OK, so you probably figured out by now that I closed Centerport Cycles in August of 2007. I'm writing this in mid November 2009.
I had an idea for a long time that I would like to stop fighting the retail wars and find myself an interesting gig; either in research, a museum or the academic world. I have a degree in mechanical engineering technology, and I've been a hobby machinist for many years, so I thought that it might be fun to get a job that utilized my mechanical skills in some kind of stimulating setting. That idea was pretty much a day-dream until a customer / friend of mine put me in touch (thanks Ken) with my present boss (hi Neil) at Webb Institute.
Webb is a little gem of a school, situated on a hill overlooking the Long Island Sound in Glen Cove, N.Y.. It was founded in 1887 by William H. Webb. Webb was a ship builder who saw the need for an institution of higher education for the ship building industry. The school only offers one degree, a BS in naval architecture and marine engineering. It's fully endowed. That means if you get in, it's free. That's a big IF, because the academic standards are quite high. They only admit about 25 students per year and the total enrollment is usually around 80.
So, I was lucky enough to get a job at Webb, working 3 days a week as a machinist. I support the various laboratories and teach classes on welding and machine shop. It's a really great place to be.
OK so back to bicycles. I had started taking orders for custom bike frames starting in 2005 and I am continuing, ever so slowly, with that work. When I first set out I had an idea that I might get myself up to building 10 or 20 frames a year. That's a pretty reasonable output for a small custom builder, but so far it hasn't happened. A friend of mine says that "everybody is doing exactly what they want to be doing". I think that there is a lot of wisdom in that saying. It might be a little strong in some cases, but I guess I have to admit that it's true about me and my limited frame building production. I haven't pumped out a huge number of bikes but I'm pretty happy with the few that I've done. One thing that I've spent a lot of time on has been making a frame building fixture and other tools that help me make bikes. A frame builder mentor of mine onced to ask if I wanted to build bike frames or build tools? I guess I mostly wanted to build tools at that point. I couldn't make really good bikes without really good tools and it caught in my throat to go out and buy them.
Another factor that had a bearing on all this is the fact that, or a while there, I had been fooling around buying and selling used machine tools and machine shop supplies. After I down-sized my bike shop in 1998 I started dabbling in the used tool business. At first I was selling off surplus tools in swap-meets and flea-markets, but that escalated. Before long I was buying out the contents of defunct machine shops. A friend of mine promotes shows for the home shop machinist / model engineering hobby. I wound up partnering up with him for a few years promoting consignment auctions for machine shop stuff. That was a blast but I couldn't keep it up once I started working at the college. My ex-partner is still going strong, and I lend a hand with the auctions from time to time. Anyway, the reason why this matters to my frame building work is that while I was buying and selling machine tools I was able to get a lot of good equipment for my home shop. That equipment is instrumental in my capacity to make my own frame building tooling.
The Cabin Fever Auctions Van
So I've been making one or two frames a year in my spare time. When I first started taking orders I signed up a pretty good number of people who wanted me to make them a bike. That list was growing much faster then I was building the bikes, so I declared a moratorium on accepting new orders. I've been slowly working my way through that original queue. Recently I've had a bunch people drop off the list because of the recession. Luckily there are still a couple guys who have some money to spend on a nice bike frame; so I've still got work.
Oh, my daughter Clementine graduated from Pratt in June (2009) and she has been working as a graphic designer in Manhattan. She lives in Brooklyn and rides her bike over the Williamsburg Bridge to get to work every day. Amelia is a junior at Wake Forest, so Mary and I are starting to see a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the tuition tunnel.
So that's what I'm up to these days. Thanks for reading.