Gramps: Machinist and woodworker – #atozchallenge

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G is for Gramps: Machinist and woodworker. Seventh of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

My maternal grandfather Antonio W. Laurence was a jack of all trades. Known as Tony to his peers,  he was Gramps to me and lived  with us on the farm when I was little.

Gramps was born in Gloversville, N.Y.  He was the son of Italian immigrant Peter Di Lorenzo (who anglicized his name to Laurence) and Mary “Mamie” Curcio, a first-generation Italian American who we called Little Grandma.

When Gramps, 48,  decided to move to Altamont — about an hour away by car — Little Grandma was beside herself.

“She cried and hugged him and carried on like he was never coming back,” Dad told me. Yet my grandparents were ready for a bold, new step.

Gramps and me in Gloversville, N.Y., shortly before we moved to Whispering Chimneys. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Their daughters  (my mom and Aunt Rita) were grown, and they were new grandparents. So off to Altamont they went with my mom, dad and me.

Gramps’s shop in the barn

My mom and grandmother were in charge of the house at Whispering Chimneys — but the barn was Gramps’s domain. And he wasted no time setting up shop there.

Gramps was a skilled machinist who had studied auto mechanics in Detroit. He was also a veteran of my great grandfather Peter’s garage and auto parts business. So it wasn’t long before Gramps had his own business going at the farm.

You name it, he’d make it and sell it. He chopped cabs off of old trucks and turned the beds into horse trailers to sell to local farmers. He made folding wooden log holders for fireplaces. At one point he even covered the side of the barn with hand crafted birdhouses.

Becoming handy

The barn at Whispering Chimneys. Gramps used the barn at the left for his shop, adding windows and filling it with tools and equipment for his home-based business. That’s probably his pickup truck parked outside. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Gramps’s shop was a fabulous place for a young girl to become handy — and once I was old enough, I loved hanging out there.

The atmosphere was so different from inside our house — and fostered my lifelong love of hardware stores.

His long workbench was covered with tools. And when I got my hands dirty I’d race to dip them into the pungent, squishy hand cleaner Gramps kept in a tin — then wash them off with pebbly pumice soap. A far cry from the olive oil soap my grandmother preferred.

Gramps also had a gigantic tool-and-die machine for cutting and shaving metal to size — so there was always a shallow pan of oil filled with curly, silver metal shavings. And one time he cut a small round disk, drilled a hole in it and hammered in my name so I could wear it as a pendant.

Household ingenuity

Gramps also applied his ingenuity to household repairs and improvements to keep the family safe. One of his innovations was a bell cord across the driveway — like the ones in filling stations — so a bell would ring in the house to alert us when a car drove up.

Best of all, Gramps built us children a fabulous swing set from scratch, joining heavy pipes together and cementing the feet into the ground so it couldn’t tip over. You could swing and swing and that set would never budge — giving us a safe birds-eye view of the surrounding countryside.

Up next: Hollyhocks and botanical delights. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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8 thoughts on “Gramps: Machinist and woodworker – #atozchallenge”

  1. I’ve always been in awe of people who can just make things. Like dismantling a truck to make a trailer. Wonderful. I used to love poking around the tool shed we had when I was a kid. To have a whole barn would have been great fun. Your grandfather sounds like an amazing guy.

  2. He must have been highly valued in the community with his ability to adapt and create new vehicles from old. Good on Gramps for letting you get involved. How clever to construct a bell across the yard. Do you still have the disc with engraved name? Growing up with those who were handy certainly gives one an advantage in life, I still come across people who have no idea how to do practical tasks.

    1. Alas, I have lost the pendant. But I’m forever grateful to him for giving me the run of his shop. I still have one of his toolboxes and some of his old tools, which I break out for household repairs — it even still has that barn-shop smell when I open it!

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