Tuesday, April 17, 2012


My Delivery System

Moving stone, due to its mass, has always been a topic of conversation and interest to the general public. Pyramid construction, Stonehenge, Mayan ruins, etc. Seems to be a endless source of TV documentaries. Sculpture groups give seminars on handling large heavy stones. Working with gravity, simple levers, inclined planes, etc. Is essential to stone-loving sculptors. Today we have lifting devices of all sorts to make things easy, but it wasn't so long ago these aids were not often used.

When I was attending Portland State University in the early 1970s, I cut letters and polished monuments after classes and often delivered monuments with Howard Coleman, a five-foot-six 130-pound machine polisher. We both worked at a tombstone manufacturing shop in Portland, Oregon Howard got his start in the stone trade working in Medica Lake white granite quarry in eastern Washington, near Spokane Howard would take me along when he had monuments to install in local cemeteries around Portland and sometimes outside of the Portland area as well.

He needed no help with with flat markers 2 foot by 1 foot, or 2 foot 4 inch by 1 foot 4 inch. Or 4 foot by 1 foot double markers. Nor did he need help with hickey or slant markers, they only weighed 150 to 200 hundred pounds.

It's a special language this monument business. I taught it to my daughter and we still laugh at things like ”carnelian 3-0 x1-10x 0-8 ck molds -rock sides with 4-0x 1-0 x 8 base.” All a stone man needs to know to start working making a specific color, size, and detailed monument.

Howard cut and polished raised lettering by hand at night for extra money using hand-held emery bricks. My mentor Julius would rough out the lettering with the sandblast and Howard would take it from there, polishing square and sharp corners with lots of fine details with a flat recessed background in granite.

I spent many pleasant Fridays helping him deliver monuments in a 1947 four-speed green flatbed, equipped with split rear end for the open road to local cemeteries.

Monuments, that is die and base, went mainly to Jewish cemeteries, and occasionally to a gypsy section in one cemetery. Flat run the lawn mower over the top markers is good enough for most of us. Its all about price and cemetery efficiency and a lack of interest in the dead. In our mainstream society, no “day of the dead” ceremonies remembering our parents or grandparents north of the Rio grand.

Howard’s basic tools were planks, broom handle rollers , 4x4 cribbing, plywood for path construction, a 4-wheel balloon tire heavy-duty hand truck, and a pinch bar seldom used, it being a dangerous tool. He would deliver and install 500 to 1000 pound fragile and expensive monuments with ease. Knowing that any chips or scratches were unacceptable to the customer. He would raise them up on the base with the hand truck and put a special goop he rolled in his hand while I rocked the monument back. He slid them down off the truck on his trusty planks and moved them through the cemetery without damaging the grass with his hand truck on plywood roads he laid down.

With a guy like Howard, what company would bother with a lifting device? We both worked cheap, low wages and long hours. Fridays were often 7 to 7 by the time we got back to the shop with a lunch at one of Howard's favorite beer joints.

Early one spring – I don't remember whether it was hood river or The Dalles, Oregon – Howard asked me to go with him in the old green flatbed loaded with his trusty planks, 4x4 cribbing, 4x4 by 8 foot beams, chains and belts, come along puller, plywood road material and a solid stone altar about 8 foot long and 4 foot wide and 3 feet high, it must have weighed about 8 tons. It was to be installed in a catholic church. I didn't know how he was going to do this so I told my wife and children I would be back later in the week.

Howard had already cased the job out, for when we got to church parking lot,two auto wreckers pulled up, one one each side of the flatbed. We rigged the lifting cables, the wreckers coordinated the lift and Howard drove the flatbed out. I don't remember whether he had them lower on to a steel cart or whether it came down on his 4x4 roller system, it's been 40 years. I do remember that it took 2 days to move the altar with the come along up into the front door and down the center aisle and up to the front of the church. Turn it and and safely land this fragile and expensive stone. I assume it's still there.

Food and lodging at a motel was provided by the company we worked for. I remember when we drove back down into the Willamette Valley the heavy rich smell of spring in the air and feeling of accomplishment working with this gentle man. I learned a lot from him and a few years later when I had my own little business I had a opportunity to move and turn an altar with my companion Schmitty. I will save that story for another blog.

Whenever I go back to my home town in Minnesota I always visit the cemeteries where my brothers and sisters and parents are buried, all with beautiful upright die and base monuments, and think about my roots.

My Final Installation System

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