Friday, September 4, 2015

Let's Build Something

My husband had little education. Because of that he thought he was stupid (his word not mine). Like many people he equated education with intelligence. But he was an extremely intelligent person.

Because he could read very little my husband compensated by watching. He amazed me and a lot of other people with what he could do simply using his observation skills.

We operated a junk yard. We took junk cars and salvaged the good parts from them and scrapped out the bodies. In order to do this we needed a way to get the cars to us.

Tow trucks are terribly expensive. The boom on the back is the major cost. That is the part that sticks up above the bed of the truck and holds the cable that along with hooks attaches the car so it can be towed to wherever it needs to be.

We did not have that kind of money. So my husband studied tow trucks up close. He looked at how the boom was assembled. He looked at how it was attached to the bed of the truck. He learned what specifications were needed in the truck itself.

He made a few trades and ended up with a truck that was what he needed. Then he gathered materials and built the boom himself. With a little help to lift it he got the boom up on the truck and fastened it securely. He had his tow truck.

It was impressive. So much so that several other people asked him to help build the same thing for them. In that area of the city we often saw tow trucks that had been built by my husband.

Then cars with front wheel drive became more common. You could not tow them in the same way or the transmissions would be ruined. And if you hooked the newer cars to tow them from the rear often the front would scrape the ground causing damage.

Someone came up with the idea of lifting the car onto a flatbed and carrying it instead of towing it. The bed of the truck used hydraulics to tilt back so that the car could be pulled aboard using cables. Towing companies began to use that type of truck instead of the traditional tow truck.

A friend of my husband had a dump truck that lifted itself to empty using hydraulics. I can still picture my husband squatted beside the truck as the operator lifted the box up and let it back down. My husband was studying the hydraulic system.

He then proceeded to take scrap metal and built himself a hydraulic system. One that worked! I cannot fathom how a person can do something like that.

Of course my husband was always looking for ways to spend less money. Even though we lived in a big city where natural gas is readily available for cooking and heating he decided that we should use wood.

Now I have also used wood in my life so the idea is not foreign to me. At the same time I do enjoy modern conveniences when they are available. But I was willing to give the wood a try.

My husband did not want a nice wood burning stove. That would have been an expense. Instead he used old oil drums, or whatever they held before he cleaned them out.

He would cut a door in the drum large enough to load more wood into it. A hole to fasten the chimney pipes along with a damper to adjust the flow of air in the pipes was at the top.. Attached to the chimney this was actually a pretty good stove for heating.

He reinforced the bottom of the barrel to keep it from giving way from the heat of the lit wood. And he welded legs on it so it was up away from the floor.

In order to clean out the ashes we had to let the fire go out so we could scoop them out. Anyone who burns wood knows that needs to be done regularly. That was a problem in the winter because it can get pretty cold waiting for the fire to die and then waiting for the new fire to heat the place.

And the heat is not even. Close to the stove it was nice and warm or even too hot. Away from the stove or in another room it was cold.

These stoves will work better than nothing. But I prefer even heat from a central furnace.

After we were divorced my husband did some trading for a really nice wood furnace. It is made of cast iron and has a nice grate to lay the wood on. You can clean it even as it is in use just by scooping out the ashes that fall down below the grate.

The nice feature about this wood furnace is that it is outside. My husband with the help of a couple of our grandchildren set the furnace on a cement slab. He set up a conduit for the heat to pipe into his house. And the chimney is at the top of the furnace so that the smoke all dissipates outside.

Then he built a cement block enclosure around the furnace. It is totally enclosed except for the door in front for tending to the fire. It is truly unique and keeps the entire house warm.

I have never known anyone as good at making something from nothing.


  1. He reminds me of my late brother, who was very dyslexic. When they were children, he used to do the assembly while my other brother read him the directions. He too could build anything from anything. I think I would have balked at the stove business, though.

    1. Good for both of your brothers for working together to create something. I admire people who can make things. I should have balked at the wood stoves made from barrels. I am not perfect either although I try to do what I think best at the time. Sometimes I am just wrong.

  2. You describe a man of keen observation and substantial accomplishments. I have a friend from childhood who is now retiring from many years designing and building sets for stage and film. His memory is so retentive, when we were kids he would have me read him John Masefield poems twice each, which he could then recite in front of the class. And yes, he can fix anything.

    1. It all depends on opportunity and interest. My husband claimed to not be interested in education but he admired people who were educated. As an adult he did go to night school and learned a lot. Unfortunately a new job and a new place to live got in the way.

  3. That is a remarkable skill that few people possess.

    1. I cannot begin to tell you how in awe I was an still am at his ability to do things. I learn easily but doing is not as easy for me.

  4. Just reading about what your ex-husband did and all without reading any instructions is amazing, Emma. I have had difficulty following printer directions so could not imagine building something as complicated as a tow truck or hydraulic lift just by looking at them!

    1. The sad thing is that he never knew how intelligent he was. He really thought he was stupid. Again that is his word not mine. I saw what he was.