Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Being around as long as I have one has heard a lot of sage advice from stone workers.
When I was a 23-year-old quarry worker, john Alexander, founder of the largest granite company in the world, cold spring granite, told me a few things I never forgot but probably abused often in my life:

- Never hire an artist, always hire a mechanic.

- Never sell something you don’t have.

- Never fire someone until you have someone to replace him.

We all break this rules over and over, especially # 2.

Once when I had an open multiple wire saw available I sawed a block of black diamond granite slabs thinking I was getting ahead of things. Mr. Alexander had seen these slabs on a visit and asked what job they were for. I told him. He asked me if I would like my paycheck when they sell. I got the message quickly. I am sure he was the smartest stone man I have ever been around.

Another great stone man I had the privilege of working with Peter Rigutto. My son calls his nephew re-Pete. If Pete was still alive he would be well over 100 years old. I was a part-time marble helper, full-time G.I. Bill, 30-some college student interested in physical geography and urban studies. For five years I worked for Pete whenever he wanted me.

Pete told me he walked over the Dolomites with his dad, they slacked their own lime, doing marble work in Holland as a kid. Later as apprentice marble setter for his dad in Portland USA. He kept things going by working as a marble setter, being a professional wrestler, and playing cello in an orchestra during the depression.

Pete mostly gave his lessons in expressions but was a great ad-libber:

- Never got enough till you got too much

- Lucky to get it.

- Pearls before swine.

- Can’t make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.

Work men of his era were gruff with home owners. Not a bad policy all in all. It kept them from looking over your shoulder and second-guessing what you’re doing. He preferred to tell you when he was finished, and not have you look for problems.

I don’t know why but women loved Pete But they seemed to get under his skin. I asked him once way he always knew more about my college subject matters than me, he said he had  the advantage of Italian being his first language. Words had meaning and he never got along with his wife so he spent a lot of time at his beach shack reading.

Once after laying out a complicated slate floor in a building lobby downtown all the women got to know him and his quips after two weeks walking in and out of the building . We installed the slate ramp up to the door at quite a steep angle I thought, but one never questioned Pete’s work. The president of the bank thought to it was too steep and to be dangerous. The women chuckled, saying you just did that as they walked in. Pete responded without looking up ,women aren’t the only ones who can change their mind.

Pete was laying a marble floor in an eastern Oregon home and the lady homeowner came in and started tapping the finished areas with a pole thinking she was checking for a good job. Pete dryly said we just lay them ma’am, we don’t tune ‘em. When Pete’s brother and I got together as we often did before they died we never talked about Pete, it was too hard. Fred was no slouch himself. You can always pick these old great Italian marble men with their strong hands, never seem to be more then a foot off the ground ready to go to work laying a floor. Fred always said what you don’t get done by noon isn’t worth doing. A craftsman’s work ethic. The difference between a good job and a perfect job is a waste of time. I learned a lot from these two brothers and miss both of them all the time.

A note about Fred. Fred had a lathe in his garage and would always help you tool a special part you wanted. He was a true Italian mechanic par excellence. And Pete surely would have been an artist in another life.

Fred the mechanic would say "not much call for that" when you presented him with your latest innovation, whereas Pete would have smiled and said "keep going Joe!"
Mr. Alexander, the Scottish granite man, ended up owning thousands of acres of land, and had over 3000 employees working for him. The two Italian brothers ended up sharing their mother’s side lot for a garden. All three of these stone men were a great influence on my life.

I would like to finish by stating that the two Italian marble masons enjoyed and shared the food they grew, the fish they caught, and the wine they made all their lives. I am sure neither one would have traded lives with anyone, nor would the great Scottish entrepreneur trade his life. All three of them had great lives in the stone industry.

1 comment:

  1. I think I would have liked to meet the two brothers- over a home grown tomato, a glass of wine and some stone dust!