My father was a maker. It was only a matter of time before Charlie Vann’s name was going to be mentioned on this blog. That's him in the hat in the photo, He's standing in front of a back-hoe he rigged with hydraulics to raise and lower rail-wheels, to allow the entire contraptions to roll on a train track.
Needless to say, he made me the maker I am, peculiarities and all. I’m not going to go into a lot of Charlie Vann lore yet, but amongst other things around the farm he had a metal shop.One of my earliest, “working with daddy” memories is manning the cutting oil can (tiny squirt, after tiny squirt) as my father endlessly sawed through square metal tubing or channel iron for some project or another he was building; mostly stock and equipment trailers.
One of those seminal smells of childhood for me is the smell of an oily metal shop.
From junior high through high school I was in the shop a lot. My father had some peculiar notions about which tools in the shop were more dangerous than others, and like most fathers he introduced all the tools on the farm slowly over the years; first hand tools, then simple power tools, finally stepping up to table saws and the welding equipment. (Ironically, I had been allowed to use a standing-shop and a hand-grinder since about 6th grade; statistically one of the most injurious tools in the shop, but I digress).
When it came to the more heavy-duty metalworking tools, they were introduced to me in a typical Charlie Vann progression. I was allowed to heat (wood fire and bellows), and hammer on an anvil, any hot molten crap I could muster from about 5th grade on. I was introduced to the oxygen acetylene torch around 14. Taught to arc weld around 17. After that I was my fathers one-man production shop (the hardest boss I’ve ever had, who really knew how to get my attention). Before finishing college I must have cut, weld, ground, and painted 6 or 8 ranch trailers for him.
All of the welding I did was simple arc welding, and it was always steel. Other than some grinders, and a few other accessories; the arch welder, a ginormous cutting torch, and a cast iron power hacksaw (that must have weighed a ton), were my entire tool kit.
In the 25 or more years since I was last in the metal shop on the farm, the kids on the street are say’n, “standard equipment has radically changed” (you would think kids on the street would use more colorful language, but there you have it).
This week I am planning to start closing the time gap and learn some new skills. Two evenings a week I am taking welding classes at 3rd Ward. One of the classes will give me proficiency in plasma cutting (bye-bye ginormous o/a torch), and MIG welding, and the second class will focus specifically on the steeper learning curve of TIG welding.
I have this notion that all of the hours I logged as a kid will still be good for something—that this will be more like riding a bike than learning to crawl. Obviously, I will keep you posted.