Grassroots Budd Davisson, August, 1994

There's No Such Thing as Junk

We were driving down Cactus road when I saw it. A nice fresh looking piece of four inch thick foam rubber about the size of a brief case had blown out of a truck earlier. Without thinking, I started to swerve towards the centerline where it lay. I had already glanced into the rear view mirror to clear traffic and made mental plans to slow down, open the door and snag it on the run. I had done it many times before.

Then the more rational part of my brain kicked into gear and a wise voice in the back of my brain rumbled, "What are you doing idiot! You don't have a workshop anymore. Where are you going to put that piece of junk?"

The Voice was right on both scores. I was an idiot and I didn't have a place to put it.

Sometimes I can't help myself. The lure of workshop junk is always ready to make me slow down to grab some piece of discarded treasure and stuff it into my trunk for transport to the workshop.

Right now you're thinking, "What the hell does this have to do with airplanes?"

If you just fly airplanes, it has absolutely nothing to do with them. However, if you build airplanes, you already know it has everything to do with them.

For the quarter of a century before I relocated to the sunny sands of Arizona there had never been a time when I couldn't pad down to the workshop in my stocking feet and whittle on an airplane. Maybe it would be a little sanding on a newly dried dope surface or welding a diagonal in place. The mechanical ability to build things that fly, drive, shoot and just plain look neat had always been there.

The workshop was part of my life. Not part of my house.

And so it is with just about anyone who builds airplanes. For the hard-core airplane builder, it isn't a hobby. It's a disease and the workshop is a wonderfully warm place where mechanical creativity fills every dusty nook and cranny. It seems there is nothing you can't fashion out of one type of material or the other.

First, however, you must have the material, which leads us back to that block of fresh foam orphaned in the middle of Cactus Road.

There is something ingrained in the minds of those who are serious about building things that keeps us forever on the search for stuff that might be of use. Please note the operative word here is "might" be of use. For some unknown reason, many of us can't resist those things that, should they find their way into our workshops, might some day solve some goofy little problem by being the exact piece the jig saw needs.

Who knows, maybe someday I'd need that piece of foam to pad a wing tip during transport or ship a radio out for repair. If I had a radio that is. Or if I had a workshop big enough to house that piece of foam until the appropriate time came to use it.

I had already backed off the gas and was ready to scoop up the foam on the fly before I remembered my workshop now consisted of a converted bedroom in an apartment that wasn't likely to see an airplane. Not a full scale one anyway. That piece of foam would have to wait until I make the move to a new house before I can give it a home.

Old habits die hard. A lot of us are mechanical vultures. Nothing aeronautically edible escapes us or our insatiable need to fill our workshop with stuff we might eventually find a use for.

As I saw the piece of foam disappearing in my rearview mirror I remembered the scene a year or so earlier when I had to move. Actually, "move" is too simplistic a word for what happens when you have to empty out a 3,000 square foot workshop that has been your home for nearly 25 years.

It is amazing how quickly items you had gleefully ferreted away as treasures transform themselves into refuse which in some cases is horribly difficult to get rid of.

I so clearly remember the day I found two yard long sections of railroad rail that had been left behind by a crew salvaging an abandoned spur line. It was all I could do to load them onto the back floor of my VW beetle. It was all the beetle could do to carry them.

Fifteen years later, as I loaded them into the junk truck, I remembered I hadn't touched them once since they came to live under one of the workbenches.

The super-heavy cast iron sign base found in the trash next door to a wedding we were attending looked like it would make a dandy stand for something or other. I just never figured out what.

The "Stay off the Median " sign was laying in the middle of four lanes of traffic, when I stopped and slipped it behind the back seat. It was just too neat to leave laying there.

The four wooden milk crates were spotted scattered down a shallow ditch the same place a rolled up flatbed tarpaulin was found. That tight curve in the road with the big pot hole was always good for a few goodies.

The list goes on. It goes on so long, in fact, it eventually filled several forty foot containers. The stuff seemed so much heavier taking it out than it had going in.

As we speak, the big tools and the incomplete "Pete" replica are hibernating in Clevenger's hangar in North Carolina. But, their time is coming. Eventually they'll make the trek cross country to a new home where they won't have to worry about humidity rusting their innards.

When the big stuff arrives it will be into an empty, never lived in workshop. The workspace will be disgustingly sterile. And incomplete. There will be none of the bits and pieces of stuff stacked in the corners that are so essential to keeping airplane projects moving ahead. When that happens, I'll be back in aeronautical vulture mode and nothing dead will be safe.

So, if you see a guy by the side of the road loading mechanical roadkill in the back of his car, just wave and smile. You'll be looking at a happy man.