When “Shop Class” Was *Really* Shop Class

Admittedly, this is not about middle-school shop class, it is more about engineering college machining class.   It came from back in the day when mechanical engineers were still taught how to actually make mechanical-ly things as part of their fundamental education.  Do they still do that?

During the recent and ongoing clean-out of my father-in-law’s house one of the frequent questions among his four children was, “Does anybody want this?”  Most of the time the answer was, “No,” but while I was clearing a path to the washer and dryer in the garage I came across this little beauty. At my request it was given to me and added to the flat-rate box to be shipped home with other stuff that nobody wanted (I may never have to buy work gloves again).

I am almost certain this vise was a machine shop class project from when Richard was in engineering college in the 1950s.  It has the “feel” of a shop class assignment, certainly far more sophisticated than anything I ever made in high school shop class, and unlike anything else in the garage had his name neatly stamped on the underside.

Ruminating on this little treasure led me to reflect on my own encounters with shop class now fifty years ago.  In high school I took an enigmatic mix of advanced and AP-type classes and shop class.  Though I was theoretically college-bound I crammed as many shop classes as I could into my schedule all the way through high school graduation, much to the dismay of my guidance counselor who wanted me to burnish my academic credentials.  The attitudes on both sides of that fence emerged once again two-and-a-half years later when at the beginning of my senior year of college I met with my advisor and told her I would be leaving college to work full time in an antique restoration shop.  “But Don,” she said with disappointment, “there is no future for you in woodworking.”  She was not completely correct then, and I think there is still a future for me in woodworking.

Young Richard knew his future lay in working with machines whose language he understood perfectly, certainly much more than the language of people.  Though he never spoke of work to his family, his stash of performance reviews from his career indicated how highly he was regarded by his peers and administrative superiors.   And this little vise encapsulated that all.  I will think of him every time I use it.

Farewell Richard, I will see you soon enough on the other side.