In the early seventies, I found myself teaching art at Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey. If you draw a line from my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Blairstown, it takes you right through the small town of Nazareth. The Martin Guitar Company had erected a billboard on Route 22 advertising their daily factory tours and one day I stopped in on my way back to Blair. As someone interested in woodworking and music, I was completely amazed by the tour and remember thinking that the factory was probably one of the finest wood shops I had ever encountered.
After the tour I asked the receptionist whether there was any scrap wood. She replied that there was indeed and directed me around to the south side of the building. On that particular day I hit the jackpot. Both dumpsters were overflowing with generous blocks of mahogany and thinner cut-offs of rosewood, ebony and spruce. I couldn't believe my eyes. I pulled my old Mustang around and filled the back seat and the trunk with wood.
The off-fall was perfect for my woodworking course at Blair. I had never worked with rosewood or mahogany and it was certainly a luxury. I returned to the dumpster every few weeks and gradually figured out that the garbage trucks came on Tuesdays and Fridays, so the timing of my visits became increasingly optimum.
I amassed quite a stack of exotic wood, so much so that I began to be selective in taking only larger or more attractively grained pieces. There was enough mahogany veneer for me to experiment with some simple musical instruments. I built a few mountain dulcimers and bazookie-like mando-guitars. I stocked the wood shop at Blair and when that was full, I stocked my father's workshop in Bethlehem. Whenever I returned home I always visited Martin to replenish my supplies.
Eventually, I left Blair to take a art teaching job at The Stowe School in Stowe, Vermont and I lugged my cache of Martin veneers, and woodworking tools off to Vermont. After two years my teaching career screeched to a halt and I returned to Bethlehem, my passion for woodworking in full gear. Regular visits to the Martin dumpster were yielding materials that were ideal for jewellery boxes and stack laminated turnings. The workers near the dumpster door were starting to recognise me. I was startled one day when one of the workers came outside while I was picking through the rosewood scraps. His name was Harvey and he was the assistant foreman of the machine room where all the raw wood was cut into parts. He spoke in a very heavy Pennsylvania Dutch accent.
"I saved some stuff for ya." said Harvey, and he handed out a sizeable stack of bookmatched spruce soundboards that had been rejected for small knots and imperfections. I graciously accepted and thanked him.
"What ah ya dew with dis stuff anyhow?"
I had a couple of odd instruments in the car. I reached in and grabbed a mando-guitar with a rosewood top and a strange drone banjo with a door knob tuning machine on the headstock designed to produce Ravi Shankar lead runs. Harvey took these inside and paraded them around to the workers. Mr. Martin, who must have been eighty at the time, was walking around the plant and Harvey showed him the "Boak-struments."
"That fellow ought to apply for a job." said C.F.
After several minute, Harvey brought my instruments back to the dumpster platform and handed them down.
"The old man says you should apply for a job." He pronounced job with a "ch" in front like "chob."
I was definitely not dressed for job hunting. In fact, my jeans were torn and slightly soiled with sawdust from the dumpster. My hair was long and unruly. My flannel shirt was faded and I needed a shave, but Harvey's encouraging words prompted me to check job availability with the receptionist. I drove around to the front of the building, brushed myself off, and walked in.
"Hello. I'm wondering if there are there any job openings?" I smiled.
The receptionist was not amused. In a slightly aloof tone she replied: "We have one opening but it's very specific. I doubt that you would be qualified."
"What's the position?" I tried to counter her curtness with a firm and confident reply.
"Well, it's a design drafting position. We were actually looking for a college student with some engineering or drafting background." She expected that this would end the conversation.
"I've been teaching drafting for three years. In fact, I have some examples of my ink on mylar draftings in the car. That's a specialty of mine." Disappointment was showing on her face. She rose to the next level of her defensiveness.
"Well, we're actually looking for someone with some substantial woodworking background." She picked up her emery board and smoothed out a rough edge on her thumbnail.
"Actually, I've been an avid woodworker since I was a boy. I've been teaching woodworking too and I've got some jewellery boxes and lathe turnings in the car. Should I bring them in?"
She was livid. She gave it one last shot. "You know, it really will be necessary for any applicant to have a working knowledge of musical instrument making, and a familiarity with the materials we use."
Ah-hah! She was playing right into my hands. "I've been making musical instruments and teaching instrument making for several years. I have a few instruments in the car that I made from your scraps. Harvey at the back door told me that Mr. Martin suggested that I apply for a "chob." I was pushing my luck, but it was worth my strongest push.
"Alright. Bring your things in. I'll see whether Personnel can send someone up front to see you.
Several moments later, I was seated at a table with Ken Murdock, the Assistant Personnel Manager. With pride and excitement, I showed him my draftings, some inlayed jewellery boxes, a few goblets, and three instruments. He was quite impressed.
"Can you start tomorrow? he was convinced.
"No. I'm going to see Bob Dylan tomorrow in Philadelphia, but I can begin on Wednesday." His eyes rolled, but he swallowed his better judgement and handed me the necessary employment forms. I filled them out, packed my wares and headed toward the door. As I passed the receptionist, she strained a fake smile.
"I'll see you on Wednesday!" I waved.
Her jaw dropped in disbelief. She really did turn out to be nicer than she had seemed. Her name was Rita. She greeted me upon my arrival two days later. She was pleased to see that I had better clothes and was capable of bathing. We soon became friends.
That was a long time ago; twenty seven years ago in fact (as of the writing of this book). Since then I have been privileged to spend my weekdays at C. F. Martin & Co. I never mentioned to anyone that I would have gladly worked for free. I have been a draftsman, a maker of prototypes, the manager of the 1833 Shop, the founder of A Woodworker's Dream, the head of the Martin Wood Products division, the coordinator of Darco string making procedure in Mexico, a desktop publisher, the advertising and publicity manager, the head of Artist Relations and the designer/coordinator of Limited Edition Signature model guitar projects.
More recently, I have facilitated several Martin book projects, this one being the closest to my heart. Some people would say that I have the best job in the world. It's not always as glamorous as it sounds, but it's a wonderful thing to work in a field that is of personal interest and I do very much love my "chob."