A philosophy shared in four parts.
Dodge all-wheel-drive truck is a tool. Time-honored tools
are simple, elegant in their simplicity, and durable. Fundamental,
effective tools will be kept and used as long as we live.
I can learn something about
a man when I enter his shop, when I look in his toolbox.
I can see what he keeps, what he cares for, and I can learn
something of his style.
In spending time together,
we come to better understand and honor our common bonds.
I sit examining an inspiring
publication filled with pieces of furniture wandering along
the gauzy boundary between exotic furniture and sculpture
that happens to be made of wood. A good share of it I wouldn't
care to own.
I do earnestly admire the craftsmanship,
the patience, the attention to detail, and the display of
skills I hold in the highest esteem.
Having spent a good bit of
time working with wood, I read the magazine and imagine
me studiously attending to the birth of a crafted thing,
laboring over the finest details and construction techniques;
honoring the product as a measure of me, my skill, and my
reverence for accuracy and form.
Do I start? Do I grasp the
first rough board and lay it to measure with tape and rule?
Do I sit bent at the drawing table to plan the pilgrimage?
It is because I am daunted
by the herculean task.
I think it noble in the fullest
to spend huge lots of time from one's finite life in the
pursuit of any such honest goal as the production of a solid
Even the word table has
a good sound to it. I savor it, I want to say it more
than once. Twice, or even three times.
I think I shall make a table,
and it will be good.
Do I mean the table or the
making of it? It will be solid. It will be home, it will
be a foundation.
A foundation for life... yours
and mine. Will this foundation be the table, or will it
be what I learn during the making of it?
We can gather around it, you
and I, and we can share time and space. We can think together
for a bit. We will then go on, better for it, and look back
upon the experience fondly.
We sit at a good table.
That table shall be at the
center of it all, doing what it does best being unobtrusive,
yet serving us as required, along with our accessories.
Our drink, our papers and books, our guns and knives...
or whatever we choose to examine. Together.
Better yet if the table is
something I have personally and privately labored over.
If it is made from great slabs of wood rescued from the
fallen barn on the old place.
History. Who lived there
Native timbers, rough hewn
from the hearts of trees grown long ago in these parts and
experienced in the passage of time; both easy and hard.
Trees that knew the sunny days and the violent storms. Living
valiantly through it all.
Being in the presence of such
veteran stuff yields its own confidence in the possibility
of making it to the morrow unscathed. We have a friend in
this table; the great and strong tree it used to be. It
knows no matter what happens, we will all be here tomorrow
when the sun breaks the rim of the world.
My soul could better be in
it if I had sawed the wood with brutish, human labor; if
I, with my hands, planed it. Especially after honing the
steel blade on a bench stone, then testing the edge on my
The curled shavings would fall
to the shop's floor and land about my worn leather boots.
All these things good and natural in color. Smelling, too.
Better if the plane was very
old and very used. My grandfather's plane, a tool he used
to make good things. The plane even a bit of someone else,
made in a place shaded by steel and smoke, inhabited by
men with coarse cloth shirts, snap-brimmed caps and rough
hands; wooden benches and steel tools bearing the sheen
of use and time. Men who fished from row boats and ate picnic
lunches from covered baskets wove of peeled wooden strips.
All of this loops back on itself
and intricately illustrates a continuity and connectedness
between me and the tree and the earth it came from... and
you, if you sit with me at the table, petting the dog who
patiently stands at your knee.
The dog may have done his own
thing on a tree, a descendant of the old timer used to build
the table. We all loop together, forming whorls in the grain
of our cosmic forest's wood.
I do not start because I get
lost in the motion and pattern of all this. I back away
in silence and wonder if I am equal to it.
If my dovetails are not perfect,
have I blasphemed? If the joints are not tight, is it disrespect
for the life of the tree? Have I squandered the resources
used to grow the oak or pine before me? Material that lies
flat, naked, even vulnerable before me on the bench. I tremble
in the thinking of it, therefore cannot reach to touch it.
And so I bring myself to a
place where there is a casting retaining a precision Timken
set guiding an alloy shaft, itself bearing splines and various
diameters turned; through a cavernous case filled with refined
petroleum, all held together with graded, threaded fasteners
and the labor of someone manipulating a fine forged wrench.
It is daunting, it is illuminating, it is humbling, it pierces.
It stills me in mind and
Consider the resources mustered
in the foundry and in the forge. The history and experience
lost somewhere in the heart of the assembly now silent.
Waiting passively for touch and the resultant, exultant
It is all a pattern in the
vaulted ceiling of a cathedral we build for our deepest
It is our responsibility to
care for the parts, know them well, value their every virtue.
Even the ones not immediate and recognizable. They come
to us in oblique moments, later and farther away, and perhaps
in the middle of something else.
The truck, it is solid, too.
We can gather with it and talk and share and know one another.
We can travel forward in space and backward in time. All
It is good.
This is how I can spend an
hour looking at a part, feeling the weight, the sharp edges,
the drilled holes and the machined surfaces. Love the texture
of the casting left on much of it. Believing the dirt upon
it is honest and right.
Not a thing to mind in the
dark of a night, alone. The ceiling a black sky with a single,
A woman and a teenage boy examine
a CD player in a stereo shop. The boy holds a remote control
unit in his hand, entranced. He pushes buttons and marvels.
"How is this different
from the one you have now?" she asks.
He waves the remote at her,
"With this, I don't have to get out of bed."
This is not advanced technology.
It is retarding technology. It needs to be stopped before
we choke on it.
I consider these things as
I load pieces of rough sawn oak in the back of my truck.
They are halves of railroad ties not ever treated with creosote,
used one time fresh from the sawmill as cribbing
for the raising of a house. I am happy to have them, as
I intend to raise my house. I will need many such blocks,
and I gather them when I can.
I intend to do this work without
a fiber-optic network, without a laser beam, without a computer.
I will do it with jacks and wood blocks. I will do it by
I will have to get out of bed
to do it.
Manufacture once meant
to make by hand. That was long ago, but it certainly communicates
the notion that humans can touch, create and shape. A connection
between people and things. A healthy and necessary connection.
I once worked with a machinist
who said we should raise our own green beans, not buy them
in metal cans. We should dig in the soil, plant the seeds.
Weed, water, and pick them. It might seem less economical
than buying beans at the store, but it would feed us in
a number of ways.
We wouldn't need countless
metal cans with printed paper labels, all ending up at a
landfill. Instead, a glass jar could be used over and over.
All the activities associated with the bean production would
be beneficial to the participants.
As the process became less
labor-efficient, more people could be involved. Productively.
The work would be good exercise, providing meaningful activity
It would be better than having
some people sitting, simply waiting for that which they
have come to feel entitled. Today we have enormous numbers
of people who are idle, yet they manage to overconsume.
In fact, they feel entitled to overconsume, at the same
time they do not wish to take work they suggest is beneath
I recently walked through an
event called a thieves market. It was a place where the
products of artists were displayed and sold. Pottery, wood
products, framed and unframed art in a variety of media,
jewelry, textiles, and leather.
None of these things were made
using modern or exotic technology. None of these things
were made at high speed; neat clones of hundreds before
and hundreds after, produced on computer controlled mass
They represent craft. They
represent human involvement, pride in the skills and processes,
and in the objects. Things produced in such a manner allow
humans to connect with them. A polar opposite to the images
and sounds emanating from an electronic arcade game, with
its joy stick, hollow voices and sounds, and artificial
movement of humanoid cartoon figures caroming across the
Next will be the joy button.
We will need it when we run into the wall; when we are told
something cannot happen because the computer is down. Divorcing
the human from any and all responsibility in the matter.
A tragedy in the emergence
of the computer as prime force is that it breeds a lack
of confidence in human judgment, human measurement, human
performance. An irony, in light of the fact that the computer
has been created to simulate human functions.
The more we become surrounded
by cathode ray tubes and programmable logic controllers,
the more we need the opportunity to sit in the dirt and
tend to some beans, form a lump of clay on a potter's wheel,
shape a piece of metal or wood clamped in a vise.
The highly technological world
can leave one with the feeling of being closed in a glass
box, where we can't quite hear everything, and we can't
feel very much.
When I flee the cathode ray
tube, I wrestle with heavy oak blocks in the back of a thirty
year old truck, or watch a lazy line of black oil draining
from a gearbox made of cast iron.
I hope the kid has to get out
A pocket comb is lying on the
asphalt paving in a parking lot. It is missing no teeth
and bears no apparent damage. The fact that it has been
run over several times offers mute testimony to its robust
The recognition of all this
nearly brings me up short. This perfectly good comb is going
to waste. In spite of that, no one picks it up.
Not that I have desire or need
for the comb. I have my own. It is a wonderful, unbreakable,
nylon model I got in junior high. I am now fifty, thus allowing
you to have better perspective on the age of my comb.
In spite of age, it combs well,
carries well, and could realize no functional improvement.
Many years of carry have made
more than a few marks on the comb. It rides around with
change and pocket knives. I am occasionally criticized for
carrying this scarred grooming tool. It has been suggested
my comb does not look good. For this reason I no longer
offer it for public display, in stead only scheduling private
I have purchased new and supposedly
unbreakable combs. Every time they broke, losing clumps
of teeth in my pocket. The old nylon model always came back
from the dresser top, returned to service. Homely as ever,
dull of finish, combing as well as when new.
Madison Avenue strains desperately
to direct our needs and desires. We must want the new and
the innovative. Shun the old, the faded, the traditional
and predictable thing. Discard anything with signs of wear.
Toss the one you have now,
it is from last season.
It must be a designer model,
high tech, and preferably solid state. These ad people would
never be able to sell an anvil. Too uncomplicated, and they
might actually have to talk about function in simplified
Quality, on the other hand,
is a different concept. Quality mixes durability and performance.
It smells and tastes of good design. Aesthetic and functional.
Elegance rooted in simplicity.
Hence the comb. Not something
we would build a shrine for, but a needed thing, certainly.
It is not possible given any conscience to
design a comb bearing needless complexity or utilizing high
technology. We are left only with performance, durability,
and pleasing design.
Kids shooting one another for
jackets and tennis shoes are somehow missing all this. Adults
spending $150 for sun glasses and the accompanying thermonuclear
protection are also missing this.
I am not opposed to spending
money on product. I am opposed to spending money when there
is no substantial and observable benefit.
My grandfather was renowned
and criticized for spending what was deemed too much on
many things. I was a dumb kid at the time, so I just listened
and watched. I observed relatives begrudgingly comment on
the quality of things he bought, and how long these purchases
Certainly there is no guaranteed
correlation between price and quality or durability. But,
the good thing will probably cost more.
John Ruskin, an author of the
1800's, had the following to say:
unwise to pay too much. But it is worse to pay too little.
you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all.
you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because
the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it
was bought to do.
common law of business balance prohibits paying a little
and getting a lot. It can't be done.
you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something
for the risk you run.
if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something
is hardly anything in the world that someone can't make
a little worse and sell a little cheaper and people
who consider price alone are this man's lawful prey.
I have a long wooden box that
belonged to my grandfather. It contains two Starrett machinist
rules. One is a full six feet long, with the expected graduations
in 64ths on one edge. These rules are beautiful and marvelous,
and I keep them well oiled. They are capital, they are quality,
they require no LED's or batteries.
Properly cared for they could
outlast our civilization on this planet, providing utility
well into the future.
I am doing my part.
Tall timber separates the place
from a gravel road. Big oaks, most still bearing last year's
leaves, hickory, and a number of scattered, man-planted
groves of mature, white pines. The pines sing their song
of the north wind. It is a sound you know if you have been
It is late winter. A bitter
cold spell has just passed, now replaced, even if only briefly,
by an unusually warm spell. The day has risen to the low
forties. Snow glistens from heavy melting. There is the
faint sound of water running somewhere.
Rabbits stand silent.
An old man lives back in these
woods, at the end of a lane cut through the thick of it.
At the far end of a clearing is his house, a structure colored
of weathered wood, topped with shake shingles. Smoke curls
from the chimney. There is the smell of a wood fire.
A porch having a huge overhang
runs the full length of the building. Three old lawn chairs,
the kind with stamped steel seats and backs fitted to tubular
leg-frames, line a portion of the porch. The stampings are
all painted differently, and nicely faded.
Two big dogs lay on the board
floor of the porch, seeming to sleep, but watching.
Near the house is a workshop,
much taller, longer and wider than the house. Two huge doors
on the shop are open wide. The building is built from what
appear to be rough hewn timbers. Sawmill stock connected
with iron plates and bolts, roofed and sided with sheetmetal,
some galvanized and some painted. Several colors.
There is considerable stuff
visible inside the shop. Benches, tool cabinets, welder
and torch, beams with trolleys and hoists.
At the side of the building
there is a neatly arranged pile of iron; long and short,
big and small, new and old. Pipe, angle, channel, beam,
square and rectangular tubing.
Parked near the shop is an
old Power Wagon, once blue and black. The blue parts of
the truck have aged to near-black. All surfaces are truly
dull. Remarkably, the top of the cab is perfect; smooth
and rounded. No dents.
There is a pickup box. There
is no tailgate. The back of the truck is filled with all
manner of jutting iron big channel, beam and angle
anchoring a long boom reaching out into the atmosphere.
A heavy cable dangling with
no load from a pulley at the high end of the joined boom
tubes is stiff and just a little curved, terminating in
a great, age-browned slip hook. Other cables, along with
chain, truss the boom.
At the fore end of the bed
rests a big winch of huge, rounded castings bearing the
name Tulsa. The assembly oozes heavy oil.
Wide roller chain rises through
a slot in the box floor, reaching a sprocket on the winch.
The chain links display the sheen of lubrication and attention,
marked in contrast with the dull of box sheetmetal and bed
wood. Heavy tread plate forms a distinct, rectangular section,
defining the area occupied by winch and boom underpinning.
A no-nonsense push bumper fills
out the front of the rig, replete with grab hooks, bolted
shackles, and carefully hand burned openings for the passage
and snagging of big links of log chain. In the middle of
the bumper is a Braden MU2, the spool wrapped completely
full with carefully laid and well oiled cable.
The rear of the truck has a
unique bumper, square in cross-section and fitted with hardware
supporting props that can be swiveled down to point at the
earth. These props are telescoping; held in place by big
pins, and shod in thick, square plates. Stitching all this
mass together are unrelenting beads of arc weld.
There is a massive pintle hook,
with clever and substantial provision for changing the elevation
of the hook, as well as removal and replacement with ball
hitches or other implements of pull. Several hitch balls
of different sizes are lined up for selection, stored in
a series of holes provided.
On the driver's running board,
right along side of the fore end of the pickup box, there
is a metal box with lid. A sturdy hasp secures a lid fabricated
from tread plate, allowing the box to double as a step into
the truck bed. Inside this step box are compartments, each
filled with long chains; some 3/8", some 5/16",
and one with 1/2" chain. Forged grab hooks marked
U.S.A. on all.
Big, handsome double-faced
lights sit atop the front fenders, bearing amber to the
front and red to the rear. Dietz is the brand, chrome are
the bezels. A chrome spotlight is attached to the left side
of the windshield.
A look inside the cab reveals
a heavy-duty turn signal switch attached to the steering
column. Across the cab, mounted on the dash, is a defroster
fan pointed upward at the driver's side of the windshield.
There is a switch on the dash marked Micro-Lock.
Levers rise from the floor;
PTO, transmission and transfer case. More chain and a snatch
block can be seen on the passenger's side. In the middle
of the chain, rising from the iron tangle, is a hydraulic
jack. Also bobbing in this brown, iron surf are hitch pins,
shackles, and a few odd combinations of grab hooks and clevises.
Chrome from one end of a 3/4 drive breaker bar protrudes,
a gleam interrupting the brown.
Not much room left for passenger
feet. Appropriately, the windshield says No Riders.
Leather gloves with wide cuffs
rest on the seat cushion. Ready for the next job.
The old man seems to have everything
You keep a six-foot bar, sledgehammer,
ratcheting chain winch, and an acetylene torch in your shop.
Such items are not for amusement. They are kept and valued
because they provide final solutions to otherwise
So it is with the Power Wagon.
It is not fast. It is not pretty, though you do come to
believe it is beautiful. It will not be stopped.
It becomes immaterial that it gets there slowly. It gets
You realize, after due consideration,
that you are honored to be in its presence. You sit nearby,
silently regarding it, remembering the great deeds.
The truck is brute force, densely
packed into a small space, creating a heavy package
entirely portable capable of traversing impossible
terrain to reach the most remote location.
We envy these trucks
if machines can be envied for their confidence, rugged
construction, and ability to perform under the worst conditions.
We can only hope to be the stalwart friends they have been
for us, for as long as we have known them.
A man wants a friend like this
truck, and wishes to be worthy of the friendship.
Common beliefs such as these
have brought us together. Join with us each month to celebrate
our common values and ideals. Learn from others how to be
self-reliant in your own way, with your own tools, in a
manner that brings you quiet pride.
Editor, Power Wagon Advertiser