When I started this blog in 2009 it was my first and given that I had saved up a lot of things to say…..but over the past year or so I’ve felt like I had less to say here and that this space was being neglected. In some ways I feel like I still have much to say but also feel like I’ve said a good bit of it before. I picture the older married couple with the wife cringing as her husband launches into a story she has heard a thousand times before and I don’t want to be that guy.
I’m also reminded of something I read years ago. I’m a big Elvis Costello fan and I was reading an interview he’d done after the release of his second album. The interviewer asked why the second album had so much less anger and angst in it and why he seemed to have so much less to say. Elvis responded saying that he’d had more than 20 years to save up for the first album and only once year since. In my own humble way I feel the same way.
With that said I would like to pull a few blog posts out of the archives and repost them over the next few months. I looked through the blog and pulled out a few posts that I’d like to share once again and realized that none of them are photos of new bikes but instead are stories or ideas that I remember fondly and give me a good feeling. I have not chosen the selected posts because I feel they are in any way significant or because I like the words, but instead I just like the posts for what they are.
The post below was originally put up in July of 2009 and tells the story of a late night at the old Serotta Middle Grove factory and some stuff a few stupid kids did. One thing I did not tell in the original story was that ‘Chief’ might have been one of the most gifted natural framebuilders and fabricators I’ve ever known. In most cases he was the smartest and most skilled guy in the room and at the same time had the knack of being one of the funniest. Chief is a good man and hope he is doing well. Last I heard he was making carbon fiber parts for cars but that was many years ago. Chief taught me as much as anyone about framebuilding and also gave me some serious lessons in how life really works. I wish I could buy him a beer this afternoon.
Thanks again for reading –
Boys will be boys
Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
I was having a conversation the other day with a fellow framebuilder and the conversation turned, as it often does, to some of the stupid stuff that happens in a production frame shop. Whenever you get a group of 20 to 40 year old boys together for long hours silly stuff seems to happen. Our conversation reminded me of an event I can actually share with others.
I started work at Serotta in October of 1989 and was over the top excited about landing the job but frankly I was let down by what I saw when I arrived. Not that anything was wrong but it was just that my expectations were out of line with the reality of a blue-collar labor production shop. I somehow expected that there would be serious men in lab coats using high tech laser guided tools and in reality is was shirtless guys with smokes hanging from their mouths using machine tools made during the second world war. Not to say that these guys weren’t extremely skilled because they were. I just expected it would look different.
With this in mind – I’d been working at Serotta for only month or so and was looking forward to building a Serotta for myself. The factory was in a converted split-level, cinderblock school building in the middle of nowhere and the production shop was in the basement while the offices were upstairs.
One day I stayed late to work on a Serotta for myself. A co-worker and new friend nicknamed “Chief” offered to stay and help me with my bike. We worked in earnest for a few hours and then our attention spans got very short and we started doing stupid stuff. Using seat stays as gun barrels we found that we could put push pins into them and shoot them like bullets all the way across the shop using compressed air. We were amazed that they would actually stick into the wall from 50 feet. Then out of nowhere Chief says, “watch this” and walks over to the wall where there was a piece of pipe sticking out from the wall. The pipe was used at some point as a rack for holding who knows what but at this point it was little more than a foot and a half of water pipe hooked to the wall with a pipe flange. Chief goes to the pipe with his oxy-acetylene torch in hand and while wearing a devilish grin opens the gas valve on the torch and sticks it in the end of the pipe filling it with the acetylene. I had no idea what he’s going to do but it was all in the name of fun – what could go wrong?
After a very long time filling the pipe on the wall with gas Chief tells me to stand back and he lights his torch. With the torch lit he swings it past the open end of the pipe and then all hell breaks loose. A huge BOOM comes from the pipe shaking the entire building and rattling the windows. The pipe, along with a large chunk of the cinderblock wall it was mounted to, falls to the floor. We just stare at each other in awe. We were both surprised by how big the explosion was. While standing there not knowing what to do we hear rushed foot steps coming down the stairs from the office above. Oh shit! We thought we were the only ones in the building. The door from the stairwell opens and Ben Serotta comes running into the shop.
Now I’d only been working there for a short time and was still in my probationary period and could be fired without warning. I really loved this job and seeing Ben burst into the room made me sure that I had just lost it. Ben looks around the room to see the two of us standing there trying to look normal, Chief with a lit torch still in his hand. There was no tell-tale smoking gun, only a piece of pipe on the floor surrounded by chunks of concrete. Ben says something like “what the hell was that”? I turn to Chief hoping that he has an answer and he doesn’t disappoint. “What are you talking about?” says Chief. I can’t believe it. Chief is going to pretend nothing happened? The whole damn building shook and all he can say is “what”? At this point I’m sure I’m fired and I’m going to have to find a new job and explain to my friends and family how I lost my dream job. Ben and Chief go back and forth with the obvious stuff – “Didn’t you hear that!” followed by more “Whats?”
Ben walks around the room and doesn’t notice the pipe and concrete on the floor and realizing that we are going to hold the line and continue to play dumb he finally tells us to go home and heads back up the stairs. Once we hear his footsteps going up the stairs we can’t contain it any longer and we both start laughing uncontrollably.
Many years later, my job being secure, I told Ben about this over a beer. To my surprise he didn’t remember it. How could he not remember it? He tells me so much stupid stuff happened over the years that it all blended together in his mind. The thing I think of when looking back on this time was just how devoted these boys were to making the best bikes on the planet. It was a singular focus that we all shared. But we were boys and in their free time boys do shockingly stupid stuff.