The year starts slowly for the Shop. One constant in the one hundred and sixteen year history of the Joseph Kavanagh Company is that winters are problematic. Many industries are effected by the cold especially if it involves outside work. This washes down to the Shop and almost always brings a slowdown. It is anticipated, and my father and his predecessors are prepared for it. He deals with the drop in work and does anything he can to keep the crew busy. He definitely finds something for Jack and I to do every Saturday. If nothing else, he has us in the machine shop making rollers and spacers. I have very little experience with a lathe but Jack has been taking classes at Eastern Tech for a couple years and he teaches me about the machines and how to use them. Jack is a good teacher and always patient with me. Of course, we are brothers and we have grown to enjoy working together nearly as much as we like playing together.
Dad, Jack and I are watching the Super Bowl on television. I’m doing some homework while the game is on. The NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers defeat the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals 26-21. Jack and Dad are pulling for the Bengals as they are in the same conference as the Colts but I am fairly indifferent. I watch because it’s on and it’s tradition.
The Kavanagh’s gather for a wedding. My sister Jackie weds Richard Bosse. Mom and Dad are very proud and happy to see Jackie settle down and Richard is a good hard-working man who fits right in from the start. The Bosse’s are very similar to the Kavanagh’s and the two families match well together. It’s a good party and the first time I can sneak drinks at a wedding. Later that evening, I learn that rum and coke is not my drink.
Spring is here and has brought more work to the corner of Pratt and Central. One job is a very large order of tee bars and pipes for the Criss Brothers Company. My brother Jack is bending some heater tubes for Stambaugh and a set for a heater for the Housing Authority but every other man at the Shop has time on this Criss Brothers job. Dad is happy to have everyone busy and finally a bit of a backlog of work on the books. He and Jack discuss the Orioles on the way home. Spring Training has started and Manager Earl Weaver has announced this will be his last season. He will retire at the end of it.
The Orioles open up their season at Memorial Stadium hosting the Kansas City Royals. The Birds get their hitting shoes out and hammer KC 13-5. Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Gary Roenicke and Dan Ford all homer for the hometown team. I am there with some friends and my Mother. We took the bus out just like last year and I have to say. I love being able to take four friends to the game. A friend with baseball tickets is truly a friend but a friend with opening day tickets is a popular friend.
Baltimore is hit with a very rare April snow and it’s bad enough to cancel school and the Orioles’ second game of the season. This is something we don’t see in Spring in this City but I enjoy the free snow day and the extra sleep. The storm is much worse in cities farther north, some getting over two feet of snow.
The flow of work continues to improve and Dad’s crew are spread over a handful of jobs on a rainy April day. A set of sprayer tubes for a fountain, some angle flanges for Codd Fabricators and two railings are finished today including one for Tuttle Aluminum and Bronze Inc. The Tuttle job consists of some aluminum channels and tubes which need to be annealed and rolled. Mike Glenn and two fellows handle the job and my father is reminded that this is the summer I will learn to anneal aluminum, the most challenging metal to soften.
The Orioles play a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays at Memorial Stadium. In game two, Manager Earl Weaver sits young infielder Cal Ripken Jr. to give him a game off.
The Orioles lose to the Toronto Blue Jays 6-0 with Jim Gott & Roy Lee Jackson combining on a one hit shut out. The lone Orioles hit being a single by Rick Dempsey. Cal Ripken Jr. plays in game one of what will be a very long streak.
I return to the Shop for the summer and the crew welcomes me back. The guys know me now and this level of acceptance by them is a good feeling. After some brief chatting and catching up, everyone gets to work. I’m rolling some pipes into rings for B & B Welding while the rest of the men are rolling some angles and bars and Jack bends some stainless steel pipes for Turnbull Enterprises. Another Kavanagh starts working at the Joseph Kavanagh Company today. My Mom has decided to come in and start helping in the office. Helen Glodek is my father’s secretary but she is getting older and wants to cut back to working three days a week. Mom will shadow her for a bit and learn all she can about the billing, payroll and other clerical jobs that Miss Helen does. Mom told me she doesn’t have kids at home anymore and wants to keep busy. It makes sense to me. My mother was never one to take it easy much at all. She will drive in each morning with Dad, Jack and I, then one of the crew will drive her to Lakewood Avenue at 2 p.m. so she can have dinner ready when the rest of us get home.
I’m annealing and bending some copper u-bends for Harvey Stambaugh. My father put Jack and I on it but when we are halfway through the tubes, he pulls Jack off and gives him a job bending some pipes for L & S Welding. Dad tells me to handle it from here on out and tells me to grab someone when I need it. For a second, I pause. This is the first time I am left alone to finish something at the Shop and then tell someone what to do. I anneal the last set and get back to bending, then get Ralph Bell to help me knock the burrs off the tubes. I’m happy my father has confidence in me but it is unspoken. Dad has always told me he’s proud of me but at the Shop, things are different. He doesn’t need to tell me of his pride. It’s a show don’t tell kind of thing.
It’s a hot and humid Saturday morning. Mom and Dad are down the Ocean for the weekend and Jack and I are working on a set of tubes for Stambaugh. I’m annealing and Jack is bending. We work best this way and we plan on cranking these tubes out and getting home as quick as we can. I put pencil marks on each tube before lighting the torch. These marks indicate the start and stop of the bend and I only need to anneal between them. Annealing much past those lines will not hurt per se but will make the tube too soft and floppy to handle. My mind is a little clouded by my hangover. Mom and Dad being away meant a small party at my house. My friends, Ray French and Greg and Tim Heaps were with Jack and I at 447 N. Lakewood Avenue having a few beers and listening to music. We made a drinking game of listening to Stray Cat Strut. We played it thirty times in a row and a good time was had by all. I’m paying for it a little this morning but I am determined to get home and nap as soon as possible. I think of my father’s lessons and smack the torch with my striker which sparks and lights the propane. I point the torch at the tubes as the heat hits my face then I begin. “Black and Orange Stray Cat sitting on a fence. Ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent. I’m flat broke but I don’t care. I strut right by with my tail in the air.”
Busy, busy, busy is the Shop suddenly. Several rush jobs have added to the volume of orders and everybody who can will be working Saturdays until vacation. Jack and I are rolling some pipes for Thrifty Iron in the R-3 while flat bars on the same job are rolled in the R-5. I can see my father is particularly pleased as truck after truck drops off straight material to be curved. I finally start to understand his mood at the place. There is much to be concerned about when owning a business and having things to do is clearly at the top of the list.
I’m standing in the front of Central Avenue with the heat of a torch blowing in my face as I anneal some copper tubes for Codd Fabricators. I meet Pete Kolb who runs Codd’s shop for the Kaufmann’s who are the owners. Pete shakes my hand and wants me to call him Pete not Mr. Pete. My Dad is okay with that and chuckles as Pete corrects me. They chat in the front of the big door about work and upcoming jobs. I can see my Dad and he are alike and seem to be genuine friends. Afterward, Dad tells me Pete is as smart a man as he has ever known and as hard of a worker too. Dad likes him and trusts him and I like Pete from the start.
It’s Hell Week at the Shop in anticipation of the pending week’s vacation. The last jobs are completed, the place is cleaned and a variety of pranks, jokes and “play” occurs. Water is dropped from bread bags and poured through holes in the second story floor. My uncle is at the heart of a lot of it. Jack and I call him Ed not Uncle Ed. Initially, I thought this was simply for brevity but it’s Shop and family tradition. There are no uncles at the Shop just co-workers. Ed is always the instigator and gets even more involved this year. He sends Forest Glenn or Peanut as he is called into the basement under the guise of retrieving some old tools. Ed flicks the basement light off and slams the trap door shut. Jack and I watch from the front corner near the Pines Bender as Ed proceeds to grab a sledgehammer and pound the floor hopping about like some merry gremlin. I learn Ed is more spry than I knew. Apparently, he was a former jitterbug champion. Jack and I go from stunned to laughing in a flash. Peanut screams loudly while Ed calmly drops the sledgehammer and walks into the office. When Peanut pushes the trap door open and climbs out, he is covered in dirt and bits of floor. He takes it surprisingly well but lambastes my uncle as soon as he appears from the office. Ed, of course, denies any involvement or knowledge of the whole event.
We are in Ocean City at Royal Palm Court for the week and it’s every bit as fun as it is each year. There is a little less fishing and crabbing now we are older. Jack and I prefer to spend as much time as possible on the boards, playing games and amusements. My fascination with skee-ball continues and with all of these new video games added to pinball, I spend hours in the arcades. I most enjoy the fact that at seventeen now, I am allowed to go about the city on my own. There are some nights Jack and I go out together but sometimes, he does what he wants and I do what I want. Another bonus of working full-time in the summer is I have money to burn at the beach. And burn it I do, but it’s well worth the fun. The week goes fast and next thing I know we are heading home with school on the horizon.
Jack celebrates his twentieth birthday by bending a copper serpentine coil for the Allen Mitchell Company. I anneal while he bends in the same way we always handle these type of orders. The rest of the crew are spread over three jobs including some bars and tubes for the Wallace Welding Company. My Mom has learned her job very quickly. She asked Miss Helen questions and observed her and Dad as they went about the billing, payroll and receivables. She soaked it all up and is now able to handle any of the secretarial duties. Not bad for someone with no clerical experience at all.
It’s the last Saturday of the summer and I will be returning to school soon. I’ll keep working Saturdays but my weekdays will be spent as a Senior at Mt. Carmel. Today Dad is giving me a lesson in annealing aluminum. I coat the aluminum tube in motor oil. The dirtier the oil the better, my father says. It makes it easier to see the transition of hard to annealed. Aluminum anneals at approximately 600 degrees Fahrenheit and by chance that is about the same temperature this oil burns off at. It’s a slow process and takes control because aluminum can melt easily. If you get one small spot of the tube too hot too fast, it will melt or break. Even a slight melting compromises the integrity of the piece and it will just break when bent. Dad has me anneal four pieces then bend them. The torch must be kept in motion constantly and the pieces as well. Using a stick, I keep the tube rolling while I move the torch along it. I sing while I use the torch knowing that he is watching. He stays silent for the most part but has his eye on me. Jack is bending some small 1/2” tubes for the Readybuilt Company and is upstairs by himself. Dad seems a little impressed when none of the four pieces I anneal break. He tells me I did well and he likes the way I handle the torch. He says it almost looks like I know what I’m doing then chuckles broadly. He calls Jack down stairs then asks me what I was singing. I spend the drive home trying my best to explain the Stray Cats to my father. To his credit, he listens to the song with me after lunch. His assessment is it’s better than most of the “Rot N Roll” I listen to.
My father and brother are attending the Baltimore Colts’ first game of the season. It’s been a tough few years for the Colts and they lose today 24-13 to the New England Patriots. Dad and Jack are diehard fans and go to a few games each year. They continue to hope this franchise can find a way to turn it around.
The NFL Players go on strike and the NFL season is put on hold. Seven games will be completely canceled and one is rescheduled for the end of the season. The Colts finish up 0-8-1 in last place with a dismal winless record.
The Birds lose their last game of the season and miss the playoffs. They came into the weekend needing to sweep four from the first place Milwaukee Brewers and did win the first three including a twi-night doubleheader on Friday. Palmer gets shellacked in this game and the Brewers win 10-2. Earl Weaver receives a huge ovation after the game. This ends years of Oriole success led by the “Earl of Baltimore.” We were at Friday’s games but listen on the radio to this very disappointing end to the season and to Weaver’s illustrious career.
It’s a Saturday afternoon and I sit in the living room doing Trigonometry homework after a morning at the Shop. The movie “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” is on television in the living room with Jack, Dad and I watching. When the movie goes to commercial, Dad turns to me.
“J-J-Joe?” My father says my name with a certain cadence when he really wants my attention. He draws out the first letter. “I gotta question for you. You know at the Shop when we roll big radius stuff, we have to get out in the street with a long chalk line to mark a template.” I did know this. At the Shop, we cut templates for whatever radius we need for each job. A drafting tool called a tram is attached to either end of a long stick with a pin point on one end and a pencil on the other. The distance between determines the radius and this works well up to twenty-five feet. Longer than that requires a trip into the middle of Central Avenue, stopping traffic and using a string to make a radius. It’s time consuming and impractical but necessary. “It would be nice if there was some easier way to check big radii.”
I look up from my homework.”It would be. It’s a pain whether we use a long stick or go out in the street using twine. Plus, the drivers of the cars never seem to appreciate it much.” My eyes drop back to my work then I scoff. “It’s not even accurate.”
“I know. I know.” Dad nods and takes a sip of tea. “Do you think there is any way with your “high class” mathematics, we can figure out a way to measure it without a template. If we held a straight piece across the arc and measured how much the piece is bowed, for instance. I would imagine there’s a way to figure that out.” He quickly draws an arc on a yellow pad and then a straight chord across the bottom with a question mark between the arc and the chord.
I grin at the “high class” mathematics comment then sit for a moment and consider. Firstly, I am surprised to be asked such a question and secondly to think about the possibility. “There should be. I mean. It’s math. It’s an absolute. These dimensions are related. I never thought about it before.”
“Well, think about it.” Dad leans forward from his recliner and hands me the sketch. He opens the newspaper and begins reading. “Let me know what you come up with.” Jack who didn’t say anything but listened and watched our exchange returns his attention to the movie without a word. His mind is on hockey. The Washington Capitals are playing their home opener tonight against their Patrick Division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. I keep my mind on my Dad’s questions staring at the paper for a moment and then return to my trig homework. Jack drives a couple of friends to the Capital Centre in Largo Maryland that night. The Caps lose 3-2 but my brother is convinced this will be the year his team makes some noise in the league and hopefully makes the playoffs for the first time.
My schoolwork has been on the back burner this week as I have tried to solve my father’s “Bow” problem. I drew a triangle into the drawing at the base of the chord. I determine that by defining one side of the triangle with the radius and the other with the radius minus the bow, I can use trigonometric functions to find the bow. Good old cosine. I am as excited as I can be but ask Sister Doloretta, my Trig teacher about it. After being impressed that I use my math skills in the real world, she confirms this should work. I check with Jack who gives me the thumbs up and is anxious for me to show Dad. I take it to my father and make my case that this equation will work.
“Dad? I think I figured this thing with the bow out.” I speak up while my father and I watch the Gong Show on a Thursday night. Mom is in the front room reading and Jack is out with some friends.
His gaze breaks from the TV and he turns to me. “What are you selling?” This is his way of saying he didn’t hear me. He has Shop ears as we call them. It’s the result of working in a loud Shop with the whir and grind of large machines for years.
I speak up. “I said I think I figured out the bow problem.” I hand him the diagram I made with the triangle drawn in and the equation at the bottom.
“You did huh.” He takes a long slow look at it. “You think this will give us how much the piece needs to bow across a straight chord?” He seems dubious to say the least.
“It will. It will work, Dad. It’s math. It works out, It can’t be wrong” I smile though he still seems skeptical. Dad even appears perturbed that I have an answer at all or have it so fast. I begin to think he meant to stump me.
He folds the paper up and slips it into his front shirt pocket. “Sine and Cosine it is huh? I know what they are by the way. I had all of that in school too.” He adds rather gruffly.
“I know you did. I know you know math.” I try to clarify my opinion quickly. I know my father had a good education if not exactly “high class mathematics” as he called it. Dad always had a mathematical mind.
“Well, we’ll try it out sometime and see if it works.” Dad turns his attention back to Chuck Barris and I know the conversation is over. I expected a little more reaction than this but Dad has to process it then consider verifying it before he trusts it at the Shop. I realize all this and decide to wait for him to bring it up to me. I sit back in my chair and watch the Unknown Comic.
The Milwaukee Brewers lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The series takes all seven games but the Cards prevail. Dad, Jack and I are watching each game and we pull for St. Louis. It was such a tough end to the Birds’ year, we have to root against the Brewers.
The Shop has had a fair year with some ups and downs but my father is okay with it. There will always be years like this and it could have been much worse. The boys are busy today with a few orders including some large structural channels being rolled for Tydings, Lynch & Lorenz. My parents have lunch together in the office and it’s Mom’s birthday. This is an unexpected benefit of Mom working at the Shop and they both appreciate it.
School is on holiday break and as most of my classmates revel in the time off, I am at the Shop. Dad has a lot of work to crank out before Christmas and since I have no school, I am there with my father, mother and brother. Mom has become a great help to Dad. She has transitioned easily to work and has mastered the varied mix of paperwork that passes through the place. She takes messages and returns calls for my father. Whatever he needs. Not to mention, Dad really likes having “his girl” at work with him. I anneal another set of copper tubes for Jack to bend and the rest of the crew are rolling some angles and pipes for F.H. Klaunberg. My father is not taking any chances about having any work hanging over the holiday. The crew work hard. They want that time off between the 25th and the 1st. I know already I won’t have that time off but I still look forward to Christmas. Who doesn’t?
It’s Christmas on Lakewood Avenue and the family assemble. All my sisters are there and their families. The Ballard’s, the O’Neill’s, the Brandenburg’s and the Bosse’s arrive through the late morning and early afternoon along with my other sisters. Finally at 1 p.m., the family sit around the extended dinner table to eat and officially begin the holiday. It’s turkey, stuffing, potatoes and parsnips with much more. Everyone enjoys the food but also the company. It’s becoming more and more rare for all of us to gather around one table and without speaking of it, I think all my siblings are aware of it. The older kids are married and growing their own families while the youngest three of us are grown up or nearly there. Only Jack and I remain at home. I even have my own room for the first time in my life. The highlight of the day is Dad at the piano and the rest of us gathered close in song. It’s something we do when we can but always on holidays and special occasions. Dad has a way of turning that small front parlor into a grand musical hall. Some drink beer, soda or tea while others sip a bit of whiskey but all join in voice throughout Dad’s performance. Performance isn’t the right word. It’s more his way of sharing with all of us. His way of making us all remember. We are family.
The week between Christmas is a break from school but Dad, Jack and I are at the Shop making some heater tubes. Once again the customer is Harvey Stambaugh and Jack and I are very motivated to finish these tubes fast. The City is still in holiday mode and we want to get home to enjoy it like everyone else. Dad spends a couple hours in the office doing some paperwork and finishing a quote for B & B Welding. He wanders out to the Shop and watches me anneal. He grins as he hears me warble through the Stray Cats muffled by the blast of the torch. I cut the torch off and he approaches.
“I thought you wanted to get out of here early. I’m ready to go.” Dad glances down at the cooling tubes in front of me.
I scoop the tubes up in the crook of my arm to keep them from bending. “I have one set to do and after Jack bends them, we can go. I’m going as as fast as I can.” I grab the final two straight tubes and being marking the bend area on each. “I want to get home just as fast as you, Daddy-o.”
Jack begins bending the tubes I just finished annealing. “I’m catching up on you, brother.” He chimes in smiling.
“Maybe you’re using the wrong song.” Dad chuckles and slips his hands into his pockets shifting from side to side then heads back to the office to lock it up.
I answer indignantly. “It’s not the wrong song.” I shake my head as I light up the torch then take a quick look to make sure he’s not there. Then I bring torch to tube. “Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars. In other words, hold my hand. In other words. I love you.”
Ronald Reagan is the President of the United States and becomes the first American President to address Parliament. Seven people die in Chicago from poisoned Tylenol capsules. The first execution by Lethal Injection occurs. The first artificial heart is used on an American. Micheal Jackson’s “Thriller” album debuts. Elvis’ home, Graceland, opens to the public. Late Night with ‘David Letterman premiers. USA Today is first published. The films “E.T.,” “Blade Runner,” “The Wall” and “Diner” are released. The Epcot Center Opens. The Vietnam War Veterans Memorial is completed. TIME magazine declares the Computer its “Man of the Year.” Tara Lipinski, Anne Hathaway, Danica Patrick, Pete Collins(author of “Within the Red Valley”) and Joseph Samaniego(author of “In The Court of Dreams and Shadows”) are born. Thelonious Monk, John Belushi, Satchel Paige, Grace Kelly and Philip K. Dick die.
There are 50 states in the Union.
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