The Farfan 500
And other Carpenter Capers

My friend Dave and I hung out together for many years and did carpentry together for over ten. We went through good times and bad and shared many experiences that created a strong bond. Dave hung up his Estwing for the last time and left us in 2012. This piece was something I wrote several years earlier for his fiftieth birthday.

Driving with Davie

Of all the jobs that Dave and I worked on together, we hardly ever worked anywhere that was any less than a forty-minute drive away. Evidently word-of-mouth doesn't travel much farther than that. Consequently Dave and I spent many hours cooped up together in one or another truck cab, including my old '68 red Ford pick-up truck, which Dave dubbed "the dancing bear" due to it's tendency to go down the road at about a 5 degree angle.

One of our favorite past times was keeping our eyes peeled for exceptionally ugly architecture, which we would promptly level with the imaginary bazooka that we always kept handy.

In all of our travels we never failed to stop at each and every hardware store and lumber yard in our path, always on the pretext of picking up some crucial building materials, but really just to pore through the tool department. "Hey, look at this, a folding thing-a-ma-bob with a solid brass wing-nut! Gotta have one!" In the end, most carpenters give up the trade because their tool boxes become too heavy to lift.

On the road or on the job, Dave would frequently burst into song. "Don't Go Bustin' My Pine" went one of Dave's perennial favorites. Nearly all of Dave's ditties made references to white pine and/or cotton panties. I could never quite figure out the connection, but the association became deeply ingrained in my brain through such frequent exposure.

Cab conversations frequently revolved around Dave and I lamenting about either his expenses or my schedule. Considering that "time is money", I think this just pointed up the amazingly complementary nature of the relationship that Dave and I enjoyed over the years.

When a client is watching

You know those signs that hang in garages? The ones that read "Labor, $30 per hour, $60 if you watch"? Well, carpenters aren't so wild about being watched either - I mean, it cramps our style, man!

The true measure of a carpenter can be gauged by how he handles himself under the cold gaze of a demanding client. I remember such an occasion - the day Dave received the Bronze Estwing for level- headedness under fire.

It was at the beginning of a new job - a big, rambling house for Dr. Harry Farfan down on Lake Memphremagog in Cedarville. The terrain was sloped and punctuated with outcroppings of rock even after the excavators had left. I'd set up some batter boards and we'd already shot most of our elevations when who should show up but old man Farfan himself. Just our luck!

Dr. Farfan was a gray, hulking figure whose eyes were always smoldering and whose tongue was always ready to lash out at bystanders perceived as indolent, impudent, or incompetent (or all of the above).

So there we were, staked out like tomatoes in the sun beneath Harry Farfan's brooding stare, our plans to knock off a little early dashed to smithereens.

Worst of all, at that very moment we had nothing in particular planned to at least make ourselves look busy for the benefit of Farfan. What to do? What to do?

Dave motions me back over to the corner of the excavation where I'd just been. I head on over and raise a stick. Dave squints through the builder's level for a several moments and then begins writing on a scrap piece of paper. Then, another squint through the glass and another left-handed scrawl on the scrap paper. Next he motions me over to the opposite corner and repeats the process.

The ruse is repeated over and over until Farfan finally tires of our little show and disappears over the hill and out of sight.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I walk over to where Dave's standing. As I get close he holds out the paper for me to see. There, among a lot of scribble, is printed:

"This is what you do when you really don't have anything to do and the client is watching and you've got to not only look busy but look like you know what the hell you're doing."

The Farfan 500

Left to their own devices, as they so often are, all carpenters are disposed towards inventing an infinite variety of ways to alleviate boredom and make their jobs more fun and exciting.

Take the sunny October afternoon that Dave and I were laying down a t&g plywood sub floor, once again down at Harry Farfan's in Cedarville.

That was long before we considered pneumatic tools and after bashing all the sheets into place with "beater blocks" and tacking them down, we were faced with the tedious job of pounding in hundreds and hundreds of two-and-half-inchers by hand. (Well, actually by with out Estwings, nobody in their right mind would pound in that many nails with their bare hands).

After taking a quick smoke break and surveying the situation, Dave came up with an idea about how to get all that plywood nailed down, and thus was born "The Farfan Five-Hundred".

Loading up our nail bags, we went about the job of each "setting" five-hundred nails. That is to say, "tap-tap" - just enough of a start to make each nail stand there, ready to be pounded in.

All the way across the 40' platform we went - following our respective red chalk lines, one nail every three or four inches - alternating left and right where two sheets butted together to create "slalom runs". Then, at the far side, a "U-turn" and all the way back to the side from which we started.

Finally, after embellishing the start and finish lines with big thick red carpenter crayons, and having another smoke for good measure, we got down to our marks, ready for the "get-set, go!"

"And here they come out of the chute, ladies and gentlemen, it's Pickel on the pole as they go down the first straight-away and grind down through the gears for the "S"-turns. Now Miller is coming on strong as the Estwings fly into the corner! Miller and Pickel head-to-head going into the back-stretch!"

And so it went - first left-handed, then right, then back to left and finally flailing with both arms at the same time. By the time we got to the "back-stretch" it was hard to say what hurt more - our stomachs from our uncontrollable fits of laughter, or our arms from the brutal punishment of those "S"- curves!

There were no other witnesses to our tomfoolery that day, and and I don't recall which one of us actually crossed the finish line first to garner the hand- rolled laurel - or, indeed, whether either of us ever actually made it to the finish line!. But the memory of the event will always stay with me: The Farfan-Five- Hundred! My sides still ache on cold, damp days.

There we were, Dave (right), me (center)
and Jim Morrison
(ok, that's actually Dr. Farfan's son, Matthew on the left).
On site at the Farfan 500.