Tools, Dies and Llamas

With our two oldest children now in school, and our third in preschool, my wife Sue felt it was time to reenter the out-of-home workplace. Having previously practiced as a legal secretary, Sue thought this time she would seek an upgrade in her interpersonal work environment and thus went out and promptly secured a part-time position tending llamas.

Columns From: 4/19/2008 Modern Machine Shop, ,

With our two oldest children now in school, and our third in preschool, my wife Sue felt it was time to reenter the out-of-home workplace. Having previously practiced as a legal secretary, Sue thought this time she would seek an upgrade in her interpersonal work environment and thus went out and promptly secured a part-time position tending llamas.

Yes, llamas. Or more specifically, Sue is working for Paul and Tokie Wade who in their second vocation have taken to raising these curious animals on their farm near Cincinnati.

As Paul gave me the guided tour last Saturday, I couldn't help but marvel at all the things he has to know to successfully run such an operation. It isn't just the llama husbandry. It's also the ingenuity that has gone into the facility's design and construction. The little things: Gravity fed chutes dispensing five kinds of feed. A sturdy retaining wall made of old tires packed with sand. A wood and steel gate, built with a carpenter's and a welder's skills.

Then there are far more ambitious projects, such as "The Condos." Four old bulk gasoline tanks are buried in a hillside, but cut open at one end to make earthen cooled pens. Or the two pens Paul is building in the new barn with automatic moisture removal systems in the floor.

And there are projects of whimsy. Where an old pond has been drained, Paul intends to build an aviary. There the Wade's peacocks will be joined by all sorts of exotic birds.

The more I saw of this operation, the more I had to wonder just how this guy came to acquire such a varied set of interests and skills, so I asked. He replied, "I'm a retired tool and die maker."

Ah! That would explain a few things now, wouldn't it? What other training creates such a powerful combination of conceptual and technical skills? What other profession allows the Paul Wades of the world to apply their innate intellectual curiosity and turn it into something so wonderfully tangible? I've always admired such people - who can analyze a problem and build a workable solution. Of course, it's best for the rest of us when these talented individuals stay in the trade. Then again, maybe it's OK to share one with another calling every now and then.

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