Another year begins at the Joseph Kavanagh Company. My sister Ann, brother Jack and I are the fifth generation of Kavanagh’s to work here and run the place. We have a few jobs on the books to start, a small order from Dan’s Welding and a larger one for Miscellaneous Metals. We also finish a job for Krug & Son, another very old metals business in Baltimore. The winter is generally our slowest time but we receive a few orders in this first week for Anchor Fence, Miscellaneous and a few others. We also have some heater work coming up: a re-tubing of a heat exchanger for the Housing Authority and a set of the copper u-bends themselves for Harvey Stambaugh & Sons.
It’s a typical day at the Shop and we send out jobs for L & S Welding and Kelco. In Florida, my sister JoAnn and her husband Carl Panetti welcome baby Katie Jean. Mom and Dad are in Florida with them and they call the Shop at lunch to give us the good news. Ann begins calling the sisters and the word spreads throughout the family. Katie Jean is my parents’ tenth grandchild. A birth is a joyful event for a family but my happiness is tempered when I receive a call from my friend Dave Muelhberger. He tells me John has taken his own life. We know a few John’s but I know who he means right away. John Muldowney. I stand up from my desk and stare at the cork board for a few seconds as it sinks in. It’s almost surreal. John grew up in my neighborhood and went to St. Elizabeth’s School. He was a year ahead of me. We played baseball as boys and have known each other since I was six or seven. I haven’t seen John in over a year and had discussed his absence with Dave on Halloween. Dave assumed he’d see John during the holidays but it didn’t happen. I tell Dave I’ll see him after work. I hang up and tell Jack and Ann, then call Tim and Ray.
Lethal Injection and a few other friends gather at the Belvedere to honor and remember our friend, John. We play a few songs, then we settle into a circle of chairs. We toast our fallen comrade and tell stories about him. I bring up the infamous “Double Forfeit” baseball game at Patterson Park and a very funny viewing of “Eating Raoul” at the Charles Theater that John and a few of us attended. We are shocked and saddened but we focus on remembering our friend. John was one of us. The troubles and issues he faced, we all have had to deal with on some level. This is our version of a wake and we smile as we think of John but they are the smiles that pop up suddenly then fade just as quickly. This crew of friends who have known each other since high school or earlier takes a hit and we have lost one of our own for the first time. On the drive home, I mull over what happened and I can’t wrap my head around it. There’s no explaining or understanding it. Later that night I make a decision, one that will be life-changing.
I have decided to ask out that cute girl from Seaboard Steel, Kim Dalfonzo and tonight is our first date. She’s very sweet and very pretty and quickly, I feel I’ve known her for years. She laughs at my jokes and makes me laugh. We go to Squire’s for a late dinner and sparks are flying right away. There’s something special about her I notice from the start. I think it’s her smile or her deep brown eyes but I’m not sure. I do know I want to find out.
It’s a cold week at the Shop and I hate the winter. I spend as much time as I can in the heated office this time of year but invariably, someone needs me in the Shop proper. Most of my day is back and forth from one to the other. The Shop takes care of a mix of small jobs for our regular local folks. We have a large customer list but it’s primarily the same twenty-five or so who usually keep us rolling.
Super Bowl Sunday arrives and the Dallas Cowboys beat the Bills 52-17. This one isn’t close at all but I’m not watching anyway. I’m practicing in the basement on Krueger Avenue with the rest of Lethal Injection. We run through the Wall then a few other tunes and then jam on some ideas for originals. Afterward, I head to my house and watch a new show premiering on NBC that is being filmed in Baltimore, Homicide: Life on the Streets.
Today is Groundhog Day and six more weeks of winter is predicted. The Shop on Central Avenue is a very cold place in February but being busy helps to warm up the building. We have work for Whiting Metals, Kelco, Price Brothers and several welding shops. I take a look at the upcoming schedule and we have orders for Warren-Ehret, Seaford Steel and a few more of our regulars. Not too bad for February.
Valentine’s Day is a Sunday and for the first time in my life, I have a date. Kim and I have dinner at Squire’s which is rather crowded but we both love the place. The food is terrific and it’s very close to my house. We seem to always have fun on our dates and I like Kim more each time I see her. When I drop her off at her parents’ house, I head home thinking tomorrow is Monday. We’ve got some work for A.J. Sackett, Lenderking and more heater tubes for Stambaugh to start the week at the Shop.
Today the orders for Sackett and Lenderking are picked up and the Stambaugh heater tubes are bent in the old Leonard air bender. Tomorrow we have two structural jobs to handle. One is for Structural Steel Company and the other for the Charles Zuckerman and Sons Company.
We finish a small job for an ornamental gate and when it’s picked up, we find out it’s for John Waters’ upcoming movie, “Serial Mom.” This often happens where we do a job and don’t really know the end user. The local production companies seem to change their names with each film so I had no idea. The movie work is always cool and I look forward to the film. I know I’ll see it.
February is finishing with a burst of work. We finish three jobs for J.C. Pardo & Sons and one for Ackerman and Baynes then begin work on a large set of copper u-bends for Stambaugh and Sons: eighty-four tubes. That’s a lot of annealing. That much torch work this time of year is a welcome site. The blow of torches brings some comfort to the corner of Pratt and Central for the next couple days. The tubes will be picked up tomorrow along with orders for Readybuilt, Solo Cup and Turnbull Enterprises
The heat of our snapper torches continues to warm the place as we roll some aluminum angles for Antenna Research. These are aluminum and they must be annealed as well before rolling or they’ll break. The angles are coated in dirty motor oil then carefully a torch is waved along the piece. You must avoid keeping direct heat on aluminum as it can melt in a heart beat. The wielder of the torch receives the most benefit of warmth but all the boys appreciate it. The remainder of the crew work on jobs for A.K. Robins and F & M Machine. On deck, we have some work for Turnbull, Kelco, Pardo, Major Equipment and a new customer, Williams Enterprises.
What will be called the Storm of the Century hits the East Coast of the US and that includes Baltimore. Fortunately, we get off fairly easy with just eleven inches of the white stuff though it is bitter cold. It also is a weekend so other than digging out on Monday, it has marginal effect on the Shop and we are very grateful. Much of the East Coast does not fair as well.
The Shop maintains its comfortable two week backlog with a wide mix of work for our regular customers. After lunch, I distribute jobs for Miscellaneous Metals and Anchor Fence. I pause for a few minutes and watch as a copper sprayer tube is rolled for Fountaincraft. It occurs to me that we have made these things for many years. My father told me the Shop has made tubes and parts for fountains far back into the coppersmith days. The tube is rolled into a circle then holes are drilled by the customer to allow water flow. In the past, the holes needed to be drilled first and it took a lot more heat and time. Now, it’s a very standard item for us. We have the tools and equipment to make it look easy.
It’s a Friday and Kim and I go to the movies as that has become our standard date. We’ve seen “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise square off in a military trial film and “Alive” a movie about the tragic crash of a soccer team and their desperate cannibalism. Tonight we see “Maddog and Glory,” a banal pseudo mafia comedy which Bill Murray sleeps through and everyone else’s talent is successfully wasted.
The Baltimore Orioles welcome the Texas Rangers to Orioles Park for Opening Day and lose 7-4. Rick Sutcliffe starts as he did last year for the Birds but the results are not the same. The place is packed and sold out but the fans go home a little disappointed. When the game is over, I pack up my guitar and gear and head to Tim’s house for practice. On the way, I remember we have some aluminum angles for Antenna Research to anneal tomorrow. I’m glad it’s not summer.
Jack and I spend afternoon break in the Shop talking to all the crew. It’s the usual baseball talk this time of year and the opening day loss is discussed. As the boys disperse, my brother and I head upstairs to check the status of an order for Belfort Instruments. This is a recurring job of some square aluminum tubes that are bent in the New Pines Bender. These require annealing too and Jack has been overseeing this job directly. I double check if Jack needs any help but he has this one well in hand. I head down the steps and into the office. I call Codd, Parks Reliable Fabricators, Parrot Materials, and J. Martin Christ Company to arrange pick ups for each. After ten minutes on the phone, I begin calculating the tube bending schedule for a heat exchanger for the Housing Authority.
Three orders for Miscellaneous Metals are completed. Last year, they had a big year with us and helped our sales quite a bit. This year is not like last but they still can be counted on for several jobs a month at the least. They have climbed the list of my favorite customers.
The work has slowed a bit but the Shop on Central Avenue is still steady. We love a backlog but having one all year is unlikely. There are always slow times. We can only hope they are limited. Today we finish jobs for Anchor Fence, J.C. Pardo, DOVCO and A.K. Metal Fabricators. A.K. is a business from Virginia and they do primarily ornate fancy items, doorways, rails and such which are often brass as these are.
The Kavanagh’s especially my brother are disappointed again when the Washington Capitals lose in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 4 games to 2 to the New York Islanders. They are bumped out in the first round and the early exit is a surprise after finishing 2nd in the Patrick Division. It’s becoming a constant outcome and it can be frustrating as a fan but Jack is always resilient and loyal to this team he loves.
Spring has finally truly sprung and it’s a beautiful day in Baltimore. Ann, Jack and I order lunch from Haussner’s and I drive down and pick up turkey clubs for us. This is a little treat we give ourselves once or twice a month. We talk about the schedule and some bids we have out. Jack reminds me some bent pipes are ready for the G-S Company then updates me on a standing order we have from C.R. Daniels. These are short aluminum elbows we have made for them for years. C.R. sends in lengths and we cut them then bend all we can get out of each piece. The count is at 800 and that’s enough to schedule a delivery.
I sit at my desk going over some drawings and prepping the paperwork for a heater for Housing Authority but I’m a little distracted. Kim and I have been dating now for almost four months and her birthday, like mine, is next month. I try to figure out the perfect gift. Things are going great. We have fun and I’m happy when I’m with her.
The R-6-S is put to the test today when two 5” X 1 1/2” steel flat bars are rolled the hardway for Price Brothers. These bars take a lot of torque to pull but the machine handles it well with the power cranked up. These big bars can be a challenge to handle. Extra care must be taken with chain falls and the hoist used to move them. We also complete another order of the aluminum angles for Antenna Research and a few other jobs. I spend a few minute filling out delivery tickets and my mind is on the band. Ray, Tim and I have decided to play at the open mike night at the 8 X 10 club downtown. We don’t have any contacts in bars or clubs and this seems like a logical step, probably one we should have taken a long time ago.
Lethal Injection plays the open mike at the 8 X 10 Club and it’s an unmitigated disaster. My guitar goes out of tune during Comfortably Numb and I can’t get it back until nearly the end. The mix is bad and no one can hear anything over the keyboards. The crowd is mostly indifferent and I am discouraged. We pack up and get out of there. We try to take it in stride realizing we were playing in a different environment but it stings.
It’s been several days of torch work at 201 S. Central. The crew were filling pipes with rosin and melting them out after rolling. That’s more heat being thrown around the building. Whiting Metals is the customer and they order these sets of pipes regularly. The Whiting jobs are good orders and they are sent out while we finish several jobs for Dundalk Ornamental Iron, Scriba Welding and Brady’s Welding.
I take Kim to dinner and a movie for her birthday. I have settled on a charm bracelet for her present and she likes it. Kim and I are a couple now and I like it. We see each other as much as we can.
It’s my 28th birthday and I’m having dinner with Kim. The day seemed to drag by as we shipped out jobs for Turnbull, Thrifty, and Interstate Steel. When the day is finally over, I rush home and Kim and I have dinner at Squire’s to celebrate. It’s the first birthday I have looked forward to in a long time. I love the Shrimp Parm here and I’m starting to love this girl too.
We return from a brief Independence Day break to process orders from Kelco, W.R. Grace and Simkins Industries. In addition, the men work on a couple of our regular recurring orders, some Anchor Fence rail channels and a few Lenderking Metals angle rings.
I’m very excited on this Tuesday to tune into the Major League Baseball All-Star Game which is being played at Oriole Park. This is the first time since 1958 the Summer Classic has been held in Baltimore and it’s a pretty good game. The only sticking issue with local fans is Orioles’ ace pitcher, Mike Mussina not getting into the game. Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston who is the skipper of the American League squad becomes a rather unpopular fellow in this City. For me, I love the idea of this beautiful ballpark being showcased around the league. The AL beats the NL 9-3.
It’s Paul Kavanagh’s birthday and he now has to share this day when Victoria Bosse is born. She is born during a thunderstorm and baby and Mom and Dad, Jackie and Richard, are healthy, happy and excited. Mom and Dad now have eleven grandchildren. That makes me an uncle eleven times over as well.
We are pushing through a few busy weeks in preparation for our annual August vacation. Several extra heavy steel pipes are rolled for Ackerman and Baynes and we begin cranking out another set of aluminum elbows for C.R. Daniels.
We reach our last Friday before our break and Kavanagh’s and crew are ready for some time away from Central Avenue. Another order of Anchor Fence channels rails is finished and the last of C.R. Daniels 90 degree elbows are picked up. I drive away knowing I have to come by one day next week for the mail but otherwise, I’ll be practicing with the band in hopes of a return to the 8 X 10. Also, I’ll spend as much time as I can with Kim.
After our vacation, there is always a glut of work to be dealt with as we pay the price for our time off. After a week or so, things return to normal and today we roll some stainless steel angles for Warren-Ehret and more large flat bars for Codd Fab.
Lethal Injection makes its triumphant return to the 8 X 10. We are much better and we play two originals, “Lime Jello N Jam” and “We Only Sell Art.” Both go off really well and we get cheers from the crowd of strangers. Several people even chant “The Wheat, the Wheat” referencing Buck Wheat in “Lime Jello N Jam.” We feel vindicated as we pack up our gear and go. We do not know what’s next for us. We have not figured out how to get real bar gigs yet and that’s a long way from two songs at an open mike show.
I am still on cloud nine about our show at the 8 X 10 and I have recounted the performance to any and all who will listen. In particular, I tell Ann and Jack every detail of the night. In the Shop, three more orders for Miscellaneous Metals are rolled then bundled together for pick up.
I stand out front of the Shop looking up and down Central Avenue. I’m watching the traffic and taking in the last of the summer weather. Fall is on its way bringing a chill to Baltimore. It feels like the old days here because we have several copper jobs to be bent. Tubes for Stambaugh and for heat exchangers for the Rosewood Center and for Fort Meade are annealed and bent together. Grouping them together helps the time and makes the orders more profitable. We do this whenever possible. The volume of heat exchanger work is down and seems to go down every year. There was a time when we had one or two nearly every week. It’s a sign of the times as many boilers are being modernized. Some use PVC tube instead of copper and some don’t need exchangers at all. Fortunately, old buildings still have old boilers and they will need copper tubes at least for now.
I’m sitting in the upstairs Shop office when I receive a call from Reeve’s Entertainment Systems. It’s Joe Kirk who is working on the television show Homicide and he needs a favor. I have dealt with Joe several times on local productions in the past. An episode is being filmed for next year and they need a circular camera well and they need it fast. Robin Williams is guest starring and he’s only in town for several days. I can get the pipe in a day but I will have to adjust my schedule to fit it in. It won’t really be a big deal and I love doing work for films and TV. I ask Joe if he can do me a favor. I ask to play a dead body on the show. He laughs and tells me everyone wants to be a cadaver so no appearance on television for me but they send us some hats and shirts. We will roll these aluminum pipes tomorrow. The show must go on.
The breezy cool weather is here and the work remains strong. Some small beams are rolled for Seaford Steel then picked up by Baltimore Galvanizing as they must be hot-dipped in galvanize before installation. A big structural 10” X 2 Tube is filled and rolled for Codd while we prep for jobs for L.J. Brossoit, R & R Fabricators and Perma-Rail. After that, we have another set of channel rails for Anchor Fence.
Another order of Belfort Instruments’ square aluminum tubes is cranked out in the Pines. This is a good job but the tolerance is close. There is always a lot of time at the end sizing and tweaking the pieces.
As happens every year when October arrives I think of my friend Dave’s birthday. He always throws a righteous party and Lethal Injection are the house band. It will be different this year as Dave has moved from the beloved Belvedere. We had a lot of good times and good parties there but now he has moved to a smaller place on Seidel Avenue. I am a little extra excited because Kim will be there too. I’ll have my band and my girl watching me. I push these thoughts out of my head and grab the phone to call Gary Stambaugh and let him know we have a set of heater tubes ready. As I chat with Gary, I am filling out a delivery ticket for Codd. We have a set of ornamental brass bars ready for pickup.
The Washington Capitals lose their first game to the New Jersey Devils and Jack is there. He doesn’t mind the long drive to Largo MD and takes his family to as many game as he can. It’s a rough start to the year for Jack’s team as they will go on to lose the first six games of the season.
I watch as the crew load Miscellaneous Metals’ truck. We had a few trucks picking up material today so that means some billing, always a good thing. As I am about to head up the steps to the office, a man comes through the front door. I stare quizzically at him as he explains he has an idea for a backpack flying machine as he calls it. He has drawings and a rudimentary model of what he’s making. It’s a para-glider with a motorized propeller in a cage to drive it. He needs some tubes bent and rolled for the cage. I ask out of curiosity what he plans to do and he tells me he would like to rent them out at parks for instance Patterson Park. People would pay by the half hour to fly around the park. He’s very sure it will be the next big thing. I am skeptical but make some notes and promise to get him a price. I climb the stairs to the office and tell my brother and sister about it.
“I just talked to a guy about bending some aluminum for him.” I take a seat at my desk and both Ann and Jack look up. “He’s building a backpack flying machine and he needs some parts.” Jack and Ann both stare at me curiously.
I slip into a smile. “He plans on renting them out to people in Patterson to fly around the place for a half an hour.” My brother and sister both grin back at me and laugh a bit.
“Doesn’t that sound kind of crazy?” Jack asks, his smile mixed with curiosity.
“I said we’d get him a price. What do I know about it? It might be brilliant besides, who am I to trample on someone’s dreams.” The three of us laugh and I grab a pencil to make some notes about the backpack flying machine. I’ll get him a price and it does, in fact, become a job.
It’s a dreary Monday morning at the Shop. The crew enter the building in singles or pairs not looking like they are ready to start the week. I feel the same way. I chat with a few of the guys about the World Series which ended on Saturday. The Toronto Blue Jays repeated as champions this time defeating the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a good series going six games. My Birds had a decent season with 85 wins but that was only good enough for third in the American League East. When 7:30 arrives, it’s up and at ‘em for all of us. We make some samples for Equipment Development Corporation(EDCO) and wrap, package and ship sixty pieces of bent tube for a customer in Florida called Photomart Cine-Video. I don’t know much about them and am curious how they found us. I don’t always know but it’s a nice invoice to send out.
My friend Dave Muelberger holds his annual birthday/Halloween Party at Seidel Avenue, several doors from the bowling alley on the corner. In the basement, we play some of “the Wall” and our originals, We play “In Dreams” because Dave loves it and we do a lot of the improvised bombastic drones we played at the Belvedere. It’s packed in the cellar but a much smaller house so a much smaller crowd. It’s a good party but it’s not quite the same. The Belvedere had a certain style to it that seems to be lacking on Seidel.
Ann and I are talking in the office as another week begins. Jack is working on pushing out a heater for the Housing Authority. My sister and I are deep in discussion of Saturday’s party. Ann was there as she has been a few times. She knows Dave and the rest of my gang. It was different but still fun and I was happy to introduce Kim to my friends. Ann had already met her so while we played, Kim was sitting with Ann. As we check the time and realize we should get to work, Ann calls Wilton Corporation and Seaford Steel to let them know their items are ready and I begin double checking the drawings for a sign job for Belsinger Sign Company.
It’s a Saturday and after a day of practice, Tim, Ray and I are having a couple of beers at my house and watching the Riddick Bowe/ Evander Hoylfield fight. None of us are big boxing fans but I enjoy the heavyweight bouts and since I have HBO, we watch. The fight is a mixed bag but is suddenly stopped in the 7th Round and I see both combatants staring up away from the ring. The camera angle changes and a parachutist seems to have crashed into the ring. He is mobbed by assorted handlers and even hit with a shoe. It’s chaos in the ring and the guys and I are laughing. Just then, the camera shows a propeller in a cage that is attached to the parachutist and then I recognize his face. “Oh my God, I know this guy!” I shout as Tim and Ray look over at me. “We rolled the rings for the cage on that propeller thing. He called it a backpack flying machine.” Tim and Ray seem skeptical for a moment but both know me and start laughing. I laugh too at the insanity of the situation and the bizarre connection to it. Then, I think what if someone sues me or something? Can that happen? I shrug it off but the fight is a fiasco and the “Fan Man” Incident goes down in pugilism history as one of the oddest events ever in a fight.
Pratt and Central is a busy place as we move toward the end of the year. The holidays are getting close and we always plan on being closed between Christmas and New Year’s. This requires lots of planning and lots of hard work. Today one square bar for R & R and six angles for Price Brothers are rolled while we work on an order of 216 of the standard helicopter seats we bend for Turnbull Enterprises. They are hot for them so they pick up half the order, the right-hands as we call them. The rest will be available by tomorrow afternoon.
I can almost smell the turkey as tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I will be spending it with Kim and her family. I am nervous but I’ve met her parents and brother a few times. What I don’t know is, there will be no parsnips. They’ve never heard of them and I will have to do without. Before Kavanagh’s and crew leave and prep for our feasts, a few orders from our customers are lingering in the Shop. One by one the trucks come and go until the end of the day and we are done.
Christmas week is here and it’s a busy one but it’s also a pleasant one. One thing about the few days before Christmas is people are nicer and politer. Most have some holiday greeting for me or best wishes. It’s a hectic week but that seems to be part of the allure of this time of the year. We roll some ladder hoops for Miscellaneous Metals, some stainless steel bars for J.C. Pardo, bend 158 aluminum pipes for F & M Manufacturing and finish several orders for the Whiting-Turner Company. The end of the week will include lunch from Haussner’s for Kavanagh’s and crew including three pounds of their delicious sugar cookies.
I spend part of Christmas Day at Birch Drive celebrating with the Kavanagh’s but I leave earlier than usual to attend Christmas at Casa Dalfonzo on Woodall Street. The Kavanagh’s are a big crowd with the standard turkey and all the fixings including parsnips. There are children opening packages and adults chatting throughout the day and music with my father as always. When I reach Woodall Street, it’s a smaller group. Kim’s parents Anthony and Linda, her grandmother Dorothy and her brother Paul attend. It’s just as festive to be sure but their family is a lot smaller. Also, they have never heard of parsnips as I found out at Thanksgiving. I take it upon myself to fix this egregious error in the future. It’s pretty cool spending a holiday with my girl. She’s something special and when I head home, I feel like this was my best Christmas in a very long time. I sit on my couch at Charlesmont Road that night, drinking a beer and playing my guitar with my thoughts on her and how she has affected my life. It has been a year of change for me. My friend John’s death hit his buddies hard and I will think of him often and what could have been. What should have been. To lose a friend in this way then meet someone who would suddenly make all the difference in my life makes no sense. It’s how it played out and I have never been able to make head nor tail out of it. I move forward and know more changes are yet to come for me and eventually at the Shop on Central Avenue.
Bill Clinton is the President of the United States. The World Trade Center is bombed when a van parked in an underground garage explodes. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raids the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas after a 51 day standoff. The PLO and Israel sign a peace agreement. The Savings and Loan Crisis hits the US. The films “Jurassic Park,” “The Fugitive” and “Sleepless in Seattle” are released. Dizzy Gillespie, Thurgood Marshall, Roy Campanella, Frank Zappa and Marian Anderson die.
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