I’m nearing the end of my time here on earth, but still having one hell of a lot of fun. That pretty much sums up the driving force behind most of the decisions I made over the course of my lifetime. Now that I am really old, I sometimes stop and think about how I lived my life. I can tell you one thing for certain, I ain’t sheddin’ no tears, everything I did, I did because I wanted to.
I was very fortunate (or unfortunate) depending how you want to analyze it. I was born with a multitude of talents. That’s a curse in a way, because it makes it very hard to decide which one of those talents you want to follow for a career.
When I was a little guy, I was fascinated with aircraft and automobiles, probably in equal amounts. By the time I was ten years old, I was building “stick model” balsa wood airplanes powered by rubber bands. That may sound pretty simple to most people, but to build a model airplane, you have to know aeronautical terms regarding the construction of aircraft. Terms like fuselage, dihedral, elevator, rudder, spars and ribs, and etc. Plus, you have to be able to read the assembly drawings, which aren’t a lot different than the real deal. In a year or so, I graduated to building gas powered models, and rocket propelled aircraft. Needless to say, I was a bit of a nerd when it came to this stuff. My brother-in-law was a retired naval flight instructor and worked at Douglas Aircraft. I was able to tour the Douglas Aircraft factory in Tulsa during an open house. What an experience for an eleven-year-old.
I was automatically drawn to anything mechanical, wanting to know exactly how it worked. The bigger the machine the more exciting it was. When I was probably three years old, I got into my dad’s toolbox, and proceeded to disassemble my tricycle. He was very amused when he found out what I had done.
I was born with the ability to look at something and draw it, in great detail. So, when I wasn’t building model airplanes or cars, I was drawing pictures of them. Still doing it and making a few bucks here and there. The picture below is a 1956 Ford Delivery I did a few years ago. When I was in Junior High, General Motors had a program where they were recruiting youngsters to join a design guild, obviously looking for future talent. I was highly interested in it but have no idea why I never signed up.
Going into high school, we had a choice of the courses we wanted to take. They offered the standard courses, plus what they called college entrance courses. I decided I wanted to do the college entrance classes. That lasted one and a half years. I pretty much hated the advanced math, except for geometry. I excelled at geometry. I had no idea why at the time, but I later understood why. Geometry is what you use to build stuff, and I loved to build stuff. I later taught myself, basic trig, so that really helped out later in my work life.
When graduation time approached, a lot of my friends were making preparations to go on to college. Not me, I couldn’t wait for school to be over and done. I literally had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew whatever it was would be exciting. I did however, have a set of papers from the aptitude test we were given before graduation. After taking the test which lasted about three hours, they analyzed our answers and gave us their best guess at what type of work we were best suited for. The results….you guessed it…..I was best suited for work in the tech industries.
My parents being old school parents kindly told me if I was going to continue occupying space in their home, they expected me to pay rent. That of course meant if I was going to keep driving my car, paying insurance on said car, and pay rent on my 125 square foot abode, plus continue eating mom’s fab food, I needed to get my ass to work, and soon. My dad was a weldor at a very large steel fabrication shop, had worked there for all of my life. I knew most of his closest working friends since I was a little kid. I guess it was a natural that I started working there. Of course, the management knew me as well, so it was pretty easy to get hired.
My first day on the job was an absolute shock. It was loud, dirty, and really hard work. Everything was steel, and heavy as hell. Not one damn thing they gave me to do was easy. It felt like I had been mistakenly placed on a crew for prisoners doing hard labor. My family detested sissies and quitters, so I knew I had to suck it up and get over it. I mean if I had quit, my dad and my uncles would have labeled me a slacker forever, I would never have been able to show my face at the family Thanksgiving table until they all died.
I toughed it out, and it got better, and I got deafer. If you were going to measure the sound decibels in that place, it would take a sound meter the size of a Volkswagen. It was eight acres under roof, with 200 men. Each one of those bastards had a hammer and never quit pounding on shit. I learned to literally tune it out and ignore it. Worked well in my marriage too.
Being a union shop, they offered us apprenticeships. I was able to take advantage of that because I had spent a lot of my younger life building stuff from plans. Then I took vocational drafting in high school. I had a leg up on most of those guys. I got into an apprenticeship right away and worked really hard for the next two years becoming a full-fledged deaf journeyman. Well, I wasn’t really deaf but close. Now, Bubba had a plan. Just as soon as I was declared a journeyman, I packed up my Plymouth, and a trailer and headed to the Golden State, where I resided for the next 30 years. During that time, I honed my craft to a fine edge.
Steel fabrication shops are all the same. Noisy, dirty, cold or hot depending on the weather, and just generally unpleasant. But it kind of has a romantic feel to it, like being in combat. I mean, you look back when you were working at Acme Steel, and remember when you almost lost you finger in punch press, or when you were working at Weld Rite, and a beam rolled over on your foot and broke two bones. Lots of fond memories to recall. This is not even taking into account the number of total asshole foremen I worked for. I can’t tell you how many murders I plotted and never actually committed.
I had finally moved out of the shop,and into the coveted position as an estimator. After getting pretty good at that, in a total moment of insanity, I thought it would be good idea to become an owner. Almost the moment I started thinking about that, a steel salesman that called on me, said he had a deal I may be interested in. He went on to say one of his clients had a tank shop, and wanted to start a structural shop, and was looking for a partner to operate it. I took the bait, hook line and sinker. Oh, what a mistake it was. These guys were crooks, they made Michael Avanatti look like “little goodie two shoe”. It was a total disaster. I was so discouraged, I packed up my tent and went to Seattle. So basically, I went from one disaster to another. I couldn’t believe the rain. The first week I was there, a storm came through with torrential rain and wind, and sank the I-90 floating bridge. Then two weeks later we had 17 inches of snow. All of this shit after spending 30 years in L.A. and getting ripped off by a bunch of crooked Mormons.
But the story has a good ending. Life was pretty good in Seattle. I started a small fabrication shop after learning who all the players were and had a very good run. I closed my shop during the recession following 9-11 and went to work for a friend and very honest guy. Couple of good years with that company, then moved to Oregon where the good times continue.
I have always loved writing. Never had any type of education in journalism, but it doesn’t matter. Like everything else in my life, I wanted to do it, so I did it. God has been very good to me in more ways than I can possibly enumerate. I am grateful to him for all that I have, and the manner in which I have been able to live. If you have a good life, don’t forget where those blessings come from.
This article was longer than I ever intended it to be. I hope you enjoyed it. God bless you and your families.
VERITAS VINCIT ~ LIVE FREE OR DIE
One thought on “THE CONDENSED BIOGRAPHY OF A GUY THAT BUILDS AND FIXES STUFF.”
You just described the American Dream. I wish more kids grew up like this but alas they are not. My oldest brother made planes from balsa wood at a young age and dropped out of college but became a registered civil engineer. I also had a knack for trig and drafting and went into civil engineering after being a secretary. We all don’t need four year degrees to be successful, we just need the drive to excel in something we enjoy doing. You did it.