1926 Tap Dancing at the Brewery

January 7

Ice cream and candy kettles fill the Shop to start the year. Brothers Joe and James are pleased. Last year was a good one. They have had to scale back their crew bit by bit but now they seem to have a balance of work and employees. The crew of 20 including 5 Kavanaghs are spread throughout the Shop and it’s small front office. Joe handles all phone calls from customers, quotations and jobs. James handles the engineering for the kettles, brewing systems and cooking vessels they make. His son Guy does the books. Invoicing and paying the bills. They work primarily in the small corner office during the day. Trips into the Shop proper to check on job progress and the crew keep one or two of them in and out pretty often. Also, Joe enjoys holding court in the Shop for customers and workers a like. Joe’s oldest son Leo is a very skilled draftsman. He makes the majority of all sketches that are used in their work. Joe’s youngest son Eddie is their most talented coppersmith. He has over ten years of experience and the raw skill of a smith. Eddie is assigned the most difficult jobs. He usually leads the crew for installs as well. The Shop’s beer brewery work increased last year. The sale of “Near Beer” has helped the post prohibition beer industry. In January, their focus has been for years on candy and ice cream customers. They fabricate the kettles and apparatus for the production of the sweets. For many years, the winter months are the time of year for the confectionery companies to handle repairs and replacements. A good thing for the Kavanaghs too. The winter would otherwise be a very quiet time for the place.

March 10

A blustery windy day is spent at the Shop making railings. The Kavanaghs have a long complicated railing to make. The curve is irregular turning right then left. With heat, the brass is bent. After one section is completed by a group of five men, then other workers set to polishing it to a mirror finish. Long tedious work but it pays off with a beautiful finished product. The work has remained steady. They do not work many Saturdays during the cold months but Joe and James give thought to it again. Last year they alternated working Saturdays once the weather broke. That seemed to work quite well. The brothers decide to begin doing the same this year in April.

May 26

A spring Wednesday starts with the Shop receiving an emergency call from Gunther’s Brewery. They have a large leak in a beer vat and it needs to be fixed immediately. They are upset and desperate for a solution. Joe thinks it is best if he is there. He grabs his son Eddie and his nephew James Woods Jr. The three quickly climb into the truck with torches, hammers and tools. They drive as fast they can to the brewery on Conkling Street. Once inside, they make their way to the large brewing room full of vats. The floor is wet with wasted beer. The crew are mopping up and cleaning up as best they can. The supervisor approaches Joe and lets him have it. He’s not satisfied at all. These were just repaired a year ago and look at the mess. He is rambling on and firing left and right at Joe. Joe remains strangely calm. He assures the supervisor that they will fix it up in a jiffy. Joe doesn’t mention that the seams are only guaranteed for a year. The change in weather and over-use makes their repair schedule unpredictable. Joe does not want to anger this gentleman further. He pulls Eddie aside as the supervisor continues ranting. He is swearing and cursing now to his workers about the mess.

Joe tells Eddie, “You and James get in there and fix this thing as fast as you can. Run a good bead but make it quick. I don’t want this to leak anytime soon”

Eddie answers, “Sure, we can do that Joe but this guy is crazy mad.”

Joe says,” Leave him to me. Get up in there.”

Eddie and James Woods climb the ladder up into the tank and begin surveying the damage. Joe meanwhile takes the supervisor by the arm and starts speaking to him. Apologizing and assuring him that it will be fixed quickly. Joe tries to calm him down and lead the conversation away from the leaking vat. They talk of baseball and music and the City. Anything to keep this gentleman from exploding with anger. Eddie finds the leaky seam. It doesn’t seem too bad. It is pretty clear due to the size of the crack but he thinks they can fix it without much trouble. The beer leak all happened quickly once the seam is compromised, the liquid is going to pour out fast. He and his cousin examine it closely and begin cleaning and prepping the seam to solder. Eddie notices that it seems quiet out in the room now. He even hears a few laughs. He smiles to himself knowing that his father Joe is working his magic. Joe was a born entertainer and loves any chance to do so. He was a vaudevillian in his youth. Comedy and music are two of his favorite things. James Woods begins heating the copper at the seam. Eddie gets to soldering. He hears a bit more discussion outside the tank though it does not sound angry. As he runs the bead along the seam with his cousin’s assistance, Eddie begins hearing a rhythmic tapping. He ignores it for a moment but it does not stop. It’s a changing rhythm and it continues. He is about halfway along the cracked seam when he decides to find out what is going on. He hands his soldering iron to James Woods. Hoists himself up to the edge and peeks over out into the large room. He sees the supervisor and his crew all gathered in a semi-circle around Joe. Joe is smiling and tap dancing merrily as the workers watch. Eddie can’t stop the smile from spreading on his face. This is so his father, Crazy Joe Kavanagh. Joe glances up to his son and looks at him as he dances. Instinctively, Eddie shakes his head no. The seam is not ready and he hops right back into the vat. He grabs the soldering iron from his cousin and gets right back to work. He hurries because Joe is almost 60. Eddie’s not sure how long he can keep this up. Eddie is close though and he chases the bead farther and in several moments he is finished. He quickly hops up and looks out again. This time Joe is looking for him. Eddie quickly nods and drops back down. Joe does a few more quick steps and finishes with some old soft shoe flourish. The crowd break out into cheers and applause. Eddie recounts to James what has happened. Smiling they pack up and climb out of the vat. Down the ladder and back into the brewing room. Joe is shaking hands with the supervisor who is smiling broadly and thanking Joe for the dance. That was great he says. As Eddie approaches, he informs Joe that they are finished. The supervisor thanks Joe again. That was some great service. Thank you so much for coming right out and getting right to it. And that dance sure made us all happy. Joe smiles back and tells him he is more than welcome. This is what we do. We guarantee quick and reliable service and repair. The supervisor tells Joe to send us a bill and thanks again. Eddie and James toss their tools in the truck and all three climb in. Eddie is in the driver’s seat with his father next to him. Eddie has done his best to suppress a grin.

Finally, he has to ask. “You know Joe, I never knew dancing was part of the job.“

Joe glances over and with a twinkle in his eyes he says,” EVERYthing is part of the job, Eddie. Everything.”

“Well, I can’t really dance.” Eddie answers as he turns onto Central Avenue.

Joe looks at his son and says, “That’s just fine. I can.”

Eddie shakes his head as they head closer to the Shop and the conversation drifts to baseball. They briefly continue their constant debate of who is better Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth. Joe the consummate fan of Cobb and Eddie a fan of Ruth. They pull in at 201 S. Central and return. Seam fixed. Leak stopped. Dance danced. Mission accomplished.

“Crazy Joe” Kavanagh 1920.

July 24

Joe takes a Saturday train to Philadelphia. He is attending a ballgame and hopes to visit Connie Mack

an old acquaintance. Connie Mack manages the Philadelphia Athletics. They met in a vaudeville theater when Mack was a player and Joe was part of a traveling musical troupe. Joe has visited Mack occasionally over the years though not in the last few crazy strange years. He has a seat near the dugout and is able to speak to him briefly before the game. They catch up a bit and talk baseball. Maybe not friends but associates who both probably enjoy thinking back to their meeting as young men. Mack’s Athletics defeat the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings. Jimmy Dykes leads off the bottom of the 10th inning with a triple and is drivein in by Jim Poole to win the game. Joe saw a good ballgame. Lefty Grove gets the win in relief. Mr. Mack’s team has a pretty good year but must settle for thrird place. Joe thinks long and hard about this life on the train ride back to Baltimore. He can still remember his musical days. The Primrose Quartet, the group of men he sang with. The tours of the Midwest, Canada and Europe. He saw the world. Yet, it was a long time ago. It is more than 30 years now since his wife asked Old Uncle Joe to give her husband a job. Get him home and off the road. It is a rueful memory for Joe. Which is not to say he doesn’t regret it. He just knows it was the right thing to do.

August 5

Today is one of those sweltering humid days that makes smithing a challenge. The Shop’s crew are busy with some steamship parts, a variety of kettles and several beer vats. The work is plentiful but the heat makes every move difficult. They torch copper and twist and turn it. All the while fighting against the temperature. A 100 degree day can feel like 200 with a torch in hand. The Kavanaghs have dealt with the dog days of summer for years at the Shop. All that experience and practice, still adds up to working men sweating and laboring through the stifling day. You get used to not getting used to it.

October, 11

The St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Winning 4 games to 3. This series has Babe Ruth all over it. Good and bad. The good being in game 4, Ruth crushes a record three home runs. News accounts state this is after promising a sick boy, Johnny Sylvester that he would hit one out for him. The other two I suppose were bonuses. According to legend, the boys’ health dramatically improved after the home run. Modern research finds this event in doubt but nonetheless it has passed into the lore of baseball and Babe Ruth. One of those Ruth stories that will never cease to be told whether facts dispute them or not. On the bad side, Ruth is thrown out attempting to steal in game 7 for the final out of the game and series. His detractors including Joe Kavanagh find great delight in criticizing this ill-advised attempt. The Kavanaghs and crew discuss the series for days after its completion. Joe needles his son Eddie about Ruth’s gaffe in the final game. Still, Ruth easily wins the season compared to Ty Cobb. Ruth bats a robust .372 with 47 homers. Cobb settles for a meager by his standards, .339 while missing about half season due to injury and age.

December 24

This Friday brings the Christmas Eve Party at the Shop. The annual party is a festive one. Three generations of Kavanaghs celebrate and welcome in the holidays. Kitty does not visit this year but her sisters Regina and Mary attend with their families. Leo’s son, Leo Jr. plays with Eddie’s son, Ed Jr.. while their toddlers Mary(Leo’s daughter) and Jack(Eddie’s son) wander about the dirty Shop. Frequently scooped up and held by one relative or another. Song fills the Shop lead by Joe and his daughter Anna. It is a wonderful evening. Another year in the books for the Kavanaghs. Joe, James and their sons are more relaxed and confident that things are going in the right direction. They have managed two good years in a row. They do not have the volume of work they had before Prohibition but they are making some money. As always, they will see how the winter goes.



Calvin Coolidge is the President of the United States. The first liquid-fueled rocket is invented by Robert Goddard. Congress passes the Air Commerce Act which licenses pilots and airlines. The National Bar Association is incorporated. Iconic Route 66 is established. The NBC Radio Network is formed from 24 local stations. Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, Harper Lee, Chuck Berry and Tony Bennett are born. Harry Houdini and Annie Oakley die.

There are 48 states in the Union.

Pratt and Central building. 1990.


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