The Big Test

I’ve taken some doozies in my life, from Mad Math Minutes, 3rd grade Spelling Bee, and Driver’s License to SAT, DAT (Dental Aptitude), Orthodontic Orals and Writtens, and Life After Mom Died.

Below is Mom as a college student on a boat headed for a study trip to Europe.


One of the most memorable was 29 years ago in my sophomore year of dental school. Oral Pathology was a required class, taught by Charles Tomich, who was an arrogant author of textbooks and a legend in his own mind. His primary motivator was fear and intimidation, with a little black box he kept at the front of the class. In it were note cards with each of our names, and every class he would pull one out to invite the student down to the front for a little chat.

For just a few minutes, what seemed like eternity, he would grill one of us on the pathology topic of the day. The math worked out that only one in three students would be called in the semester, and fortunately, I never did make it to the front. But it’s not like I slept through the first ten minutes of class, or ever missed one. That would have been intellectual and social suicide.


The inside report from the upper classmen was that you also didn’t want to miss his final exam because the only make-up was a personal oral exam with the General. As the semester came toward the end, I was studying hard to prepare for the Oral Path final. The night before, I was studying late and all of a sudden, I heard Jan say, “It broke,” and I was thinking, “Really it’s 2:00 am, maybe I can fix it tomorrow.”

Then she said, “My water broke and we have to get to the hospital.” Well, priorities are priorities, and we packed up to go. At Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, she was admitted and we settled into the “count contractions and wait” routine. About 9:00 in the morning I was getting really antsy, but the baby did not seem to be in quite as big a rush.

I said that I needed to be gone for a couple of hours, so I hurried off. I got to the Dental School just before the 10:00 am test, and mentioned to Dr. Tomich that my wife was in labor. I asked if he would mind if I left the two-hour test early if I was finished. He agreed with a “We’ll see how that works out” kind of smile. Around 11:15, I packed up and left, just in time for the arrival of Amanda Jane.



The most recent big test was the two long stringers that define the top edge and the deck moulding line. The first challenge was splicing two pieces to make a single 20 foot stringer, and making it as straight as possible to give the smoothest bending contour. I made repeated passes over the jointer in the high areas and eventually planed the opposite sides. Then I made the preliminary notches and attached the stringer with screws.

Inspector Jeff Margush came for a final check off, which turned into two hours with both of us looking from all the angles, making small adjustments and reevaluating.


We never measured the angle of the trim moulding, but just clamped on two sticks to make sure it looked right and was perfectly symmetrical.


A picture doesn’t fully show the 3D of the profile lines, but below is a photo of the shape that is developing.


I don’t remember what grade I got on the Oral Path exam, and now it doesn’t seem so significant except as a part of our family memories. The Life After Mom Died test did turn out to be much harder to pass, but in it I learned an extremely valuable lesson. On the day she died, Mom reminded us one last time in a clear quiet way that all that really matters is your relationship with Jesus. That alone will get you through the Final.

Living on the Edge

A surface can be a thing of beauty, showing qualities like the texture of corduroy, the stripes of a zebra, the pattern of plaid, or color shading as the sun is going down over the North Dakota prairie valley.

Here are my sisters Anne and Jane with brother Joe.

But it takes a line to really create focus, to draw attention, and define the situation. There are fine lines and bee lines, broad strokes and pin stripes, jet trails and meteors, power lines and skylines. There are frost lines and finish lines, guide lines and outlines, time lines and tag lines and lines not to cross. A line definitely lives on the edge.

Below you can see my grandson Clayton balancing on that fine line.


Grandsons Brayden and Hudson are also living on the edge.

My son Austin became an expert of the pickup line shortly after he canceled his membership in the “Bachelor to the Rapture” Club. Some of his favorites were: “Are you tired, because you have been running through my mind all day?” “Did you get hurt when you fell from heaven?” “Are you a parking ticket? Cause you have fine written all over you,” and “Kiss me if I am wrong, but is your name Matilda?”

We are just glad Kristina Freel didn’t think they were too corny, although she did successfully put an end to The Club for Austin.


In the world of advertising, much effort goes into creating the sales power of just the right line. We now know where the beef is, how long a diamond is for, and what champions eat for breakfast. If you are old enough, you even remember what a little dab’ll do for ya’.

In the mass of entertainment chatter, there are some lines that stand alone and become memorable. Some classics include, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” “Elementary, my dear Watson,” “Beam me up, Scotty,” and “Play it again, Sam.” A Pink Panther fan might remember, “That is not my dog!”

Design kind of lines are similar, defining the boundaries, taking center stage and drawing the eye along. Lines have beginnings and endings, go straight or follow curves with direction changes that might meander or be abrupt. They can communicate strength, balance, and drama, or can even evoke speed.

The boat building process is now in the stage where the line rules and the ruler takes second place, even though precise symmetry from left to right of the centerline is no longer spot on. The eye is the best measure of the perception of what is fair, or follows a regular curve. Possibly the most scrutinized line in a boat is the sheer line, the outline of the top side of the boat. It must be flow perfectly, without any area that looks flat or lumpy.

Most traditional sail or oar powered boats (that do not go fast enough to plane) have up-turned sheer lines at bow and stern. This is the best defense against the wind and waves. Slow-powered boats often are only turned up at the bow to face the waves forward. Contemporary boats often have more flat lines, with a downward curve at the stern.

But speed boats often have the reverse sheer curve, dropping at the bow slightly and the stern more dramatically. Their protection comes from planing higher on the water, and in this case, having more deck and a smaller set back cockpit.


Close is good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades, but that won’t make the grade when inspector Jeff Margush comes and does his scrutiny. He will start at one end, eye level with the line, and track it slowly all the way to the other end and then repeat in reverse. It does not get glued with epoxy until the final “saw this, shim this, sand this” is done. The scale model I made did not really pass muster, but he let me go on for the purpose of float tests. Actually, I am the same way, and I appreciate his supplemental inspection and help.

The following photos show the process of fitting the sheer stringer into the cross frames. Since all of the angles vary from square, they are best done at this step, with hand tools.




I know my Liechty relatives would understand, since the perfection genes came through that side of the family.


Here is Uncle Russ and Aunt Marge just a few years back.


His son, my cousin Joe Liechty, and I also shared an affinity for finish lines in our distant past. This was the sectional meet at Memorial in 1973.



On the other hand, my nephew John Crist is just a bit confused at this point, not having been through home school yet. Eventually, he got the concept and became a master of the punch line.


The literary world is full of great lines also and these are just a few:

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. Albert Einstein

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Oscar Wilde

Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened. Dr. Seuss

Go placidly among the noise and haste and remember what peace may be in silence. Desiderata

Truth stands the test of time, lies are soon exposed. Proverbs 12:19

Against the Wind

One of my most vivid memories happened when I was 10 years old.  We lived on Myers Avenue, a short one and a half block street, which stretched from the Dunlap Evangelical United Brethren Church where I went to kindergarten, to the woods in our back yard.  This day my family loaded up in our 1964 VW Bug, Dad driving, mom at co-pilot holding baby Joey, Anne, Margaret and me in the back seat, with Jane and Mary in the tiny compartment in front of the rear window.  At that time, car seats were the original seats that came in the car when you bought it.  We filled them up.

We were going to Belmont Mennonite Church that Sunday evening to see families like the Boyts, Ropps, Bontragers, Chupps, and Detwilers who we also joined to support the famous Softball Team.


This time though, we were watching the sky as it grew gray and turbulent.  In an uncharacteristic move, Dad turned around after crossing the railroad tracks in Dunlap, and headed back home.  He seemed to sense trouble in the air, and told Mom to take the other children inside and go to the basement.  For some reason, I tagged along with Dad out to the hill side where we could see the darkening southwestern sky.  Then for a short time, a quiet stillness settled in around us, with an eerie green glow.

The calm was soon broken by a whisper of wind, that gradually grew in intensity and volume.  Then in the western sky, the black tumbling clouds formed into a V-shape reaching to the horizon.  That’s when Dad said, “Let’s get in the house!”   We ran in, and the door slammed behind us, with the noise soon rising to the level of a jet engine.  The air was full of flying debris as the twister passed by two blocks away, but left our house generally unharmed.


The wind is a powerful force.  The Palm Sunday Tornado was not so kind to the Sunnyside neighborhood, as many homes there were wiped off their foundations, cars destroyed and trees uprooted.  The pick-up basketball game we played the night before at the Concord Junior High tennis court with my friends Steve and Mike Forsythe, would be the last, as Steve died in that storm on April 11, 1965.


On the other hand, the wind can be a comforting friend.  When a hot summer day is stifling, and the sweat keeps dripping, a gentle breeze is most welcome.  The same is true when on my bike rides, I would finally turn from the struggle against the wind, and become a human sail.  This was such a compelling feeling, that I invited my daughters to join me on a “One-Way-With-the-Wind” bike ride.  We talked my wife Jan into coming to pick us up at the end of our journey.


We tried to pick a windy day in the fall, for six or eight times in the growing up years.  The trips began by going to the end of the driveway, putting up a wet finger, or throwing a leaf up in the air, and following it.  Every corner, it was the same, cruising down the path of least resistance.  Many times, we would be peddling with little effort, in quiet, about the speed of the wind.


Destinations for the day trips included Plymouth, Shipshewana, Mendon, Michigan, etc.  When we got “there,” which meant we were tired of siting on bikes and we happened to find a nice restaurant, we would go inside and call for Jan to come.  These were pre-cell phone days, and allowed the unhurried waiting of an hour or so to discuss the day.  Then we would eat together, load up the bikes and head home, retracing the route and checking the mileage.


Sometimes, as a family, we had no one to pick us up but we went anyway.


Other times, the wind is just a mild annoyance, like the afternoon I took the sailboat out at Little Eden Camp, and had to tack a headwind home which made me late for supper.  On our travels, the wind seemed to have more influence on our old Toyota van than the steering wheel, and it made paddling across that Wilderness lake feel endless.

Some days it’s like there is a headwind in the shop.  Today I wanted to finish the framework of the back seat while it is still easy to reach in through the side.  Unfortunately, the rear cross frame needed to be reinforced first, and that piece logically should tee into the cockpit side moulding.  But to really get the moulding lines to look good related to the top edge (sheer) stringer, I need to have the outside edge in place first.

So, the side stringer will be an obstacle making construction more difficult, but it leads to the best result in the end. Some days, the forward progress is just figuring out what to do next, and creating a list of things to do.


Before starting the side, I decided to do one last detail to the back seat, routing the angle for the seat bottom.  I set the roller bearing cutter to follow the angle pattern, and routed two passes, getting most of the way through.  To finish off, I used my best Japanese hand chisel and made the first cut.  This is the peaceful time, when the ear protectors and the mask come off, and the dust collector goes silent.  The first cut produced a curl so captivating, I had to leave it while I made some more of them.


It was like fresh wind in the sails.  Below are Austin, and his cousins Andy, Alyssa and Luke.


Against the wind
I’m still running against the wind
I’m older now but still running
Against the wind

– Pete Seger 1980

The value of a prize and the satisfaction of its accomplishment is tied directly to the effort required and the obstacles overcome.  Carry on.