A philosophy shared in four parts.

A Dodge all-wheel-drive truck is a tool. Time-honored tools are simple, elegant in their simplicity, and durable. Fundamental, effective tools will be kept and used as long as we live.

I can learn something about a man when I enter his shop, when I look in his toolbox. I can see what he keeps, what he cares for, and I can learn something of his style.

In spending time together, we come to better understand and honor our common bonds.

Part One

I sit examining an inspiring publication filled with pieces of furniture wandering along the gauzy boundary between exotic furniture and sculpture that happens to be made of wood. A good share of it I wouldn't care to own.

I do earnestly admire the craftsmanship, the patience, the attention to detail, and the display of skills I hold in the highest esteem.

Having spent a good bit of time working with wood, I read the magazine and imagine me studiously attending to the birth of a crafted thing, laboring over the finest details and construction techniques; honoring the product as a measure of me, my skill, and my reverence for accuracy and form.

Do I start? Do I grasp the first rough board and lay it to measure with tape and rule? Do I sit bent at the drawing table to plan the pilgrimage?

No.

Why, then?

It is because I am daunted by the herculean task.

I think it noble in the fullest to spend huge lots of time from one's finite life in the pursuit of any such honest goal as the production of a solid table.

Even the word table has a good sound to it. I savor it, I want to say it more than once. Twice, or even three times.

I think I shall make a table, and it will be good.

Do I mean the table or the making of it? It will be solid. It will be home, it will be a foundation.

A foundation for life... yours and mine. Will this foundation be the table, or will it be what I learn during the making of it?

We can gather around it, you and I, and we can share time and space. We can think together for a bit. We will then go on, better for it, and look back upon the experience fondly.

We sit at a good table.

That table shall be at the center of it all, doing what it does best – being unobtrusive, yet serving us as required, along with our accessories. Our drink, our papers and books, our guns and knives... or whatever we choose to examine. Together.

Better yet if the table is something I have personally and privately labored over. If it is made from great slabs of wood rescued from the fallen barn on the old place.

History. Who lived there before?

Native timbers, rough hewn from the hearts of trees grown long ago in these parts and experienced in the passage of time; both easy and hard. Trees that knew the sunny days and the violent storms. Living valiantly through it all.

Being in the presence of such veteran stuff yields its own confidence in the possibility of making it to the morrow unscathed. We have a friend in this table; the great and strong tree it used to be. It knows no matter what happens, we will all be here tomorrow when the sun breaks the rim of the world.

My soul could better be in it if I had sawed the wood with brutish, human labor; if I, with my hands, planed it. Especially after honing the steel blade on a bench stone, then testing the edge on my living skin.

The curled shavings would fall to the shop's floor and land about my worn leather boots. All these things good and natural in color. Smelling, too.

Better if the plane was very old and very used. My grandfather's plane, a tool he used to make good things. The plane even a bit of someone else, made in a place shaded by steel and smoke, inhabited by men with coarse cloth shirts, snap-brimmed caps and rough hands; wooden benches and steel tools bearing the sheen of use and time. Men who fished from row boats and ate picnic lunches from covered baskets wove of peeled wooden strips.

All of this loops back on itself and intricately illustrates a continuity and connectedness between me and the tree and the earth it came from... and you, if you sit with me at the table, petting the dog who patiently stands at your knee.

The dog may have done his own thing on a tree, a descendant of the old timer used to build the table. We all loop together, forming whorls in the grain of our cosmic forest's wood.

I do not start because I get lost in the motion and pattern of all this. I back away in silence and wonder if I am equal to it.

If my dovetails are not perfect, have I blasphemed? If the joints are not tight, is it disrespect for the life of the tree? Have I squandered the resources used to grow the oak or pine before me? Material that lies flat, naked, even vulnerable before me on the bench. I tremble in the thinking of it, therefore cannot reach to touch it.

And so I bring myself to a place where there is a casting retaining a precision Timken set guiding an alloy shaft, itself bearing splines and various diameters turned; through a cavernous case filled with refined petroleum, all held together with graded, threaded fasteners and the labor of someone manipulating a fine forged wrench. It is daunting, it is illuminating, it is humbling, it pierces.

It stills me in mind and in body.

Consider the resources mustered in the foundry and in the forge. The history and experience lost somewhere in the heart of the assembly now silent. Waiting passively for touch and the resultant, exultant motion.

It is all a pattern in the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral we build for our deepest fascinations.

It is our responsibility to care for the parts, know them well, value their every virtue. Even the ones not immediate and recognizable. They come to us in oblique moments, later and farther away, and perhaps in the middle of something else.

The truck, it is solid, too. We can gather with it and talk and share and know one another. We can travel forward in space and backward in time. All at once.

It is good.

This is how I can spend an hour looking at a part, feeling the weight, the sharp edges, the drilled holes and the machined surfaces. Love the texture of the casting left on much of it. Believing the dirt upon it is honest and right.

Not a thing to mind in the dark of a night, alone. The ceiling a black sky with a single, brilliant moon.

Part Two

A woman and a teenage boy examine a CD player in a stereo shop. The boy holds a remote control unit in his hand, entranced. He pushes buttons and marvels. She observes.

"How is this different from the one you have now?" she asks.

He waves the remote at her, "With this, I don't have to get out of bed."

This is not advanced technology. It is retarding technology. It needs to be stopped before we choke on it.

I consider these things as I load pieces of rough sawn oak in the back of my truck. They are halves of railroad ties not ever treated with creosote, used one time – fresh from the sawmill – as cribbing for the raising of a house. I am happy to have them, as I intend to raise my house. I will need many such blocks, and I gather them when I can.

I intend to do this work without a fiber-optic network, without a laser beam, without a computer. I will do it with jacks and wood blocks. I will do it by hand.

I will have to get out of bed to do it.

Manufacture once meant to make by hand. That was long ago, but it certainly communicates the notion that humans can touch, create and shape. A connection between people and things. A healthy and necessary connection.

I once worked with a machinist who said we should raise our own green beans, not buy them in metal cans. We should dig in the soil, plant the seeds. Weed, water, and pick them. It might seem less economical than buying beans at the store, but it would feed us in a number of ways.

We wouldn't need countless metal cans with printed paper labels, all ending up at a landfill. Instead, a glass jar could be used over and over. All the activities associated with the bean production would be beneficial to the participants.

As the process became less labor-efficient, more people could be involved. Productively. The work would be good exercise, providing meaningful activity for many.

It would be better than having some people sitting, simply waiting for that which they have come to feel entitled. Today we have enormous numbers of people who are idle, yet they manage to overconsume. In fact, they feel entitled to overconsume, at the same time they do not wish to take work they suggest is beneath them.

I recently walked through an event called a thieves market. It was a place where the products of artists were displayed and sold. Pottery, wood products, framed and unframed art in a variety of media, jewelry, textiles, and leather.

None of these things were made using modern or exotic technology. None of these things were made at high speed; neat clones of hundreds before and hundreds after, produced on computer controlled mass production equipment.

They represent craft. They represent human involvement, pride in the skills and processes, and in the objects. Things produced in such a manner allow humans to connect with them. A polar opposite to the images and sounds emanating from an electronic arcade game, with its joy stick, hollow voices and sounds, and artificial movement of humanoid cartoon figures caroming across the screen.

Next will be the joy button. We will need it when we run into the wall; when we are told something cannot happen because the computer is down. Divorcing the human from any and all responsibility in the matter.

A tragedy in the emergence of the computer as prime force is that it breeds a lack of confidence in human judgment, human measurement, human performance. An irony, in light of the fact that the computer has been created to simulate human functions.

The more we become surrounded by cathode ray tubes and programmable logic controllers, the more we need the opportunity to sit in the dirt and tend to some beans, form a lump of clay on a potter's wheel, shape a piece of metal or wood clamped in a vise.

The highly technological world can leave one with the feeling of being closed in a glass box, where we can't quite hear everything, and we can't feel very much.

When I flee the cathode ray tube, I wrestle with heavy oak blocks in the back of a thirty year old truck, or watch a lazy line of black oil draining from a gearbox made of cast iron.

I hope the kid has to get out of bed.

Part Three

A pocket comb is lying on the asphalt paving in a parking lot. It is missing no teeth and bears no apparent damage. The fact that it has been run over several times offers mute testimony to its robust durability.

The recognition of all this nearly brings me up short. This perfectly good comb is going to waste. In spite of that, no one picks it up.

Not that I have desire or need for the comb. I have my own. It is a wonderful, unbreakable, nylon model I got in junior high. I am now fifty, thus allowing you to have better perspective on the age of my comb.

In spite of age, it combs well, carries well, and could realize no functional improvement.

Many years of carry have made more than a few marks on the comb. It rides around with change and pocket knives. I am occasionally criticized for carrying this scarred grooming tool. It has been suggested my comb does not look good. For this reason I no longer offer it for public display, in stead only scheduling private showings.

I have purchased new and supposedly unbreakable combs. Every time they broke, losing clumps of teeth in my pocket. The old nylon model always came back from the dresser top, returned to service. Homely as ever, dull of finish, combing as well as when new.

Madison Avenue strains desperately to direct our needs and desires. We must want the new and the innovative. Shun the old, the faded, the traditional and predictable thing. Discard anything with signs of wear.

Toss the one you have now, it is from last season.

It must be a designer model, high tech, and preferably solid state. These ad people would never be able to sell an anvil. Too uncomplicated, and they might actually have to talk about function in simplified terms.

Quality, on the other hand, is a different concept. Quality mixes durability and performance. It smells and tastes of good design. Aesthetic and functional. Elegance rooted in simplicity.

Hence the comb. Not something we would build a shrine for, but a needed thing, certainly. It is not possible – given any conscience – to design a comb bearing needless complexity or utilizing high technology. We are left only with performance, durability, and pleasing design.

Kids shooting one another for jackets and tennis shoes are somehow missing all this. Adults spending $150 for sun glasses and the accompanying thermonuclear protection are also missing this.

I am not opposed to spending money on product. I am opposed to spending money when there is no substantial and observable benefit.

My grandfather was renowned and criticized for spending what was deemed too much on many things. I was a dumb kid at the time, so I just listened and watched. I observed relatives begrudgingly comment on the quality of things he bought, and how long these purchases lasted.

Certainly there is no guaranteed correlation between price and quality or durability. But, the good thing will probably cost more.

John Ruskin, an author of the 1800's, had the following to say:

It's unwise to pay too much. But it is worse to pay too little.

When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all.

When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can't be done.

If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run.

And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.

There is hardly anything in the world that someone can't make a little worse and sell a little cheaper – and people who consider price alone are this man's lawful prey.

John Ruskin
1819-1900

I have a long wooden box that belonged to my grandfather. It contains two Starrett machinist rules. One is a full six feet long, with the expected graduations in 64ths on one edge. These rules are beautiful and marvelous, and I keep them well oiled. They are capital, they are quality, they require no LED's or batteries.

Properly cared for they could outlast our civilization on this planet, providing utility well into the future.

I am doing my part.

Part Four

Tall timber separates the place from a gravel road. Big oaks, most still bearing last year's leaves, hickory, and a number of scattered, man-planted groves of mature, white pines. The pines sing their song of the north wind. It is a sound you know if you have been among pines.

It is late winter. A bitter cold spell has just passed, now replaced, even if only briefly, by an unusually warm spell. The day has risen to the low forties. Snow glistens from heavy melting. There is the faint sound of water running somewhere.

Rabbits stand silent.

An old man lives back in these woods, at the end of a lane cut through the thick of it. At the far end of a clearing is his house, a structure colored of weathered wood, topped with shake shingles. Smoke curls from the chimney. There is the smell of a wood fire.

A porch having a huge overhang runs the full length of the building. Three old lawn chairs, the kind with stamped steel seats and backs fitted to tubular leg-frames, line a portion of the porch. The stampings are all painted differently, and nicely faded.

Two big dogs lay on the board floor of the porch, seeming to sleep, but watching.

Near the house is a workshop, much taller, longer and wider than the house. Two huge doors on the shop are open wide. The building is built from what appear to be rough hewn timbers. Sawmill stock connected with iron plates and bolts, roofed and sided with sheetmetal, some galvanized and some painted. Several colors.

There is considerable stuff visible inside the shop. Benches, tool cabinets, welder and torch, beams with trolleys and hoists.

At the side of the building there is a neatly arranged pile of iron; long and short, big and small, new and old. Pipe, angle, channel, beam, square and rectangular tubing.

Parked near the shop is an old Power Wagon, once blue and black. The blue parts of the truck have aged to near-black. All surfaces are truly dull. Remarkably, the top of the cab is perfect; smooth and rounded. No dents.

There is a pickup box. There is no tailgate. The back of the truck is filled with all manner of jutting iron – big channel, beam and angle – anchoring a long boom reaching out into the atmosphere.

A heavy cable dangling with no load from a pulley at the high end of the joined boom tubes is stiff and just a little curved, terminating in a great, age-browned slip hook. Other cables, along with chain, truss the boom.

At the fore end of the bed rests a big winch of huge, rounded castings bearing the name Tulsa. The assembly oozes heavy oil.

Wide roller chain rises through a slot in the box floor, reaching a sprocket on the winch. The chain links display the sheen of lubrication and attention, marked in contrast with the dull of box sheetmetal and bed wood. Heavy tread plate forms a distinct, rectangular section, defining the area occupied by winch and boom underpinning.

A no-nonsense push bumper fills out the front of the rig, replete with grab hooks, bolted shackles, and carefully hand burned openings for the passage and snagging of big links of log chain. In the middle of the bumper is a Braden MU2, the spool wrapped completely full with carefully laid and well oiled cable.

The rear of the truck has a unique bumper, square in cross-section and fitted with hardware supporting props that can be swiveled down to point at the earth. These props are telescoping; held in place by big pins, and shod in thick, square plates. Stitching all this mass together are unrelenting beads of arc weld.

There is a massive pintle hook, with clever and substantial provision for changing the elevation of the hook, as well as removal and replacement with ball hitches or other implements of pull. Several hitch balls of different sizes are lined up for selection, stored in a series of holes provided.

On the driver's running board, right along side of the fore end of the pickup box, there is a metal box with lid. A sturdy hasp secures a lid fabricated from tread plate, allowing the box to double as a step into the truck bed. Inside this step box are compartments, each filled with long chains; some 3/8", some 5/16", and one with 1/2" chain. Forged grab hooks – marked U.S.A. – on all.

Big, handsome double-faced lights sit atop the front fenders, bearing amber to the front and red to the rear. Dietz is the brand, chrome are the bezels. A chrome spotlight is attached to the left side of the windshield.

A look inside the cab reveals a heavy-duty turn signal switch attached to the steering column. Across the cab, mounted on the dash, is a defroster fan pointed upward at the driver's side of the windshield. There is a switch on the dash marked Micro-Lock.

Levers rise from the floor; PTO, transmission and transfer case. More chain and a snatch block can be seen on the passenger's side. In the middle of the chain, rising from the iron tangle, is a hydraulic jack. Also bobbing in this brown, iron surf are hitch pins, shackles, and a few odd combinations of grab hooks and clevises. Chrome from one end of a 3/4 drive breaker bar protrudes, a gleam interrupting the brown.

Not much room left for passenger feet. Appropriately, the windshield says No Riders.

Leather gloves with wide cuffs rest on the seat cushion. Ready for the next job.

The old man seems to have everything he needs.

Conclusion

You keep a six-foot bar, sledgehammer, ratcheting chain winch, and an acetylene torch in your shop. Such items are not for amusement. They are kept and valued because they provide final solutions to otherwise impossible challenges.

So it is with the Power Wagon. It is not fast. It is not pretty, though you do come to believe it is beautiful. It will not be stopped. It becomes immaterial that it gets there slowly. It gets there.

You realize, after due consideration, that you are honored to be in its presence. You sit nearby, silently regarding it, remembering the great deeds.

The truck is brute force, densely packed into a small space, creating a heavy package – entirely portable – capable of traversing impossible terrain to reach the most remote location.

We envy these trucks – if machines can be envied – for their confidence, rugged construction, and ability to perform under the worst conditions. We can only hope to be the stalwart friends they have been for us, for as long as we have known them.

A man wants a friend like this truck, and wishes to be worthy of the friendship.

Common beliefs such as these have brought us together. Join with us each month to celebrate our common values and ideals. Learn from others how to be self-reliant in your own way, with your own tools, in a manner that brings you quiet pride.

Matthew Welcher
Editor, Power Wagon Advertiser

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