On late Saturday mornings, my father would sometimes walk up from the office to the house and make an inquiry, “Hey, want to go for a ride? I have some bushings that need to be repaired.”
Three hours later and halfway across the state, I find myself in the smallest of cottage-industry shops in the middle of nowhere. There are streams and lakes and fields and forests—and very few people. The late-afternoon sunlight comes in through the dirty windows of a repurposed filling station, standing as only one of three buildings at a singular intersection, marking the community’s center. Half a dozen people are bent over vice grips wrapping copper wiring around parts—by hand.
Unable to stifle my surprise, I lean into my father’s space to verify, “They wind these by hand?”
“Yes. The labor and new copper wiring are less expensive than a brand new part. They will ship them out when they are finished.”
On the drive home, we take a forty-mile detour (eighty in total) to purchase all-beef bratwurst from one of the only small meat suppliers left in the state. There is an upcoming drivers’ picnic to celebrate the end of the school year. Forty miles is nothing when considering some of the travel distances that the contracted drivers cover for charter trips or a single high-school athletic meet: three hours out, play ball and three hours back. In time, I learn to ask my dad about how far or how long the ride might be before making any solid commitments to a Saturday ride.
The bus service my parents owned, coupled with a propensity for long family road trips, means that I grew up reading maps and on the road again. There were “day trips” to Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee or the Quad Cities, when a minor-league ball team needed transportation. There were driving marathons to and from Florida, California and the East Coast.
A keen observer of design—both natural and manufactured—my father never tired of heading out on a road trip to appreciate the world around him and the people he served. A teacher by vocation, he was inherently curious and ready to discuss potential design improvements on almost any object or subject. He relished his personal time while driving. In retrospect, those long hours were the essence of his personal practice.