Reflections on Cotter Pins and Nails

This New York reader shares fond memories of lessons learned in the shop from his Uncle Hank.

| September 2019


After reading Farm Collector for a number of years, I would like to share a story with your readers, some of whom I’m sure have gone through the same thing.

Not everyone grew up on a farm. For some of us city boys, we learned from those who did grow up on family farms. My Uncle Henry (Hank) was the eldest in my father’s family. He and my dad were very close. My uncle and his family lived only about a block away from us in Jamestown in western New York, then an industrialized city of about 45,000. My dad’s family had grown up in a rural area heavily populated by Polish family farmers. My grandparents were Polish immigrants in the early 1900s. Life was difficult and there was never any money.

As a boy, I spent quite a bit of time with my dad and uncle. When I was about 10, I became fascinated by mechanics. As I spent more and more time with Uncle Hank. I discovered that he was a rare individual with an incredible passion for things Rube Goldberg would have rewarded with a Nobel Prize.

At age 11, I was learning how to repair model airplanes and lawn mowers, do valve jobs and rebuild engines, change springs in dump trucks, and, if that was not enough, there were correspondence courses in electricity and electronics from the De La Salle Institute in Chicago. I was so fascinated by all this mechanical stuff that I never paid much attention to just how smart my uncle was. Today I know.

In about 1956, when I was 11, we were doing a brake job on a 1949 or ’50 Ford. We were in the process of putting things back together when my uncle handed me a ball peen hammer and told me to straighten out the cotter pin. My first attempt of straightening the pin on an anvil resulted in a smashed finger and not much else.


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