Dumpster Diving (Part One)
If you draw a line from Bethlehem to Blair Academy, it takes you right through the town of Nazareth. The Martin Guitar Company had a billboard on Route 22 advertising their daily factory tours and one day I stopped in on my way back to Blairstown. As someone interested in woodworking and music, I was amazed by the tour and remember thinking that the factory was a woodworker’s dream.
After the tour, I asked the receptionist whether there were any dumpsters with scrap wood. She said there were and directed me around to the side of the building. On that particular day, both dumpsters were overflowing with sizeable blocks of mahogany and thinner cutoffs of rosewood, ebony and spruce. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I pulled my car around to the side and filled the back seat and the trunk with wood.
The off-fall was perfect for my woodworking course at Blair. I had never worked with rosewood or mahogany and it was certainly a luxury. I returned to the dumpster every few weeks and gradually figured out that the garbage trucks came on Tuesdays and Fridays, so Monday and Thursday afternoons were optimum days for dumpstering.
I amassed quite a stack of exotic wood, so much so that I began to be selective in taking only larger or more attractively grained pieces. There was enough mahogany veneer to experiment with some simple musical instruments. I built a few mountain dulcimers and bazookie-esque mando-guitars. I stocked the woodshop at Blair and when that was full, I stocked my father’s workshop in Bethlehem to the gills. Naturally whenever I returned home, I always visited Martin to replenish my teaching supplies.
Dumpster Diving (Part Two)
Back in Bethlehem, my passion for woodworking was peaking. My wooden creations were selling and I was getting some nice commissions for larger pieces like end tables, coffee tables and specialty shelves. Of course, I always managed to underprice these creations so that the customer would have no grounds for ever being disappointed.
My fascination with wood turning led to the purchase of a good quality lathe. I had found an obscure architectural lumber company on the outside of town that had spectacular planks of Ponderosa and sugar pine in thicknesses up to 4”. In exchange for one of my turned bowls, they saved appropriately sized cutoffs for me that were perfect for goblets and cannisters.
Regular visits to the Martin dumpster were yielding materials that were ideal for jewelry boxes and stack laminated turnings. The workers near the dumpster door started to recognize me. I was startled one day when one of the workers came outside while I was picking through the rosewood scraps. His name was Harvey Samuels. He was the assistant foreman of the machine room where all the raw wood was cut into parts. He spoke in a very heavy Pennsylvania Dutch accent.
“I saved some stuff for ya,” said Harvey, and he handed out a sizeable stack of bookmatched spruce soundboards that had been rejected for small knots and imperfections. I graciously accepted and thanked him.
“What ah ya doo with dis stuff anyhow?”
I had a couple of odd instruments in the car. I reached in and grabbed a mando-guitar with a rosewood top and a strange drone banjo with a doorknob tuning machine on the headstock for lead runs. Harvey took these inside and paraded them around to the workers. Mr. Martin, who must have been eighty at the time, was walking around the plant and Harvey showed him the “Boak-struments.”
“That fellow ought to apply for a job,” said C.F.
After several minutes had passed, Harvey brought my instruments back to the dumpster platform and handed them down.
“The old man says you should apply for a job.” He pronounced job with a “ch” in front, like “chob.”
I was definitely not dressed for job hunting. In fact, my bluejeans were torn and covered with sawdust from the dumpster. My hair was long and somewhat unruly. My flannel shirt was faded and I needed a shave, but Harvey’s encouraging words prompted me to check job availability with the receptionist. I drove around to the front of the building, brushed myself off, and walked in.
”Are there any job openings?” I smiled.
The receptionist was not amused. In a slightly aloof tone she replied: “We have one opening but it’s very specific. I doubt that you would be qualified.”
“What’s the position?” I tried to cancel her snottiness with a firm and confident reply.
“Well, it’s a design drafting position. We were actually looking for a college student with some engineering or drafting background.” She expected that this would end the conversation.
“I’ve been teaching drafting for three years. In fact, I have some examples of my ink on mylar work in the car. That’s a specialty of mine.” Disappointment was showing on her face. She rose to the next level of her defensiveness.
“Well, we’re actually looking for someone with some substantial woodworking background.” She picked up her emery board and smoothed out a rough edge on her thumbnail.
“Actually, I’ve been an avid woodworker since I was a boy. I’ve been teaching woodworking, too, and I’ve got some jewelry boxes and lathe turnings in the car. Should I bring them in?”
She was livid. She gave it one last shot. “You know, it really will be necessary for any applicant to have a working knowledge of musical instrument making, and a familiarity with the materials we use.”
Ah-hah! She was playing right into my hands. “I’ve been making musical instruments and teaching instrument making for several years. I have a few instruments in the car that I made from your scraps. Harvey at the back door told me that Mr. Martin suggested that I apply for a ‘chob.’” I was pushing my luck, but it was worth my strongest push.
“All right. Bring your things in. I’ll see whether Personnel can send someone up front to see you.
Several moments later, I was seated at a table with Ken Murdock, the Assistant Personnel Manager. With pride and excitement, I showed him my draftings, some inlaid jewelry boxes, a few goblets, and three instruments. He was quite impressed.
“Can you start tomorrow? He was convinced.
“No. I‘m going to see Bob Dylan tomorrow in Philadelphia, but I can come in on Wednesday.” His eyes rolled, but he swallowed his better judgement and handed me the necessary employment forms. I filled them out, packed my wares and headed toward the door. As I passed the receptionist, she strained a fake smile.
“I’ll see you on Wednesday!” I waved.
Her jaw dropped in disbelief. She really did turn out to be nicer than she had seemed. Her name was Rita. She greeted me upon my arrival two days later. She was pleased to see that I had better clothes and was capable of bathing. We soon became friends.