• The Plane Dealer

Where did that tool come from? A Father's Day Tribute of Sorts.

When I create a listing for eBay I like to give whatever it is that I'm selling, some context to the world it came from. If I have a known history for it I make a point of including in the listing in as much detail as I have. Most of the time I don't even know the last time someone had a particular plane in hand but I do know when it was made so I will include something about that time period or maybe a tiny slice of the manufacturer's story. I think that it gives the tool (mostly planes) historical context and interest.


I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s and 60s so I am a Baby Boomer. My father served during WWII though he never had to leave the country as his assignments supported the war effort stateside. At any rate, he, like so many million other G.I.s got out of the service in the late 1940s, most of them in their 20s and 30s, started families, moved to a two or three bedroom tract home in the suburbs, usually with a garage. Now, as important as the house was, the garage was even more so to that "twenty-something" 1950s era guy. Sometimes that garage contained a car, sometimes not. What it almost certainly did contain, was a workbench..at least, maybe even a nicely appointed shop. I don't think there was a house on my block that didn't have one or the other, that is except ours.

The old homestead


My father's interest was not in woodworking, tools, gardening, home repair, you know the things most guys in those days thought of as necessity. No, my father loved to fish, hunt, camp, ski, all 4 hours away from home. These activities were not unlike many other families enjoyed at the time, but, his was a passion unlike others. We were gone nearly every weekend of the year doing one of them. The good part is that I was rarely bored, except in the summer during weekdays when there was no school, nothing on one of the 3 TV channels we got, when other kids were taking long family vacations to San Diego to stay with relatives, or Disneyland or some other exotic locale that provided no interest to my dad. We had neighbors who wondered how we kept our yard up since there was rarely anyone at the house during the weekend when everyone else was doing yard work. Luckily, my older brothers eventually could push a lawnmower and my mother pulled a lot of weeds, at least until I was old enough and strong enough to do it.


I mentioned earlier that our garage was one of the very few in our neighborhood that had no workbench but it did usually contain a car, mostly outdoor equipment, skis, backpacks, camping gear and at one time even a small camp trailer. All the stuff that made my father feel secure in light of the looming Soviet nuclear threat...but no workbench. That is until, at about the age of 12 I got tired of all the kids making fun of me for never being around for weekend activities or the normal stuff kids my age did with that precious free time. I came to that point in my life where I was not going to make Cub Scout inspired birdhouses on the patio anymore. The 1960s was a time of rebellion so, (and probably against my father's better judgement), I built a workbench out of available lumber that had been gathered by someone, for unknown reasons and stored next to the fence on the side of our house, knarly, full of nails but surplus, available and free. The workbench, such as it was, not a masterpiece but not too bad for an adolescent using scrap wood and the sum total of my father's tools: a Montgomery Wards all steel electric drill, a thing that resembled a hand saw that as I recall, did a much better job of cutting fingers than it did cutting wood, a hammer, some surplus nails that I pulled out of the wood, a couple of screwdrivers and a pair of pliers. You always had to have a pair of pliers for any home project. He also had a brace but no bits, so I had to borrow a hand drill from the kid up the street. It was just an old egg beater drill but it worked amazingly well and this may have been my "tool epiphany" in that I realized how much easier projects could be with the right tools.


My mother loved church rummage sales which was all we had back in the days before garage/yard sales. In about 1958 we got our 1939 edition of encyclopedias at a church rummage sale which I used as my reference material for school papers for the next 10 years. (Never could use it for papers on WWII). I'm sure that most, if not all of my father's tools came from rummage sales. Did I mention that my father was NOT a tool guy? Well, the bench turned out okay, not beautiful, but functional. Sadly, it was pretty much devoid of those things for which it was made and eventually became just one more shelf upon which to store, you guessed it, camping stuff.


As I got older I became (to my father's apparent surprise) more interested in making and fixing stuff with my hands. I took a lot of "shop" classes in high school, learned about woodworking, auto mechanics and cooking and I discovered the wonderful world of tools and how they can really be cool and the work making stuff very satisfying. Paper route money was spent buying socket sets, wrenches, an "insulated" electric jig saw and a new electric drill. I still have most of those hand tools, including the jig saw. The drill died a very long time ago. In addition, I have two more important tools that I didn't buy but growing up and even since, have used many, many times - my fathers old brace which I discovered only a few years back was a Stanley SW from the 1920s and his all-steel Montgomery Wards electric drill. Both still work and I use the brace a lot as I now have some bits to use with it. The electric drill is more of workbench display since I discovered that the little "arcs" the brushes produce inside the motor housing (you know the tiny little lightning bolts) could cause the solvents and oily rags in my shop, to ignite. (POOF)






Today I am a collector of planes. We didn't have any, or maybe a small universal block plane that never got used, just like the many work benches in the many 1950s built garages across the country. The workbenches that seemed like a good idea at the time. A lot of those garage work shops did get filled with tools and I'm sure many of those tools, including the planes, got used. I'm just as sure many didn't. The Stanley Number 5 that the kids gave to their father on his 35th birthday seemed like a great gift idea for the "dad with a workbench". But alas, turns out he and probably millions of others lost interest and that beautiful old type 18 Stanley Bailey corrugated number 5 just sat there maybe for decades, little or even unused until dad wasn't around anymore and the plane got sold in the estate sale for little of nothing.


I never gave my dad any tools for his birthday, Christmas or Father's Day. He did get a lot of fishing stuff, camping gear and later, when sleeping in a tent trailer didn't work anymore, stuff for his travel trailer. I'm pretty sure he used most of it but appreciated all of it, as did the dads who got planes. I ended up with some of his fishing and camping gear and a couple of his tools. Thanks Dad for teaching me how to fish and for taking me camping. Happy Father's Day.