Toolboxes: Hidden Treasures and Long Lost Memories

by laurie jane kern on April 27, 2009

My father was a self made engineer.

In High School, he was in the metal/machine shop courses;  it was the ’40’s and there was no money for college.  Right out of High School he joined the Navy as WWII was in full  swing, and became a machinist’s mate. After the war he then got a job for the N.Y. transit authority repairing turnstiles for the subway.

After that, he worked as tech at the first company in the USA to produce printed circuit boards and while he was there, he was awarded several patents. In the 60’s he was a supervisor and manufacturing engineering lead at another company where eventually he became the general manager.

He was a natural born engineer, and I inherited his genes.

One day, he was in the garage putting a transmission in a car he was building. I should say he was trying to put it in, as he was having problems aligning it. I came over and something like – “Lift that end, twist it to the right, insert it, twist it back to left and it should slide in.”  I was told to go away, go inside and didn’t I have some homework to do?  A while later he came in, and told my mom that I had been correct, having never seen a transmission, let alone put one in a car, before. Soon after that, I was going to the factory he ran, and I was telling him how to improve the automated equipment.

My parents did everything in their power to make sure my sister and I could go to college. I went to Case Institute of Technology at Case Western Reserve University and got my B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. I
also earned a M.S. in Manufacturing Management.

Several years after I graduated, I was home and my father asked me for some help with an “engineering” problem he was having.  I sat in his office, while he went to get some coffee, and I made some phone calls
and got him the answers he needed. Little did I know that he was outside his office door, listening to me on the phone and afterward he then went to my mom, and said “she’s really good!” My father never told me this; it was my mom did, years later.

See dad, I did inherit your genes and I too am a natural engineer – I can look at things and just see how they go together.

My father passed away over 22 years ago and I took his machinist tool chest out of the basement a few years later. It was boxed up and shipped to my house.  It has been sitting in my garage all this time. Last weekend, I finally decided to open that tool chest. First I thought that the tool chest would be a great place to store the tools I have recently acquired for my silver work.  I also knew that that in the tool chest were many items I could use as well.

It took 3 days but I did empty it and get it all cleaned up. Isn’t amazing how such little items, when looked at can bring back memories you had not thought about for decades.

I found compasses, dividers, calipers, a micrometer, levels, a swage block, micro files, as well as taps and dies.  Inside was also the tiny ball-peen hammer I played with in the basement, there was also the leather mallet and the dog’s collar and tags.  I also found one of my report cards from elementary school. In the tool box, there was also a part of my father’s Navy service record with the ribbons he was awarded, and a tapa cloth ( from when he was stationed in New Caledonia (

These tools have now been cleaned and are sitting in the toolbox once again, along side my new hammers, pliers, wire cutters, files, bench block and more.

See dad, unfortunatly I inherited more than your genes, but I can use your tools too!

laurie jane kern

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane Walker April 30, 2009 at 9:21 pm

How I envy you for the ability to look at things and just see how they go together! I bet you can ‘see’ how to put things together when you’re designing a new piece in your head or on paper …
c’n I have some of your genes, please, pretty please?

Lynn White April 30, 2009 at 7:38 pm

By the way, what did you use to clean up the old tools?

Lynn White April 30, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Your story made me think of my dad, who passed away 5 years ago. My Dad could fix anything and build anything from scratch. He was a bricklayer by trade. He was obsessed with building and flying RC model airplanes. I used to sit in his workshop with him and watch him build stuff quite frequently when I was a kid. I tried my hand at building model airplanes, but lacked interest and the patience. But I did fly them with my Dad until I got into high school and got distracted by other activities.

A few years ago, I became interested in jewelry making. Because of that, I acquired a tool fetish. I learned to make things with my hands just like my Dad always did. He never got to find that out, and I feel bad about that. I’m sure he would have been proud of my jewelry making skills and the jewelry items I have made.

Anyway, while I was in school learning jewelry making I decided to look around the tools in my Dad’s workshop to see if there was anything I could use for my jewelry. I found some files, a nice heavy vise, a wire bender and a few other things. I remember using these tools while helping my Dad as a kid. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to discover that I am using them again 35-40 years later. I was always a chip off of Dad’s block. I miss him.

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