Thursday, December 21, 2006

Uncle Howard

I thought I'd say a few words about my dear old Uncle Howard. He passed away a few years ago at the age of 90 or so and I wish I had gotten to spend more time with him before he died.

Uncle Howard was my great uncle, my Mom's uncle. He lived in CT and worked at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft for many years in the experimental engine department. Before that he had worked at Chance Vaught in the 1930's, one of the early aviation companies. He had met Amelia Earhart on a few occasions and he knew Igor Sikorsky very well and used to have lunch with him sometimes. In fact he was present at the very first helicopter test flights. Pretty neat stuff.

Anyway, Uncle Howard had a wonderful workshop in a barn next to the little 1830's house in Vernon, CT. I used to love going there as a kid and hanging out in the shop. It was mostly a woodworking shop as I remember it with workbenches covered in shavings and sawdust. Uncle Howard would give me a hand drill and some wood and set me to drilling holes just for fun. Upstairs in the barn there was a loft full of all sorts of junk, antiques and trunks of all descriptions. He had a little office up there where he could go to get away from Aunt Mary and smoke his cigars. On the end wall of the loft he had hung a dart board and I remember standing there many times throwing darts. I used to really love that and still do!

Downstairs he had an experimental car that he had built. The body was entirely of fiberglass and it had a motorcycle engine to power it. I don't think it ever saw much time on the road but it was pretty cool. I remember how he showed me the little pieces of fiberglass on which he was testing coatings. He told me that the first pieces had failed which is why it was important to test on pieces of scrap before committing to the whole thing. That was good advice and I have never forgotten it.

He retired in the late 1970's I think. He and Aunt Mary sold the house in Vernon and moved to a small town in VT. There he set up a very impressive home machine shop and continued to tinker for years. I wish I had been more interested in these things as a young man because Uncle Howard could have passed on so much knowledge to me. Unfortunately I didn't really get into this stuff until after he had declined and by the time I was fully involved with knifemaking Uncle Howard had passed. It's a shame that he never knew how valuable the time spent with him was to me. He gave me a wonderful gift and I'll always cherish it.

3 comments:

spvwolfy said...

Peter:
Your Uncle Howard sounds like he was a wonderful man and very interesting. WOW. That was a wonderful read about him. It must have been really neat to visit him and his shop.
My Grandpa Vaughan had a restaurant in Vernon, CT. a long time ago. It sounds like you have some wonderful memories of him!! You honor him in each gadget you make. Thank you for sharing Uncle Howard with us.

Pat Galea said...

What a nice post. It is amazing how people can influence your young self, without you even realising it at the time.

I have an uncle who had a similar influence on me when I was young, but in the field of electronics. Thankfully, he's still with us, and still experimenting and playing in his retirement.

Have a good Christmas.

Joseph Zagami said...

Wow this story was very moving. Made me realize the people that have spent countless hours with me as a kid. I'm sure it's time they find out how much I appreciate them. Thank you for this.