on foot power, real equine horsepower, busses, trains and other similar forms of transportation.  Carpentry also requires tools to transform the raw material of wood into a house, bookshelf, kitchen cabinet, etc.  so the common denominator is tools.

Olduvai Gorge is a site in Tanzania that holds the earliest evidence of our human ancestors. Paleoanthropologists have found hundreds of fossilized bones and stone tools in the area dating back millions of years. Archaeologists use evidence of tool use, such as the Clovis Point, in dating material found in digs. These artifacts go back a mere 10,000 years or so.  From the earliest dawn of civilization, tools have been important, perhaps necessary to our evolution. I believe this is evidence of a primal need for people.

Now, getting more personal, I want to write a little about our 1964 Rambler station wagon.  Click the link above to see one. Here is how we acquired this car:  In 1966 I bought a beautiful 1962 Cadillac Coupe De Ville.

Us and our Cadillac

Us and our Cadillac

This was the car that overtime bought. I felt I could indulge myself. This car was a gem, I wish I still had it.  Oh well.  Now we had two cars and I usually drove the Caddie, and left Marge the Ford but we would swap if she wanted to drive the Caddie.  The Ford was quite pock-marked from the salt in Syracuse and we decided to get rid of it.  I put a for sale ad in the paper in 1967 with no luck.  I went to a two-week intensive course in statistics at the University of Connecticut.  While I was gone, Marge sold the Ford herself.  She was quite proud of herself, rightfully so.

I regard automobile ownership from a strictly economic viewpoint. To me, cars are a wasting asset, not appreciating but depreciating. Houses and financial investments usually appreciated.  So, I would buy a car a year or 2 old when the biggest depreciation had taken place. I would shop around, do research (like I always did) and buy one that looked good to me.  After 1967 I always had at least two vehicles sometimes three and that practice worked for me.

So, in 1967 we had only one car.  I told Marge I would get a junker to drive to work so she could have the 62 Caddie.  I bought a 57 Caddie for $100.  I doubt it was worth that much.  I had it a few months, and traded it for the Rambler.  Our Rambler quite basic transportation without  the trim and details of the one above, but the year and color is right.

Moving along then, in 1970 we were at Beverly Hills and Marge’s father, Col. Alexander Sutherland, and his wife Peggy, drove East and stayed with us a few days.  I really admired him not only for his service to his country, but also his ability to do any task he set his mind to. Making jewelry, woodworking, roofing, etc. he could, do  it.  One of the days he was with us I mentioned the Rambler needed a tune-up. I asked him follow me to the garage.  His response was that he would show me how to do it myself, it was quite easy. He had a full tool box with him, timing light, tachometer, etc. with him.  We drove to an auto supply store, bought plugs and points.  On returning home, he walked me through the process. The task was easy, given the tools to do the job and know-how to use them.

From that time until all the electronic systems came to cars, I continued to do all the routine mechanical work on my cars.  It was really satisfying to me, almost visceral in a way as a present day use of tools that resonated with the tool makers and users of our ancient ancestors.  I was glad I did not have to this for a living, but it was very different from being an engineer and manager.

Now to carpentry.  My father was not good in doing any kind of home maintenance. He either got a friend to help or hired somebody.  I wanted to build things. Shortly after we married, I took a night school course in woodworking. It was poorly taught and the shop was poorly equipped. This was a disappointment to me.

Shortly after we moved to Binghamton, Col. Alex asked us if there was anything we wanted that he could make for us. He had retired and lived in Havre de Grace, Maryland, which was not too far from where we lived.  He had a complete well equipped shop at his house.  Marge and I talked about his offer. We decided we  could use a coffee table and told Col. Alex what, in general, we had in mind. He made us a beautiful solid walnut table that even after 50 years, still looks very nice.

Gutenberg developed the moveable type technology  in the 15th century. Until the 20th century, printed works were the media technology for centuries. Col. Alex became interested in printing as a hobby and, in the 1930’s bought a press, type, and accessories to do small-scale printing.  This was not a toy, but a real working press.  Marge expressed her interest in printing, and her father gave her all his equipment.  We used it for a while, with the help of our daughters, to print linoleum block Christmas cards. The printing ensemble traveled with us for 45 years.

When Marge was alive, we tried to give it away,but found no takers. In the fall of 2014, I happened to make contact with a retired printer in this area who loves this ancient technology He is teaching moveable type methods to a graphics arts class at our local university. He happily came and took all I had.  I felt very relieved that this equipment was not going to end up in a dumpster, instead becoming a learning tool for University students.  I am sure that Marge is, and perhaps still is, pleased at this outcome.

When we moved to Beverly Hills I still wanted to do woodworking myself and tried another night school course.  The shop was very complete with planers, mills drills, lathes, etc. The instructor was the foreman of the Allen Organ company model shop located not far from Allentown. He really knew his trade.

At this time in life, we had acquired many antiques and some reproduction pieces. We decided it would be nice to have a king size bed with the same motif.  That became my project.  The night school had rough cut maple which was ideal for the project.  I laid out a plan with dimensions of what I envisioned and talked with the instructor about my idea. He agreed and added some considerations I had not thought of.

It took me four terms, meeting once a week to learn how to run all the shop equipment and then use them in completing my project.  We were both pleased at how the end product finally looked.  I still have the frame, but springs and mattresses have gone up in height from what they were in 1970. They will not fit in my bedstead.  I have a very low metal frame for them and my maple frame serves  as a fence around it.

A last word on this. Do any of you remember the comic song “Does you chewing gum lose its flavor.”  Really, there is even a YOUTUBE video of Lonnie Donnegan performing it. The song  goes like this:

Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight
If your mother says don’t chew it
Do you swallow it in spite

So who knows, the bedpost might still come in handy to me.

Marge bought me a radial arm saw for Christmas when we lived on Beverly Hills. With the saw and some small power tools, I was able to build bookcases, cabinets and other functional pieces of furniture and cabinetry.

Tying these threads together, these experiences have left me with a feeling of self-confidence in being able to personally do many of the tasks that arise in every day living. I am not as strong and flexible as when younger, and living alone, am more cautious about safety issues.  One current project involves combining my digital church organ, a synthesizer, and six digital sound modules into an electronic music room.  It is going to take a while, reading a lot of manuals, and working my way through the wiring involved, but I will get it done.



About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
This entry was posted in 1970-1980, Coopersburg PA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Cars And Carpentry

  1. Scott Hammond says:

    Oh my goodness, Uncle Bob!! You’re one busy guy! I received your email the other day about downloading Aunt Marge’s CaringBridge posts and I enlisted Judith’s help to do it. It came out to nearly 250 pages worth so I saved it to my desktop. Thank you very much for warning me. I appreciate it very much. I cannot imagine what the 2 of you endured, besides ALOT of pain. Thank you so much for everything including the picture you sent. Love, Scott.

    • Bob says:

      Thank you Scott. We were together from teen age to old age and death. Of course, ups and downs, misunderstandings, and very close times as well. We really were meant for each other. Marge accepted and fought her illness bravely, and I am SO glad that I was there to help her and be with her when she died. Really Together, through sickness and health as the marriage vows go. Uncle Bob

  2. ingridmg2014 says:

    I did not realize that Grandaddy made the coffee table. Cool! I am sure that you, too, will be able to complete whatever task you set your mind to–in this case, the entertainment room–because you are a smart and capable guy!

    • Bob says:

      Yes you must have been a year or two old then. I really looked up to him for his ability to do weaving, roofing, building and playing a 2 manual theater organ, etc. I respected my own father, but looked up to Col. Alex. Not in everything of course, but certainly the willingness to learn and practice new things. One of the cats, Stanley maybe, took to chewing on the edge of a lower cross member of the table. I didn’t want to chance making things worse, so just left it as is

  3. says:

    Hi BOB, not much into woodworking, but do I remember my parents Rambler… one of the best working cars. Allan

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