When I retired from the Air Force in Lubbock, on September 6th, 1970, my routine had been to arise about 0430 and go teach students how to fly airplanes. So when I got out of bed on the morning of the 7th, my wife asked, “Where are you going?” The question was a shock and I suddenly realized that I didn’t have any place to go. So I got back under the covers and started pondering the future of my family.
My retirement pay was 800 bucks a month, and I had a wife and two young daughters to support. Necessity wets the wits of the inexperienced and that meant I had to move quickly.
My hobby was casting art bronze. I did it by running a natural gas line from the fireplace in our living room, through the kitchen and pantry, and into our garage. That’s where I melted and poured the metal. I was a one-person operation. Could I turn it into a living, I wondered?
My foundry equipment was homemade. I powered the melting furnace with a vacuum cleaner motor, and, by welding in my front yard, I created the lifting tongs and the pouring shanks.
My wife and I decided to go for it and see what would happen. She would tend the house and the kids, and I would finance the operation.
So I hired two guys and rented an old, abandoned grain elevator in town. My idea had little to offer but some promise … and a whole lot of exertion.
Soon, I was casting work for artists who couldn’t pay. They wanted to settle up when they sold their bronzes that they couldn’t sell. That twist started me thinking. I could make the castings at very little cost if I didn’t count my labor. So I started buying the artists’ original wax models and casting editions for myself.
That should have solved the problem, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t sell the bronzes either. So I learned to trade. It was easy to make deals with traders who had antique guns and Indian things that they couldn’t sell. After months of working all day long and most of the night, I still didn’t have any money. But I had a nice inventory of Indian baskets, rugs, Winchester rifles, and Colt pistols. I was like the rich man who had all of his money in a safe and couldn’t find the key.
My wife and I lived that life for two years until we moved to Santa Fe where we slept on the floor and built a foundry – and an art gallery. Peggy was my rock and mortar.
Lots of doubts and insecurities were felt during those building years. We learned early on to stop looking for reasons why something couldn’t be done, and to just go do it! And I have never been sorry.