Another year has begun for the Joseph Kavanagh Company and a new generation takes control. My father’s stock is sold to my brother, sister and me. It’s year 124 for the Shop and the 79th year at the corner of Pratt and Central. Three generations of Kavanagh’s have worked and died here. One generation is finally enjoying their retirement while the next is ready to run the place. My parents always said they had three families, the first four sisters, Betty Ann, Nancy, Mary and Jane then after a brief break the next two sisters, Jackie and JoAnn then the last three of us, Ann, Jack and me. The Shop is now in the hands of the third family. My father’s advice will be invaluable but we must find our own way. We already have made changes by computerizing our accounting and records. The way the Shop does business will basically be the same but with our own style and process. For now, I take most of the calls from customers and I price and order all material. I also coordinate our rolling jobs with the crew. Jack handles our pipe and tube bending customers and he runs all of those jobs in the Shop. Some he does himself and others he hands off to workers. Ann takes care of the business end: billing, receivables, payables and payroll. She also takes care of any City, State and Federal rules for being in business so Jack and I never have to worry about such things. The Shop does have some work to begin this year including a set of angles for Ackerman and Baynes to be rolled and a large quantity of rods curved into rings for Equipment Development Corporation.
Framed collection of Joseph Kavanagh Company business cards. From Joseph A. Kavanagh to Joseph M. Kavanagh and everyone in between.
We started the year with a one week backlog of work on the schedule which is good for any January. Today most of the crew are finishing some flat bars for the Price Brothers Company. Price Brothers makes concrete pipes and they use our rolled bar rings to make them. Some times they return the rings and we re-roll them to a smaller diameter saving them some material that way. In addition, another small flat bar job is rolled for the G-S Company in Dundalk.
The San Francisco 49ers defeat the Cleveland Browns to win the Super bowl. Just like last year, I am not watching. Along with the other members of Lethal Injection I spend the day practicing in the garage on LaSalle Avenue. We are getting better a little at a time but we still struggle to focus enough on practicing. We each have different jobs and schedules but progress is being made. At the very least, we have a lot of fun together. After practice, I climb the stairs to my apartment on Bayonne Avenue lugging my strat and my amp head. I settle in for the night and have a beer while thinking of what’s up for Monday. We have an order from COVCO to finish at the Shop. This is a recurring job consisting of a few different sizes of galvanized pipe being bent and threaded. I make a mental note to tell someone to pull out the old manual pipe threader we have. It’s kept on a high shelf and using dies and some cutting oil, it can cut a good reliable thread.
Yesterday was Ground Hog Day and Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter and he’ll get no argument from the Shop. The mornings are particularly chilly in this old building and even with heat, you don’t feel much warmer until lunch time. The cold is simply part of the job and you learn to live with it. The workers are handling a few different small jobs including some pipes for D-S Pipe and Supply.
Before leaving the Shop on a cold Thursday, I call Belfort Instruments to arrange a pick up tomorrow for a set of pipe elbows. These are being bent in the new Pines Bender and will be ready in the morning. The crew files out of the building and I follow lugging my acoustic guitar. My brother and I swing the large metal doors closed and lock everything up. I am heading over to Birch Drive for dinner at my sister Nancy’s. I’ll also give her daughter Maura another guitar lesson. I’ve done this nearly every week since the fall and it’s fun. Maura is learning the basics and at this point, there are very few things I won’t do for a good home cooked meal.
A cold chilly Saturday night has me and my friends practicing our music. When day turns to night, our singer Chris heads home but Tim, Ray and I remain in the garage listening to our favorite bands. A neighbor named Big V stops and offers his vocal stylings with Chris not there. This amounts to Big V screaming into the mic while we play very loud. He seems to think we are playing some Little Feet songs which we are not. His level of inebriation may have been an issue though he does offer to become our manager. We agree to think about it then forget it completely. We’re not anywhere close to ready for management though we have begun to think about how to get gigs and where we might be able to perform. Shyness and nervousness are factors for all of us but we love to play.
The surprisingly busy winter continues and a large job for Belsinger Sign Works is completed. They are re-doing the signage for a park and it adds up to a lot of work for us. The order is a mix of angles and tubes in pieces which Belsinger will assemble and install on site.
Spring is on its way but not in Baltimore yet as the high doesn’t even reach 40 degrees. We are more than ready for some sunshine and warm temperatures but before we know it, we’ll be complaining about the heat. A couple extra heavy 4” steel pipes are rolled for Ackerman and Baynes while a few more aluminum angles are completed for Belsinger Sign. These are “add-ons” to the sign job we did for Belsinger last month.
This Friday is St. Patrick’s Day and we order some sandwiches from “Corned Beef” row up the street. We are fortunate to be within walking distance of both Attman’s and Weiss delis and the food is always good especially the pickles. While we eat, I call Warren-Ehret to arrange the pick up of some angles then Jack and I go over a set of drawings for Ackerman and Baynes. They are 1” steel pipes and my brother and I want to be sure of the radius these require. I don’t spend anytime at any St. Paddy’s parties but have my usual night of jamming with my friends.
This Monday is Opening Day for the Orioles and Baltimore fans are anxious to forget about last year’s dismal performance. The Birds face the Red Sox and win in walk off fashion when Craig Worthington singles home Mickey Tettleton in the 11th inning. The sell out crowd roars its approval but the Kavanagh’s are not there. Again, the tickets are given away and with Dad and Mom in Ocean City now full time, we consider canceling our season tickets. All of us kids are adults now and going to the game isn’t quite as important as it once was. Jack goes to a few game and my older sisters do take their kids occasionally but often the tickets are given away. We will, in fact, eliminate the Orioles’ tickets at the end of this season. They are getting more and more expensive every year.
The Washington Capitals again are bounced early from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite finishing first in the Patrick Division, they are ousted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Another disappointing end to the hockey season but Caps fans are beginning to grow accustomed to it. My brother Jack is the consummate Caps fan though and he remains positive, quite sure we will win a championship soon enough.
After lunch, I call the Warren-Ehret Company to tell them a flat bar rush job is ready. They brought it in first thing this morning and needed it back today. We can’t always do that but when we can, we can charge a premium. I also receive a call from Price Brothers who has another set of rings for us to re-roll. The work has stayed strong as we reach some warm weather days.
I receive a call from a woman named Pat checking on an order for two flat bars rolled to an irregular template. The woman is the end-user and the pieces are being used for a movie being filmed in Baltimore with my customer, Baltimore Productions, involved in making the sets. I assure her they will be finished this afternoon and I will call my customer to arrange pick up. It’s only after I hang up and speak to Ann that I realize this woman is Pat Moran who works with John Waters. Waters is a local not-so-underground-anymore filmmaker. His last film, “Hair Spray,” was commercially very successful and this next one will be too. The movie stars Johny Depp and will be called “Cry-Baby.” It’s widely known this film is being made here but I did not put two and two together until now. When the bars are picked up, I do ask what are these pieces are for specifically but the truck driver does not know. I love the idea of doing work for a movie. It’s pretty cool but I kick myself for not asking earlier how the bars will be used. I make a note to try to find out next time if there is a next time.
The talk of the Shop is the Orioles. No one expected too much from this team but today they are in a tie for first place in the AL Eastern Division. It’s a good start. No doubt about it but how long can this last. We shall see but for now, fans are excited and enjoying the moment. The workers are busy as we complete a large angle job for Ackerman and Baynes. The order is all big 6” X 4” Steel Angles rolled in the R-6-S. This is a very nice structural order for us and bodes well for the summer.
Two small angle jobs are picked up today by Warren-Ehret. They have been sending us work fairly regularly this year. I am anxious for August to get here because I have registered for a League of Crafty Guitarists Workshop in Charles Town, West Virginia. The Guitar Craft style of playing includes a new guitar tuning, modern fretting techniques and picking patterns developed by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, I will spend a long weekend there learning the Guitar Craft style from instructors including Fripp himself, one of my heroes. I can’t wait.
A job for C.R. Daniels is finished today. The order is a set of 1” O.D. aluminum tubes rolled to a template and trimmed. They are short pieces and we have four different templates in this style. One for each part number they need periodically. Another order is received from COVCO for galvanized pipes and we are staying very busy but in the office, we are talking about those Birds. It’s the middle of June and these young kids find themselves in first place. The team is lead by local star Cal Ripken Jr. and manager Frank Robinson who has this team playing way over their heads and Baltimore loves it. I speak to my father on the phone at lunch and I can sense his excitement through the receiver.
“Everybody had us picked for last, Joe.” Dad says as I take a bite from my ham sandwich.
I smile as I listen. “Yeah, Dad. Nobody expected anything from this team but here we are in first place and playing well. We’ve got some young pitchers who are opening a few eyes and we do play good defense. I really like that.” I pause knowing what his answer will be.
“90% of the game is pitching and defense. That’s how you win games. Plus, these boys play hard. I see that and it comes from the manager. When Frank Robinson was playing, he was tough as nails and played that way too.” Dad declares into the phone and I remember how much he respects and likes Frank.
I take the last bite of my lunch. “Yeah, Dad. I think he sets the tone and he’s a good leader. We’ll see. I gotta get back to work. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m fine and so’s Mom. You get back to work and stick with the Birds, Joe. We’ll see how it goes. It’s baseball, anything can happen. I’ll talk to you soon, kid.” Dad finishes and I smile at the phone. It’s almost like having him here at the Shop.
“Okay. You take it easy and give my love to Mom. I’ll talk to you soon.” I hang up and grab a drawing sent from Codd Fabricators for a quotation. I have to sort out how much material we will need and come up with an estimate for our labor. What I do every day. What my father trained me to do.
It’s a very hot and humid day at the Joseph Kavanagh Company and a busy one at that. Another sign job is picked up by Belsinger and another delivery of flat bars is made to Price Brothers. I am writing up a job card for Bengies Welding. They need a couple of aluminum pipes annealed and bent so that will add to the heat in the place. After work, I am driving over to Nancy’s house for dinner and a guitar lesson with her daughter Maura. As it turns out, Nancy makes a beef roast and as a single bachelor who in two years has cooked maybe twice in my small apartment, I am very appreciative.
It’s a Monday and Baltimore is buzzing about the Orioles. At the Shop, everyone is going over the weekend’s games against the California Angels. Saturday’s game was a wild and woolly one with Orioles’ outfielder Mike Deveraux winning it on a home run in the 9th inning. The homer was disputed as the Angles were convinced the ball went foul as it traveled down the left field line and out of the park. A brief argument ends when the umpires calmly walk off the field. Sunday’s game started off strange enough when Angels’ manager Doug Rader is ejected from the game while delivering the lineup cards to home plate. He handed them to home plate umpire Ken Kaiser with a word or two and was promptly tossed before the first pitch. It took extra innings but the Birds walked off winners again and find themselves in first place by six games. Their fans including those on Central Avenue can’t believe it. Some work is done along with all the baseball discussion. Some stainless steel flat bars for Klaunberg are rolled on the first floor while upstairs the new Pines is used to bend some elbows for C.R. Daniels. The order is pretty big with 2500 bends and will be finished in a day or so.
The end of July is always a mad scramble to finish jobs so we can take our annual week long vacation. Trucks come in for the final pickups and jobs are rushed in and out of the machines for completion. Some copper fountain sprayer tubes are rolled and a fancy brass ornamental bar rail along with two order for Warren-Ehret. It’s like this every year. We really work hard to earn this week off and that goes for the crew as well as the Kavanagh’s.
Vacation is upon us and the Kavanagh’s and crew are thrilled. This is the one solid week off they have every year and it is much anticipated. Before leaving, Jack has some news for Ann and me. He and Nancy are having another baby who will be born early in the New Year. Another Kavanagh baby and he has already told my parents who are on the moon and now we spread the word to the rest of the clan.
Part of my vacation is spent in West Virginia. It’s a long drive from Baltimore and when I arrive I see a large glorified farm house with a lot of land around it. Dozens of guitar students have converged on the place with about a dozen experienced players to teach us. That does include Robert Fripp and I am a wee big starstruck as Fripp’s playing is of the highest level. I learn left hand and right hand techniques based on the Guitar Craft philosophy. Some of this applies to things besides music. One of the dictums is “Honor Necessity.” I take that to heart and do try to emphasize in my playing and my life what is necessary first. The weekend is a strange one(the food is vegetarian and that’s unusual for me but I manage) and an inspiring one. I receive two private lessons with Robert himself and he’s every bit the old British schoolmaster as he would seem. Very friendly and very helpful to me. He even gives me a few extra minutes on my second lesson because the next student did not show up. The night before leaving Robert drags a few of us into the kitchen to help with the dinner clean up. One of my claims to fame becomes I washed dishes with Robert Fripp. The ride home is a long one and I give great thought to all I learned and hope to grow as a musician because of it.
Our first week back from our break is a very busy one with trucks delivering material and jobs that need to be expedited passing through the Shop. On this Wednesday, we already have some orders ready including two angle jobs for Ackerman and Baynes and another set of flat bars re-rolled for Price Brothers who are becoming one of our most reliable customers.
The dog days of summer get some help today as we have the rosin pot lit because we have some pipes to fill for Bengies Welding. The filling is a hot messy process but to bend pieces to a small radius, it is sometimes required to keep the pipe or tube from collapsing. The tubes are stood up and lashed to the back steps then bucket after bucket is poured into them. After a day, they are hard and can be rolled with little trouble. The final step is heating the tubes up with torches and melting the rosin out. Again it’s messy and hot but necessary. It’s a job you love in February but hate in August.
The Orioles have dropped out of first place but are still in contention. I’m starting to think things have caught up with this young upstart team but I hold out hope we can finish strong and win the Division. The phone rings all day which is a good thing overall but it does keep us on our toes. Two railings are rolled today, one from brass tube and one from steel pipe and another order for C.R. Daniels is knocked out and delivered.
Codd Fabricators picks up a pipe job today. Four 3” pipes were rolled to match a full scale layout of an irregular curve. It takes more time than I had allotted for it. I may have been a little too excited when I got the call for a price from Pete Kolb. He told me this was another job for a movie. This movie is being produced and directed by another local filmmaker, Barry Levinson. Mr. Levinson is much more mainstream than John Waters but he is also becoming a Baltimore film icon. He has filmed several movies in Baltimore and will do more. This movie is called “Avalon” and it tells the tale of an immigrant family coming to America and finding success. The success is tempered with the ups and downs of life and years. I don’t know it at the time but this film is rather similar to the Kavanagh’s and their story. We came here much earlier but we too found success, freedom and happiness. This time I ask Pete how the pieces will be used in the movie and he finds out for me. The pipes will be used in the opening scene of the film when “Sam Krichinsky” comes to Baltimore on the 4th of July, 1914. Lights are attached to the pipes and they serve as an archway during the Independence Day festivities. I am starting to love doing these sort of jobs. I like dealing with sculptors when they need our help but movies are even cooler. In this case, I can point to the screen and say “we did this.”
Some aluminum pipes are annealed and rolled for Chesapeake Machine on a cool fall day. It’s the perfect day for annealing with little wind but not much heat. The wind blowing through the Shop can be a challenge when holding a torch so still and cool is perfect.
Monday comes and I return to the Shop after a disappointing weekend for the Birds. Even while practicing with the band, I kept an eye on the Orioles series versus the Toronto Blue Jays. We were swept and will not make the playoffs but it was a surprisingly good year for Baltimore baseball. With very low expectations, the young club won 87 games and finishes 2nd in the Eastern Division. It was a fun year for us fans with the Orioles winning many games in comeback fashion and it boosted our hopes for the future of the team. The 1989 season is now called the “Why Not?” year and despite not making the postseason, it was a blast to watch. After talking through the whole weekend and season with my brother and sister, we get to work. I take a job card out to Jerry Purnell and get the boys started on some big 6” flat bars for Ackerman and Baynes.
Another order for C.R. Daniels is completed today and Jack gives them a call. They are one of his customers but he doesn’t like calling anyone on the telephone. My brother is a Shop guy through and through. Today he’s rather distracted too. He is going to the Capital Center tonight for Opening Night of the NHL season. The Capitals play the Flyers and will gain a measure of revenge for last year’s playoff loss by winning 5- 3.
Lethal Injection has its first gig. Our friend Dave Muelberger shares a house with four other guys on Belvedere Avenue. Dave’s birthday is on Halloween and he decides to throw a party on the Saturday before. We like Dave and hang out with him occasionally and party. He has asked us to play and we are nervous but excited. We set up in the big old house on the corner and it’s a wild affair. A big crowd of mostly guys show up including my old friend from the neighborhood, John Muldowney. A lot of Dave’s pals went to Archbishop Curley High School like John and we know most of them. The music is loud. The keg is on the porch where Dave’s neighbor can help himself so he won’t be calling the cops on us. It’s a real severe crazy party but a fun night. We do get pretty tanked as we cover RUSH, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed and with Dave’s guidance and some random luck, Frank Zappa. We do okay for our first time and Dave assures us whenever he throws a big party, we’ll be invited and most likely playing. Tonight is also the last game of the World Series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants. The Series only goes four games but is delayed by an earthquake just before the start of Game three. The quake causes serious damage to both Oakland and San Francisco including Candlestick Park.. The A’s sweep the Giants to win the championship but I miss it all. As much as I love baseball, music and fun and being twenty-four is something I like even more. Baseball is taking a back seat for now but not forever.
I call Eastern Ornamental Iron and speak to Ferdie, the owner. Ferdie has a small shop with just himself and a helper working there. He does small residential work especially exterior railings. Usually these are made of small bar channels and ornamental molded caps rolled to a template. We do these a few times a year for him and I tell him they are ready and he can get them whenever he wants.
Some of our customers specialize in artistic or decorative work and Creative Iron Works is one such company. They are a full fab shop but usually the work has some aesthetic element. We finish what for us is a very standard tube job and send them a bill.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and that’s my favorite holiday. I look forward to the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and parsnips, that Kavanagh traditional favorite. Nancy and Jim are hosting and I will be there bringing my appetite with me. With our minds on food, we do finish and deliver some 5” X 1” Steel Flat Bars to Price Brothers. These were not re-rolls but a completely new order. They are rolled across the 5” face or the hardway as we call it and it takes some power to get the bars down. Fortunately, we have an R-6-S and the job is handled with just a few screeches from the machine.
It’s hump day and I am already looking forward to the weekend. We’ve stayed busy most of this year and the work has been good. In a few weeks, Christmas will be upon us and we’ll all enjoy a couple of days away from the Shop. A beam is rolled for Chesapeake Machine and when I call them, they inform me they are sending in some angles to be rolled when they pick up. It’s been that kind of year. Jobs go out. Jobs come in. These are very thin angles and extra care will have to be taken to keep them from buckling but it’s nothing we can’t handle.
Christmas is celebrated at Nancy and Jim’s house on Birch Drive and the Kavanagh’s assemble. My parents make the drive up and stay at a hotel for a couple days so they can see us all and more importantly, see the grandkids. The food is ample, the drink is flowing and music fills the home and our hearts as it does every year. I arrive a little late but it’s good to see everyone. With such a big family and us all older, the times when we are all together are rarer and rarer. Much of the family’s focus is on Jack’s wife Nancy who is eight months pregnant and will have her second baby in late January. A new baby and another Kavanagh is something we all celebrate. As Mom and Dad leave receiving an abundance of hugs and kisses, I follow suit and hit the road. I drive home to 4215 Bayonne then make the walk up the stairs to my apartment. I open a cold beer then pick up my guitar. I fiddle about with some tunes while flipping through the television. I have some time off coming up and I am very happy about that. Lethal Injection will get some solid practice and jam sessions over the holiday break. That is my Christmas now. The time off and the time to play means more than presents and all that. It’s been a good year and I am happy Mom and Dad are enjoying their well-deserved repose in Ocean City. They can now live life without much concern or worry. They both know the Shop seems to be in good hands. Ann is very smart and meticulous at business. Jack is a super talented metalsmith and as hard a worker as you can find. Me? I’ve got a big mouth. That’s my not so secret weapon.
George Bush is inaugurated as the President of the United States. The Savings and Loan Crisis hits hard and the US pays 200 billion dollars to end it. The first GPS Satellite is sent into orbit. The freighter the Exxon Valdez spills nearly a quarter of a million barrels of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Fox airs the first episodes of “the Simpsons.” The 486 microprocessor is invented. The first Game Boy is sold in the US. Nolan Ryan reaches the unfathomable number of 5000 strikeouts in his career. All-time hits leader Pete Rose is banned from baseball for life by Commissioner Bart Giamatti after reports of his gambling on baseball games. Giamatti dies of a heart attack less than two weeks later. Wayne Gretzky becomes the NHL’s all time leading scorer. The films “Batman,” “Dead Poets Society” and “My Left Foot” are released. Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Abbie Hoffman and Gilda Radner die.
There are 50 states in the Union.
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