The Farfan 500
And other Carpenter Capers

Buddy Dave Pickel and I practiced carpentry together for over ten years. Through good and bad times we shared many experiences that created a strong bond between us. Dave hung up his Estwing for the last time and left us in 2012. This piece was something I penned several years earlier for the occasion of 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. Apparently word-of-mouth doesn't travel much farther than that.

Consequently, Dave and I spent many hours together in the cabs of trucks, including my old '68 red Ford pick-up truck, which we dubbed "the dancing bear" due to it's tendency to sidle down the road at a five degree angle.

One of our favorite past times was pointing out exceptionally ugly architecture. At such times we would drag out our trusty bazooka and level the offending eyesore. If we'd had a real bazooka Canada would even now be a more beautiful place.

In all of our travels we never failed to stop at every lumber yard and hardware store along the way. We always did so on the flimsy pretext of picking up some last-minute, crucial building materials, but in reality it was just so we could pore over 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 our relationship.

When Clients Watch

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 on Lake Memphremagog. The terrain was sloped and punctuated with outcrop pings 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 with smoldering eyes and a tongue ever ready to lash out at perceived indolence, impudence, or incompetence. So there we were, staked out like tomatoes in the hot sun beneath Dr. Farfan's brooding stare: our plan 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 Dr. 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 Dr. Farfan finally tires of our little charade 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, scribbled in a wobbly hand, it says:

"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 our own devices (as we so often are) carpenters are widely disposed to inventing ingenious ways of alleviating boredom and making the work at hand fun and exciting!

Take the sunny October afternoon, once again at Dr. Farfan's, that Dave and I were laying down t&g plywood sub-flooring.

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 with our Estwings - nobody in their right mind would pound in that many nails with their bare hands).

Surveying the situation, we quickly came up with an idea of how to nail down all that plywood and have a riotously good time doing it. 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 our big red carpenter crayons we got down on 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 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!

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