Vertical Integration Knows no Bounds


Shop class in college was like shop class in HS on steroids. My shop teacher, who goes by Doc, is a world class teacher. An intimidating hard ass who was known to enjoy steak outside on a paper plate with a razor sharp knife that he brought himself. The man was a hardened rough rider who took no bs.

Not only did Doc give me the bug to desire to learn how to fabricate literally everything (almost every day exploring some new technique, for example today it’s metallurgy and resulting my least favorite subject chemistry). That kind of teacher who really gets in your head ~15 years later to explore topics that irritate you means I’m a life long learner, aka addict of knowledge.

I was a junior year engineering dropout. I had this habit of averaging A’s 1st quarter and d’s or even zero’s second quarter in every class with busy work.

There were a bunch of sharp tacks in my shop class. Blue collar geniuses, white collar geniuses, all gathered around our aw of the mill, the lathe, the torch, the band saw, and yes also metallurgy. CSU has lots of melting activity off campus, and doc made sure we went on field trips to see that also and to forge our own chisels.

Doc’s capstone assignment was a paperweight for holding a hand made punch and chisel. In hindsight, this paperweight incorporated nearly every aspect of fabrication you could think of - CNC, band saw, mill, lathe, how to make a bolt and nut, boring out cylinders, sand wheel, sand blasting, mixed metals, forging, annealing, teamwork, organization, time management.

My notebook was an afterthought. That was where I scored a D for lacking organization. It brought my grade down to below the threshold for shop certification, the coveted class of students who could borrow all of doc’s tools (painstakingly outlined in white) unsupervised and at odd hours. If so much as a wobbler was misplaced or broken, Doc knew about it. Ask me how I know.

The man had eyes on the back of his head and his shop was always immaculate. You got in big trouble for leaving a tiny amount of metal shards, anywhere top to bottom, on your lathe and most of my time was spent tediously cleaning after a simple cut.

Anyways deadline was approaching for the final individual project. Doc’s lab ran out of acetylene, one of the final tasks was hardening our punch and chisel. I am 100% convinced Doc allowed this to happen so he could make us work together, or problem solve, or both.

I tutored some kids and didn’t really care about my grade. I was a white collar vagabond. This probably put me a bit behind. One of my blue collar friends had access to some gas, and he gathered up as many of his peer’s punch and chisels to harden them all at once as would fit in his arms. I liked that kid.

I couldn’t get my own punch and chisel out to him in time, so I was screwed. So I sharpened but did not polish my forged chisel, leaving the charcoaled look on the chisel in hopes that Doc wouldn’t bother to run a hardness test on both. Well, he knew I didn’t harden my punch but the trick worked on my chisel. The only thing I was marked down for was not hardening my punch and for not polishing my chisel. Think I got an A- on the project. With my notebook’s D, combined score C+.

The cutoff for shop verification was a B-. So I went in after hours and volunteered my time to clean off the top of the industrial vents, a dusty chore. For reasons I don’t recall, probably bc it was laundry day, I went commando that day.

Well, I felt a breeze about half way through working on those vents. I thought for sure it was due to the lofty heights or perhaps the vents themselves blowing air around just near me, so I thought nothing of it at the time.

Doc came in, looked up at me on my ladder, had a look on his face like “what the hell is wrong with this kid?” And intentfully swaggered over to his private office inside the shop lab.

When I went out to get on my bike, I finally figured out that a shelf I had snagged upon ripped my pants bow to stern, and the moon was in full view that afternoon.

Anyways, Doc never let me have that B-. I missed the mark by a point or two. I’m grateful to Doc for doing that. He gave me the dream of building my own workshop, and the first small fortune I ever earned was spent on building up my workshop as justification for creating the Nighthawk, a proprietary computer case designed, engineered, fabricated, manufactured and assembled, in-house, by StealthMachines (my first company).

On the last day of class, that hardass Doc brought a portable piano in to lecture hall. He played the sweetest tune in honor of all of us with his scruffy voice, and by the end his hardened face has melted into gentle tears streaming down his face.

I don’t think there’s a person in that class who didn’t convert from hating Doc’s unforgiving style to adoration on that day. We all agreed as we left that final day of class, that Doc really cared about each and every one of us.

One of my favorite teachers of all time, Doc. Thanks for forcing me to build my own shop, and everything else.

He’s still around, recently retired. As I understand, CSU’s increasingly absurd culture may have laid the writing on the wall for my great teacher Doc. Hope the efforts to fix this mess are resolved soon, and what a mess to entice a devoted teacher with countless followers to move along…