By Ken Creeger
My father was a tool man. He loved his tools and used them every day in his work and when needed at home. They fit perfectly in his hands and were extensions of his fingers. A talented self-taught mechanic, he could fix nearly anything mechanical, including diagnosing a car’s troubles by simply listening to its engine while running or attempting to start it. Now that he has passed seven years ago, I am still in awe over how few tools he needed for his job and around the house. Just a few basic tools could work on and fix anything.
Born shortly before the Great Depression, at 2 1/2 pounds, he was given a slight chance to survive. He was one of six, the second youngest. The family had little at that time but still managed to thrive. Drafted into WWII, the Army recognized his mechanical talent and assigned him to a tank unit’s maintenance depot. He spent 16 months in France. My father and all of my uncles (14 in total) served during WWII, and all returned home safely. I thank G-d every day that I avoided the Depression and wasn’t forced to serve overseas. I admit I am a softy and would not have survived.
After discharge from the Army, Dad partnered with his oldest brother and opened a gas station/laundromat. Naturally they needed tools to perform repairs and maintain the washers and dryers. This partnership and business lasted until 1968 when urban rioting destroyed many small businesses across the country. During this time, many tools were lost or stolen. Dad and his brother went back a few days after and recovered what they could, locked the doors and never returned.
Back in the ’40s and ’50s, there were few tools to buy for the small business owner. All were hand tools such as basic screw drivers, wrenches, sockets and plyers. Expensive machinery was available for purchase, but the brothers were conservative and referred that work out. Compared to today’s countless options of power tools of every conceivable type, there is just no comparison. I still wonder how Dad did all his work with just the basic tools.
When I worked summers with him, I remember the cars and other machinery were simply made with few options and even fewer complications. Changing spark plugs and a belt or two, checking the fluids and battery, fixing flat tires, adjusting carburetors and timing belts. Of course, we pumped gas at 29.9¢ per gallon!
The basic tools were all we needed. Dad would throw the old toolbox in the trunk of our car in case tools were needed during our annual drive to the shore, as I do today. They were and remain a part of the family.
The screwdrivers were either flat edge or Phillips, large, medium and small. Today the choices of tips and sizes are endless, power assisted or not. Just walk down any tool aisle at a home store and you will quickly understand my point. Cars and appliances today are overly complex, requiring a degree in computer science to work on. After a Sunday dinner we would often take a peek under the hood of my new car in amazement and wonder how they repair cars today.
I’ve since inherited most of Dad’s tools. After giving some away to nephews and my sons, I’ve tried to mix them in with my more modern ones, but they seem to belong in a toolbox all to themselves, from an earlier generation. I could never throw them away since they were made to last a very long time and so they have. Those tools put myself and my two siblings through college and hold many memories. I keep coming back to them, grabbing one over my modern collection when I need to fix a leaky faucet, loose battery connection or dryer vent. At times I even gravitate towards them and wonder how Dad would approach my latest problem. But I can always rest assured that his reliable old tools will keep performing for me and my sons for many years to come.
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