Gramp’s woodworking shop

When I was 7 in 1949, my maternal grandparents moved from Waltham, MA to a little house just two doors west of the home where I grew up in Topsfield, MA. My grandfather, Walter H. James, had retired in 1938 from being a mechanical engineering professor at MIT. His father and grandfather had been skilled cabinet-makers in Hampton and Portsmouth, NH. Gramp followed in their footsteps, making lots of furniture for family and friends — more on that in another post.

Much to my delight, Gramp often invited me into the woodworking shop he built off the back of the garage at their new home. I remember sitting on a sawdust-covered floor happily nailing together bits of wood he gave me.

Amazingly, about 70 years later, I still have this wooden truck I made there. I designed and made it myself about 1951 when I was 9. If I recall correctly, Gramp cut the round wheels on his band saw and also gave me occasional advice. It is a hybrid of a motorized truck and a horse-drawn wagon — I imagined the driver sitting on the block, though I did not make the shafts for hitching in a horse.

After Gramp died in 1963, my mother went through his journals and saved interesting pages like this one from 1951 where he wrote about my brother and me being in his shop.

That early familiarity with tools was a big part of my choosing to major in physics in college and then going on to a Ph.D. in physics. I think that in his last year or so Gramp did know I was majoring in physics.

And now at age 78 in 2021 I have in my cellar a modest little “shop” with my hand-tools neatly arrayed on the wall and other items in a wooden counter and cabinet actually made by Gramp about 1953 — they were in our family ski cabin in New Hampshire, and I got them when that kitchen was remodeled about 2001.

Gramp was also, like me, a photographer and a writer. See his photos and books on my website.

Walter H. James, age 76, with Jane English, age 7, in 1949

I smile with gratitude for this wonderful ancestor I have.

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