Dad grew up during the depression – a time when ingenuity was a necessity and few people were concerned about fashion. Government regulations were few and people generally lived life the best way they knew how. Schooling was encouraged, but it wasn’t mandatory. In some ways it was a simpler time, but certainly not easier.
Today, many of their solutions to a problem would be labeled redneck. Money was in short supply, so people used whatever they had available. Back then, it didn’t have to be pretty. The only thing that mattered was if it worked.
I remember Dad telling me how he, as a teenager, made a wind turbine out of scraps so his family could have electricity. He used scrap lumber and old car parts. He read about how light bulbs were made and constructed his own, using a bottle and some fine wire. He taught himself to play the guitar, violin and mandolin.
Why Dad Made
by Linda L. Rigsbee
Please sign the guest book and rate the story. Your comments are always welcome and your information is appreciated, but not required.
During WWII in Okinawa, Dad used the engineer’s machine shop while waiting for orders to be shipped back to the USA after the war. He made a gun that worked, and re-purposed empty shell casings to make a B-17 airplane lamp.
Whenever there was a need, Dad used his creativity to find a solution. He built several tractors using motorcycle parts, scrap metal and things most people might consider junk. I remember him using part of an old discarded water heater as a hood for one. A trip to the dump to get rid of some junk generally resulted in his finding something he could use for another project. His creations didn’t look like junk. In fact, some of them were so popular with our family that they were named, as was the case with this tractor he built and named “Tugger.”
Not all Dad’s ideas panned out, but he never let a mistake become a failure. He learned from it and tried again with an alternate plan. He persevered.
In the 1950’s, he built a house out of concrete blocks in the desert. He remodeled several homes, built a couple of shops and even renovated an old boat, making a cabin cruiser out of it.
When he embarked on something new, whether plumbing, electrical, carpentry or masonry, he learned all he could from books or experienced people. Nothing was too daunting.
Not surprising, when he lost a leg in an industrial accident and had to change careers in his mid 40’s, he didn’t give up – not by a long shot. He learned a new trade - machinist – and he excelled at it.
In Dad’s childhood, it wasn’t uncommon for a farmer to go into town using a wagon or buggy and a horse. Perhaps inspired by memories, between 1984 and 2006, he made several buggies.
In his late 80’s, he invented what he called an octolin - a violin with 8 strings. It doesn’t matter how many people thought of it before him. He was unaware that it had been done. He came up with the idea on his own and he machined some of the parts using a small table saw and lathe.
After triple bypass surgery at age 78, his imagination took a more serious turn. He began thinking about the hereafter. His parents had gone decades without headstones, so his next project was to rectify that issue. Using trial and error, he crafted gravestones for them.
In that same frame of mind, he began his next project. Although he had the assistance of his wife, she admitted to feeling a little weird when he tried it on for size.
Yes, his next project was a casket. So, why did Dad make his own casket? Actually, he didn’t intend it for himself. He built it lovingly for his brother. His last sibling was nearing the end of his life. Mom assisted with the sewing of the casket lining. A somber project, to be sure. I never knew why he decided to build a casket for his brother, but I think it was partly to save money. I often wondered if it was also his way of coming to terms with the inevitable.
As it turned out, transporting the casket after his brother’s sudden death during a visit made purchasing a casket with the insurance money more appealing.
After Mom died, Dad purchased a funeral plan for himself and stored the casket he had made at the funeral home. That must have been one inspiring conversation, because they didn’t charge him anything for storing it.
The day Dad had a stroke, he was working on his car, trying to figure out why the motor on the seat wouldn’t work. At 90, he was still active and involved. When Dad died, two weeks after his 91st birthday, he was buried in the casket he made. A fitting tribute to a man who wasn’t afraid of being perceived as different.
Dad’s formal education had ended at the 6th grade, but he never stopped exploring. He learned by watching, doing and, rarely, in a trade school. He was a good welder, mechanic, carpenter, machinist and many more things. He loved a challenge. On more than one occasion, I heard him say that he’d rather make something than buy it.
Dad came from a generation where you didn’t throw things away. You fixed them, re-purposed them or used the parts to fix something else. It was a time when a handmade gift was valued more than one purchased at a store. I suppose that is why he decided to make a casket.