Shop Class as Soulcraft – a book to read

Builders,

Every year I have the same new years resolution: Read 50 books. Most years I get pretty close. The time comes from watching almost no tv during the year. It is odd that I can tell you who won the World Series and Super bowl every year in the 1970s, but I can’t tell you who won, or even played, last year. The up side of the trade off is having read several hundred books in the last 20 years. I was just finishing 2014 book #1, Seth Rosenfeld’s ‘Subversives‘, when my neighbor Buzz dropped off a book with two simple commands: “You must read this, and you must give it back” He explained the second one by saying he intended to re-read it again because it is a very rich text.

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The title jogged my memory, someone had mentioned this in a letter. In a break after dinner I sat down to read the introduction and ended up fascinated, reading the first 40 pages. I probably would have read the whole thing, but this is a very powerful essay, filled with contemplative thought, and it deserves a very engaged read.

I purposely select a number of books each year which I am inclined to not agree with the authors perspective. It is an exercise in absorbing the presented case without making up your mind about it until it is concluded, just as we are supposed to do on a jury. But in this case, I am going to jump the gun and tell you this is one of the best books I have read in 20 years.

Some writers captivate me quickly. I think is has to do with how the subject relates to periods in your life; Tim O’Brien writing ‘The things they carried,’  taking you on a guided tour of the ugliest acts and making you see the simple humanity that still lives there, spoke to things in my 20s. Junot Diaz laying bare personal mistakes too easy to relate to in ‘This is how you lose her’ brought up things from my 30s I had deceived myself into believing were forgotten.

Crawford’s  work catches me the same way, but this book is an essay on the personal value of being able to do something tangible and useful. It is not light reading, but neither is it a psychology textbook. This is something of a master atlas for a lot of the mental landscape I have been traveling in for the last 10 years.

If you would like to read an excerpt, here is a link to the original essay that was expanded into the book:

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/shop-class-as-soulcraft

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I wanted to find the letter I read about this book. I wanted to know how I almost missed having this on my reading list. I searched our mail, and tucked away in a ‘Mail Sack” set of notes was this letter from builder  Brian Manlove:

“William –Hope you had a good time at Brodhead & Oshkosh. Just finished a good book:  Shop Class as SoulCraft, by Matthew B. Crawford.  Pretty relevant for today’s world and the loss of craftsmanship and pride in “work of the hands.”Looking forward to more of your words of wisdom…Brian”

I am glad that Buzz drove over and dropped off a copy of SoulCraft, but this is a lesson to follow the endorsements of friends on books. I would be poorer in perspective without reading this book.

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Above from our Oshkosh 2013 coverage, a photo of our neighbor Buzz, who loaned me his copy of the book: “One of the unusual experiences of Oshkosh is running into people from your local airports. On the left, Florida pilot Buzz Glade brought two USAF aviators to the Corvair cookout. It was the first time these men got a good look at grassroots homebuilding and they were impressed, which is no mean feat when you consider that these guys fly F-22 Raptors as a day job.”

Mail Sack, Various topics, 9/27/13, Part one.

Builders,

Here is a sample of the mail on a number of different stories. To refresh your memory, you can click on the link to read the original story the letter is referring to. To cover mail like this takes a few hours, but I like it because the things builders write make me stop, consider, really think. At 50, I am less sure of many things than I was when I was 25. Today there are more facets to issues, less hard lines on many topics. I am never convinced that I am absolutely right on any issue, I only am willing to say what I believe to be true because I have experienced it under these circumstances, and took the measure of what we are speaking of. I go out of my way to resist using that position as a spring board to jump to conclusions that come in sentences with words like “always”, “never” and “everyone.” Invariably, such sweeping statements are proven wrong with a single exception, but their real trap is they are the easy way out, the simple answer to the hard question, something I have learned never to trust.

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On the topic of:  Sunday,  a long day at the airport.

Elaine Culver writes:

You are one heck of a theologian.  “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi set”  (sounds even better in Duruflé’s setting.)

Gyro builder and CC#9 grad Brent Brown writes:

I hope to see you and Grace at a fly in someday.

Brent, it has been too long, if you are in the country, stop by and see us at CC#27.-ww.

builder Phil Carley writes:

William, Thank you for sharing the Tom C. story.  Just another reminder for me to be thankful for the loved ones in my life. My wife always tells me (and I need reminding of this). We do not know what events or sorrows happen to other people.  Therefore, patience and kindness speaks volumes.

Builder Daniel Mears writes:

Your reflections on Tom C. remind me of my father-in-law who was somewhat like the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino.  Rough on the exterior, a World War II Vet who was an avid gun collector, he drank a little, and wasn’t easy to warm up to.  Once you got below that crusty exterior there was an absolute treasure trove of historical data locked into a mind with an IQ off the chart.  So easily we dismiss people because of their bluntness or lack of finesse but I find that folks shouldn’t be so quickly judged.  I too am an Army veteran and my son just returned from Afghanistan a couple of months ago.  You never know what dragons are in the closets or the atrocities a person may have repeating in their mind… Thanks for your insights, it is uplifting to see what you’re thinking about in the wee hours.

Builder Allen Oliver writes:

“J’aurais dû être plus gentille—I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person. You will never think that.” ― Khaled Hosseini, “And the Mountains Echoed” William, you appear to have done better than most with Tom in this regard.

Builder Sonny Webster writes:

William, while I fully appreciate all you have done and continue to do for the Corvair “movement” I think you should consider writing as a second career or hobby.  You have great insight on the human condition and a way with words that conveys the true depth of every story you write.  I too   am thankful for having a loving family upbringing and feel very sad for people like Tom.  Building airplanes and motors is more than just going through some mechanical motions; it is really more about the characters of the people who take this path to finding satisfaction in life.  While I have chosen the path of a professional life for the sake of providing a “nice” lifestyle for my family I truly long for a simpler, more gratifying lifestyle – even if that means making much less than my current 6-figure income.  Were it just me I would gladly step back however, I have a wife and two teenage daughters who have become accustomed to the material and social standards that have become normal so I will have to stay committed to a very stressful, unrewarding existence in my current automotive career until such time that I can justify finally living a little more for me and my dreams.  I sometimes feel guilty for such a seemingly selfish agenda but I always go back to the analogy of cockpit decompression:  I must put on my oxygen mask first because if I pass out I can be of no help to those around me.  Thanks again for your work and words.-Sonny

Pietenpol builder Terry Hand, USMC/ATP writes:

William, You wake up every morning with the perfect reminder of how we should live our lives. You wake up and say, “Good morning, Grace.” Grace is defined in Christianity as God’s free and unmerited favor toward us. People may not be Christian in their religious beliefs, but it is hard, if not impossible, to argue with the concept. Free and unmerited favor. It is how we should live and treat those around us. Thank you for telling us Tom C.’s story and reminding us a little of how we should be as humans, and not just builders. Semper Fi, Terry.

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On the topic of : Brodhead, Oshkosh and Beyond 2013

Merlin on floats Corvair builder and flyer Jeff Moores writes:

Hi William, I know you guys were very busy but it was great to talk to you and Grace at Oshkosh this year. I also had the opportunity to meet and chat with Vern, Roy and Mark at your booth, as well as the Johnson brothers. My wife and I  also met fellow builder/flyer Pat Hoyt and his wife. To be able to talk to another successful builder and see his installation was an excellent experience. When we were at Oshkosh four years ago I was only considering using the Corvair and this year being there as a successful builder and flyer was very special indeed !!-Jeff

Pietenpol builder Mark Chouinard writes:

Took several photos at Brodhead and around the booth at OSH with the intention of sending you some, which I obviously never got around to… glad to see that you got a bunch of good ones.  Getting a lot of compliments on my engine and mount.  Looking forward to getting both installed.  Enjoyed the write up… by the way, my tape measure is fine, I’m 77″.  It was good to see you guys… see you next year in San Marcos, TX.

Builder Brian Manlove writes:

William –Hope you had a good time at Brodhead & Oshkosh. Just finished a good book:  Shop Class as SoulCraft, by Matthew B. Crawford.  Pretty relevant for today’s world and the loss of craftsmanship and pride in “work of the hands.”Looking forward to more of your words of wisdom…Brian

Zenith 601XL builder and flyer Pat Hoyt writes:

Brodhead and Oshkosh are the high points of the year.  Reconnecting with old friends, meeting new ones, and seeing all the amazing examples of craftsmanship on display.  A week or two just isn’t enough…Flying ones own homebuilt airplane into Oshkosh for the first time is one of those big milestones of life for people like us.  The experience of flying there and “being there” – in an airplane that I built – was unlike anything I could have imagined.  Patrick Hoyt N63PZ

PS:  here’s a nice picture of your dog along with a couple of characters at the fire circle at Brodhead:  https://plus.google.com/photos/104939905154766012049/albums/5774020932215628737/5911667591985435314?banner=pwa&pid=5911667591985435314&oid=104939905154766012049

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On the topic of Back from the road, notes on Communications

Builder Dan Branstrom writes:

William, I suggest that you repeat this every month, especially before you go to OSH, SNF, or a CC. You might also might put it on your website, as well as close to the order form.  Yes I know, people don’t read, but it sure stops complaints cold when you say, “As I wrote on my website…” (or manual or blog). As it’s written in your manual, people expect someone with white lab coat and lots of assistants, while the reality is far different.  By running a lean operation, you’re able not only to stay in business, but provide excellent, safe products at a reasonable price.-Dan

Pietenpol builder Terry Hand writes:

What a great post! Now I know EXACTLY how to reach you! It is now in my important notes binder. I have heard people at times say, “I can’t get hold of that William Wynne guy”. What is his issue? The issue is that you are focused on the task at hand and the person at hand. Simple as that. I would much rather have you focused when you are building my die spring gear, than to have you trying to talk, eat, hold your phone between you ear and your shoulder while trying to safely and accurately weld on my landing gear, thanks for what you do. Terry.

Zenith 650 builder Paul Normandin writes:

William, I don’t have any issue with your philosophy; when it comes time for you to weld a mount for me I would rather know that 100% of your attention is on the task at hand! Too many folks today want/require instant gratification, thank you Electronic Age. I more or less expected that you would take some much deserved time off after your 20 state trip, any normal person would. Why don’t the allegedly normal people who call you and complain understand that?
I enjoyed reading about Brodhead and Oshkosh, thanks for the wonderful update and photos. I hope your trip to visit your Dad and family, and Grace’s visit as well, were both pleasant and restful. I will be swinging by my brother’s place in N.C. before heading to Corvair Collage 27. I haven’t seen that one in years and am looking forward to a long talk (or fight) like you can only have with family… and I won’t have a cell phone to my ear while driving either!
BTW, I have done some small amount of retail and customer facing jobs and I can say without fear of INTELLIGENT contradiction, that the customer is not ALWAYS right… I have found that the customer is occasionally an idiot.

Paul, one of the core qualities of our work is the recognition that if you gather people who want to learn and create things, you will have a much better group of people to work with than a guy only gathering customers who want to buy something. Many of the people who work in our industry relentlessly complain about their  customers behind the scenes. I will often interject that you get the people you attract, and we are a lot happier because our efforts attract builders, not consumers.-ww 

Builder Vic Delgado writes:

I don’t know about that truck being basic William, I see some luxury as that looks like a pretty fancy armrest you have there. -Vic

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Parting Shot on Sunday,  a long day at the airport.

by Zenith 750 builder Charlie Redditt:

Reminds me of when I worked as a field assistant for a Geologist in Death Valley, from Oct of 1990 through May of 1991.  Dr. Jay Kent Snow (aka Zeke) was mapping the strata of the Panamint Mountains that form the NW wall of the  valley.  In addition to helping  him with fieldwork, I also did the cooking and other chores.  Every two weeks we’d change camp, which meant I also got to do the laundry, take out the trash, and get the mail.  All of which  meant I got to  hike an extra 5 to 10 miles back to our support vehicle and drive about 15 miles back to the Park Service concession at Stovepipe Wells, which is what passed for civilization out there,  Our vehicle happened to be a 4wd Chevy suburban  probably not too different from your recent purchase, although Zeke and his boss, Brian Wernicke, had special ordered it with a three speed manual transmission.  It also came with a 55 gallon barrel of water,  a week or two of food, two spares, shovels, and chains.  Once inside the Panamints, the road was a canyon floor and breakdowns could be lethal if you weren’t prepared.  The canyons could get rather narrow in places as well, and I remember having to roll the rear window down, from the outside of the vehicle,  just in case we got wedged in a tight spot and  wouldn’t be able to open the doors.

Well,  the point of all this is that I can relate to your desire for simplicity due to one experience in particular.  One day that December I found myself driving back into the Panamints when the suburban just died.  No warning, no running rough, it just quit.  I tried cranking it a few times, and it turned over just fine, but did not start.  I  looked under the hood and nothing obvious seemed amiss.  Since that was the limit of my mechanical ability, I was faced with two choices: either hike back ten miles (through a sandstorm) down to Stovepipe Wells to get help, or hike 5 miles up the canyon to explain the situation to Zeke (who by now was wondering what was taking me so long)  spend the night at our campsite with minimal supplies, and make the trek back to Stovepipe Wells the next day.   Not life threatening, but not pleasant choices either.

“God takes care of fools and drunks,”  and so at this point I benefit from what I can only explain as divine intervention.   Note that by this time I had spent over two months in Death Valley, and during that whole time I had never seen another soul up in the mountains except for Zeke, the guy I worked for.  For some reason Death Valley just isn’t that popular a hiking spot.  If you want peace and quiet, it’s hard to beat.   So, of course it is at this very moment that some random guy comes by, riding his mountain bike.

When I first saw him I realized that I passed his truck about 5 miles back at the entrance into the Panamints from the valley floor, and so I flagged him down and asked him if he could give me a ride back into Stovepipe Wells, or at least carry word back that we needed a tow.  Before I could finish telling him all the particulars of my plight, however, he stopped me and says, “I’m a mechanic, do you mind if I take a look?”

Once I recovered from my faint, I eagerly helped him pop the hood and poke around. Took him about a minute to find the problem, which was a blown fuse to the ignition system.  He  swapped the radio fuse in for the blown one, and I’m good as new.   Most of my driving  experience till that point was in a ‘73 VW superbeetle, with which I had traversed the country.  Although it had its issues it was not susceptible to sudden death by fuse.

The guy’s  name was Gordan Yasman, and he ran the “Yaztek” garage in Sebastapol, California. Refusing payment, he gave me his card and continued on his way, cycling up the canyon.  BTW in my remaining six months in Death Valley,  I never saw another hiker, cyclist, ranger or any other person in the Panamints except for Zeke and my girlfriend Susan.  After Gordon took care of me I was literally looking over my shoulder for Zaphod Beeblebrox and the Heart of Gold.