When I was a kid, we had this huge cedar tree in my front yard. Cedar trees are great, because you can climb super high in them since the branches are spaced out perfectly for an 8-year-olds torso to ﬁt through. In fact, the branches of a cedar tree shoot straight outward, like rungs on a ladder, so that you can nearly run straight up 50 feet into oblivion, or so I thought.
Cedar, being a hardwood, is brittle. So stepping onto a branch too small could mean falling half a dozen rungs downward and catching yourself crossways on a branch about mid back....no bueno. If you're really careless, and I was from time to time, a nice, sharp pencil-thick cedar twig will punch ya right in the kidneys, I've got the scar to prove that happened to me. I remember taking some of my mom's pot-holders from the kitchen, you know, the old type that were handwoven from cut up pantyhose. I would unravel those pot holders and tie one end of the cut pantyhose section from one cedar branch to another, making a spider-web kind of design. I thought it looked neat and was fun to throw my Transformers up against to bounce off of.
One hot summer day, while up in that cedar tree, my father called for me in a quick, stern voice, "Ryan, get over here." Upon my arrival to our garage, I was not surprised to see dad working on the mower deck of our International Harvester yard tractor. You see, it was broken down....again, but this time the old man couldn't reach the busted mower deck belt. It was a hard belt to get to so dad had to ﬁgure some way to raise the tractor up so the deck could be disassembled and ﬁnally be able reach that darn belt. So, using an old rope he found in the corner of the garage, he tossed it over the garage door spring axle (the part of the door mechanism that holds the tightly wound return spring) and proceeded to tie the other end of the rope to the front steel bumper of the tractor.
Yes, this was back when yard tractors had front steel bumpers, usually made from a chunk of angle iron. If you're under 30 and reading this, you may not know what a front bumper would look like on a yard tractor, oh I'm sorry....riding lawn mower.
Anyway, dad did exactly what you're picturing in your head, he lifted the front end simply by putting a heavier counterweight on the other end of the rope, himself. Dad then grabbed a short pipe and hammered a bend into one end.
Using the pipe as a crowbar, he then put enough leverage on the main pulley shaft of the mower deck to give slack to the damaged belt and removed it. When I asked my dad what on earth he was doing with that pipe he just ruined, he said something I have never forgotten to this very day. He turned my way and with sweat burning his eyes from hot sun bouncing off the dry concrete, he said, "Ryan, sometimes you just gotta make your own tools."
I don't know why a statement so simplistic has rung so true in my mind so many times over the past nearly 30 years, but it has.
In his impatience with the heat, the fact that may have been the umpteenth time that belt had busted, and knowing he had to come up with another $12 to replace said belt, I don't think my dad knew what impact his statement made on me. To me, it was like he was saying, "Quit making things so complicated. Here's a problem, here's a solution."
Simple as that.
Though this diehard attitude may have partly been passed down from his father, I can't help but think some of it was learned while in the military. My dad gave 21 years to the US Army/National Guard and served a year ﬁghting in the Vietnam War. So I don't think it's by chance that he has such natural inhibition for survival or better yet, means of solving problems.
Looking back on my life, I see how my dad's problem solving strategy has made me think more simply about things. To this day, whenever I've wanted to buy something or I didn't have enough dough to buy it, I always asked myself if I'd be better off just making whatever it was with my two hands.
When I was 10, I built my ﬁrst vehicle, a 2x4 wood framed, 4-wagon-wheeled cart with a rope for a steering wheel that I achieved over 30 mph ﬂying down the hill we lived at the bottom of.
When I was 14, I took ﬁrst place in my school's science fair since not only did I drop my egg from the highest height without breaking, but then no one there could even throw the 4x4x4" contraption against the brick wall hard enough to crack the shell.
At 16, I began blacksmithing as a hobby, using a wheel barrow and my mom's hair dryer as my ﬁrst forge and fallen tree limbs as a heat source.
On my 20th birthday, I wanted a canoe, but didn't have the scratch to buy one. I spent $9 on a book and $80 on some western red cedar and built my own woodstrip canoe, ﬁberglassing it inside & out.
By 22 years old and well into my college career, I was known for having the largest blacksmith anvil collection in the country. I had scoured the midwest collecting over 800 anvils of all makes ranging in size from 50 to 700 pounds.
Such a 'young punk' having so many anvils didn't set well in the minds of older gents who spent so much time trying to ﬁnd just one anvil for their farm or shop. I was frowned upon by more than my fair share of men who thought having so many anvils was selﬁsh of me and that I was hoarding what was thought of as the icon of American fabrication.
All I knew was that I fell in absolute love with the historical stories those anvils seemed to scream at me. As if they could actually talk. It's weird to me now, thinking about how much passion I had (and probably still have) for anvils.
I learned all about them: The old manufacturing companies that made them, when they were made, and not just what era or spread of years, I could literally tell you what month and year a particular anvil was forged or cast. I learned all the methods of how anvils were made, how many anvils of a particular brand name was produced during the life of the company. I learned what countries, even what cities the anvils were made in.
I loved all anvils, but nothing impressed me more or made as much impact on me as the pride-wrenching, blood-sweat-tear shedding manufacturing companies of our United States of America. I'm telling you the utmost truth when I say QUALITY WAS BORN IN THE USA. Being able to physically stare at over 800 authentic vintage blacksmith anvils gives you some perspective on the comparisons between different quality levels. I owned anvils from many different countries from all over the world. I could literally stand 10 yards, no maybe even 20 yards from an anvil I've never seen before and tell you what brand of anvil it was and guess within 25 pounds of its weight. Someone could blindfold me and could run my hands over a dozen anvils, picking out which ones were built here in the USA and which ones weren't.
I admit it was a sickness. At least, it was an obsession. An obsession that I have grown to know that I've based my ethics of running a business around the pride and quality attentiveness that those early anvil manufacturers had. Ethics that are deﬁned by a real quality and true American craftsmanship.
My dad, he kept it simple. Those old anvil manufacturers, they kept it simple. As for me, I also choose to keep it simple. Throw all the bells & whistles out the window. You will only ﬁnd the necessities here at Anvil. Quality leather craftsmanship that is simple, it is slim and it is salvageable over the many years to come. These are traits that I believe will save and preserve our United States of America.
Don't you know that if something is salvageable, then it is not disposable? Then why would you ever intentionally invest your own hard earned scratch into something you will soon be throwing away?
Take it from me, buy an Anvil.