November 30, 2010 1:05 AM   Subscribe

"Metal-fabricator Neil Youngberg never planned on taking over his grandfather's business and is now faced with passing on his legacy." A short film.
posted by maxwelton (32 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
A beautiful portrait of a human treasure.
posted by clarknova at 1:26 AM on November 30, 2010

His mother is so adorable working the sheet metal with her son.
posted by qwip at 1:39 AM on November 30, 2010

Neil would be a fuckin' PARTY with my friends at the bar. Nubbins down, no doubt. Rough, friendly, self-effacing, and smart. Probably the four traits I like the most about people in general, and make me despise hipsters for their utter lack therein.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:09 AM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I could have guessed that a film about a sheet metal fabricator would begin with someone explaining how one or more fingers were crushed. Every press operator I ever worked with had a similar story.

Except one guy I knew who insisted he lost his index finger between the sprocket and chain of a go-cart when he was a kid, but no one in the shop believed him.
posted by three blind mice at 3:34 AM on November 30, 2010

At least he got to keep his thumb. Would have been harder to keep doing his job without it...

Beautiful video.
posted by JoddEHaa at 3:39 AM on November 30, 2010

They are so over used, but damn do I love dolly shots.
posted by Virtblue at 3:50 AM on November 30, 2010

I couldn't watch as it brought back the the memories of getting my hand caught in a press brake. I kept my fingers, sort of. Gahhhhhhh. There should be a tag.
posted by sfts2 at 3:58 AM on November 30, 2010

The awesomeness of this old dude has pleased me, and also served to reinvigorate my boiling hatred of the young.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:12 AM on November 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

After initial scan-fail (Neil Young metal? Sweet!) I am pleased to report that this is awesome.
posted by Mister_A at 5:39 AM on November 30, 2010

I love this guy . I've been lucky to know a lot of simple self-made tradesmen in my life, and most of them have some traits in common - always willing to learn, an ability to admit when they make a mistake, a honest (not cocky) pride in their work, a willingness to pass on their knowledge. They aren't saints, but I'd hang with them over most of the suits I know.

Except one guy I knew who insisted he lost his index finger between the sprocket and chain of a go-cart when he was a kid, but no one in the shop believed him.

I got the end of my middle finger caught between the sprocket and chain of a bike when I was younger. It got crushed pretty good, and isn't real pleasant to look at now -40 years later.

Nobody believes me, either.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:54 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Very nice film. Must have been tempted to call it Man of Iron.
posted by Major Tom at 6:20 AM on November 30, 2010

That was terrific. Thanks, maxwelton.
posted by JohnFredra at 6:22 AM on November 30, 2010

That was great! Not too treacly, not too maudlin, but just right.
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 6:24 AM on November 30, 2010

Beautiful film, beautiful camerawork.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:43 AM on November 30, 2010

I got the end of my middle finger caught between the sprocket and chain of a bike when I was younger. It got crushed pretty good, and isn't real pleasant to look at now -40 years later.
As always, Sheldon has seen it all. [Warning: pic of amputated fingertip at the bottom of the page]
posted by SyntacticSugar at 7:14 AM on November 30, 2010

Great little film, the go-cart (?) on the wall at about 3'40'' looks amazing.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 7:24 AM on November 30, 2010

and make me despise hipsters

No thread is complete on here without this statement.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:49 AM on November 30, 2010

nice film, thanks for sharing OP
posted by HappyHippo at 8:18 AM on November 30, 2010

Where did you see the hipster hate?

posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

What a fantastic short film. This could easily have been a syrupy piece of romanticism, but I thought it was actually a pretty level-headed look at the tradeoffs, compromises and joys of a life spent working on a technical trade. Beautifully shot and edited too.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2010

A really great film, save for the over-used "gravitas" music that seems to always crop up in movies like this. That said, though, both the man and the story-telling are top-notch.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:34 AM on November 30, 2010

Wonderful stuff.
Doing my boilermaker apprenticeship I met many guys like Neil, most of them short a finger or three.
I still prefer oxy to tig.
posted by Duke999R at 4:08 PM on November 30, 2010

"They are so over used, but damn do I love dolly shots."

About as much as the word "the" is overused.
posted by bz at 7:00 PM on November 30, 2010

This is beautiful. Thank you.
posted by xedrik at 8:46 PM on November 30, 2010

Rich, on the other end of the press brake, did NOT yell "Clear!" as he was to have done, nor did he check to see if all *was* clear before depressing the pedal which brings the brake down (exact same brake as used in this mans shop, btw), and that brake came down slowly on my fingers. It had to be exactly what happened to this guy.

It isn't instant, you get to watch it happen slowly -- watch the brake come down in the movie, it moves slowly, but very surely. Man. I screamed, in terror, and at Rich, the shop was loud and he didn't hear, my father, across the shop, heard me, he yelled also, Rich finally snapped, turned around, let off the pedal. I walked away with good cuts across three of four fingers (the little finger not yet cut, as it is, as suggested, littler); looking at my fingers just now, the scars are totally gone. Likely the scars have been for a long time, I've just not looked in recent years. This happened thirty years and change ago, maybe thirty-five.

I was really shook up. My nubs would have been shorter than the guy in this documentary, I had my hand deep in the brake to move the piece of flashing around, to get it exact, it was the only way to really get the metal positioned correctly. Rich knew better than to do what he did, he was careless, it was before eight am, maybe he needed another cup of coffee, right? I was careless also, obviously, ought never to have put my hand in a machine that way -- though it *seemed* the only way to align that flashing, and we did determine that was the best way to make this flashing, there had to have been another way; no one should EVER put their hands into a place such as that. I was careless also in that I ought never to have put my hand in a machine that another man has control of; I learned a little bit that day.

I was furious at Rich, as you might expect; through his carelessness -- and my own -- my life came less than one second from dramatic change, not to mention considerable pain, and it's frightening, too, or it was to me, and I don't do well with fear always. I mentioned a few things to Rich, walked out of the shop, stayed out, too, half hour maybe, whatever.

Hopefully, today that tool has a laser running it's length, preventing such foolishness, human error. At the very, very least, that brake should have had a default that both ends had to be depressed before it would move.

The shop in this documentary has many of the same tools as were in the shop I spent my teen work years and early twenties in, though this one is much more orderly, and cleaner for sure. And we never worked with the heavy sheet metal as this guy does commonly, the heaviest we ever used was 20 gauge, and that only for small items. Maybe 18 gauge, but I don't remember it if we did. We had two spot welders, to weld different ductwork fittings together, we did not use torches, or welders, not in the way this man does; the shops I worked in were strictly used to create ductwork for heating and A/C work, or ventilation work. Mostly we worked with 26 and 28 gauge metal, making ductwork and fittings and plenums for the furnaces we installed.

I could walk into his shop today, with the tools I still own, and begin work as a journeyman. Or damn sure not far off; it'd take me time to get back to speed on sheet metal, but not much time; I would have to learn welding from scratch, almost; I've used cutting torches but not welded, hardly at all; it just wasn't what we did. I'm good with my hands, though, and I'd learn it fast enough.

My father started his first sheet metal shop after coming home from the second world war. A & N Heating Air Conditioning & Ventilation. The "A" in the name was to get to the front of the listings in the yellow pages; our last name was the "N" part. I've a photo somewhere of he and I when I was a tiny kid, I'm sitting on one of the tool boxes on one of his trucks, we're smiling to the camera, fifty years gone now; if I recall the image correctly, I was holding on to one of the ladder racks on the truck, ladder racks which he of course built...

Okay, I didn't find the photo I was talking about -- too bad for you, you don't get to see my father, movie star handsome. I did find one photo of one of the trucks though; I'm second from right, my sister standing, with some neighbor kids, brothers, Greg and Jeff. It's a newer photo than the one I wanted, and a different truck, but it's going to have to do, right? I'd have to organize here to find that other photo and *that's* not gonna happen, not today anyways.

So... Where was I? The shop. This guy much like my father, for sure, though as I said, more orderly in his shop. My grandmother never worked in that shop, that's for sure, nor my mother, nor any other woman. My mother cooked for the troops, as it were, and she did deliver some things to jobsites if a few fittings were needed, she was a notary and thus could notarize waivers and any other official business duties needing that role, she'd go to the bank and make deposits, if the rest of us were all tied up, and we often were; regardless my father didn't have orderly shops, it's pretty amazing how much work came out of them.

He lost his first business, my father did, he had a thriving HVAC business on the near west side of Chicago, my mother, afraid of gangs, and wanting what many others at that time wanted, insisted that we move to the 'burbs, and my fathers business never, ever did much there, and he lost it, and we lost the house in the suburbs, and had to get a rent-house in another suburb, and both suburbs we moved to had more gangs than the Chicago we left, by a long shot, more black leather jackets and high-heeled sneakers than you could count, the girls with ratted hair and goopy eye make-up, and lots of it, too.

I'm all over the place here and I am sorry for that, except that I'm not, wandering down memory lane, or what have you. This docu did stir it up, so it's all MetaFilters fault, I'm blameless, pure as spring water, white as the driven snow, etc and etc. Blame the OP of this thread, for posting it.

The amount of work that came out of the shop I spent a lot of my teen years in -- my fathers second shop, a business he and my older brother started together in the garage of the rent-house in that second 'burb -- the amount that came out of that ratty shop was amazing. Before I was seventeen, I could go to a house under construction and estimate the materials needed, go back to the shop and brake up and fabricate the needed ductwork, load it onto a truck along with a furnace, deliver it all, 'rough in' the house (ie cut all holes for chimney and anything else going through the walls, prepare it for drywall) and then install the furnace and all the duct. I got real fast at it too, which surely did matter in our family; I could pretty much do an entire rough-in and install in a day, day and a half max.

Two of my maternal uncles also had HVAC operations, thus they also had sheet metal shops of course, one of them extremely successful, Towne HVAC, had like 60-70 guys union guys going, he was a huge go-getter, he'd come out of the Korean war, went to work for my father, then started out on his own. In fact, my father worked for my uncle in between my father's two businesses, esp as my uncle began to have hard times in his business, and then as his health failed; my father was there to the end with him, after which my dad worked downtown, on the Sears Tower, the John Hancock building, Standard Oil building, etc and etc, these huge towers downtown. I'd guess it was seven years or eight between the two sheet metal shops my father had, between the first business failing and starting the second.

Like this man, my father built homes, and many of them, too, especially in the business that he and my brother started, my brother taking very, very much after my successful uncle, has been a builder for decades now. Hard times for builders now of course, but he's been a walking building boom most of his life..

The film is beautiful, the light laying as he's shot it on all those beautiful machines that I that I know so well. I really like the guy, he's very, very familiar to me, familiar of course having the same root as family. While I've been with all kinds of people and worked in a number of different fields, I'm still most comfortable with blue-collar guys who are comfortable with themselves, my two best guy friends here in town are both blue-collar yankees, same as I am, Jimmy from upstate New York, Bob from Cleveland, though we've adapted to this environment, changed our coloration to not get eaten. I like Texas working-men too, no problems, just that I've settled in with Jimmy and Bob is all. (Alison is just stuck with me as a friend, too bad for her; she still marvels over it, and laments, also, but I know she loves me, and I lament her, too, it's all okay.)

My father had kept many of the tools from his first shop and we used them in the second shop -- the brake, the shear, the Pittsburgh machine, the three foot wide roller to create curved fittings, the spot welders, a few others which I remember but can't name now and it'd take hours to describe their actions to you and you don't care anyways but I'm glad I got to work on his tools. A huge loss for me when my father died, that I did not get any of his hand tools, I *really* wanted one of his "dollys" -- a dolly is a solid chunk of steel which you lay on a bench to give a really solid backing to form sheet metal against -- or a pair of his bull snips, or maybe his old drill, big as a Buick, old as I am probably but it still worked, who knows where that stuff disappeared to over the later years of my fathers life. All of the shop machinery went when they closed down but I know he had all his hand tools when he retired, but life happens, right, things get lost.

One thing that he guy in the docu doesn't mention is how loud a sheet metal shop gets when some of the machinery is running and you've also got a few guys in it banging sheet metal; it's like being inside an oil drum when guys are banging on the outside of it CLANG CLANG CLANG BAM BAM BAM BAM except it's even louder than that, very annoying until you get used to it. And other than the obvious loss of his fingers, he made no comment at all about being cut all. the. damn. time; you're working with sheet metal, and especially lighter gauge metal will rip your hands to shreds, you're all the time being poked, gouged, sliced, especially sliced. That part is also very annoying, as you might imagine, but I can tell at a glance if a cut needs stitched or not -- mostly they don't -- and which cut you can wrap with a McDonalds napkin out of the glove box of the truck then tape tightly with duct tape, knowing it'll heal soon enough.

Over time, it was clear to my father and brother that the money really was in the home building, rather than in the tin shop, and more and more they put their energies that direction, and there is only so much time and energy. My brother cried when we were closing down the shop, not like he sobbed all day or anything but it was truly significant, no longer were you going to have anyone in our family in the sheet metal trade in the Chicago area. My father, older (duh) and wiser, better at grieving, didn't cry, but you could see it wounded him, too; he made some last cuts on that old shear, just because, and so did I, slamming our foot down to slice that metal (our shear was foot powered, not like the nice electric one the guy in the documentary has, the big braggart) one or two last times, a few more WHAMs in the shop. They sold it for a song to a guy who'd worked for them off and on maybe fifteen years, a good guy, I'm sure he retired on it, kept it small but honest, Ernie had integrity.

I can do things with sheet metal that you can't, that you wouldn't even think of using sheet metal for, and I've still got the hand tools to do it, and even without a shop I can do a lot. But sometimes you just *need* a brake, especially, or a roller, and you might not need a shear (you can cut with your snips) but you want one if you've got a lot of cutting you're doing, etc and etc. Oddly, when I've called various sheet metal shops asking if I could use their tools for an hour or whatever, they've pretty much unanimously declined the honor -- if you can believe this, *they* want to do the work, and want *me* to **pay** them for it. What the hell are they on about? Whatever can they be thinking?
posted by dancestoblue at 9:53 PM on November 30, 2010 [120 favorites]

I'm kinda hoping I get to take the "blame" (as the OP) for dancestoblue's fantastic comment, as he suggests.
posted by maxwelton at 12:59 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

My grandfather owned an HVAC shop, and I stayed with him a lot when I was young. He never, ever let me go into the metal shop area, first because I was 3, later because he hoped I would do things with my brain and not my hands.

Well, I've done some things with my brain, but someone else has finished them with their hands, and I'm kind of done with that. Last week my wife picked me up a table saw.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:52 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, I've done some things with my brain, but someone else has finished them with their hands, and I'm kind of done with that.

There are plenty of jobs that need both, and - if you can find/make one for yourself - you'll discover that it just doesn't get any better! (I'll never - not in a zillion years - go back to being an employee in an office ...)
posted by woodblock100 at 5:38 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

As I've said before, I love the smell of machine oil madly. I no longer have the studio on the sunny side of my house that I mentioned in that comment, but I now have a garage, and a girlfriend who thinks it would be cool to have a small machine/metal shop in there, you know, for making stuff. I'm totally making sure she sees this video.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:10 PM on December 1, 2010

Supporting Beam holding the entire house up, sawed all the way through.

"Oh, mid 20th Century duct guys."
posted by ovvl at 7:59 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, I've done some things with my brain, but someone else has finished them with their hands, and I'm kind of done with that. Last week my wife picked me up a table saw.

Just be sure to keep your hands out of the way, particularly the thumb and forefinger. (I know a guy.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:48 AM on December 2, 2010

My middle school had all sorts of required shop classes for boys.

But it seemed to hire idiots to teach them - they were always losing fingers and new teachers had to be hired.

Maybe the school did this on purpose in order to teach us real respect for the band saw and the sheet metal shear, or to motivate us to study so we could land a better job.

[ My parents were horrified when I took an aptitude test that said I was most suited to be an auto mechanic. ]
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:02 PM on December 3, 2010

« Older Enter a quote, get the movie and time it showed up...   |   I once went clubbing fifteen nights in a row. I've... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments