Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There's No Arguing with my Father

Every once in a while, someone will remark that it's amazing how well I get along with my dad. They point out that even though I'm very opinionated, whenever I disagree with him I never make any kind of big deal about it and he always wins. It all boils down to one simple lesson I've already learned time and time again: he's always right.

Case in point...

When I was eight years old I was hanging out while he was tinkering in his workshop. For those of you who've never seen the old man's workshop, it was converted from one of the numerous chicken barns on the property. It has plank and batten siding that keeps out a bit of the rain while still letting in the cold, dust, and bugs.

In the rear of the building is the tool room, a claustrophobic little space walled in completely with shelves overflowing with stuff. The best word that could ever be used to describe it is "cluttered." He has at least three of every tool you could ever think of needing, and usually their age will be spread across at least as many decades.

At eight years old I couldn't comprehend why he had so much random crap crammed into every nook and cranny of this rickety old building. Why not just get rid of it and make space to park another car inside and out of the rain? Why not just sell it all and buy a new car instead? Why not melt it down for scrap? When I asked, he explained his standing philosophy regarding equipment; "if you plan to use a tool once, you rent it. But if you'll need it a second time, you should buy it."

While this principle makes sense on its face, I still wasn't convinced that he had enough use for all this stuff to justify keeping it around. To test my theory, I wandered back into the tool room, knelt down to look behind the stuff behind the stuff in the darkest, dustiest corner of the room, and grabbed the rustiest, most useless piece of junk I could find.

The item I grabbed was a couple of steel plates connected by threaded rods with nuts on the ends, outside of the plates. One of the plates had a large notch taken out of it that went all the way to the middle.

"What's this?" I ask.

"That," says he, "is a propeller puller."


"A propeller puller. See, if you've got a propeller that's stuck on a tapered shaft and need to pull it off the end, you put the notched plate on the hub, tighten the nuts on the threaded rods, and the other plate will pull against the end of the prop shaft until it comes off."

"Okay dad, that's great," says I, "but we don't have a boat."

He insisted that he had good reason for keeping it (despite my misgivings) and told me to put it back where I'd found it. I complied but I was unconvinced.

Fast forward about ten years.

I was home from college for the winter break and dad was the skipper of the local scout ship.* I was aboard for a New Year's Day cruise and we were headed back upriver after a fairly slow day on San Pablo Bay when there was a loud thump followed by a terrible vibration that persisted all the way back to the Petaluma Marina.** It was pretty clear we'd hit something solid enough to do some sort of damage to one of the props or shafts.

When we'd moored safely in the marina and shut down the engines, dad pulled on his wetsuit and went down to survey the damage. After a few minutes under the boat he surfaced.

"The starboard prop has a ninety-degree turn bent into one of the blades," says he. Then he looked directly at me and asked, "do you remember where you put that propeller puller? Because we need it."

I didn't even have to ask any questions, I just shook my head and drove over to the house. When I unlocked the shop I went back into the tool room, knelt down to look behind the stuff behind the stuff in the darkest, dustiest corner of the room, and there it was, exactly where I'd left it.

He was right too. He did have good reason to keep it. He's always right.

*Dad's involvement with the sea scouts started sometime around the time I turned fourteen.

**It's worth pointing out that the Petaluma Marina didn't even exist when I was eight years old and first discovered the prop puller.

1 comment:

  1. Katherine Sterling31 May, 2013 08:34

    And many of us have been blessed a multitude of times by your father's philosophies on tools and his endless knowledge of what things are and how they work, and his creativity in using tools for applications other than their original intent.