Dad’s Toolbox: Long-Silent Reminder of a Master Craftsman

My wife and I recently tackled the imposing and long-overdue task of a major garage clean-up and re-organization (see my recent post). Every trip out to the garage had become, over many years, an exercise of frustration and/or a danger to our health. If we could find what we were looking for, we usually could not get to it. “Getting to it” meant endangering our health vis-à-vis tripping over things, falling off ladders, etc. After weeks of dedicated hard work, I am pleased to inform that we have met our most ambitious goals for the garage!

I have a lot of tools – pretty much everything I have ever needed over the years, or ever will need. I also have my father’s personal Kennedy tool chest which dates way back to the nineteen forties and his early years at United Airlines. Our garage efforts forced me to decide what to do with the chest and the tools it contained. The classic, heavy-gauge steel Kennedy toolbox and its contents are formidably heavy. The Kennedy chest contains tools that were personal to Dad, going way back. Since his passing in 1992, other, more “recent” tools from his garage had long since been merged over the years with my own acquisitions. Dad’s personal toolbox remained on our garage floor, out of the way and mostly undisturbed these past twenty-eight years. The big question: what to do with it and its contents. Why would I keep it after all these years? I already have most of these tools.

I decided to empty the chest, drawer-by-drawer and see what was worth keeping. I also decided to do a photo survey of the contents, drawer-by-drawer to document it all before proceeding. The box and its contents refreshed many boyhood memories. It took little time for me to conclude that I could not bear to dispose of any of this: I have too many memories of my father, his Kennedy toolbox, and his prized tools. As I was entering my teen years, Dad gave me permission to use his tools for building model airplanes and numerous other “projects” of mine. I felt proud that I had earned his trust…and that was not necessarily automatic with age!

I still vividly recall the reverence in Dad’s demeanor that day in my boyhood when he first told me about his two precision Brown and Sharpe micrometers, capable of precision measurements down to a thousandth of an inch! As I went through the drawers of the toolbox, I found little to discard, deciding to keep most everything after vacuuming the drawers of loose dirt and debris. And, so it is.

Today, the toolbox rests, close by my workbench, on a pair of two-by-four “risers” to keep it off the concrete garage floor, and there it will remain until I am gone – a reminder of my father, Alfred C. Kubitz – the finest craftsman I ever saw. Dad had a love of tools and a deep respect for them. He was guided by his personal instinct that it was important to have the right tool for the right job; it was equally desirable to have that tool readily available in the toolbox when it was needed!

Indeed, Dad’s influence took root and shaped my own attitude toward tools and their care. I have much the same philosophy when it comes to books in my library which, today, is comprised of numerous volumes spanning many categories: aviation, science, science history, general history, music/jazz, technology, silicon valley history, and many of the professional texts I used during my electrical engineering career. It would be impossible to read them all, and equally impossible to dispose of any of these books. One never knows when the need will arise for the specific knowledge contained between its covers! A full set of tools enables its owner to build and repair “things.” A fine library of books enables its owner to acquire knowledge which, in turn, becomes the foundation of a healthy perspective – and wisdom. Is it not wonderful to know that answers to your questions reside on the shelves of one’s own library – silently waiting to be summoned?

The Leather-Punch: A Bittersweet Vindication of Dad’s “Tool Philosophy”

I will relate to you a bittersweet incident relating to my father’s personal “tool philosophy,” namely, the importance of being prepared with the right tool for the job at hand. Sometime in the early nineteen-eighties, I believe it was, my parents and our family of four were downtown in nearby Los Altos, California. We were strolling past various shops when we came upon the “riding and saddlery” store which back then had long catered to local equestrians (shop long-gone). For some inexplicable reason at the time, Dad ducked in there while the rest of us moved on down the street; he purchased a heavy-duty leather punch, similar to a paper hole-punch only suitable for leather bridles and harnesses. When he soon rejoined us down the street, we asked him why he went in there and why, in the world, would he need a heavy-duty leather punch. His reply: he did not have a tool like that and, some day it might come in handy! Years, later, in 1989, my mother passed-away, leaving my father very lonely after a happy marriage of one week short of fifty years. Months later, he met a lady whose company he enjoyed. After a scheduled surgery for him to have a heart-valve replacement, they planned a wedding.

The surgery did not go well, and my father found himself with a compromised heart which could not allow a full recovery, given his shortness of breath. He lost considerable weight over the weeks that followed, but the wedding was still on. I was his best man that day, and as I helped him get ready that morning, we discovered that his dress trousers were now too loose for his belt to accommodate.

Dad had just the right tool for the occasion – his leather punch purchased years earlier which I used to put an extra hole in his belt, and that saved the day! It was shortly after the wedding that we lost him. My father’s various intuitions proved quite amazing in so many similarly unexpected ways! His secret: always cultivate knowledge and wisdom from each-and-every hard-earned, real-life experience, and do not make the same mistake twice.

My Father’s “Engineering Mentality”

Dad had what I have long referred-to as a true “engineering mentality.” What, pray-tell, is that you might ask! An engineering mentality encompasses two qualities: first, a firm belief in the scientific nature of cause-and-effect. The invariable laws of nature, of physics, and even, to a certain degree, of human endeavor, dictate that, for every “action” (cause), there is a “reaction” (effect). Engineers and scientists acknowledge that fact, respect that fact, and learn from it. In a related sense, the second quality at play renders good engineers to be notoriously aware of what can possibly go wrong in any given engineering design – or life-situation. Dad’s reaction? In keeping with his innate spirit of engineering anticipation, Dad believed in a well-stocked toolbox and a bevy of good books to meet any challenge. As my father’s son, I get that.

This was Dad’s original collection of miscellaneous nuts, bolts, and screws – along with the same antique Hills Bros. coffee can that housed them over many decades. As a boy, I learned from him how to spill the contents onto folded sheets of newspaper in order to sort through the pile to find what I needed. It was then easy to dump the remainder back in the can using the fold. I did that countless times over the decades as I am sure he did, as well. Great and wonderful memories, all!

Toolbox Pictures and Other Special Tools

Dad’s Venerable Two-Speed, North Bros. “Yankee” Hand Drill

“Yankee” Spiral-Ratchet Screw Driver – “Like New” in the Box

“Old Friends”

Charles Lindbergh: New York to Paris, 1927 – and the World Was Never the Same

On May 20, 1927, in the early morning dawn, a young air mail pilot, heretofore unknown, departed a damp, drizzly, and muddy Roosevelt Field in Long Island flying a tiny, single-engine plane. He was headed across the vast Atlantic Ocean for Paris, France. His name was Charles Augustus Lindbergh, but, given his audacity, he was just now being called “The Flying Fool,” embarked on a suicide mission most people thought. Crossing the Atlantic in a giant leap from North America to the European Continent had never been done before. The public was closely following the intense competition underway at the time to be first to do it.

The next day, some thirty-six hours later, a small silver airplane was spotted flying low over Dingle Bay, Ireland. The N-X -211 markings on its wings were unmistakably the registration assigned to Lindbergh’s small plane, The Spirit of St. Louis. Radios across the ocean, from America to Europe were tuning-in to catch any news of young Lindbergh’s audacious attempt. Word that his plane had been sighted over Ireland spread like wildfire throughout Western Europe by radio.

A final picture over North America: from a chase plane after take-off

Caution reigned, however, since France had lost two aviators just two weeks earlier in their attempt to fly the reverse route, non-stop from Paris to New York. There were late sightings of their white, single-engine bi-plane over the coast of Maine. Indeed, in the face of these reassuring reports, all of France had begun to celebrate their countrymen’s stunning achievement. But Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli never made an appearance in North America. Once their fuel supply was surely exhausted, it was apparent that the North American sightings were merely wishful thinking – literally mental mirages. The two flyers had likely met their end somewhere in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, there was a second Lindbergh sighting off the coast of Cornwall, England, and the citizens of Paris, France began to stir. An important tennis match was underway on the afternoon of May 21, at the Roland Garros tennis stadium in Paris. Reports of the Lindbergh sightings began to filter into the stadium and raised a palpable stir among the spectators in the stands. Before long, stadium seats began to empty in the middle of the exciting match as people headed for the exits, bent on either getting home to be by their radios or heading for Le Bourget Airport on the outskirts of the city. By dusk, half of Paris seemed mobilized in one direction or the other by the news reports. Now, cars filled with Parisians jammed the roads leading to the airport. Airport police were busy erecting makeshift fences along the field to contain the anticipated multitudes, many of whom were arriving early for a prime view of the field.

Charles Lindbergh had no idea of what awaited him that evening at Le Bourget. In naïve, but typically thorough Lindbergh fashion, he had made a list for himself of things he would need if-and-when he safely arrived in Paris. Among his top priorities were to get some (local) cash and to purchase some street clothing for the trip back home. Charles scrupulously avoided carrying any unnecessary weight on the trip – and that included a change of clothes from his flight suit. Less weight meant more fuel – his virtual lifeline.

By dusk that evening, immense throngs of people had packed Le Bourget, waiting restlessly in the deepening darkness, anxious for any development, Searchlights scanned the dark skies above the airport for any visible sign. Meanwhile, Lindbergh was busy in the cockpit, on visual approach to the airport after sighting several Parisian landmarks along the way – including the Eiffel tower, its lights plainly visible from the air, twinkling in the night sky – just as if this were any other evening.

Then, the crowd heard faint sounds of an airplane engine, slowly growing louder and louder. Out of the night sky swooped the lone eagle in his Spirit of St. Louis. As he touched down on the runway, with a rush and a roar the now delirious crowd broke through the makeshift fencing intended to restrain them and stormed the field heading for the taxiing plane. Lindbergh quickly cut the engine to avoid any possible carnage at the spinning propeller. Now, The Spirit of St. Louis was surrounded by a sea of people on all sides, and Lindbergh was literally dragged from the cockpit and hoisted overhead by the crowd of wild Parisians.

In the confusion and chaos, someone, reportedly an official or policeman, grabbed Lindbergh’s leather flying helmet, quickly transferring it to someone else’s head. The helmeted figure was carried overhead by the surging sea of people toward the airport administration building. When the Lindbergh substitute finally showed officials a press pass which proved to everyone that he was not Lindbergh, he was set free. In the meantime, the real Lindbergh had been hustled away to safety and a police cordon was established around The Spirit of St. Louis to protect it. Already an engine fitting had been taken and several swatches of silver-coated fabric had been ripped from the fuselage before the crowd around the airplane was controlled. Sadly, Lindbergh’s precious log-book of the flight was taken from the cockpit and never recovered.

The scene that occurred at Le Bourget that night could not possibly have had historical precedent. Within moments after touching down and seeing the sea of humanity rushing across the field toward him through an eerie darkness punctuated by piercing searchlight beams, Charles Lindbergh must have instantly realized that his life would never be the same. And that premonition proved to be so true over the years. He suddenly had become the most famous person in the world. For better and for worse, many aspects of life on this planet would also never be the same, thanks to Lindbergh. Anyone who thought that the dawn of tomorrow’s morning light would mean celebratory hangovers would soon subside, and it would be back to business, as usual, just did not comprehend the reality.

The 1927 transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh was THE watershed event that veered aviation from the heretofore entertaining realm of adventurers, barnstormers, daredevils, and wing-walkers in the early/mid-twenties to the age we have lived in ever since. Soon, after Lindbergh, came the advent of great technological innovations in airframes, engines, and navigation, all of which led to the birth of U.S. commercial aviation. Within months of Lindbergh’s flight, a young entrepreneur named Juan Trippe began to visualize and dream about the prospects of trans-oceanic passenger flights. In 1929, he became founder and president of Pan American Airways, and within seven years, his airline was flying paying passengers across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii, and, from there, to points further east all the way to the Philippines and the Orient. Pan American World Airways quickly came to represent Lindbergh’s legacy – in spades. Pan American soon spanned the globe, becoming the greatest airline in history, a position held over several decades.

One of Trippe’s prescient, initial moves as he laid the plans for his airline in 1929 was to partner with Charles Lindbergh as aviation consultant to the new airline. Lindberg had married the former Anne Morrow on May 27, 1929, and shortly thereafter, the couple laid plans for yet another grand flying adventure – this time to map possible northern air routes around the globe for Trippe and Pan American. Lindbergh had purchased a specially designed, pontoon-equipped, single-engine, dual cockpit, Lockheed Sirius airplane for the trip. Anne quickly learned to fly while tackling the intricacies of radio navigation, and she occupied the rear cockpit of the Sirius as they traveled the globe.

They departed in late July, 1931 from the harbor near her parents’ summer home at North Haven Island, Maine. They set compass for Ottawa and from there, north to the orient. North to the Orient became the title of Anne’s book account of their long odyssey which was published in 1935. The book was the first of many best-sellers Anne would publish throughout her life. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a very gifted writer, thankfully, for her marriage to Charles Lindbergh was one momentous adventure after another, and she left behind a fine record of it all.

My previous blog post in this space focused on Pan American’s storied China Clipper and the advent of transpacific passenger service in the mid-nineteen-thirties. The year 1927 seemed marked by destiny as the right time for the right man, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, possessing the “right stuff,” to open the gate to our aviation future. And that is precisely what happened. Tackling the complete story of the China Clipper recently opened my eyes still wider.

Those of you who read my blog have likely concluded, from the breadth of my post topics, that there is little in this world of ours that does not interest me to some significant degree. You would also realize that aviation is one of my great loves – a legacy from my father’s example. In a cascading chain-reaction of mental connections, too numerous to recount, I was recently led to the story of Pan Am’s China Clipper. From there, I felt powerfully drawn to add to my knowledge base on Charles Lindbergh, and for that I am thankful: there is so much there, there.

I have approached writing this post on Lindbergh with conflicted feelings. There is too little space, here, and attention spans do have their limits. Lindbergh was many things besides an aviation legend. Few individuals have left as many footprints upon this earth, both literally and figuratively, as Lindbergh. Few were as heroic and, ultimately, as controversial as he later became because of his political and social views. Certainly, no one accomplished the seemingly impossible and left such a lasting an impression on the world as he did in 1927.

The more I learn, in depth – the details of his transatlantic flight – the more heroic and praiseworthy that accomplishment becomes in my mind. Buried in the Lindbergh legend are countless, increasingly divergent paths which emerge at every turn, all begging further study. Lindbergh is akin to intellectual flypaper, once touched. I began to write this Lindbergh post a while back and found myself starting not a blog post, but a book on the subject. Accordingly, I will end my post here, leaving you, the reader, with merely a preface to the story. I have barely touched upon Lindbergh’s personal life and marriage to the gifted writer, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Perhaps a book will emerge somewhere along the line: I do have much more to say, but not here. Perhaps a series of follow-up posts.

I leave you with this:

Recently, I turned eighty years of age. That is plenty of lifetime to have witnessed significant history, first-hand, and plenty of time to indulge my passion for the study of history – the great events of times past. I often ask myself, “What historic event would I most like to have witnessed, in-person?”

The trans-Atlantic flight of Charles A. Lindbergh in 1927 is the singular event that lights my fire more than all the rest. For sheer wonder and excitement and impact on our world, that flight seems to me the greatest adventure of them all. I wish I could have been among the sparse crowd of a few hundred people who turned out at New York’s Roosevelt Field in the drizzle-laden early morning hours of May 20, 1927. Those who were there witnessed something special as Charles Lindbergh (AKA “The Flying Fool”) and his fuel-laden, single-engine airplane barely made it off the ground en-route to a rendezvous with history.

Roosevelt Field, May 20, 1927 – taxi to the runway for takeoff!

The China Clipper: Pan American Airways Opens Trans-Pacific Travel

The history of air-travel is peppered with tales of bold adventure and derring-do on the part of entrepreneurs and aviators. Numerous are the accounts chronicling the daring feats of flyers and their consortiums who were responsible for aviation’s incredibly rapid progress since the Wright Brothers first achieved powered flight on December 17, 1903. One of the most colorful and fascinating of these histories involves Pan American Airways and its successful introduction of trans-Pacific air travel in the early nineteen-thirties. The famed China Clipper is the enduring symbol of that accomplishment!

Sadly, even world leader Pan American Airways is no longer with us, unable, by 1991, to absorb management mistakes and remain competitive in an airline environment increasingly focused on the bottom line and profitability. Other former household names like TWA and Eastern Airlines suffered a similar fate. And yet, Pan Am’s legacy will long be remembered. It was the airline that gave meaning to “stylish air travel” while pioneering the industry with innumerable “firsts” and an international travel network. Pan Am’s story is the story of the airline industry and the beginnings of today’s ubiquitous air travel.

The China Clipper and Flying the Pacific

Flying the Pacific in 1935 was not for the faint of heart. Amelia Earhart proved that in 1937 when she and her famed navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared without a trace over ocean waters. Flying to Honolulu, Hawaii non-stop (no choice) from San Francisco was no simple matter, even for the military, in 1935.

The opening photo in the post shows Pan Am’s Martin M-130 seaplane, bearing the name China Clipper, as it wings over the unfinished Golden Gate Bridge on November 22, 1935 carrying the first airmail to cross the Pacific.

China Clipper reached its destination in Manila on November 29 after stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam. Its point of departure was the port of Alameda on San Francisco Bay.

The pilot, Pan Am’s very first, Edwin C. Musick, was forced to employ an emergency maneuver by skimming the bay waters and flying under the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge which was also still under construction. This maneuver was necessitated by the fully-loaded Clipper’s inability to gain enough altitude on its initial takeoff run from the port of Alameda. Captain Musick’s navigator on that storied flight was the very same Fred Noonan who would be lost over the Pacific on Amelia Earheart’s doomed flight, two years later.

Loading China Clipper with the first trans-Pacific airmail cargo prior to departure from Alameda. Captain Musick (closest to plane) and Postmaster General James Farley (next to mail sacks) take part in the brief ceremony on November 22, 1935.

Flying in Style on Pan Am Clippers to Exotic Ports of Call

Soon, Pan American began passenger service across the Pacific to Hawaii, and Southeast Asia. Flying aboard these Clipper ships was limited to only the wealthiest of customers, of course, but what an adventure for those privileged passengers!

Soon, Pan Am’s three original Martin M-130’s were supplanted by the much larger, faster, and more luxurious Boeing 314 clipper ships. The actual name, China Clipper, was assigned only to one of the three original Martin 130’s, but that generic name was used widely for the fleet of clipper ships that followed even though they wore individually given names like Phillipine Clipper, Hawaiian Clipper, etc. Pan American put tremendous effort into charting and opening the trans-Pacific routes, flying close to half a million miles before paying passengers were carried on these flights. Considerable infrastructure including docking facilities, radio service, roads and accommodations was initially required on barely inhabited stopover points like Wake and Midway Islands. Landing fields capable of handling large clipper ships would have been yet another problem – one of the major reasons the service was comprised of “flying boats.” Clearly, these were also preferable to conventional aircraft over ocean waters should ditching be required!

On early flights of the China Clipper using the smaller Martin 130, the crew might outnumber the passengers. Accordingly, the round-trip fare from San Francisco to Honolulu was then $1,700 or roughly $30,000 in today’s inflated currency. In January of 1939, the larger, more efficient Boeing 314 began service on the Honolulu route.

By then, Pan American Airways was well on its way to becoming the World’s premier airline with a world-wide network of routes and offering the ultimate in travel luxury.

In the span of this writer’s lifetime, air travel has changed incredibly. With advancements made in aircraft performance, safety, and efficiency, the formerly impossible is done daily on a routine basis in the skies around our planet. And yet, with all this progress, much has been lost in today’s travel experience. The former glamour is almost completely gone.

The once common-place experience of nattily dressed stewardesses serving dinner to passengers replete with linens and silver-plate are now only a dim memory for someone my age – unless flying first-class. And good luck in coach with room for your elbows while cutting your food with plastic utensils! On the plus side, It is good that commercial flying is no longer limited to the wealthy/privileged as was the case with the China Clipper, but there is a price for everything in life, and that certainly includes low-cost air travel. Those of us who first flew the airlines before the jet age began in 1958 understand precisely what that price is.

My first flight was on a United Air Lines DC-4 back in 1948. My father had a thirty-seven year career with United which included his transfer and our family move from Chicago to San Francisco in 1948 – on that flight. The historian in me feels privileged to have experienced this revolution (for better and for worse) in air travel, first-hand. Kudos to the aviation/airline industry for the amazing story, and a special acknowledgement to those early pioneers who started it all – like United and Pan American Airways!

A Postscript on this piece:

The idea to do this post came last week due to a serendipitous rendezvous with an online bookseller’s offering. While searching for something else, I came across a very early Pan Am “manual” on instrument flying written in 1931 by a pilot-employee. The pilot’s name, “Kenneth Beer,“ sounded familiar to me for two reasons:

First: I recalled reading long ago that he flew some of the early clipper trans-Pacific routes. He was with Pan Am from 1929 until he retired in 1963 as the airline’s senior pilot!

Second: His daughter was the head cheerleader at San Mateo High School back in 1954 – my freshman year, there.

This, and my interest in all-things aviation prompted me to investigate the early years of Pan American, especially the routes of the famous China Clipper. It was well worth the effort: I learned a lot and decided to pass some of it on to you in this post!

Finally Organizing the Garage…and Having Some Fun, Too!

One bright-spot concerning the current Covid-19 pandemic (and there are few) is the stay-at-home time afforded many of us. Gone are the busy summer weeks and months spent with day trips, dining out in downtown Palo Alto, and visiting with friends and family. As the weeks wore-on, I began to sense the beckoning opportunity inherent in an imposed, sequential day-after-day existence with nothing (exaggeration) to do and nowhere to go!

Accordingly, I made the decision to finally tackle our garage – that space intended to house automobiles, but, like most garages around here, has not sheltered a car for many decades. Nor was the garage and its workbench much of a workplace for me any longer; it was literally dangerous to go out there and attempt to move around the tables, the boxes, and the stuff haphazardly stashed there.

 My fifty-year old Sears Craftsman radial-arm saw, purchased soon after I married Linda, had long ago ceased fabricating kid’s wooden playthings, bookcases for my library, and extra storage shelving for house and garage. Now, my table saw was covered with dust and miscellaneous objects and, occasionally, an overflow avalanche of opened and piled Amazon shipping boxes. Good luck finding anything quickly out there! Every trip out to the garage to retrieve some object was like walking through a minefield: how many times have I tripped over stuff out there? Send a search party for me if I am not back in ten minutes, Linda!

Just last week, I suffered a hard, one-point scuff-landing, on my left knee after tripping over a ladder leg and hitting the concrete garage floor – hard. The nasty scab should be completely off in a few days time.

At this point in time, the heavy lifting of my garage organization is complete. A big aid along the way was my acquisition of numerous “Really Useful Boxes,” uniform plastic containers of various sizes purchased from Office Depot and Amazon. Gone are the many tattered, odd cardboard storage boxes and the collection of paper bags each filled with construction nails of various types and sizes, all piled together in one big bin! Now, each category of nail fastener has its own small plastic container and is easily visible and accessible. Labeling on the major boxes is mostly complete (and necessary for reasonable access). Yes, it can be done – finally reorganizing an out-of-control garage! All that is necessary, now, is to regularly flatten and recycle all the Amazon boxes that come this way!

And I even had some fun in the process by finding a special use for the giant nail and wood screw that I had stashed away many years ago!

Good luck with your garage effort!