For the second straight day, I have a raspy throat and a little upper-respiratory funk. It’s the first time in over two years that I’ve dealt with anything like this — yeah, that spans all the WuFlu hysteria — which I credit to lots of time outdoors and the vitamins-and-supplements regimen Deb’s prescribed for us.
As for why it hit me now, I suppose I could blame being out in the dampness yesterday. But I really don’t know.
Our plans will change today as a result. We’d been invited by our site contractor to attend the performance of a Christmas cantata at his church, to which his wife and daughter will contribute their musical talents. With regrets, but wisely, we won’t be going.
Devoting attention to that Estwing hammer yesterday was satisfying in ways that only some of you will understand — part practical, part romantic. In this age of disposables and engineered obsolescence, it’s pleasing (to me, anyway) to knock the dust off of a vintage tool and celebrate its utility.
The gratification we get from buying new often can be found in preserving the old.
In yesterday’s post I drew a parallel between the new-to-me mason’s hammer and our carpenter’s hatchet, a tool I’ve mentioned before on Ubi Libertas Blog. I think it’s time to spill a little more detail about our favorite campfire chopper.
I bought it in the spring of 2010, just before we moved into Second Chance Ranch, at a Columbus-area antiques mall. Twenty bucks got me an Estwing #2 carpenter’s hatchet, 13 inches long with a straight, stacked-leather handle, and its condition testified to hard use.
At some point the blade had been shortened and re-profiled, perhaps because the edge chipped or broke, and it was ground crudely. The handle was so black that it looked like it had been wrapped in electrical tape. None of that bothered me — it took me five minutes to scrub the leather to respectability and ten more to knock the shoulders off of the bevel.
While cleaning up the edge I happened to notice the letters “T H H” scratched into the shank. On the opposite side I found this inscription:
That discovery sent me running to the Web. It wasn’t long before I was able to put together a story.
Thurman E. DeLong was born in 1931 in Kingston, Ohio, northeast of Chillicothe. A lifelong farmer, a US Army veteran of Korea and a Methodist, everyone knew him as “Sonny,” since his father had the same first name (Thurman E. DeLong, 1901-1981).
The nickname reminded me of my father, who was called “Buddy” to distinguish him from my grandfather. I had an uncle known as “Bud” for the same reason. Both were of the same generation as the younger DeLong.
Sonny died in 2020 at the age of 89.
A little more research uncovered an address. Satellite imagery showed that to be a collection of farm buildings at the end of a long lane, surrounded by cultivated fields.
It’s impossible to say for sure, of course, but it’s my guess that the hatchet was employed on that family farm. It could’ve belonged to either father or son. (Estwing began production in 1923.) The tool probably was wielded by both.
If an heir came to me someday and asked to buy it back, I’d be delighted to give it to them.
I pulled out the hatchet this morning and gave it some love. I went over it with that fine steel wool and wiped it down with light oil. The ritual has become something of a pattern for me — after attending to one old tool, I’ll pick up another and give it the same treatment.
And then, despite feeling cruddy, I went outside and built a campfire.
The fresh air, I determined, would do me some good, and woodsmoke would be even more therapeutic. The firemaking itself was a struggle — everything was wet and I wasn’t sharp — but I got it done and sat by the crackling oak and sycamore for a while. When I’d had enough, I came back inside.
Deb fixed me a bowl of steaming-hot oatmeal, drizzled with sweet huckleberry honey.
Yes, life is good.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.