Another year starts, I have had my grand adventure in Europe and now it’s time to get to work. I continue to play in the band, Lethal Injection. My friends and I are getting better though we still struggle to practice enough. We work different schedules on some days and we are are in our 20s so some days we are distracted. The Shop will soon pass to the ownership of my generation. My father and mother are preparing to exit the company having taken a large step back in the last year. Plans will be made for a buy-sell agreement to pay my father for the company over time. Ann, Jack and I are the team my father wanted. As in generations before, the Shop needs a really good smith and engineer, a good business person and a salesman. My brother is a top notch metalsmith and an expert bender. He’s very skilled and also has a good understanding of mechanics and engineering. Ann is experienced in business with a strong knowledge of accounts payable, receivable and handling the balance sheet. She’s also adept at keeping up on the variety of rules and regulations that a business must deal with in order to stay open. I am a fair smith and a good annealer with some training in drawings and engineering as well but mostly, I’m a loudmouth. Firstly, my name is Joseph Kavanagh and new customers ask for me based on that and in the last few years, I have become the primary contact for most customers and vendors. They usually deal with me at some point and I have that sort of personality according to my father. We are similar to the team of my great-grandfather’s generation. James the engineer, Frank the expert coppersmith and Joe the master salesman, vaudevillian and “little man with the big voice.” We work well together and this has helped the transition a great deal. Mom and Dad’s appearances at the Shop are more and more sporadic and they are ready to ride off into the sunset.
It’s the middle of a cold January and there are a few jobs going on at the corner of Pratt & Central. Several small angle flanges are curved while a set of pipe rings are rolled for Turnbull Enterprises. These 1 1/2” Pipes are done in the R-3-S then two rings are trimmed out of each 20 ft. length. This order is a recurring regular recurring item we do for Turnbull.
A job for Ackerman and Baynes is rolled in the R-6-S on this Friday. A big 1/2” thick 6” X 4” steel Angle is curved with the 6” leg in. This is the hardest way to roll an angle but the machine eats it up. The legs are straight and the piece looks perfect. At the end of the day, I head home for a weekend of fun with the band. This Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday and the Washington Redskins will beat the Denver Broncos 42-10 but I don’t watch. Sports means less and less to me and I was never a big football fan to start. I spend most of the weekend in the garage on LaSalle jamming. We are making some progress and I feel we are learning to play together better while continuing to improve individually.
Baltimore is an unseasonably warm place on this Tuesday with a high of 70 degrees. That is shocking in February. Instead of huddling in front of heaters, the crew have the doors open and are sweating as they work. Another big angle is completed today for Ackerman and Baynes in the R-6-S. The big machine is clearly our best money maker right now.
Ann and I are in the Shop’s office discussing the Winter Olympics in Calgary when I receive a call from Products Support. We are working on a large order of bent aluminum tubes for them. Products Support sends the tubes to us after they knurl them. Knurling is a process whereby a pattern that serves as a grip for the tube is stamped onto the aluminum. These are handles and the grips are essential. The tubes are nearly finished and I tell them they can pick up this afternoon.
A set of 1” Squ. Steel tubes is completed for Codd Fabricators and Pete Kolb himself drives up in his pick up to get them. He and my father chat for a while in the front of the Shop. I’m in and out of the office but take a few glances at them. Two old metalsmiths and veterans of the industry talking for what would be the last time in person. It reminds me sharply of my first days at the Shop when I first met Pete, and it seems so long ago but is not even ten years. Pete drives off and Dad returns to the office.
“How’s Pete?” I ask as I write a card up for some sprayer pipes for Industrial Fabricators.
Dad settles into his chair in the small crowded office. “He’s fine. They got a big boiler job they are into right now. Pete was telling me all about it.”
I spin my chair to face him. “Sounds good, Dad. Will we get any work out of it?”
“Yeah, Pete says they will need some angles for flanges and some bars for stiffeners. We’ll see it next week.” Dad takes a sip of his coffee. “He said those tubes he picked up are for some movie.”
I raise an eyebrow curiously. “A movie? No kidding. What’s it called?”
“The Accidental something. I don’t remember what the devil it is but they’re filming it in town here.” Dad places his empty coffee cup on the desk.
“That’s interesting. I’ll have to see it when it comes out.” I hop up from my chair and head to the office door. “I gotta go check on Mike. He’s having some trouble with the R-3-S.”
“It’s probably the bearings.” Dad answers quickly swiveling his head to watch me leave.
“I know.” I pause at the door and smile at him. My father even when distracted usually has the answers. This work, this place is in his blood. “I’ll give the machine a listen while he rolls and let you know.” He gives me a small nod as I walk into the Shop. He’s right of course. The bearings in the front shaft have worn out and need replacement. I feel pretty confident that is the problem based on the rattling in the machine. Of course, my father knew what it was before he heard anything. His knowledge, experience and pure mechanical skill still trump my senses. We’ll order a set of bearings and have Comeq send someone to install them. It’s not a major repair but the kind of thing it’s best to attend to quickly. Continued operation could cause a piece of a broken bearing to damage the shaft or hydraulics which would be much worse. The movie turns out to be “the Accidental Tourist” and it will be released just before Christmas.
The Joseph Kavanagh Company takes another step into the modern age. Another PC is purchased and it is networked together with the old computer. The Shop has its first networked computer system for jobs, records and accounting, something Ann has wanted since she was hired. What is normal fare for most businesses, finally becomes the norm here. In addition to this modernization, Dad, Jack and I begin discussing buying a new Pines bender. The old Pines is exactly that: old. It still works but is getting a little unreliable. We all agree it is time to find a new bender for pipe and Pines has a variety of machines available. Jack and I begin looking into these options before we decide further.
Two 4” X 2” steel flat bars are rolled the Hardway for Ackerman and Baynes. Jack, Dad and I stand near the R-6-S. This job is one we all want to see because the bars are so big. It’s a test for the Six and it’s capabilities but the machine handles it well. They weigh about 550 lbs. each and it takes a lot of power to curve something solid like this. Moving them around can be dangerous as well but when they are finished, the bars look great.
The Orioles Opening Day is today and they are shut out 12-0 by the Milwaukee Brewers setting a record for an opening day loss. Today is a tough way to start a season but it will get much worse. The Orioles will begin this season on a horrific record-setting losing streak of twenty-one.
The Washington Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 7 games to advance to the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They come back from 3-0 in the final game to win in overtime on a Dale Hunter breakaway goal. It is retribution to Capitals’ fans for the Easter Eve loss last year.
The Caps are again bumped from the playoffs by the New Jersey Devils. Advancing to the second round and wiping away the sting of last year’s elimination was good but it’s yet another disappointing end to the season. My brother is ever positive and again believes they are heading in the right direction to win the Cup soon.
The work has picked up and the Shop finally has a two week backlog. Besides the jobs on hand, an hour is spent loading a truck for Anchor Fence Company. We have completed two orders for them in the last few days. One was twenty pieces of 2 1/2” steel pipe for a bridge job and the other was 2- 6” pipes bent to 90 deg. for a large industrial railing. It’s good to see these jobs go out the door and to be able to send the invoices. We also order a new Pines Bender, a 1 1/4” Pipe Bender with Digital Dial-A-Bend. The Digital controls are something that intrigues me. The unit has a memory and can save instructions and information about jobs for future reference. The machine will be here in June.
A windy Monday at 201 S. Central Avenue is spent on a rail job, some small elbows and finishing a large stainless steel angle order for the Kelco Company. I’m reviewing some drawings for a Products Support job we do several times a year. I confirm that the dimensions haven’t changed. The tubes are 1 5/8” O.D and they each get 2- bends to match the sketch. Everything is the same so we are good to go on this one. Through out the day, most of the discussion is of the Orioles. The Birds finally won their first game Friday, beating the White Sox after this seemingly endless losing streak. The whole City was down from this terrible start but very much in the Baltimore spirit, fans rallied around the team and were waiting very patiently for win #1. The season is shot now but I hope this takes the pressure off and they can play better the rest of the way.
This Friday is Miss Helen’s last day working at the Shop. Helen Glodek has worked for my father for almost 20 years. She was always a kind sweet lady and has slowly been cutting back her hours for several years. We have a small lunch from Haussner’s for all of us in the office to celebrate and thank her. Miss Helen looks forward to retirement with her husband, Mitch. Hugs are given out as she leaves the corner of Pratt and Central for the last time. When we get back to work, the first thing I do is call Larry LeForce at Anchor Fence to tell him another order is ready. This is another large set of bent pipes for a bridge. Anchor Fence has helped keep us pretty busy so far this year with orders flying in every month.
The new Pines 1 1/4” Bender arrives. Big Boy Rigging delivers it to us and cranes it up to the second floor as we requested. Most of the pipe and tube bending is done upstairs in the back of the building so it only makes sense to place this new machine there. The Leonard Air Bender is up there along with a few hand benders and a wide array of tools. Jack is like a kid at Christmas with this new bender and he begins learning all he can as fast as he can. The rest of the workers are a little distracted as the new Pines is unloaded and placed by Big Boy. Usually our crew is more involved but it’s a good thing we have the riggers today as we have plenty of jobs to finish. A set of copper fountain sprayer tubes and a couple angles for Ackerman and Baynes are finished today.
A small rush order is completed for Anchor Fence. It is only three pieces of pipe but these are needed on the job site tomorrow so a premium is charged. Also another order for Products Support is completed. Those same tubes with the two bends only this order is for eight pieces.
The Summer rolls on with another job for Anchor Fence. 10- 3” Pipes and 10- 4” Pipes must be rolled and a hole drilled in each one. The pipes will be galvanized after rolling and the hole is used to lower and raise them in and out of the dipping vat. Mike Glenn takes care of the holes using a hand drill after the pipes are clamped securely to a steel table.
I speak to Frank Schmidt at Industrial Fabricators this morning about picking up a railing we rolled for them. It’s a mix of 1” and 1 1/4” steel pipes. Also a set of very heavy bars is rolled for Codd Fab. including some 3 1/2” Square Solid steel bars. These are close to the maximum capability of the R-6-S but they roll. The machine squeaks and squawks a bit which is mostly do to the natural effect of bending steel but the bars are a good smooth curve and match each other. It’s another heavy test for the Six but the machine passes with flying colors. These bars are 800 lbs each and with anything that heavy, extra care is required when moving them around.
We are nearing the end of July and that means summer vacation is approaching. We are in the mad scramble to get things finished to assure we can close for our annual weekly break. Along with a variety of rolled pieces, a 41- tube copper heat exchanger is picked up by the Housing Authority today. The Shop still gets a fair amount of heat exchanger work but not quite like five years ago. Slowly but surely, the old copper units are being replaced with PVC exchangers. PVC is not something we can bend. It is a form of plastic and the more I hear about these units, the more I worry this work may some day all be gone.
This Friday is the last day before the Kavanagh’s and crew’s vacation and my uncle Ed chooses this day to retire. With Helen gone and Mom and Dad heading in that direction, he knows it’s time for him to stop working too. Ed, like Helen, has been cutting his days and hours back for a couple of years and he’s ready to retire. Ed was a lot of fun to work with. He has a big personality with a lot of humor sprinkled in there. He was a jokester and a bit of an instigator in the Shop but the crew all loved him. We have a small lunch party for the Kavanagh’s and crew to celebrate. Ed holds court for one more day in the front of the Shop. He gets the boys laughing quick as he always did. With some kidding from Jerry Purnell and Mike Glenn, Ed even breaks into a little bit of a jitterbug. It’s his last dance at the Shop and the boys clap along. My father stands with Jack and me as we watch. I’ll miss Ed, and his departure makes it clearer and clearer that the Third Family’s time is upon us.
We have returned from our brief respite to a Shop full of orders. The first several days of the week are mostly spent unloading trucks full of material, then we get to work. On this Wednesday, a Codd Fabricators job of 6” X 3/8” flat bars is rolled to a big radius per a furnished template. You take a chance on the template if you haven’t seen it first. Sometimes they can be horribly irregular and a big challenge to match but this one is not so bad. The bars lay right on the template and they look fine.
After the glut of post-vacation jobs has slowed down, we have returned to a fairly normal schedule but that changes quickly when we receive a rush order. Ackerman and Baynes sends in one 2 1/2” steel angle they need curved into a ring today. A premium is charged and the piece is banged out quick in the R-3-S then carried back to the customer on their truck.
I pull in front of 201 S. Central Avenue and park in the small alley between the main building and the side building we use for storage. I rush out of my car because I’m a couple minutes late. I was jamming pretty hard last night with the other members of Lethal Injection and didn’t make it home until after 11 p.m. I tell myself I can’t do this anymore. As important as music is to me, I can’t let it affect the Shop this way. It’s happened a few times and I know Ann and Jack don’t like it. Who can blame them? I put a moratorium on playing with the band past 9:30 at night. Once I’m in the Shop, I check the status of a job for the G-S Co. in Dundalk. The order consists of a set of bars rolled the hardway to be used as the top of a handrail. I also take a quick look at two angle rings being made for Ackerman and Baynes. Both jobs are nearly ready so I call the customers and tell them to come by after lunch.
The cool fall weather has slowed the flow of work slightly but not much. We have worked two Saturdays a month through the summer but now we stop those weekend hours. The work is still strong but five days is sufficient. A nice order for Turnbull Enterprises is completed. Twenty-three 1” Stainless Steel Pipes 20 ft. long are coiled to a 17” Diameter. Each one makes three to four rings and this is another recurring job which we see two or three times a year. At the end of the day, I drive over to my sister Nancy’s house. Nancy and her husband Jim and their three girls live on Birch Drive in Woodlawn and they’ve asked me to give some guitar lessons to their oldest, Maura. I’m excited to do it. It’s a chance for a home-cooked meal once a week and I always knew Maura was a rock ‘n’ roller.
The Washington Capitals lose to the Penguins 6-4 in their home opener. Jack is there and he is really starting to hate losing to Pittsburgh. He’s happy though because he and his wife Nancy have purchased 6 Kensington Parkway from my parents. Along with baby Paul, they move in and my parents relocate to Ocean City staying in the Blue Bay Condominium while a new house is built on 11th Street.
It’s a cool October Friday and I’m anxious for the day to be done. I look forward to a weekend of practice and playing with my bandmates. My father and mother are in today and we all have lunch together. Dad brings up the upcoming World Series which matches the Oakland Athletics against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It should be a good series and we will be pulling for the A’s as they represent the American League. The Orioles had a very forgettable year although they played much better after the disastrous start. The day drags by as we work on a mix of small jobs including two 4” steel pipe elbows for Codd Fabricators which were rolled in the R-5-S.
Ann, Jack and I are discussing the World Series as Los Angeles finished off the A’s last night and took the championship. The series seemed to turn the Dodgers’ way after winning the first game on a walk off homer by Kirk Gibson. He was nursing a bad leg and presumed unable to play but came off the bench to win it. The Shop is staying steady as we head to the holidays. A set of four heavy 10” X 3/4” thick steel plates are rolled the easyway for Gischel Machine. I also get a call from Turnbull Enterprises. They need five more of the 17” Diameter pipe coils we make for them and the material will arrive early next week.
A meeting of the Board of Directors of the Joseph Kavanagh Company is held with the Shop’s lawyer Roland Bounds present. With Mr. Bounds’ guidance, an agreement is reached on the sale of the stock from my parents to Ann, Jack and me. The legal papers must be properly drawn up but Mr. Bounds promises all this will be ready by January. Jack Kavanagh Jr. will be the President of the company as planned and receive 40 % of the stock. I will be Vice-President and Ann Secretary/Treasurer while we both receive 30 % of the stock.
Vice-President George Bush defeats Michael Dukakis to win the Presidency. I vote for the second time but this time, I abandon the two parties. I’ve come to the realization that the two parties are fighting over morality and things that have little to do with governance. Doing right and being fair to all people including small businesses seems to take a back seat to partisanship. I write myself in for President but do not win. I am very stunned when I ask about the process for writing in a vote and the election worker is not sure. He quickly looks into it and gives me the instructions then informs me no one has ever written in at this polling place. I’m pretty shocked, but most people seem committed to one of the two parties and I guess I should not be surprised. The gentleman is very excited nonetheless and he chases me down after I leave the ballot booth. He asks with a sly grin on his face as if I just spiked the punch at a prom, “Did you do it?” I answer yes and leave even more disenchanted with the electoral process in the US.
A large order is picked up just in time for the holidays by the Standard Supplies Company. The job is primarily angles but also several heavy structural channels as well. The loading on this job takes about an hour as weight limits require many trips on the hoist and to do so safely requires a little more time.
Christmas is very different for the Kavanagh’s this year. With Mom & Dad no longer having a home in the Baltimore area, the party is at my sister Nancy’s house on Birch Drive. My parents drive up and stay at a hotel for a couple of days so they are there with all of us. Most of the family is in attendance. I am late but I make it to celebrate. I’m twenty-three now and family things like birthdays and Christmas aren’t as important as they once were. I’m happy to see all my sisters and the food is delicious and the feast does include parsnips. After eating and the kids opening gifts, my Dad makes his way to Nancy and Jim’s piano and we gather around it. It’s like we all have flashed back to Lakewood Avenue for an hour or so. Dad plays Christmas songs and those old classics and we sing along. As always, he ends the music with “Sentimental Journey.” Music has always been a big part of our celebrations whether it be the holidays or a wedding. Regardless, at the end, we circle the piano with my father tickling the ivories. As the party breaks up, we all bid each other farewell with a special hug and kiss for Mom. We won’t be seeing them as much now that they live on the Eastern Shore, so Mom must get her hug. This is a big change for our family, and for the Joseph Kavanagh Company, it’s the end of an era. My father has worked here for 48 years. His tenure is only surpassed by his father, Eddie. Dad was a great metalsmith and an even better leader. He commanded respect without asking for it and gave it back without it being requested. His men loved him and he them. I will always remember the many times he would stand at the front of the Shop during a coffee break and discuss sports, work or family. He knew his workers’ families and the kids names. These things were important to him and he made sure to always remember them. When you can recall details of someone’s life, they like it. It makes them feel as if they matter even more and this added to the way his crew felt about him. There was absolute faith and trust in him and he deserved it all. Jack Kavanagh Sr. started as an apprentice coppersmith then went to war. He came back home and soon was a master coppersmith, then the boss. He guided the Shop in its transition from the now outdated coppersmith industry. He made the Shop into a metal bending and rolling operation and a successful one as well. A business as old as this one is bound to have a pretty strong positive reputation in the industry. That reputation for quality, hard work and excellence was only augmented in Big Jack’s years. He had a calm demeanor at work though his sons may have tested that a few times. Dad had a way of remaining razor focused but also never losing sight of the big picture of what needed to be done. Replacing him will be impossible. Ann, Jack and I will do all we can and find our own way of making it work. We can never be his replacements merely his relief. When he retired, he wondered to me what would he do with all of tedhis time. I told him to play the piano, fish and bother my mother. He enjoyed doing all of those things and took my quip in stride. He had his doubts but it only took a year or so before he realized this is what he wanted. He and Mom dreamed of retiring to Ocean City and living a life of leisure. Despite always wanting that, it took some time to really sink in and for Dad to accept it. The Shop feels like a lifetime job for us Kavanagh’s. Even retirement is not the same as it is for other folks. Crazy Joe, Dad’s grandfather, continued to come “down to the Shop” for a few years as did Eddie my grandfather. It was too difficult for those two to turn it off and just live their lives. My father has my mother and she will help him to accept that his time here is over. The long 48 year work day is done and now it’s time for he and her to live. Simply to live with and for each other. As far as the Shop goes, he’s still only a phone call away.
Ronald Reagan is the President but will be replaced by newly elected George Bush his former Vice-President. Sonny Bono is elected mayor of Palm Springs, California. Dell Computer is incorporated. The first night baseball games are played at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Space Shuttle Discovery is sent into orbit. Ted Turner buys Crockett Productions/the National Wrestling Alliance and forms World Championship Wrestling. The first World AIDS Day is held. The films “Beetlejuice,” Hair Spray” and “Mississippi Burning” are released. Stephen Curry, Antonio Brown, and Stephen Strasberg are born. Roy Orbison, Louis L’Amour, Edward Bennett Williams, Anne Ramsey, and Divine die.
There are 50 states in the Union.
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