Saturday, January 10, 2015


Welcome to "Trades Week" here at OPOD. We will look at the world of work 100 years ago. We begin with this picture of a man who is working as a cobbler. The picture is from 1903.

It is amazing to me how 100 years ago the work people did was so tangible and meaningful. People built things, fixed things, grew things or improved things. Today, it is hard for most people to really explain what their work is, and what meaningful things they accomplish. 

I think shortly we will be returning to an era where people with tangible skills will be respected and rewarded. I tell students that most young people would be better off going and getting a relevant technical vocational degree than getting a four year degree. Right now, many diesel mechanics are starting out at higher wages than first year lawyers. There is a shortage of Diesel Mechanics, Certified Welders, Instrumentation specialists and electronic technicians. 


  1. I so respect people who can work with their hands. People who can size up a problem and then come up with the solution and fix it themselves.

  2. My g grandfather was a carpenter. One of my cousins, who does construction work, another tangible trade, inherited our g grandfather's handmade tool chest. According to the family stories, he made it as part of his apprenticeship back in Norway, even the fancy metal hinges. Painted on the front is the year 1865, when he would have been 23. According to my 99 year old mother, he brought his carpentry tools to America in it, though they have long since disappeared. My cousin uses it as a coffee table, having rescued it from his mother's basement. It is still a lovely piece of work, demonstrating what he was capable of doing. It's slightly wider at the bottom than the top, which would make it very stable both on Norwegian mountainsides and in the hold of an emigrant ship. In another line, I have a grandfather who died before I was born who was a "civil engineer," again learning through an apprenticeship system. He'd be called a surveyor today. My brother inherited one of his "field books," where he listed his notes for all the surveys he did for a period of several years. My brother understood it a lot better than I did!

  3. One of the fastest growing programs in Houston is at a local community college, where it's possible to receive training to become a welder, HVAC tech, and so on. A friend's son, who graduated with a four-year degree in anthropology and couldn't get a job, went back to school and became a welder. He's been at it for about a decade, and is making six figures, with plenty of international travel. I presume his travel gives him oppotunity to explore ancient ruins and local customs.