PIECE WORKERS in the Construction Tradescomments (12) August 24th, 2010 in Blogs
The Second World War caused a dramatic change in how and where we lived. For one, many veterans from the frigid parts of our country trained or passed through southern states and liked what they saw. I know it happened to my older brother, Jim. Come war’s end he, along with many thousands of other war vets, had no desire to return to their home states.
They found the mild climate in places like Southern California to be quite preferable to the harsh, long winters they experienced as young men and women. This, along with plentiful jobs, caused a massive movement of people relocating from north to south.
In the span of 15 years after the Great War nearly 750,000 people moved into the San Fernando Valley alone.
This migration, in the late 1940s and 1950s resulted in a demand for housing unparalleled in our history and was a major cause of the revolution in construction that took place (FHB 177, p 96-101). Everything had to change. Tools, methods, and materials that were used in the construction trades from the time of the Civil War had to be laid aside in order to meet the housing needs of these on-the-move veterans and their families. Endless numbers of new houses needed to be built rapidly.
Better than a handsaw. In 1951, I got my first power saw, a scary-looking sidewinder with no lower guard, made by Sioux Tools. Within a year, I switched to a Skil Model 77 worm drive, which became standard equipment for California tract builders.
A new generation of tools -- The old building methods, many of the materials, and even the razor sharp tools in every carpenter’s kit that had been handed down from father to son were fast becoming museum pieces. The handsaws that had been used by many generations of carpenters were replaced by the power saw. Braces holding bits for drilling holes in wood members were laid aside for the electric drill motor. Short-handled 16 oz. hammers were replaced by long-handled 22 oz. California framing hammers.
Then air operated nailguns allowed carpenters to leave their hammer hanging from their nail belt. The wooden folding ruler was replaced by a retractable metal tape. Jeans became the work uniform of the day rather than the white, bib overalls with their numerous pockets to hold a variety of tools and nails.
The traditional tools worked great to craft one-house-at-a-time. They were inadequate when we were charged with building five hundred in a row.
A new generation of carpenters -- One of the unforeseen results of this need for mass production was that we carpenters became specialists instead of generalists. I was trained by master carpenters. They taught me how to build an entire house. We dug the trenches, set batter boards and foundation forms, mixed and poured the concrete, framed the house, installed the siding and roofing, and completed the building process until the last door was hung and the last cabinet built and installed. Our foreman then handed the key to the new owners. We were general carpenters and contractors, but believe me, “The times they were a changing.”
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