And George Said . . .

I’d been unloading for about two hours. The truckload of kiln-dried, Russian redwood was some of the most beautiful pine I had ever seen. Sixteen footers of knot-free wood in sections 8″ wide and 3-4″ wide. These sections and lengths were generally too long and heavy for a boy my age and weight to handle back in 1966. It wasn’t just the weight though, there was no forklift in the company and the wood had to be lifted off, carried around a tight corner too sharp for the turn and then skidded and stacked neatly under the lean-to roof where our wood supplies were kept until made into doors and window frames. I recall that as soon as the tarps were off the load, it began to rain. The foreman came out, Jack Collins, and shouted, “I don’t want that wood to get wet, so get a move on.” There was of course no way we could keep the wood dry but he felt he needed to encourage us.

My first session of carrying and stacking this morning was with another apprentice named Les. Les was bigger and stronger than me and had been told to help me unload. After the first two hours, Les was released for another task on the roof with a bucket of pitch to repair holes in the asbestos–not the best forward planning in the world. Then came Kieth to join me. He was mad! By mad I mean angry. He did not want to be there and especially with a boy half his weight and size carrying wood awkwardly in the pouring rain. By the time he came out I was fairly contented; resigned to the reality that I was going to be doing this for another couple of hours. I could tell by Kieth’s body language and a wide range of foul-mouthed expletives that we were not about to have fun.

There is a protocol between two carpenters carrying long, wide and heavy planks of wood that seems always to be well established early on in the stack whereby an unspoken agreement establishes a pattern of work. Even I knew that, even at my tender age, because George had shown me. Working alongside George was like poetry. Every move he made was economy of motion; he never missed a second where his movements were not a hundred percent effective. I doubt that I have worked with a more efficient person in my 57 years of working. Here is the system. Usually, the stacks on trucks or needing pickup are slightly uneven in length and one end or the other of the next board overhangs by a small amount. This overhang determines who picks up first. Whosever end is overhanging even by a minuscule amount takes the end, lifts the board and then twists the board so that the other carrier at the other end can slip his fingers in the gap and more readily access the wood to grab and lift his end. Together they shoulder the plank to the same shoulder, left or right, depending on which side of the stack you are on and which direction you will take it. A rhythm develops according to the ease of both men and this makes the work go more steadily.

On long unloadings by hand and without a forklift, the work gets sore on the shoulders and sometimes results in grazed patches somewhere under the shirt. My shoulder was indeed very sore this day, bleeding in fact. I was boney and without much meat or muscle on me. On shorter runs, we often joked with one another by twisting the board opposite to the one we had established so that the opposite end lifted the opposite way and the other person didn’t know which way to put which hand. He would look up and laugh and you would both laugh together. Other times you might quickly drop the opening you’d created with the twist and just miss the fingertips of the other carrier. It’s surprising how many tricky maneuvers you can develop just carrying planks of wood. In cases such as these, both parties knew this was done more to break up the monotony of lifting, carrying and stacking and never for meanness. It was always for fun most of the time and though one party or the other might go a bit too far now and again, we always enjoyed the work better.

At first, Kieth and I carried the wood just fine. After a while, I could feel myself being pushed by the lengths we were carrying. It was subtle pressure to start and I didn’t complain. I was the one negotiating the sharp turns first and the long planks would catch the corner brickwork and scar the corners. Shortly after, Kieth used the plank as a lever against me by disallowing his end to move out. That then changed to an active pushing opposite to the way it needed to go. I started to feel more and more irritated and tried to reason with Kieth. At first, I thought, ‘Oh, good. He listened.’

After a short while, I noticed that he did all of the twisting to start each plank and that the twists were always opposite to my expectations or that he would suddenly change direction. Every pickup was awkward and taken to the wrong shoulder. Looking through the window was George. I hadn’t realised this until he came out. “Okay Paul, you lucky lad, you get a half-hour break now.” I dashed off to the kettle, made a cup of tea, and sat under the lean-to roof as they worked. George, every bit the equal of Kieth in size and stature and then some, obligingly lifted his end of the planks with ease and worked it around the corners unhindered. After the first few planks, he began using the same tactics Kieth had been using. Odd twists, stubborn corners, leverage the wrong way. Eventually, Kieth asked of George, “Hey, what’s going on?”

George answered. “We can work together or we can work separately. We can take advantage or we can advantage others. When we oppose those we are working with, it takes on a different meaning”

Keith answered, “C’mon, George. It was just a joke!”

George was quick thinking. “Taking out our frustrations on those who are younger, weaker and often unable to understand becomes indefensible, Kieth! How come you are no longer twisting and turning and flipping the boards a thousand different ways all of a sudden?” I just wanted you to revisit when someone didn’t like you as a boy, as a reminder.

Kieth still curled his lip a little and turned to the planks to start again. George went to lift his end and presented it so Kieth could take hold in a deliberate, positive way and continued to help Kieth for another 20 minutes before he called me back to task. Kieth had become steadily more amenable to me and we finished off the work working together and in half the time with no more trapped fingers.

. . .later, back at the bench, “I want you to always remember that there is a perverse nature to all men when they allow themselves to become frustrated. This nature always takes itself out on someone who does not, cannot or doesn’t want to retaliate. You did well not to retaliate, Paul. Kieth can indeed twist a plank a thousand different ways as can we all. We have a decision to make when such times come up. We can always be a solution or we can work as enemies. Solutions always work best!”

I thanked George and we moved on. Kieth never did such things again.

Moral lesson: It’s often not about becoming like those that oppose you but sometimes a demonstration speaks a thousand words. Working together unites to resolve all opposition and becomes the solution to difficult situations in life.

30 thoughts on “And George Said . . .”

      1. Ultimately it is. There is always the goal of representing their constituents within the constraints of reality.

  1. Paul, still waiting for the book on you and George, will be first in line to buy it. Love these stories.
    H Richard Kuhns MD

    1. Agreed. But a full autobiography would be fascinating. There’s so much I want to find out about Paul’s fascinating life.

  2. That’s a great moral to the lesson of the story Paul. My son is much the same way as you were. He has his Mother’s good, kind hearted side to him. And when in situations like that he is non confrontational and just keeps his head down and carries on.

    My wife and are complete opposite personality’s in terms of aggressiveness and speaking out. Which complements our relationship at times and other times fragments it. What’s that saying opposites attract.

    But it’s the 1 thing that bothers me so much about our boy is that if he is being bullied or taken advtg of it’s not in his nature to confront it.

    He is 13. 7th grade in school. Small little guy. Only weighs about 67-70 pounds. But per weight to strength ratio strong and healthy. He is an extremely fast runner and quick and nimble.

    My point in mentioning my son is, that what strikes me most about this story is if George hadn’t been there looking out for you, what would Keith have done. Continue to demise your work and make it more difficult than it already was is my assumption. Who knows sometimes things/situations have a way of working it out for themselves. He could have got hurt, someone else could have relieved you for another task. I don’t know. But it’s those that don’t have somebody watching over them or their to help protect their dignity that I compare with my son. Or anyone for that matter. It’s a shame because those that are not strong enough to persevere on there own or change the situation of there own doing sometimes it ends up shaping there self esteem for the rest of their lives. All because of someone else was miserable with their own life and took it out on them.

    I’m going to have him read this life story of yours when he gets home from school today and see what he has to say about it. I think he’ll praise George, as do I and probly everyone else that reads this. And I know when I ask him, ok but what if George wasn’t there looking out for Paul? I know what he’ll say and that is, “oh well I would have said something to the guy (Keith) but I know he wouldn’t.

    1. Sorry Paul I need to rephrase that, in no way was I implying you were not strong enough to persevere on your own. In no way did I get the impression from your story that you were not up to task or were going to quit the job at hand. Much like my son is. He does, keep going when things get tough. But what I meant was, in no way should you have been subjugated to what Keith or anyone else you would have been working with was dishing out on you. And I would bet you would have continued and finished the task at hand, but the Keith was acting you could have got hurt but more importantly in my opinion, if George hadn’t intervened your self esteem might have had been beat down.

      My best,


  3. I do enjoy all the things that are learned in this blog, and as the years fly by what has been learned will keep fueling my progress in woodworking. I would also like to acknowledge that my grammatical skills have very little fuel, but it is apparent to me that there is much to be learned from the writing abilities of Paul too. I find myself examining some of the sentence structure in the blogs and it has helped me to think a little more about my grammer. I know it seem odd to talk about improving one’s ability to lay down words while reading a blog about the craft of wood. I did learn though, from this post how to unload wood. I have a question, when carrying a ladder with someone is it easier or harder if each person is on the opposite side?

    1. It is harder. It doesn’t work well at all because the tiltability is different so it will be awkward for the weaker of the two or awkward for both if equally matched.

      1. I always found it far easier to carry a ladder on my own,,,, I could lift a 4M triple off my van roof and carry it easy… rest against a wall and push up to extend but at a certain height my mate would stand behind and push it off the wall while I climbed and push up further…….when up he would stand on the bottom I would climb to the top and bounce along the wall to reach a bit further to a facia or soffit.
        He being left handed and I’m right we managed to reach further……happy days

  4. Paul,

    My workmate and I evolved a verbal sound rhythm for such jobs in the first half hour. For safety, timing, and effectiveness. It is common to do so as i discovered later when learning about work songs; be they crop harvesting, sea shantys, or other.

    It may be that making the work go easier and faster is helped by singing.

    For grammar, reading selections in school from the 1950s to the 1990s replaced most all pre1940 selections with more modern ones. Sentence complexity became simplified in the 1950s and has been made easier since then. The reading difficulty has been lowered too since 1950. I improved grammar, structure and complexity in my own writing by reading a large number of freely available public domain short stories from before 1930.

    Keep the good things coming; I took your suggestion and bought 26 feet x 3 inch x 240 grit heavy cloth wet/dry sandpaper for sharpening. Add liquid, 50 passes each direction, wipe paper with hand to remove slurry, now its maybe 400 or higher grit. 50 more passes on cloth mainly then Strop on leather 50 passes. That’s USD 30 cents for one foot of sandpaper and about $2 cut out of a $10 leather welders apron for the strop.

  5. Great post. I spent many a day unloading lumber with my brothers at my Dad’s cabinet shop. I hope we lived up to George’s example while doing the work. I appreciate the life lessons you bring to your woodworking!

  6. Well written Paul. (BTW what I would do for a bit of decent Redwood without knots these days, seems impossible to find any!)

  7. when i trained as a furniture maker many years ago, like paul, i was very lucky my gaffer was a meticulous man, with a great patience who really enjoyed passing on his knowledge. he understood that when i screwed up, i was the first to criticise myself. so he just said “lesson learned, now lets do it right”.

  8. While I didn’t unload lumber, I did load, haul, and put the hay in the barn (that was back when the bales were rectangular, and weighed only about 65 lbs). I was also taught by both of my granddads, who were taught by their fathers and grandfathers. My dad was successful in trying another career, but eventually was led back into what he knew best.

    I thoroughly enjoy the articles you write. They help point out how we can all be more efficient in all we do without sacrificing our honor or humanity, allowing more time to enjoy life. I’ve come to appreciate this even more over the last few years. I’ve also made the switch from mostly power tools to mostly hand tools.

    1. As a 6 year old I found those bales heavy, maybe very heavy and was unable to lift them onto the back of the truck but I could square them up for the “grown ups” to make it easier for them to pick up. That green string they used was not kind to my little hands and that may be why I still have small hands 60 years later. 🙁

  9. Hi Paul
    I have unloaded many truck of timber by hand. Some 9’x 4′ and you had to work in harmony other wise you could end up with serious injury. Unloading in the rain reminds me o a place were i worked the timber truck all ways seem to come at lunch time just as you were about to tuck in to your sandwich and had to be unloaded strait away that was lunch break over.

  10. How fortunate that you landed up with George! You might not have turned out half so well if you had not had his guidance.

  11. We played the same games when I was young. I remember once we had to stack 8/4 boards on a landing a flight up, one guy walking backwards up the stairs and the other following behind. After unloading half the truck the other fellow was getting pretty tired in the legs and we stopped for a minute. He commented I looked fresher.
    I said” there’s a secret to doing this”.
    He asked whether it was and I told Hin “make the other guy walk backwards” and laughed.

    Then I took my turn walking backwards.

  12. Heather Gillaspy

    I have an unfinished antique dough bowl that I want to turn into a sink. I got it in pretty rough shape and had to fill in some cracks with some Durham’s water putty. After sanding the water putty I applied a Minwax tongue oil finish, which made the water putty marks look terrible. Am I able to apply an oil based stain to the antique dough bowl?

    1. I see no reason why not. Is the sink literally to have water flowing into and out of it? If so, it seems that from here you will need to line the bowl with fibreglass and then build up layers of resin. This will make it waterproof and durable.

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