Joe Farrer, our shop instructor. He knew it all and he knew it all very well.
I don’t remember what the class was actually called, maybe Model Making?, but at Art Center you had one Day class, all day, once a week. Each Day class was from 9am until 4pm. Yup, this was our job and no one at Art Center had a job outside of school, they couldn’t. At Art Center, there is NO time for anything else, none. The school’s workload did not allow time for part-time work. Art Center was your life, and you had better put your all into it.
Art Center students also did not have a social life. There was no time to go to the movies and no time to catch up with friends outside of school. Any TV viewing had to occur while working on schoolwork with the TV in the background.
If I recall correctly, those who majored in Industrial Design had Shop on Wednesday’s of each week. One large main room on one side of the building that housed the many large industrial machines that we used to create and build models of our designs. Outside the room, across the hall and in the middle portion of the long iconic Craig Elwood designed building, was another room that housed the Vertical Mills. Those things were massive and intimidating. Both of these large rooms were lined with 6-foot (or so) windows that allowed full view into and out of the rooms.
Smoking was not allowed in the building. If it was, no one ever did. Joe and his shop helpers were an exception to that rule as Joe, Bob, and Gus were pretty much always smoking. Weird to even think now that was ok. I guess in Private education you can do just that. That’s right, smoke at will in a room that is filled with students that you are instructing. A room that has flammable materials such as turpentine, solvents, resins, raw wood and such, all within walking distance for our use. Smoking in this environment would never fly in today’s world. My time at Art Center wasn’t really that long ago unless you consider 33 years a long time.
You would often see Joe, deep in instruction, with a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth as he held a student’s model and explained what needed to be done to achieve a small yet important task in model making. The room was always loud. The noise of industrial machines always running. There were band-saws, planers, lathes, table-saws, compressed air hoses, and a lot of student activity.
Joe was a gruff but very kind man. His bark was definitely worse than his bite. He was an ‘old-school’ kind of guy. One that you had utmost respect for and ‘feared’, because you knew you had better pay attention, take notes, ask questions, and understand any explanation the first time. No one wanted to ask Joe how to do something more than once. In retrospect I know he probably didn’t mind if you did, but his command of attention was taken very seriously. If you didn’t ask questions during a group demo, then you had better do whatever you needed to do to figure it out.
For any shop instructor, safety is the number one priority. Think about it, there are various large and dangerous machines around, and most of them running simultaneously. Joe had shown us and instructed the proper method for use of use every machine, every tool. There was no messing around with safety, period. If you needed to clean any debris off of a machine, you did it with the air hose. The work benches didn’t need an air hose for cleaning because you could just brush it off onto the floor when you were finished. Joe had made it very clear from the beginning that if you were to get hurt in any way, go directly to him. Even though liability wasn’t a big issue in those days, and people weren’t looking for an excuse to sue one another, he still was responsible for us in the shop and we respected his instruction.
Joe wasn’t the only shop instructor, there was also Bob. This guy looked like he just rolled out of bed, every day. That was his look…disheveled. A not-too-tall man, he walked with a sway. I don’t think there were any injuries associated with his slow side moving sway, that was just his gait. It actually all fit with his personality and demeanor.
Then there was Gus. Now this guy was often cranky, but very helpful nonetheless. He worked the Crib, the tool check-out room. Everything about the Crib was so well carefully planned and organized. Every student had a set of Chits that were provided to us on Trimester 1 at Art Center. Up until then I had no idea what a chit was, I had never heard the word before. As responsible students, and we most definitely were, we used these chits to check out tools from the tool room. Gus was always there manning the crib window and if you didn’t know what you wanted right away, he would bypass you and go on to the next student. There was no wasting of time. It was somewhat intimidating at first.
Everyone had 5 chits, and so therefore you could only have 5 tools checked out at any one time. Five was a good number and it worked out well for us. You had better not ever come to school without your chits, especially on shop day. No chits, no tools, period.
The chits were actually kind of cool. Provided on a small rectangular key ‘ring’ with a twist bar opening, the chits were made of stamped aluminum with embossed letter-number identification on each. They looked like beat-up military dog-tags. If I recall correctly, I’m quite positive that my chit number was C382.
So there we were one day working in the shop, well into our total of 8 trimesters at Art Center. I don’t remember what I was making but I needed to use the band-saw. Something that I had already used may times during my Art Center days. I was sawing a rather small chunk of wood. Not too small for the band-saw however and I just needed a quick cut.
As always when cutting, sawdust is immediately dispersed on the cutting surface. I didn’t want sawdust on the cutting surface as it could possibly change the angle of my wooden piece, just enough to make the cut off a degree or so. Cutting ‘time corners’ as I was doing at that moment, didn’t provide me with forethought to turn the machine off so that I could hose it off with air. Instead, I lightly brushed the surface with my right hand and this is where I got myself into trouble.
The finger on my right hand, had come into contact with the fast moving blade. It was just the tip, but nonetheless it hurt like a Mother (explicative). Of course my reactions drew my hand away immediately and I turned off the machine. Holding my nicely bleeding finger with my left hand, but trying to not get noticed I walked to Elizabeth and showed her. I was in major pain, and my finger was bleeding…a lot.
I can still remember the look own Elizabeth’s face when she saw the bleeding gash. Elizabeth told me that I had better go to Joe right away, and that surely he would know what to do. All I could think of was that Joe would be upset with me because I was careless and I’d be going to the hospital for stitches.
I was hesitant, but quickly walked over to Joe so that I could let him know what had just occurred. I held out my hand and showed him my throbbing finger admitting that I had just cut it on the band-saw. Joe… with his gruff voice and lit Marlborough cigarette hanging from his lips said, “Aw, just put a band-aid on it!” I still remember the visual of the bouncing cigarette from his lips as he said that. Are you kidding me??, ‘Just put a band-aid on it?!’
OMG, my head was spinning and my eyes grew big with a look of disbelief. Elizabeth’s eyes got even bigger. Ok…, I’ll suck it up and put a band-aid on it. Elizabeth helped me with that task as I could not do it myself. My finger STUNG badly, and it throbbed. After wiping away blood to affix the band-aid you could clearly see a rectangular gash on the tip of my finger, up into the fingernail. Imagine the thickness of the bandsaw blade, 1/16″ perhaps? Well, at least that was the carved out shape into my fingernail. From the Plan view, it looked like the letter ‘u’, but with squared-off corners…use your imagination. Sure the cut was only slightly into my fingernail but think about it…if I could see the profile of the bandsaw blade in the tip of my fingernail, that means the blade had already cut somewhat into the fingertip itself. My head spins now just thinking about it.
I never told my parents about this and was always sure that my finger most likely needed stitching up. After the incident I would wrap it snug for weeks just to help close the gap. There was definitely some nerve damage, as for years I would feel a protruding pain shoot up my entire arm in the stretched out position.
Fortunately the nerve pain eventually dissipated completely. To this day I still have that scar on my finger and it will always remind me of that day in the shop. While the memory of this incident does not conjure up a feeling of ‘Wow, that was fun!’, it does bring a sense of joy to me as I remember my incredible time just being at Art Center.
In hindsight, it is a fun story to tell. The day that gruff old Joe, our shop instructor, told me without hesitation and with his lit cigarette bouncing from his lips as he spoke, “Aw, just put a band-aid on it!”