Heavy Metal returns to plastics machinery, after a brief sojourn into the world of Don Featherstone, the pink flamingo creator who died June 22.
Now we move on to stainless steel, to pumps, to dessicant, to East Windsor, Conn. Yes — to Charlie Sears and his company, Dri-Air Industries Inc.
Dr-Air makes dryers, blenders and material handling equipment. But this edition of Heavy Metal is not about drying technology. We're going to let Charlie do the talking. Not only is he smart and independent-minded, he's just a great storyteller. He pauses to think before he talks, and then, in his measured New England voice, crafts verbal paintings that draw you in.
(If you're ever in East Windsor, at a trade show, or he shows up for a sales call, Mike Keane, Dri-Air's vice president of global sales and marketing, is another great yarn-spinner. Bonus: Mike's from Ireland).
I got enough fodder for two or three blogs from a trip to Connecticut in mid-June. We'll start at Dri-Air.
On the state of U.S. education.
I know from my own kids that in school, they no longer do rote-learning things like recite the multiplication tables, or memorize the countries of Europe. When I mentioned this to Charlie, he remembered something he read in The Wall Street Journal.
“There was an educator the other day that said that we should not have students learn formulas and information, but just how to think. His theory was that we should teach people how to think, we shouldn't teach them facts and stuff they should remember.
“Now, you're a writer. If you did not learn what words meant, you couldn't write. You could think. But if you didn't learn grammar, punctuation, you couldn't write. So you have go through the hard work of learning the stuff.
“Engineering's the same thing. You have to learn what the formulas are. You can't say, ‘OK I'm gonna design this thing that does such and such…. You have to have a starting point-- you have to a basis--you can't just think. There's no such thing as thinking without having the substance behind it.”
On stick-to-itiveness, and a society detached from simple, hard work
Sears and Keane both have farming backgrounds. Charlie said: “When you grow up on a farm, there's a mentality about it. The cows have to be milked. You didn't say ‘You know what, I'm not feeling good, I think I'm not going to do it today.' When the hay has to get in and there's a storm coming, you don't say ‘You know what? I think I'll let the hay rot.' You have to do it. So it forms this way of thinking that it has to be done, and I'll find a way of doing it.
“You get people today, they've never been in that situation before. Today that mentality is gone. ‘Ah, geez I don't feel well today…' And we're catering to that.”
On our self-absorbed society
Pay attention to day-to-day life. You can learn a lot. For example, one of my pet peeves is, at the gas station, when someone goes up to the counter to pay, or buy a snack, and never stops talking on a cell phone. A slap in the face of the clerk ringing up the money.
Here's what Charlie's says:
“It's like, so what? Do you really have to know what Susie's doing? You see people at the supermarket, (in a whiny voice), ‘Oh I'm at the grocery store. We're walking around looking at the chicken right now. I don't know what to make for supper.' She's talking to her friend. Who gives a shit? Nobody's interested in what I'm doing. Ya know?”
On the pace of life, and space enough to think
“A couple of years before he died, I said: Dad, what's the biggest change in your life? Now he was born in 1907, I think it was. So he saw the real advent of the car. Airplane. Space. Television. So I asked him – what's the biggest change in your life? And he thought for a minute and he said, time. Time…. Time… He said, ‘When I was a boy, 10, 12 years old,' he said, ‘we'd deliver wood to neighbors and stuff. We'd go out and hook up the horses to the wagon. Drive the wagon a half hour to where they were to deliver it. Back home. Unhook the wagon.'
“Or maybe he did two loads.
“It'd be half, three quarters of a day. And he said, ‘You had time to think, because when you're doing that, you could think.' He said ‘Today everything's too fast.' To do that now, instead of three-quarters of a day, you could do that in probably half an hour.
“Now time is compressed. That was the biggest change he had seen in his life. I thought that was pretty intuitive for somebody who only went through the sixth grade.”
(Reader: If you breezed quickly through that last story — probable, since this blog only runs online, not in print — go back and read it again more slowly. Like you're talking to your own elderly father. Feel his heart beating as you hold his hand. That's how Charlie Sears told the story).