So as I wrote two weeks ago, I managed to stumble across a number of old index cards that had belonged to Tom Maxwell, the rodmaker who headed the Leonard Rod Company when I worked there (and who was at Thomas and Thomas too) and who was my mentor in every sense. And as I was rummaging through some of his notes I came across this:
At first I didn’t see anything especially unique here. As you can see, these are notes that Tom had written down about how to make Catskill-style butt caps, a style which, over the years, I would adapt and use on my own rods and which are fairly popular among a certain set of rodmakers. The notes seemed fairly straightforward but then, as I was about to put them away, I spotted the script in the upper left-hand corner: “per Tom Bailey”.
Tom Maxwell had been writing these notes while watching the old rodmaker, whom I’ve written about a few times now (here, here, and here). Bailey, who worked at the Leonard shop when Maxwell and I were there, was a rodmaker of the old school, an expert machinist and ferrule maker who had spent his whole life working in the Catskill school of rodbuilding shuttling back and forth between Leonard and Payne.
I had to smile when I saw this, because like many crafts rodmaking is highly genealogical. Over the years I’ve had a lot of people ask me about techniques for making hardware. What they don’t realize — or rarely realize — is that much of what I learned was at the side of Tom Maxwell during those early years. And of course, as the card shows, some of what he learned was from watching Tom Bailey. And much of what Tom Bailey learned was from working in the shops of Leonard and Payne where others worked before him, and so on.
That’s one of the nice things about this craft and one that’s especially humbling. No matter how good you are at something, you know that you also stand in a long tradition of those who came before you and who have, often in a spirit of great generosity, passed that knowledge along to others. And I suppose it also means that, in the same spirit, you will be responsible for passing it along too when you have the opportunity.
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