“Someone who influenced my life”
For the October 11 meeting of the Lunch bunch, Stacy Swain asked that members prepare a story about someone who had made an influence on their life. My story follows.
As a kid, I was influenced by three things, place as well as people, and anything of a mechanical nature. Place would include woods, swamps, seashore, boat yards and machine shops. Unlike most kids I had no fear of speaking to adults. There was one person who stood out to everybody because he weighed more than 400 pounds and to me because he was the ultimate do it yourselfer. His name was Arthur Farrar.
We met at Mansfield and Shepard’s Grove which began as a summer tent colony at the mouth of the Farm River in East Haven Connecticut. It had all of the above features of place. Although Connecticut is not known for cactus plants, I managed to find a prickly pear cactus complete with flower, besides many kinds of wildlife.
From 1930 to 1940, my father rented a small cottage there for $100 per year including water and electricity at the end. Toilet facilities were primitive, a short walk in the woods to an outhouse. The cottage was built on top of a tent platform with a screened in porch and kitchenette added on. An island with woods, swamp, and great beach stood across the river mouth which was about two city blocks wide. When my father returned from work, we swam over to it before supper.
Everybody in the Grove was on a first name basis and I knew them all, besides what they did for a living. There were nurses, factory workers, carpenters, a plasterer who specialized in vaulted ceilings, policemen, teachers, a lumberyard clerk, a greenhouse owner, son of an Indian chief, milkmen, a sporting goods and machinist hand tool store owner where I spent half my pay and many more types of occupations. One machinist steered me to a great job as a tool maker no less. This was good for 3 summers while I attended college. But that is another story.
To keep myself amused after he retired from his radio sales and service business for health reasons, Mr. Farrar became an amateur small boat builder. He was a graduate from Worchester Polytech and he liked to work with his hands. The first boat was a small Chris Craft style of speed boat. Each summer it was tethered to a mooring but it was never used. He also made a rowboat for fishing and clamming. The third boat was a 28foot long cabin cruiser. The basic hull was made in the back yard of his winter home in Morris Cove. When the hull was far enough along so that it could float, it was moved to the Farm River to be close to Mr. Farrar’s summer cottage.
It was easy for me to reach the hull in my rowboat and I spend many enjoyable hours to see how he used hand tools for adding details towards its completion. He even made use of two trees close together to bend pipe. Holes through thick steel were made using a hand held wood bit brace modified to hold metal cutting drill bits and bearing down with lots of force. Where nails were used that projected through a deck board, for example, I bent the ends over from inside the hull. Mr. Farrar then pounded the head ends with a hammer from outside the hull while I held an ax head firmly against the bent over part. This procedure is known as clinching. Such clinched nails, will not loosen or pull out. Mr. Farrar could answer my hundreds of questions about electricity, chemistry, woods working, gasoline engine trouble shooting and the merits of different automobile makers of which there were many at that time. He owned a Hupmobile.
My interest in outboard motors started with one that Mr. Farrar had borrowed to tinker with. It was the original model of a longline of Evinrudes. I bought it for $6 and sold it for $10. I bought many more motors which I restored from salt water damage and sold for pin money. Back to the boat. When the hull was ready for a motor Mr. Farrar couldn’t wait for a proper sized marine engine. Instead, he installed an antique 5 horse power one cylinder one temporarily. It moved the boat at walking speed which was not enough to cope with any kind of wind or waves. Nevertheless, on one very calm day we ventured out for several miles on Long Island Sound. There we came across 3 porpoises leaping out of the water. They paid no attention to the slow moving boat. It was good fun to see their blue colored bodies glisten in the sunshine.
Finally the cabin cruiser was completed. Just like the speed boat it never left its mooring. The joy was in their construction. Suddenly Mr. Farrar’s body turned purple and he died within a week. Soon afterwards the hurricane of 1938 smashed the boat to bits along with many others. Only the steering wheel turned up at the beach of the next town.
Thanks to Mr. Farrar, I became an engineer, too, with many practical interests such as how things are made, properties of materials, and also love of nature.
I made a kayak that was beautiful to look at but hard to paddle due to poor choice of under water shape. Then I made a sailboat, sails and all, that was very successful. These have stories of their own.
Boats take up a great deal of time and care. Without the advantage of being close to the water again I settled for a canoe.