Many of the tools I use in my workshop had previous owners. Some of them I found in stores and at fleamarkets. Others were given to me and a great number I’ve inherited from my grandfather.
My grandfather (for convenience also named Jan van Cappelle) was born in 1923, a couple of years before the great depression. He lived in Langbroek, a small village in the middle of Holland. The same place where my father was born and I grew up.
In the end of the thirties and in the first years of the war he learned the then relatively new craft of bicycle repairman. But during his life he worked also as a farmhand, plumber, pipefitter, woodworker, electrician, baker and factory worker.
My recollection of him (he died when I was nine) is that he was always creating or repairing something. Just after WWII he maried my grandmother and in 1948 my father was born. At first they had to live in with my great-grandparents, because there was a lack of housing during the reconstruction years. In the early fifties they took a chance to built a house in the center of Langbroek. After the house was ready they moved in, but that didn’t mean the house was finished. Over the years they changed the house over and over. A garage was built, broken down and replaced by another. My father became a nurseryman and around the house he made a plantation to grow moor, complete with greenhouses and a well.
What always stood out for me was that they both had and have the ability to make something beautiful with basic materials that seem worthless. The greenhouses were constructed with the parts of countless others. In the house dividing walls were changed and new closets were built, using whatever they could get. Not because they were cheap, but because there was nothing else. Particle board, wood scraps, metal rails left over from various construction works. I even found a 5 cent piece once that had been used as a washer. When I changed some of this a couple of years ago I cursed this approach, because it was built for eternity. Some things became outdated and worn out, but overall result wasn’t bad at all.
After his retirement he still made bicycles and wooden carts for us to play with. Using whatever he could get, the wheels and axels of my fathers’ pram, some left over wood from an old fence.
In the new shop I have a little glass case filled with some of my grandfathers’ old tools. Specialist bicycle tools, soldering irons he made at school, a compass and scissors used to cut the holes in chain guards, a couple of old planes and the little tins and jars used to store nuts and bolts. Some of them have gathered a lot of rust and dust and will never have to work again. But others even I still use, like the long pedal wrenches or the nipple wrench (yes I kow how to make and tune bicycle wheels). Or my favorite chisels…
In the glass case is also the little picture you see above, we found a couple of years ago in an old family album. It shows my grandfather, working in the ‘Pon’ bicycle factory in Amersfoort (later the concern would become one of the largest car importers of Holland). I like the little snapshot, because he isn’t aware that the picture is taken, he’s just working.
He had a restless nature, always looking what’s beyond the horizon. And after my grandmother died he never found rest anywhere, moving countless times. A couple of years ago Bruce Springsteen made a beautiful song that reminds me of him.
The Jack Of All Trades…