There are objects that when you look at them and touch them, you can feel their history. They have transcended whatever materials they were made of and are now something more than the sum of their parts. They evoke a time now passed. They hold memories of countless experiences. You feel like you can just touch them and know that they have a great story to tell. If you are lucky, you might know those stories and be lucky enough to relive them for a time.
One such object for me is this beat up old belt sander.
In 1990, a friend offered me a unique opportunity. He needed a Technical Director for a nine month North American tour of Rigoletto. I was just out of graduate school, unattached and this was an opportunity to gain a whole lot of experience in a short amount of time.
One thing that I needed for this tour was a well-stocked road box full of tools. The only problem was that I didn’t own many tools. The internet was in its infancy, so I had to send away for various tool catalogs. I bought what I thought I would need for the tour, but couldn’t resist adding a shiny new belt sander to my toolbox. I had wanted to buy one for years and I knew this was the one for me.
When I got it, it was everything I had hoped. It was bulky and powerful, heavy, and I could feel that it would last a long time. I tested it out a few times, but didn’t really have the time to use it before the tour began. During the tour, it proved to be worth the trouble of lugging it around the country. I used it to perform several modifications on the scenery and somehow managed not to lose it.
I carried it with me for years to film and television sets, museums, trade shows, theaters, arenas, backlots, scene shops, and fields for commercial shoots. I could always rely on it if I needed it to help me build something.
As my business grew, it stayed with me and has been used by master craftsmen, unskilled labor, and all skill levels in between. When it was a few years old, I watched as one of my less skilled guys managed to get the original power cord wrapped into the belt drive wheels. I spent the rest of the afternoon taking it apart to free the mangled cord and replace it with a new one. I have since replaced that cord two more times.
It has been with me for hundreds of projects. I remember working with friends that have now passed or who are no longer part of my daily life. I remember the laughter and the joking around, the time we spent trying to figure out how to build things. How we looked at our own past and looked forward to our futures.
It has an unmistakable sound and whenever I hear someone in our production studio use it, I hope they will treat it with the care that it deserves. But if they don’t, that’s ok too. It is a tool. It needs to be used. It is tough, has a lot of experience, and has been around longer than many of those that use it these days.
I built my company much like this old belt sander was crafted years ago; to be reliable, trustworthy, and full of stories.