February 16, 2024
Who hasn’t imagined themselves on the deck of a magnificent sailing ship? (On the deck; only crazy people dream of risking life or limb up in the rigging or down in the bilge manning a pump.) Thirteen “tall ships” converged on the historic port of Erie, Pennsylvania this past weekend to celebrate “old school” world travel and thousands of people turned out to tour the vessels. Out of concern for public safety I confine myself to the dock or a tour boat. All three of the tall ships I toured in previous years sunk in storms; it might be a coincidence but why take a chance of continuing the curse? Our tour boat guide was great at describing the visiting ships, local landmarks, and the history of the area. The landmarks included some closed industrial facilities no longer needed in modern Erie. Like many towns, if there was a need to be met, someone found a way to meet it. I was particularly impressed with the 300 ton capacity dockside crane. The sales department took a big order for locomotives to be shipped to China and then discovered they had no way to lift the assembled engine on to a ship. Yes, young folks, huge equipment was once built in the United States and shipped to China. And hundreds of other places too. Thousands of jobs depended upon getting the design right, detailing millions of parts, making those parts, and building things in a timely manner. I am proud to say I had a hand in that process for some of those locomotives. Is American manufacturing a thing of the past too? Will future “festivals” celebrate our shops like old sailing ships? A messy, inefficient process that we have replaced with a few clicks on the computer screen and a credit card? I sure hope not; designing things, creating useful objects, and then using them to make even more challenging things is what makes us human. It is as much a part of who we are as wondering what is beyond that sunset and building a boat so you can find out.