The Shop’s year has started well. Most of the nation is in recession but the Shop’s variety of customers has kept them safe from it so far. It’s winter so they are not swamped but definitely steady. Big Jack has decided to bring his boys in on Saturdays as long as the work warrants it and as long as he has things to teach them. To my chagrin, I will not be sleeping in but working on Saturdays. Today is a Monday and a nice order for Thrifty Iron Works is finished. This job is a mix of angles, channels and pipes. It’s three different setups but that’s fine with Big Jack. On the ride home he and Little Jack hear the news, the American hostages in Iran have been released. The deal has been in the works between the US and Iran for sometime and soon they will be returned home.
My father, brother and I watch as the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders defeat the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl 27-10. Jack and Dad are interested in every play but I’m a more passive football fan. Baseball is my passion and I am constantly attentive to a ballgame. I join in and cheer for the Raiders but my mind is more on the approach of Spring Training.
Dad, Jack and I are at 201 S. Central Avenue on a bitter cold Saturday morning. We are assembling a heat exchanger for Egan Boiler and Contracting. The tubes were bent yesterday and now we must get the tubes into the head and expand them. Also, Dad gives me another lesson in annealing. He wants me to be able to anneal copper on my own by the summer. The torch work does warm the place up so I like that part. He sings “Harvest Moon” this time though I can’t be sure why. His lessons are brief but educational. Between the torch lesson and putting the heater together, we spend five hours at the Shop, then the three of us are on our way home. Dad lets us know he may not be coming in every Saturday. Mom has convinced him to take some day trips and run errands on Saturdays. He will trust us to get ourselves to work and take care of whatever needs to be done. Jack is happy with that. He enjoys working without supervision and likes doing so at his own pace. I’m fine with it but jealous of Dad having a full weekend off.
It’s a Friday night and I am happy to be done with school but lamenting work tomorrow. I know it will be cold and Jack and I are rolling some small angle flanges so no torches will be used. I’ve grown accustomed to work but I still miss sleep on Saturdays. After work tomorrow, we plan on playing some street hockey in the tennis courts of Ellwood Park. Jack got me interested and it spread to some of our friends. Jack also plays on skates at the Patterson Ice Rink but that has been curtailed a bit during the week. My brother is also attending night classes at Eastern Technical School learning machine shop basics and mechanics. I know Jack is doing well. This is his kind of thing to study most definitely. I contemplate starting my weekend’s homework but opt to watch television and go to bed early. 7 a.m. comes early on a Saturday.
I am riding the #23 bus home from Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School on a very typical Monday when a friend from my neighborhood, Eddie Legg gives me some news. President Reagan has been shot. I can’t believe it and when I get off the bus, I race home to get the details. The president was wounded by a lone gunman, John Hinkley Jr. Also injured were a DC police officer, a secret service agent and Press Secretary James Brady. Brady is the most critically wounded and will remain partially paralyzed until he dies 33 years later from his injuries.
The Birds open up against the Kansas City Royals and the Kavanagh’s are there or at least some of us. My Mom takes me along with some friends out on the bus because this time Dad and Jack can’t leave the Shop. Dad’s got a customer coming in to go over some drawings and Jack is bending some pipe for Baltimore Tube Bending. The bus is full of folks on the way to Thirty-third Street and it feels pretty cool to have four friends with me. Ken Singleton and Rick Dempsey both homer and the Orioles win 5-3. Steve Stone gets the win but only lasts five innings. Sammy Steward finishes it up with four innings of solid relief. We ride back home with a busload of excited Bird fans.
The Shop at Central Avenue has stayed steady through the winter and things are picking up with the warm weather’s arrival. A job for Custom Fabricators is finished today, a couple bars and three aluminum tubes are rolled in the R-3. Jack Kavanagh Sr. has decided to buy a new Roundo Angle Roller. This one will be bigger than any machine he has. It’s called an R-6-S and can roll 6” angles, 12” beams and has special hydraulic guide rollers for angles. The -S in the name denotes these special attachments. It should arrive in August and it will be the first of this size in America.
Michael Ballard. 1976.
It’s a breezy and cool Spring Saturday and Jack and I are at the Shop. We’re rolling some 1 1/4” steel pipes for a railing. The railing is over 60 feet long and the customer has furnished several cardboard templates for us to match. It is a two line rail which means we need two pipes rolled to each template. The pipes are 21 ft. long and must be taken in and out of the machine repeatedly to check them against the template. As we are working on template #2, the doorbell rings and it’s our brother-in-law, Michael Ballard. We let him in and he tells us he wants to see the place so we give him a quick tour. When we tell him what we are rolling, he offers to help. I am pretty excited about that as I need to keep moving from one side of the pipe to the other to keep the rail flat. With another person, I can stay on one side and Michael on the other. The whole thing sounds good to Jack. In fact, Jack is amped to have Michael there. Maybe it’s the long hair and beard or maybe it’s the kind of guy he is but Michael is very cool in Jack’s eyes. Jack is older than me and has a better sense of “cool” than I do at this point in our lives. Jack talks to Michael most of the time while we roll and I get the feeling it’s as if Jack were working with Elvis or some other superstar. I also admire Michael. He is cool yes and I always have fun when he’s around but I think Jack has a better understanding of him at the time. Michael is very much a free-spirited individual with a gentle demeanor. We complete the rail much faster than anticipated and Michael asks if he can take something from the scrap since he helped us. Scrap is scrap so that is fine with us. He takes a look and pulls out a sample bend from a brass job that was completed two weeks ago. Michael has a friend who’s a sculptor and he thinks his friend can use it. Jack is quick to offer a second piece but Michael assures us this one will do just fine. Jack then shows him something else. Behind each of our chop saws is a build up of carbon. After each cut as the sparks fly, they pile up and gather in a pointed pattern on the wall behind the saw. Dad has given these to Stan Edmister a few times. Stan is a sculptor and the Shop has done work with him for almost ten years. Michael is intrigued by it and describes it as “a sideways stalagmite.” That is about the most accurate description I have ever heard of these blocks of carbon. Jack snaps it off and hands it to Michael. He’s appreciative, shakes our hands and heads out the door. Elvis has left the building.
I doze sleepily in the back seat of the car while Jack drives us along with Dad to Central Avenue. It’s the first Monday after school and I begin my second summer at the Shop. I will be working forty hours a week at least and usually four or five more on Saturdays. I am not looking forward to it but I know what I am in for now and that helps. As I am almost sixteen now, I like the idea of having money to spend so I do see an upside to the job. It’s hard to feel great about it on Monday but on Friday? It makes the week very much worth it. There is no die cataloging or broom pushing for me this summer. Dad puts me with Jack on a heat exchanger for the Housing Authority first thing. A hot job with a torch in June but still better than writing tool lists or cleaning up the place.
The Major League Baseball Players Association goes on strike. I can’t believe it. It’s summer and there will be no baseball. The season is paused while the owners and players try to negotiate a new contract. I’m conflicted as I blame the players but the owners have the money to work out some agreement. I think what are they doing to our great American game?
I have caught a break at the Shop or so I thought. A box of very small copper o-rings is sent over from the Eljay Corporation. They need to be tinned and my father has given me the job. Tinning is an old school coppersmith skill but very simple for these little pieces. A pot of tin is brought to a boil then the o-rings are dipped one by one in the tin then into water to cool them. A very repetitive job yes, but also a very easy one. I sit in the small space just beyond the office on a stool and dip happily. In a few minutes, my Dad exits the office and makes a beeline for me.
“What are you doing sitting down?” He asks me.
I’m flustered but answer. “Well, I figured it didn’t matter. I can do these while I sit just as easy as while standing.”
“No sitting. The job is easy enough. You don’t have to sit.” He growls at me and stomps to the back of the Shop.
I resume my dipping and he returns to the office. I am tempted immediately by the small wood stool again and give in to the allure of sitting. I don’t sit but I lean on the seat as I dip the rings. Again, the office door swings open and my father appears. I jump up but not fast enough and he sees me. Dad glares at me but says nothing. He approaches me not breaking eye contact and I ready myself for whatever he will say. He remains silent but grabs one end of the wooden stool and slowly drags it across the front of the Shop to the alley. VERY slowly so that you can hear every bump or crack in the floor as the stool passes over it. All the employees who are up front could hear it too. I say nothing. No one says anything. A strange level of fear seems to hit us all. A terror that my father is actually angry which happens very rarely. My father’s gaze stays locked on me as he heads to the back of the building. I decide not to sit down for the remainder of the tinning.
It’s about 11:30 a.m and Jack and I pull onto the Jefferson Street side of 447 N. Lakewood our hands full of Burger King bags. For three days in a row, Jack and I have made copper u-bends for Harvey Stambaugh. Today we worked a half-day on the last set of tubes for Stambaugh. I handled the annealing and Jack the bending. We have developed a good system between us. We get the lengths down together then Jack starts cutting while I set up stands for the annealing. I start annealing the first set while Jack cuts the second. After this, Jack gets on the Leonard Air Bender, setting it up and starting to bend the first set. I then take over the cutting and keep annealing with an effort to stay at least one set ahead of him. Over the last two months, we have developed a cadence to our work. Perhaps due to years of playing together, we make a good team. Each of us knows right where the other is at any point during the process. Jack and I have learned to combine our skills to make good quality U-bends and make them fast. We walk through the front door and plop into chairs and begin pulling our burgers out. My father walks in from the kitchen.
“What are you doing home? It’s not noon yet.” Dad asks us as he looks from Jack to me and takes his seat in his recliner.
Through a mouthful of burger, Jack answers. “We’re finished. They’re all done.” He shrugs as he finishes and stuffs two fries in his mouth.
Dad’s eyes widen in a flash. “Well, did you take them over to Stambaugh? You were supposed to deliver them. Remember?”
“We did.” Jack says with a mix of confidence and defiance in his voice.
My father is quiet for a second, taken aback perhaps at our efficiency. “You got ‘em done and you took them over to Stambaugh too?” There’s a bit of doubt in his voice.
I speak up. “Yes, Dad. We did. We got on a good roll, finished them up, delivered and then came home.” I’m busy carefully piling fries on my burger which is how I like it.
Jack is smiling wide as he eats and Dad glances at him then me. “Oh, well. That’s okay then. Good.” He still seems skeptical but I can sense a bit of surprise and pride in his voice. He turns to look at me and grins. “Sooo, you met Harvey. What did you think of him?”
I’m stunned at the question and don’t know what to say. “He’s nice. I mean he’s funny and he seemed fine.”
Dad seems to understand my curiosity at the question. “How old do you think he is, Joe?”
In my mind I assume he must be older than he appears so I say. “I don’t know. 67? 66?”
“He’s 81.” Dad chuckles as he answers me.
Reflexively I pull my head and shoulders back in surprise. “81? You gotta be kidding me.” Dad is laughing harder now. “Is it some kind of deal with the devil kind of thing? Or like a Dick Clark thing?”
Dad nods his head. “Yeah, something like that.” He smiles and stands as he walks into the front room to play some piano. “Good job today both of you, by the way.”
We finish our lunch as the sound of “Ebb Tide” fills the front room with Dad singing as he plays.
Hell week is nearly over and our vacation is looming. The crew have been cleaning, finishing up a few jobs and of course playing jokes and throwing water at each other since Monday. It’s a raucous week at the Shop as it is each year. The jokes on each other seem to break a year’s worth of tension and my father allows it as long as what has to be done is done.
Millions of teens in America are tuned in to watch the premier of a new television channel called MTV. I am not one of them. I am in my Dad’s Chrysler Cordoba as we drive to Ocean City for vacation. I wish I could have been watching but I am happy to be on the way to the beach. The teenagers listen AND watch as the Buggles start it off with “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Music and television will never be the same. I enjoy our annual week of crabbing, fishing and amusements. I will spend countless hours playing pinball and skeeball. This year there are a couple new video games to join Space Invaders. Pac-man is one and it becomes popular very quickly. It’s a great week off but a fast one and soon we are making the long quiet ride back to Baltimore.
I am relieved to hear the baseball strike is resolved and the season will re-start in two days. A different playoff format will be used with the season split. The winners of each half of the season will play each other in a series to determine who goes on to the Championship Series, then the World Series.
It’s a hot, hazy and very sweaty day at the Shop. Jack and I are busting out another set of tubes for Stambaugh. As we head up the steps to the second floor, we are discussing last night’s Oriole game. Baseball is back on after the work stoppage and we were at Memorial Stadium. The game went into extra innings but we hung around enough to see the end. Some young infielder named Cal Ripken scored the winning run in the 12th. He had pinch run for Ken Singleton and I ask Jack if he knows anything about him. He doesn’t but we guess maybe he’s fast since he pinch ran. We’ll see if he develops into a decent player. Jack and I pull the tubes from the racks, cut them then I anneal and Jack bends. The system we have works great. We’re in sync on heater tubes and I know my father has noticed. He watches us some days, often telling me I am getting the tubes too hot. I tell him if they were too hot, they would melt. It’s not meant to be disrespectful. It is more my assessment of how I anneal and the results. Jack likes that I get them hot. It helps to avoid wrinkles in the bends. Jack has gone so far as to tell me, my tubes bend better than his. My father isn’t bothered when Jack or I disagree with him. He takes it well and in stride. I realized later, he is happy we are taking the initiative and finding our own process. Dad is relieved we have developed enough confidence to stand up for our work and our technique. Some days, he’ll suddenly appear in the Shop quietly and I see him watching us out of the corner of his eye. It will only be for a couple of minutes but I can sense the satisfaction he gets from it. He’s proud of us. Jack and I know that but there is more to it. There’s something about this place and brothers working together. My second summer at the Joseph Kavanagh Company is nearly finished and I feel much more a part of it now. I fit in this year and I know I can do good work. Also, it’s nice for a sixteen year old to have a regular pay check every week.
The Shop takes delivery of its new machine, the R-6-S. I am astounded along with the rest of the crew at the size of the thing. It weight 14 tons and can pull up to 3 1/2” Square solid steel bar. The machine is a powerhouse. It takes the better part of the day to get the R-6-S unloaded, moved and set on the ground. The next day an electrician will power it up for us. My Dad is so excited. He can’t wait to see it in action and see what it can really do. He, Jerry Purnell and Jack will spend a few hours each week testing it and practicing on their new toy.
It’s the day after Labor Day and school is back in session. I find myself on the bus heading to Mt. Carmel in Essex. My friends and I are catching up with each other and discussing our summers. I regale my pals with tales of the Shop and the work I did over the last few months. It’s real work not just burger flipping or newspaper delivering and my friends think it’s pretty cool. I know it’s not that cool, if anything it is hot. That being said, it was a much better summer for me. I am more comfortable and my skills are beginning to grow. I know of the legacy of the place. 1866 was 115 years ago and I feel the pride in this longevity. I also know, most likely, some day it will be Jack’s and mine. I feel much better about that future now and I suppose my friends are right. It IS pretty cool.
The heat exchanger work continues to drive the Shop through another good year despite the rest of the country still fighting to escape recession. A unit is completed for the Housing Authority of Baltimore with Little Jack doing the bulk of the work. Jack is very confident in himself and it shows in his quality and in his quickness with jobs.
After winning their first game of the season on the road against the New England Patriots, the Colts have lost two in a row and today face the Miami Dolphins. The two Jack’s are there and it’s a close game but a tough loss with Miami taking it 31-28. It doesn’t get much better as the Colts will lose fourteen in a row and suffer through one of the worst defensive seasons in NFL history and again they will fail to make the playoffs.
The first Washington Capitals home game of the year is a victory versus the Detroit Red Wings 6-3. My brother is in attendance with one of his friends and is hoping for a good season from his favorite hockey team. Unfortunately after this victory they lose thirteen in a row. Jack starts to think he’s jinxed with both the Caps and Colts on long losing streaks.
Yet another heater is finished today for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. This one is a rush so six men have time on it to get the unit completed on the same day it came in. It is assembled and finished by 3 p.m. and Big Jack calls Mike Winchester at the City who dispatches a truck to pick the thing up.
Dad, Jack and I are watching the World Series per tradition. The Birds didn’t make the playoffs. It was a good season but a strange one with the work stoppage. The New York Yankees take the pennant in the American League while the Los Angeles Dodgers win the National League crown. We are pulling for LA as we can not root for the Yanks. It’s not possible for us die hard Orioles fans and we are happy to watch the Dodgers take the championship in six games. My father tells us a few tales of the old Brooklyn Dodgers franchise especially about Roy Campanella. He saw Campy as a young player for the Baltimore E-lite Giants in the Negro Leagues and tells us he was the best player he ever saw. Dad thinks he could have broken a lot of records if his career wasn’t ended so abruptly by a tragic automobile accident.
Big Jack has stopped the Saturday half-days as the work has slowed some. This would seem like good news for me but Jack and I will continue to work on the weekend. Dad always finds something for us to do even in the winter. The Shop is still steady and Dad is very pleased with the way the year has gone. He is happy Jack and I are progressing particularly Jack who has already become one of our father’s top mechanics. Dad calls them mechanics but he really means a bender and a roller. The new R-6-S is already making money for the Shop. It has a great deal of power and can roll big angle with ease and the hydraulic guide rollers keep the angle’s legs very straight. one 5” X 5” Angle and a 3” Square Tube are curved in this machine for Niro Atomizer and the finished product looks great.
As the year nears its close, the Shop has become a cold place to work. There is heat but it only helps if you are working directly under the heater. The crew are used to it and go about their jobs. A fountain sprayer tube and a steel pipe railing are made on the first floor today while my brother is upstairs bending some small tubes for Danzer Metal Works. They are custom replacement parts for one of Danzer’s machines.
The Baltimore Colts finish up this tough year with a victory at home against the Patriots, the only team they beat this year doing so twice. Big Jack and Little Jack hope this final win can propel them to better things next year. My Dad is beginning to think the glory days of the Colts are long gone.
Christmas on Lakewood Avenue is as crowded as ever. My four nieces liven up the place and bring that kids feeling back to Christmas when it had almost disappeared. I am the youngest and older now and there is a some special wonderment that small children bring to the holiday. For my parent’s grandchildren, there are gifts, toys, holiday mysteries and stories to be discovered. I envy the young ones and the magic that is Christmas to them. For the rest of us, the turkey is good with all the fixings including parsnips as per Kavanagh tradition. I have started my Junior year of high school and finished my first full summer at the Shop. This was a much more pleasant one and my father has begun training me while I also learn from my brother. Jack and I make a good team. I still follow his lead but there is a level of comfort between us that flows naturally. Years of sports, school and games seem to have payed off for us. I know Dad can see it and the workers at the Shop. We’re as comfortable and as confident as we could be with each other. I give some thought to my future on Christmas night after the rest of the family have gone. The plan seems set in stone. I will work at the Joseph Kavanagh Company like my brother, father, uncle and all the rest. Still, I do want to go to college and I have other plans or rather ideas about plans. At sixteen, I am not ready for real plans. I know I’m growing up with both the good and the bad of it. Suddenly, more is expected of me and I have responsibilities. I’m ready for all that but sometimes, especially at Christmas, it can be fun to still be a kid.
Ronald Reagan is the President of the United States. The first case of AIDS is identified. Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first female Supreme Court Justice. The Space Shuttle Columbia flies for the first time. Mozart’s Undiscovered Symphony is discovered. Lady Diana marries Prince Charles. The first American test tube baby is born. MS-DOS & the first IBM PC are released. Frequent flier miles are invented. The films “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “On Golden Pond,” and “Chariots of Fire” debut in theaters. Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Serena Williams, Hope Solo and Elijah Wood are born. Natalie Wood, Joe Louis, William Holden, Paddy Chayefsky and Harry Chapin die.
There are 50 state in the Union.
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