I would like to thank Richard Sachs and Velocipede Salon for the opportunity to be Smoked Out. Those previously Smoked Out I have long admired from afar. To be included in this list is quite the honor. So from myself to all: a sincere thank you.
I spent my youth in my home town of East Greenville, Pennsylvania. A curiosity to draw and build were fueled by my mother and fathers encouragement. Bicycles have been part of my life for as long as I can recall. From the first pedal stroke to the first full trip around the block left me with that all too addictive taste of freedom. To strike out on your own path, choose your direction and throw caution to the wind made a lasting impression on me that I have carried throughout my life.
My mothers father passed away when I was quite young. I have discovered we shared many similarities and skill-sets. He was a union welder and later opened his own fabrication business: “Superior Welding” in Emmaus, PA. The connected garage of my Grandmom’s home was really his tool storage. Big wrenches, arc welding machines, tig welding machines, industrial drills, strong boxes, air compressors, die grinders, files. I’d sneak in there during family get togethers and just pour over these well used tools as a kid and teen (some of which are now in my own shop). I’d put on his gloves and welding helmets and practice flipping the lid up and down. My only physical connection to the grandfather I had lost, but come to know and understand through shared work.
I was confused coming out of high school as to what that next step should be and settled on the Pennsylvania State University as it offered a wide array of disciplines. That first week was an eye opener. The question of: “what in the hell am I doing here” popped into my head on a daily basis. Luck would have it, PSU had an arts department. On a whim I signed up for “Introductory to Light Metals”. That first day of watching my professor work his skill with a torch, explain the importance of methodology, and watch the craft take shape instantly set a deep hook.
I discovered that the metal/machine shop across from our studio’s connected with the sculpture department had TIG welding machines with free instruction if you asked the tech nicely. I was taken through the steps of Arc and Mig but insisted that the goal was to be shown Tig. A turning point and discovery. Brazing and soldering are one thing, but making two materials one was something all together different and appealing to my sensibilities. Watching the molten pool, feeling the heat, hearing the arc. The process demanded my full attention and focus. I was engaged with the work fully. Hands, feet, body, mind.
I also noticed they had a small tool room lathe. Again, I inquired with the tech for permission and some lessons and he kindly obliged. This set off a frenzy of turning 6061 aluminum into bicycle hubs. This also set me off to the Aerospace Research Lab just off campus to inquire with the Mechanical Engineering Dept. regarding their machine shops. They did a lot of government research work (torpedos) and I had access to master machinists who did not mind answering any and all questions. They showed me how to grind my own tool bits, gave me tips and tricks and let me pick through their scrap bins. This resource was amazing.
Which brings me to a turning point: While researching construction techniques, I came upon a jeweler, Peter Skubic, with a series of pins and broaches entirely crafted of stainless steel and held together in tension with watch pins. Very industrial but very detailed and intricate. Beside his name it stated “Jeweler / Industrial Designer”. Turning the pages sketches emerged that were not jewelery but all sorts of design sketches and renderings. I turned that campus upside down trying to figure out what “Industrial Design” was. With my access to the Aerospace Research Lab as well as the Mechanical Engineering Dept., they kindly sat down with me and told me about the profession which was completely unknown to me. When I inquired with my professor (Leslie Leupp) where I may find out more or get said training, he instantly answered: RISD. A transfer and a whole new degree was not in my chips but that 4 letter acronym stuck with me the rest of my junior and senior year. All this while, I was riding my mountain bike to a near religious pitch.
My junior and senior year I was an apprentice at a local jewelery shop down town in State College (Aurum Goldsmiths). My senior summer was spent in State College and I sent out over 250 resume’s to anyone and everyone who had industrial design jobs listed. The best response was from Fox Racing Shox that went something to the tune of: “You have one of the most interesting backgrounds we have seen to date, but we wouldn’t know what to do with you.” With the apprenticeship ending, and no remaining irons in the fire I returned home for the fall to regroup, get a job in a bike shop as a wrench and perhaps go see what this Rhode Island School of Design was all about.
Returning home was a shock to the system and that is a bit of an understatement. I went from holding a torch in one hand and building and anodizing my own bicycle hubs in another to a 9am-9pm bike wrench job. There had to be more. Throwing caution to the wind, I ventured to Rhode Island for an orientation weekend to visit the Industrial Design Department. I was blown away. This was where someone could get some work done and make personal discoveries. I put my portfolio together, was accepted and that fall attended a transfer program that then led to 3 years of undergraduate work.
Let’s take a step backward for a minute: The whole time this “other” adventure was happening, I ran into the graphic designer for Bicycling Magazine while out for a ride on my day off from the bike shop. We got to talking and he offered to set up an interview. I got a job as his intern and helped out with the graphic design (which discovered I had a knack for) but right around this same time I am accepted to go back to school to get the degree and possibly the job I was looking for. The dilemma: bike magazine job on one end, with schwag, helping out with photo shoots, graphic design, rides over lunch and a possible career, or more school, intensive studies, debt and to get the training I wanted to just maybe become a product designer. Thankfully, everyone at Rodale Press and Bicycling Magazine were super supportive. I recall my boss Chris taking me aside stating: “get out of here.”
To be continued -