Saturday, June 20, 2009

Built to Last - Al's Way

When I was about 7 or 8 - Grandpa built a camping table. He laminated a couple of pieces of 5/8" plywood together for the top, and constructed an ingenious set of folding legs that would allow the table to be folded flat and put in the back of a station wagon.

We used it on a few campouts, and so it might not have served exactly the purpose that he built if for, but it was used a lot. Made before outdoor furniture became common and easy to buy, it held the food for our family and friends as I grew up. Memories are sometimes more of a comfort than an actual historical record, but in my memory I seem to remember eating a summer meal out in our 'breezeway' in the house on 32nd on Wheatridge. Grandpa had roofed the open space between the house and the garage, and walled and screened it in so that it was a cool, pleasant place to eat in the heat of the summer. It was summer and we were all around the table and Grandma was bringing the fried chicken in to serve it. Now, if you have ever had Grandma's fried chicken, you know that the house, the table, the utensils - everything - was transformed to a little higher plane. I've been trying to make chicken as good as hers for more than 30 years and have failed every time.

This old table, that has so many memories was something that they couldn't take with them when they moved from the farm. So it found a home here with us. It had been out in Grandpa's shop and served as a workbench of sorts, so it was pretty much at home under our porch.

We have had a few meals on it, but the paint and the wood on the top was not in the best shape, and it was hard to get clean. Plywood suffers from checking when it is in the sun. The dense parts of the wood expands and contracts at a different rate than the softer parts of the wood, and so after a while it pulls apart, and pulls the paint apart too. You can sand it and repaint it all that you want to, and you won't fix it. Boat bottoms do this as well, especially if they are stored bottom up to the sun, and then water gets in at the checks and soaks the plywood and the boat slowly rots.

The cure for this is to sand everything down as smooth as you can get it, then paint the surface with a thinned epoxy or polyester resin, then apply a piece of fiberglass cloth to the surface, then more epoxy or polyester resin. The glass cloth hold everything together, and that is the end of the checking problem. Andrew's boat, Aflac had this problem, and that is how I fixed it. Now all my boats get a coat of fiberglass, and they don't leak.

Sooo.... that is what I did last week to the table. It took a little work with the belt sander to get it back to sound wood. One knot hole had to be repaired, but the cloth went on smoothly and a nice smooth surface is the result. Today I painted it, at least one coat. We painted it the same color as the house, so that we can store it against the wall.

If Grandpa built this table when I was 7, then it has lasted for 50 years, and is still in good shape. I'm sure that he never had a thought that his table would still be in good shape, and serviceable in 50 years, but that is just the way he built things. There was the wrong way, and the Al way. And that was the right way. As I was crawling under the table today, doing the touch up paint, I could see that it was put together mostly with screws. 'Glued and screwed'...... that was the way it was.

I've been looking for a Fathers Day poem that I heard once. Only one line sticks in my mind. But that was about being taught to 'use three nails, instead of two'. I guess it sticks there because it was so much the way that Grandpa did things. That kind of thoroughness had it's downside - I've never knowm anybody that broke as many bolts as Grandpa did, getting it really tight. And I am sure that I'm not the only one that tried to open up one of his wire fence gates and then not be able to get it closed again because Grandpa had used a fence stretcher and a come-along to get it tight enough to close. Grrrrrrrrrr.........

But it is a good example, and a good way to live your life. He told me once that it didn't matter too much what I did for an occupation, but to be the best I could be at what I was doing. It's good advice, and he set a good example for all of us that follow. So look down the road 50 years, and use both glue and screws. Build it to last. That's Al's way.


Scott said...

Wow! Great story. Looks like that table took a lot of work to get back into shape - bravo! Another memory preserved for maybe another generation. Thanks for sharing.

Annie of Blue Gables said...

Happy Fathers Day, Al. You will never be forgotten.
and happy Father's day to you too, sweet friend.

Mike said...

Nice post about Grandpa. The table looks great!

Katie said...

I always LOVE your stories. You are a good story teller. The table looks fantastic!

pixiestylist said...

you ARE a good story teller. i also LOVE your stories. you are so impressive with all your handiwork. and you make AWESOME chicken... what are you talking about?
i think that travis is in the running for following grandpa's way he's ALWAYS breaking bolts! :)

Andrew said...

I'm glad you fixed it up—it's fun to preserve mementos like that.

Happy (late) father's day!