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