Call Me Late Bloomer
I had some metal shop training as a part of the high-school agriculture program back in the late 70's when I was a kid. Arc welding, gas welding, brazing, cutting, and much more were a part of the larger program which also included plumbing (cutting/threading real pipes), wiring, and carpentry. We did all of this for a grade at 14-15 years of age. No one ever suggested that any one of these shop stations could also be a station in life. They were all simply a part of the self-sufficiency training deemed appropriate for farm boys in those days. I wasn't a true farm-boy, but i found the ag elective to be more interesting than any alternatives.
College sounded like a must-do, but I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living--much less what degree to acquire. I was the first in my family to go to college, the first to have a real "career planning opportunity". I wasted that. Flip of the coin selected "Pre-law" over "Pre-med". So there, all I had to do was graduate and then get a law degree and then make a killing and have plenty of money to do the things I really wanted to do.
So I dicked around in college, eventually got the degree and barely squeaked into law school. Law School was just as hard as they say, where again I dicked around and got the degree-eventually. I then failed the bar exam on the first go 'round. No big deal, lots of folks take it more than once and I didn't have any payments to make.
About this time someone suggested that I had ADD. So I studied up on it. Sure enough. I then went to the shrink and got the diagnosis. We tried different pills for a while. I quickly got bored with the program as I never saw a difference, except for the hassle of going to the doc/pharmacy every thirty days (something to do with the class of the pills and regulations). Just knowing a good bit about the ADD mind helps me deal with it, and explains all those poor grades back in school. It's a constant (small) battle between multi-focus and hyper-focus, in my non-medical opinion. Both have their advantages, the trick is to be aware and to utilize the best one for the task at hand.
Of course I had bicycles as a kid, off and on from age six right up until sixteen when i started driving motor vehicles. Then in college I found out that one of my fraternity brothers was a racer, a few more guys where "serious" cyclists with road-racing bikes. I got a bike and rode with them. Loved it. Learned about a pace line, tucking for descents, LOOK pedals, and also of dying a slow painful death. Not long after that, the fat-tired bikes began to appear at the bike shop. Got one of those and went looking for a place to ride it. Ooooh, double dirty love! That was before any real singletrack trails existed in our area. Driving to Tsali, NC was a trip to Mecca in those days. We hauled ass all over the South for good trails open to bikes back then. But I was distracted (see ADD above) by girls and golf and team sports and boats and sports-car racing back then not to mention fishing and hunting, so cycling was more off than on for a bit.
The bikes were all of metal. And it never clicked. It didn't occur to me that folks made frames (I was distracted you know). It seemed that only big companies in far-away places with big machines and hoards of workers did anything like that-when i gave it any thought at all. If I had had any of that sort of exposure (of any small/soloist shop making frames) at a younger age, things would likely have been much different for me. Granted that I was young and dumb and all that, but I had hitched my rope to the "gonna be a lawyer" wagon and just never gave it (career/life planning) another thought. This will forevermore be somewhat of a regret.
Things have changed. Along about the same time in the early 2000's an SCCA pal was building an aircraft in his garage. He was gas welding a bi-plane from 4130 tubing. It struck a nerve somewhere. I went out and rented an oxy-acetylene setup, for no particular purpose but to "play" with the torch and metal and "make stuff". I started practicing and making random stuff, mostly gas welding. I'm still using that same rig.
I still hadn't put two and two together. I had studied metallurgy and fabrication and fastener specifics from books and racer-guys when working with sports-racers. I had my own cracker-box welder and even a crappy little wire-feed rig. I once spent a week patching up an aluminum john-boat for a friend (with his crappy little wire-feeder) learning as I went, having never welded aluminum before. I dreamed of TIG machines, but never got my hands on one. There was something calling me and I still didn't know it.
I was on/off cycling throughout, but beginning to be more consistently "on". I entered a mountain bike race in 1999. I did my first century in 2001. I had gone from riding aluminum to titanium and was completing the metallic circle with steel. My first steel road bike and mountain bike were also the last off-the-peg bikes I ever rode.
In the year of 2005, sometime after the Engagement and well before the Wedding--it hit me. The proverbial bolt from the blue. I'll never forget it. I was driving down the road by myself. What hit me was the realization that I had what it took to make frames-to get started anyway. I had some of the tools (I've always wrenched everything I've ever owned) I had some cycling knowledge (I had no idea how little at that time) and I had this crazy itch to shape metal it into things.
By this time I had been exposed to the handmade world and knew for a fact that there was a handful of cats making a living at it. Thus rang the death bell for the prospect of me ever taking the bar exam again, which had been a possibility. Surely there was room for one more cat.
To follow ones heart he must first know himself and his heart. When it hit me, I knew I had just begun.
I now wrap my life around the design, fabrication, racing, riding, education, advocacy, history and legacy of the bicycle. I've learned a lot. It's plain to me that I have plenty more to learn. It is a continuous process. But it's really easy with genuine motivation, in contrast to the abstraction of a degree.
I've jumped in. I'm treading water. I'm gasping a little, but am not afraid. The day I open my doors to frame orders I'll be swimming.
Ten-thousand thanks to all the builders, pro and amateur alike, who have contributed to my education in this field. It is a worthy cause. Thanks also to Josh (TT) and the others who have made this place (and others similar) for us on the interweb. And thanks to Don Walker for providing the great wandering annual event I like to call "The Show".
Thanks to Richard and the whole of V/S for letting me play in this sandbox with the big boys.