“JACK OF A FEW TRADES AND MASTER OF ONE”

TO LEARN – TEACH

BE CURIOUS and PLAYFUL ABOVE ALL
I tell my grandchildren as they graduate from high school that upon my graduation the world looked wide with adventure and possibility. When I now turn around, the world I see in retrospect is even wider but I have travelled only a single path through it. I got knocked sideways a few times and meandered a bit but a single line traverses then to now. Possibility contracted into singularity.

Once upon a time I was a Minnesota dairy farm boy, but that was a long time ago and far away. I remember the 5 year old boy feeding calves holding a milk pail with a rubber nipple. And the 8 year old driving tractor and my father loading hay bales onto the wagon. Remind me to tell you that story sometime.

Farming is hard work, and a single family dairy farm may well be the hardest. The cows are milked twice a day whether you are sick or well, happy or unhappy, willing or unwilling. In between there is an endless supply of tasks, hard work all, particularly caring for the cows in the winter. There is silage to shovel out of the silo, manure to shovel and carry away, then straw to distribute. Shovels and pitchforks, food and muck. The barn is where I began.

We arrived in California in 1953 and a new life in suburbia. I was 1 week shy of 10 years old and immediately became the custodian of the local Dairy Queen so my father could work the day shift as the grade school custodian during the summer. I scrubbed everything, washed the windows, swept the parking lot, mopped the floor and sidewalks four hours every day of the week. Then on Saturdays we were the church custodians. That and school took me to my high school graduation in 1960.

If you get the idea that my youth was dominated by manual work you will be quite right. My father took me to work not on camping, hunting, or fishing trips, or ball games. This theme continues: in 1964 I enrolled as an electrical apprentice in International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332. I am a journeyman electrician –Inside Wireman. Best thing that ever happened to me. I had fun, did good work, and learned a lot. I worked with some great guys, listened to their stories, and tried to live up to their example so that I might have worthy stories to tell.

I have had a lifetime of work at the hickory end of the shovel, so to speak. A phrase from Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano passes through my mind “…I’ll be out in the barn shoveling my thesis.” The barn is where I began. I ended up like the main character at the conclusion of Player Piano, fascinated with tools, machinery, making and fixing things, and figuring them out. Stop by the Project Gallery page to see some photos of my work in metal and wood.

In retirement I crabbed sideways a bit, bent my life path, and tried to learn some other things. This website is a record of that adventure into a wider world, of looking for possibilities, of finding out what else I could do. I have explored the design of camshafts for internal combustion engines Cam Design and their manufacturing methods Cam Grinding. I needed to balance an electric motor for a cam grinder and wandered off into the fascinating world of balancing rotating machinery Static and Dynamic Balancing. Those are my mechanical engineering adventures. I needed an electronic amplifier for the balancing machine so ventured into electronic engineering, mind you only a nose under the tent just far enough to design a complex circuit using operational amplifiers.

At various times during my working life I also taught school. My website continues this by teaching what I have learned during my adventures in mechanical engineering. Still doing the “jack of a few trades” thing and having fun.

The real bend in my life line has been the discovery that I like to write. Well, I’ve known that for a long time but retirement has given me time to indulge. That stuff is in the Essays section. I’m doing this all bass ackwards, that is, I’m writing at the beginning of thinking and studying rather than after a long education and years of work in academia. I write to explore the “temper of my mind” – to find out how I have constructed my mental and emotional world and more importantly why.

My blogs are not scholarship but exploration, curiosity, asking questions, finding out how things work. Just like facing the controls of a new machine tool and figuring out how to operate it, I write as an individual tightly bound in a society, a culture, and trying to understand how I and it function individually and collectively.

I based the title of my website on a phrase that I heard in my youth: jack of all trades, master of none. I have not heard it in a long time, but I recalled it for the title of my website. Looking back and surveying my life I understand that I was a jack of several trades, that I preferred to know something of a wide variety of skills rather than a complete mastery of one.

So come along with me, let us walk together talking of “…shoes and ships and sealing wax….” And of some other things