Tuesday, March 26, 2013

where did Coon St. get its name?

While driving to Fenelon Falls, which I do fairly regularly, I pass through Manilla, a hamlet situated on a lovely, hilly curve in the road. Recently, two questions came to mind about the place? Is the place known for its folders? How did Coon St., one block east of the four corners, get its name?

["Well, once upon a time..."]

I guess the answer to the first question is no. The place appears too small and humble to be the originator of a world-wide industry. I think the answer to the second is quite simple, and I imagine the following is 100 per cent true:

Over a century ago a man in a well-worn shirt and pair of pants walked his two coon dogs down a muddy path passed his neighbour's house and he let his dogs roam free while he stopped to talk with a man a-workin' in a wide, healthy garden.

"How's the cabbages?"


"How's the taters?"

"Good. Youren?"

"Same. All done rakin'. Dogs needed a stretch."

"Looks like they're after sumptin'. Got it treed maybe." (He spits out the side of his mouth, then turns his boot heel on the gob.

"Two coons, I bet. Them been livin' along this path for years. But the dogs can't catch 'em."

"When the municipal fellers straighten this trail and lay some gravel down - make it a street - we should tell 'em to name it after 'em."

"Yup. That'd be a good one." (He gives his hinder parts a good long scratch).

"I better go chase 'em off that tree."


100 per cent true? Surely.

Photo by GH


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old lumber mill, Fenelon Falls

The barn board I purchased in Fenelon Falls is lovely to work with in the shop, and while cutting or sanding it my mind returns to the day I bought it at an old mill - Handley Lumber, a half block from the river that cuts through the center of town.

On the side of the mill appears a large hand-painted mural depicting activities related to the lumbering industry of long ago. And though I'm short (and getting a bit stout) I feel akin to a tall lanky fellow perched upon a floating log.

Perhaps I've been inhaling too much wood dust lately?

Photos by GH


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Friday, March 22, 2013

time for a 'trim day'

Birdhouses - almost complete - are stacked as high as the window and the sun can no longer shine into my shop. It's definitely time to stop building and add final trim.

["They're everywhere!"]

In other words, it's time for a 'trim day'. (Trim = chimney caps, windows, doors, perches, odds and ends, etc.) Then the triplexes will look like a million bucks.

["How about a perch from a salad fork?"]

More to follow, I'm sure.

Photos by GH


Please click here for ready for all the trimmings

'the edge of butt'

Men and women who grow weary at the end of the work day and who use their last ounce of energy to sketch rough plans for the next day often create their own language. They say, I'll remember what I mean.

This happened to me the other day while assembling and stacking log cabin houses high enough to almost blot out the sun coming through the window in my shop. I wanted to modify the next project from the one before it, so I grabbed pen and paper.

["Roof edges can touch the edge of butt"] 

While sketching it became perfectly obvious that roof edges (of an addition to a triplex) can touch the edge of the butt ends of the logs. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

As well, if I want to conserve space - and I do - all I have to do is shorten the butt, i.e., the 'stick out'. Who wouldn't do the very same thing if they were in my position?

["One day, shorter 'stick outs' will be all the rage"]

Shop short hand. Cutting edge, eh?

Photos by gah


Please click here to read 'pile it on'

forging an idea

Under the clock in my workshop are two pieces of ancient metal from barn gates or doors, and another similar piece of metal is also attached to the door - formerly a part of my father's in-town barn - to the shop. I like sets of three and an idea for their future use floated by the other day while I was sanding old barn board.

["Rare, hand forged metal hinges, older than Niagara Falls"]

I began to imagine the three pieces in sturdy frames, hanging in some prominent place. I recalled that a few fine boards from my father's barn were sitting in my storage shed, just a few steps away. I asked myself, frames... can I build decent frames?

I believe I can and will.

The one-off hinge below will likely receive the same lovely treatment... soon.

["Brass from Lamont's shop (now gone), Wortley Village"]

Some of my best ideas float by when my hands are busy, and catch me by surprise.

Photos by GH


Please click here for one more brilliant idea

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

pile it on

There will be busy days ahead in the shop - Thursday is 'trim day - even though the sun can still shine through the window.

["Seventeen in this pile, five more on the floor"]

In my opinion, barn board from the Kawarthas makes a fine roof on the triplex.

More details to follow.

Photos by GH


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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

just a regular guy

I know why my wife doesn't throw these sturdy foil platters - from wherever she gets them - into the recycling bin. She can use them for any number of purposes. For example, while washing it this morning I felt it could be used as a prune pit platter, i.e., to catch pits while one is eating a healthy helping of prunes.

["Is it worth a fortune?"]

But while drying it I wondered, where did she get it?

Did she sneak me a pre-packaged meal last night for supper and I didn't know it?

Does she feel these platters are worth a small fortune? (The name 'Platinum by Novelis 341' appears on the platter and we all know that platinum is a precious metal).

Is she hiding a bag of prunes somewhere in the kitchen? I'd like to have a few with my next meal.

Photo by GH


Do you eat prunes regularly?

Please click here for other questions

"come 'ere, little birdie"

fir logs make a sturdy house.

a square hole makes an inviting entrance.

it says, "come 'ere, little birdie."

photo by gah


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ready for all the trimmings

My workshop shop is small and dusty but highly-organized. I work at the one end farthest from the door and pile things up at the other closest to the window. It works for me.

 ["I sometimes stack 'em to the ceiling"]

To save floor space I've placed my old carpenter's chest upon a small bench, then stack birdhouses - ready for all the trimmings - atop the chest up to the top of the window.

When the stack blots out the sun I have what's called 'a trim day'. I turn scraps into trim and take finished models into the house so the sun can shine into my life once again.

Winter will soon be over and I need some colour.

Photos by GH


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one idea = an industry

It happens with about every third person who takes one of my birdhouses home to their backyard: They ask, how do I attach it to a tree? Or, where should I put it?

["Conversations have led to a new industry"]

So, we talk. I suggest a few ideas and I frequently mention how I placed two upon stands made from fallen tree limbs last year. For free. And some wish they had a tree limb too.

Recently I took out my ever-present notepad and pencil and sketched about 20 examples of birdhouse stands - on limbs, old 2 by 2s - for one, two or three houses. The old lumberman in me came to life and I put down my pencil believing I'd created another industry for my shop.

So, if I'm not making old cheese or comfortable Rietveld chairs this summer I'll be hiking around Thames Park (or elsewhere) and hauling home fallen limbs.

Photos by GH


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a stolen idea

I thumbed through a picture book of Canada at a used bookstore recently and fell in love with a French Canadian barn. I thought, I could live in that beauty. I'd make birdhouses and maple syrup all winter and smelly old cheese and comfortable Reitveld chairs all summer.

Then my mind drifted to what was actually possible. I could make birdhouses that would remind me of old barns.

So I made a few sketches, bought a trunk load of lovely barn board - gray on both sides - and went to work in the shop.

Not a bad first round.

I could live in that second one!

Photos by GH


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re the lifespan of winter beards

Rumour has it Gord's winter beard is on its way out the door in two days - on the first official day of spring.

["The beard may go but winter shirt will surely stay"]

One member of his household will rejoice to see it go, while the other will likely stall because he has grown so attached to it.

Photo by GH


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Monday, March 18, 2013

lots to look at

I was running low on barn board so visited Handley Lumber while in Fenelon Falls recently. Eureka! I spotted 16-ft. planks that were gray on both sides and a man willing to sell them to me in lengths that would fit into my Honda Civic.

["The old mill is still open for business"]

I also found a fading mural on the far side of the mill that depicted scenes from Fenelon Falls past, featuring lumbermen, their activities and river scenes connected to the waterway 100 yards from the mill and where I stood.

["Local history and related murals can be pretty interesting"]

The eyes of one bearded man seemed to follow me as I walked toward the neatly stacked rows of lumber.

["Uncle Louie?"]

I stared back and thought, I do have relatives in the area. I wonder if... ?

["Do you see a resemblance?"]

I went home with a trunkful of classic lumber and found more to look at than first imagined. A very good trip, I say.

Photos by GH


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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Going to work. I like it

Barn board from the Kawarthas is lovely to work with (I brought home six 16-foot slats from Fenelon Falls in the trunk of my Honda Civic last weekend. Ask me how I accomplished that!!), and three more birdhouse frames are ready to be covered with gray slats as soon as I finish this post.

["For a barn birdhouse I first build a box from pine"]

Even though the slats will be a bit fussy to cut and attach I feel good about going to work in the shop. For example, this morning I believe that after I've finished covering five or six boxes, my life (as it relates to assembling barns from Kawartha barn board) will be a lot easier.

["Hmmm. Something's missing"]

Practice makes perfect. At least that's what I say now.

Photos by GH


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Bob Dylan revisited?

My lovely wife, usually ever so patient (especially with me), often wonders aloud when I'll trim my winter beard and longish hair.

A few of my favourite replies follow:

About two more weeks

Three more weeks (if she asks twice in one day)

When I look like Dylan


March 21

When the snow disappears

But to tell the truth, I'm growing attached to it and am reluctant to pull out the clippers.

Photo by GH


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Saturday, March 16, 2013

coming home from work

two nights ago, after a hard day at work in the shop,

["The chimney works"]

I paused on my way to the back door to admire the sunset.

photos by gah


Please click here to read 'i'll get questions'

Friday, March 15, 2013

a real Liberty boat

In my father's Navy memoirs he says, "In 1944 I was stationed in barracks on a piece of land called "The Spit" at Comox on Vancouver Island, B.C. About a half mile of water separated the spit from Comox and to get to ashore we had to be inspected and travel to Comox on a real Liberty boat."

["I must return to the spit to complete my walk through time"]

Before reading his notes in 2010 I believed he'd spent his war years in Europe, in Sicily and Italy. I was half wrong. In 2012 I walked the beaches part way around the spit. Yes, dad had been there all right. I recognized the landscape from his photos. And two 90-year old women I met in Courtenay (only a few miles from Comox) remembered his red hair and that "he liked to liven things up."

photo from Comox library


please click here to read 'souvenirs from a faraway time'

all the way from 'the spit'

while enjoying a trip to British Columbia in April, 2012 I realized I had little room for souvenirs. so I selected items carefully.

["lovely pieces of wood littered the beach at Goose Spit"]

I brought home two pieces of driftwood from 'the spit' near Comox, Vancouver Island. my father, RCNVR 8809, was stationed there for about 20 months during the second world war and I thoughtfully walked - about 70 years later - the same beaches he had as very young man.

photo by gah


please click her to read 'souvenirs from a faraway time'

suck it up

sometimes you don't get to choose.

["my father would catch the drift"]

for example, if you signed up to join the Navy - like my father in 1941 - you wouldn't get to pick what ship to board. you might like the new destroyer out of Halifax. you might get assigned to a dud for a long trip around Africa.

the brass plaque outside my shop door reminds visitors that life doesn't always go the way one desires.

photo by gah


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knock knock

when you visit my workshop, knock before entering.

["Grab the boot. knock a coupla times"]

otherwise, I'll jump when you open the door unannounced, and if I'm using a saw, bad things could happen.

especially to my fingers.

photo by gah


please click here to view 'I'll get questions'

everybody needs...

In my opinion (ever humble), everyone needs a shop, or a place to think, dance to good tunes when the mood strikes.

["in my case it's an old garage"]

In my case the place is a backyard workshop that was once a dirt-floored, 1920s-era, one car garage - barely wide enough for a Studebaker - but now suitable for one Hobbit-like fellow and his tools, birdhouse building supplies and bric-a-brac. Not a bad spot. 

photo by gah


Do you have a place to think?

Please click here for souvenirs from a faraway time

souvenirs from a faraway time

Everyone needs a place to think and to dance to fine music. A cozy place where one can create something from found items and display on sturdy shelves a few items that catch the eye or add meaning to tight surroundings. 

["Everyone needs a quiet place to work"]

In my case the place is a backyard workshop that was once a dirt-floored, 1920s-era, one car garage - barely wide enough for a Studebaker - but now suitable for one Hobbit-like fellow and his tools, birdhouse building supplies and bric-a-brac. Look closely and you'll spy a bicycle seat from a 1951 CCM bicycle, a decoy carved by a great-uncle and a unique door-knocker.

("Knock loudly so I don't startle when you open the door")

Look closer still and you'll notice, here and there, meaningful souvenirs from rare trips to places faraway from my shop door. For example, before one enters - through a door from my father's barn -  two special mementos have been attached to an outer wall and each is framed by lumber that would make my father smile, and remind him of a roaring tale or two.

["A Navy man would know what the plaque means"]

Though my shop is not decked out to resemble a ship, my father would catch the drift of a plaque to the left of his old door. The tiny floor space and tight quarters would remind him of many a ship where he laid his head at night and where he waited for the sound and motion of the waves to put him to sleep.

Above the plaque rests a brass anchor found on one of my travels and it seems the right thing to sit beside his oft-used door. More meaningful still, however, are the bits of wood to which both items are attached. Few would catch the drift without a bit of a story of my own.

Last spring, at about this time, I travelled by train to Vancouver, British Columbia (4,500 miles from the shop door) and then to the small town of Comox on Vancouver Island, among other places. And at Comox I walked the beach part of the way around 'Goose Spit', i.e., a point of land - with a long neck - that was once home to many Navy boys, including my father, during the second world war. 

It is still a military establishment (I was not allowed on the base, but could walk around the edges), but new recruits and assigned staff of the Navy are no longer required to pass muster and board a freshly-built Liberty ship (as seen in the sepia photo above +) to get to Comox for a beer, or to Courtenay (down the road a few miles) for a Saturday night dance or movie. While in Courtenay I met two women in their 90s who remembered boat rides with my dad to Tree Island. (He had access to Navy barges and planned picnics and swims with the local ladies.) "He liked to liven things up," one woman said. 

As well, while quietly walking the beach last April I stopped many times for photos (I think some buildings remain from the war years) and on two occasions I stuffed a small piece of wood into my backpack. I felt they'd be good for something, at least as a souvenir of my trip west, and now they have bits of brass attached to them and adorn the entrance to my shop.

["Doug H. center, on the beach at 'The Spit', 1944 or '45"]

Good little trip, I say. Good bits of wood, I say, from a beach where once roamed my dad in a faraway time. And I recall these things while working in my shop, so... good little shop too, I say.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read time to dance

Thursday, March 14, 2013

vignettes from a world at war (3)

In 1942, in the middle months of WW2, US Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt of Norfolk, Virginia and RCNVR Leading Seaman Gordon Douglas Harrison of Norwich, Ontario joined forces during Operation TORCH, one of the most significant amphibious operations to that date. "Some believed it to be the greatest amphibious gamble since Xerxes crossed the Hellespont in the fifth century B.C." (pg. 31, An Army At Dawn)

Rear Admiral Hewitt, at US President Roosevelt's order, would command the Atlantic Fleet's new Amphibious Force. Leading Seaman Harrison would ferry soldiers and all manner of war material to the shores of North Africa. The two men never met but shouldered their loads without question. More about Hewitt's goals and role follow:

'operation torch'

late that summer came
Roosevelt's decision to seize
North Africa in Operation TORCH.
Two great armadas would carry
more than 100,000 troops to
the invasion beaches.
One fleet would sail 2,800 miles
from Britain to Algeria,
with mostly British ships
ferrying mostly American soldiers.

The other fleet, designated
Task Force 34, was Hewitt's.
He was to sail 4,500 miles
to Morocco from Hampton Roads
and other U.S. ports
with more than 100 American ships
bearing 33,843 American soldiers.

In a message on October 13, General
Eisenhower, the TORCH commander,
had reduced the mission
to twenty-six words:
"The object of the operations
as a whole is to occupy
French Morocco and Algeria with
a view to the earliest possible
subsequent occupation of Tunisia."

The Allies' larger ambition in TORCH
had been spelled out by Roosevelt and Churchill:
"complete control of North Africa
from the Atlantic to the Red Sea."

(pg. 22, An Army At Dawn by R. Atkinson)

When LS Harrison put his shoulder to the wheel he had little or no knowledge of the above details. In fact, he only learned he was destined for North Africa once the British ship he had boarded in Scotland entered the Mediterranean Sea. But once his landing craft had been lowered from the Derwentdale and was freed from a sandbar, he got to work. Some of his notes follow:

'only snipers'

There was little or no resistance,
only snipers, and I kept
behind the bulldozer blade
when they opened up at us.

We were towed off eventually
and landed in another spot,
and once the bulldozer was unloaded
the shuttle service began.
For 'ship to shore' service
we were loaded with
five gallon jerry cans of gasoline.
I worked 92 hours straight
and I ate nothing except
some grapefruit juice I stole.

(pg. 25, "Dad, Well Done")

Dad tells the tale with a bit more detail (e.g., he wasn't alone behind the 'dozer blade) in another spot in his lengthy, informative notes (all made possible by the fact he knew how to duck). More to follow.

Photos by GH


Please click here for another vignette from WW2

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

i'll get questions

I'm sure I'll get a few questions about my latest batch of birdhouses.

["The gray barn board is from the Kawarthas"]

For example:

Why didn't you add a barn board roof to this one?

What birds will use this house?

What does ubiquitous mean?

Why does the body have two layers of wood, not one?

Why are there three pegs in the perch and not just one, or five?

How much ya want?

I'm sure I'll answer as follows:

I thought about using barn board but I had some old pine all ready to go. Small songbirds native to our area including the ubiquitous English sparrow. They're everywhere, or frequently encountered. I built a pine birdhouse first and then covered it with thin slats (i.e., half the thickness) of gray barn board because I thought by doing so I'd get twice the mileage out of the rarer, more expensive barn board... and I will, though it will likely cost me more money this way (I'm still figuring it out). I used three pegs to catch your eye, and it worked. I didn't use five because I wanted to save 40% of my pegs for the next birdhouse and save money at the same time. See... I like saving money in a big way. And little ways too, 'cause I'm like that.

Finally, how much ya got?

Photos by GH 


Please click here to read a 'shop project'

maybe I made two mistakes

I began an earlier post - concerning dancing alone in my workshop - by saying, 'okay, it doesn't happen often, but it does happen.' I successfully completed the 'hippy hippy shake' while listening to Royal Wood yesterday so I guess I should say it happens more regularly than I let on.

Same can be said now for making the odd mistake. It seems I err regularly.

For example, I may have been hoaxed by a Facebook thingy this week, and if that's the case, it's the second time this month I've been duped. All I can say is, I'll try to be more careful, and at least my new rooster ($18 on kijiji) is laying eggs.

["As well, the chicken doesn't look exactly like the picture"]

I also said - while assembling a new birdhouse recently - that I would 'add a slat roof of barn board or cedar'. But after applying a roof of old pine I felt I should have been in less of a hurry to get done and taken the time to use matching gray barn board. Someone I talked too the same day also said the same thing.

[I said, "I will add a slat roof of barn board or cedar"] 

Now, it's not like I won't make another dozen or so now that I've got the hang of it, but I have to resist the urge to use up bits and pieces that I have on hand 'right away' all the time. I mean, I could have used up the bits and pieces later this week or next, because I'm pretty sure I'll be in the shop happily playing with power tools just about every week for the next 30 years.

And that's no mistake.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read 'time to dance'