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Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

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  • Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

    This is a carpenter’s memoir from the 50th anniversary issue of The National Builder. The issue was published in January 1914, so the title may as well be “One Hundred Fifty Years Ago…”


    www.jkburks.net/jlc/nb-50-01.jpg
    www.jkburks.net/jlc/nb-50-02.jpg
    www.jkburks.net/jlc/nb-50-03.jpg

  • #2
    Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

    Jeff,
    That makes me wonder what my great grandfather was like. It also makes me appreciate power tools and an eight hour work day. 70 degrees in San Diego isn't so bad either.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

      Jeff:

      Fifty years ago (actually 47) I worked with a journeyman from Holland, named Jacob Vischer. He was the foreman, I was the carpenter and we had an apprentice for a helper. Jake told of the trade in Holland, when they started a house the lumber yard sent the horse drawn wagon by each carpenter's house and each carpenter put his chest of tools atop the lumber and rode on it to the job the first day. He told me about all of his tools and invited me over to his house to see his Dutch carpentry tools. He had dozens of moulding planes shaped for every shape they used, then a matching, formed, sanding block for every moulding shape. Jake started getting sick gobbling Anacin pills like they were candy and a doctor customer we were building a house for insisted he come into the hospital, he had Pancreatic cancer and never came out of the hospital. Near the end when I would visit him in the evenings he would ask me to turn him over, the hammer in his overall loop was digging into his side. At his funeral his widow came back to sit with me and offered to give me all of his tools, I declined not wanting to take something from a dead friend. In retrospect, I now think I should have taken them, I wonder what ever happened to them,
      “President Obama doing well. His approval rating is at 51%.--- The other 49% are taxpayers.” Jay Leno

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      • #4
        Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

        So Dick, now that you are semi-retired, I think it's time you write your memoir. We need more 1st hand accounts of the daily lives of carpenters from past generations. Did you see the 25th anniversary issue of FHB with Larry Haun's memoir? If he wrote an autobiography I would be first in line to buy a copy.

        I collect stories like this for research purposes. I have one from about 1912 that promotes the use of the "new motorcycle" transportation for ambitious carpenters who want to get out to the job sites with their tool chest strapped on back. Everything used to be transported to the buildings sites via wagon team (teamsters). I was suprised to read that Haun's first kit house was delivered by wagon. It just shows you how long it takes technology to get out to the boondocks.

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        • #5
          Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

          Jeff:

          No I didn't, is it still available?

          In '73 I was building a house in Piedmont a block from my home. There was an old man that lived another block away and he always wore a black suit and black hat, thin and very tall, he never left the house without a black suit, tie, and hat. One day he stopped to talk to me and told me he was an old builder who had built many of the mansions in Piedmont, and described whole tracts of houses he had built in Oakland. His name was Mr. Scammel and when I was in the Oakland City Hall one day I noticed they were arranging records from the '20s and I saw a whole block full of permits with Scammel's name on them. Later I was remodeling a Piedmont mansion and when we opened up a wall I saw a receipt from Scammel Lumber made out to Scammel Construction. He told me that he owned his own lumber yard on the Oakland estuary and since his father was in the shipping business he had his own lumber schooners and he would bring lumber down the coast, not only would he get cheaper, better, lumber, but he would make money selling lumber to other builders. Once I complained about the cost of hiring a carpenter, he laughed and said he complained too when he had to pay a dollar a day, labor didn't cost his father anything, they shanghaied the seamen in the bars in San Francisco and got free labor. He advised me to pay my carpenters well, saying that a good carpenter was worth his weight in gold, that he'd rather have a good carpenter than a good doctor or lawyer any day!

          I've got to get my wife to dig out that old picture of me in Big Ben Overalls, they were the uniform of the carpenter, it was a sad day when they went to bags around their waists, they just don't look professional anymore.
          Last edited by Dick Seibert; 02-18-2006, 01:43 AM.
          “President Obama doing well. His approval rating is at 51%.--- The other 49% are taxpayers.” Jay Leno

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          • #6
            Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

            The FHB is the current issue in the stores. You would get a kick out of it. So are you going to write your autobiography and self publish, or invest in black suits instead?

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            • #7
              Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

              Cool story. Anyone know anywhere else to find any stories like this?? I'd hate to ever give up my power tools, but sure enjoy reading about the old days.

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              • #8
                Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                Why not start an old story post here and see what comes in?

                Shang hai'd labor,hmm might be worth tryin :)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                  I've seen my father's old tools. He started in the late 50's after he came back from WWII. He went into the paratroopers b/c they paid you like 40 bucks more a month or something like that. He started framing houses for his cousin, saw him making all the money, and then went into development and building as well. He had one of those wooden toolboxes filled with big old hand planes, hand drills, wooden rules, and all old rusty stuff. Pretty neat.

                  Whenever I rip off the siding on an old house and I see the rough board sheathing, I remember the stories he told of the guys putting up the rough sawn sheathing still green. I asked if that is why all the gaps on the sheathing were there (shrinkage), and he said no, they just threw it up as fast as possible and didn't care about getting it tight. The sidewaller would come and cover it anyway.

                  He built on slab, good sized subdivisions of 50+ lots. He and his brothers bought lumber directly and set up site lumberyards. He could tell if the framer messed up since he knew how many studs went into each type of house b/c they'd come back asking for more lumber. He would tell them they had to buy it. I like looking at the pics of the old cable excavators, dozers and shovel dozers. He had a great group of subs working with him. I used to hear he and his friends talk about the old days. There were no contracts, but there was trust. My lawyer is my friend, but I pay him way too much money...

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                  • #10
                    Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                    Jeff,

                    Thanks for starting this post. I really like the guys coming out with the old stories from old dads or grandfathers or great grandfathers or even before. Kinda makes "how do you do a shingle corner" well...hmmmm.

                    I'll tell one story about my uncle Owen, born in 1904 on north mountain, N.S. and contracted until he was 86, when he got a bit dizzy on the roofs in 95 degree summer days, and then quit. Lived to the ripe old age of 94. I gave the eulogy. He was like my other dad.

                    I started working with him when I was 12. A million and one lessons, here's one...

                    Back in the early 30's, in the deep of depression, he had a chance to latch on to an HOLC project (HOLC was the forerunner to HUD). One of the older guys said to him, "take my tool box on your interview". The game was that a newbie with new tools looked like a newbie. He took the older guy's tool box and got the job, and in short time made foreman. Forman was a big deal back then. Not unlike 1850's.

                    As in your story, even in the 30's one's tool box was everything. It defined you.

                    fwiw.

                    John

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                    • #11
                      Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                      I remember stories of my granfather rising early to take care of the stock and then catching the bus / trolley (with his tool box) to work. I find myself complaining if I have to carry my box from the truck and he carried the thing with him all over the place. I am just not as tough as those old guys were.
                      Brad

                      You will never stand taller than when kneeling to help a child.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                        A toolbox was mentioned, as I remember I stopped using my carpenters' tool box in 1960 when I bought a new GMC V6 (the first V6 in the nation I believe) with toolboxes mounted on the sides of the bed. When I got the new truck I moved all of my tools into the sideboxes and threw the carpenters' toolbox away. I wanted to lock my tools up (prior to 1960 we left our toolboxes in the backs of our pickups and nobody bothered them, but I had a Ramset gun stolen our of the back of my pickup one night right in front of the bar where we went after work in those pre-PC days). The other carpenters said I was crazy, all of my saws and chisels would get dull rattling around in those metal boxes. This is the best picture I could find of a carpenters' toolbox (mine looked a lot better than that). One of the first things an apprentice did was built his own toolbox, he also had to build a set of saw horses and the carpenters would give him hell if they weren't right, but a toolbox was a personal thing.

                        The union gave us 20 minutes per day to sharpen our tools, the boss started reimbursing us for sharpening and when I became a contractor I religiously collected all the saws and had them sharpened and personally returned them to my guys. There was a time when a guy with a mobile rig showed up at jobs and sharpened saws and chisels, I remember paying several hundred a month for saw sharpening and tool repairs during our heyday around here in the '70s.
                        “President Obama doing well. His approval rating is at 51%.--- The other 49% are taxpayers.” Jay Leno

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                        • #13
                          Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                          I still use toolboxes of a similar design.
                          It seems clear that buying lottery tickets was not a good business plan.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                            Dustin:

                            No handsaw compartment?
                            “President Obama doing well. His approval rating is at 51%.--- The other 49% are taxpayers.” Jay Leno

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Memories of Fifty Years Ago in the Building Trades

                              Originally posted by Dick Seibert
                              Dustin:

                              No handsaw compartment?
                              Handsaw? Is that similar to a cordless sawsall?
                              It seems clear that buying lottery tickets was not a good business plan.

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