Monday, June 2, 2008

Tepees to Towers: The Story of Building the Sooner State

Tepees to Towers: The Story of Building the Sooner State
by Walter Nashert

In the piles of books that my daughter has created as she cleans out dad's house I noticed this title the other morning.

I noticed for a few reasons. One is that my daughter had put a little sticky slip on it that noted the book had been given to my old friend and not my father. That interested me right away. For another I have been reading a lot lately and the title captured my attention immediately. And for another I knew the author and that increased my interest. And I vaguely recalled this book.

Mr. Nashert was probably older than I am now when I first met him. I would have been in my early 20's or maybe late teens. The book was self-published by Mr. Nashert I think in about 1970 so I was only 22 that year.

He was the founder and then head of a successful general contracting firm in Oklahoma City and my dad's company did a lot of work for his. We were a roofing sub-contractor. Back then we usually had certain general contractors we preferred and Nashert was one. It is just kind of human nature I suppose that certain people and certain groups of people just kind of naturally mesh better and when that happens then things work better including projects. And when projects run better then everyone makes money. Part of it is that you do more jobs for a certain contractor and that increases the level of communication. Even then we had to be cautious of the relationship though because familiarity can be a problem. One could never take it for granted because there were other competitors waiting for an opportunity for themselves.

Mr. Nashert's book is one that he published as well as authored. I don't know how many books were printed or if the book might be available today. I do know that at the time it was a very significant endeavor to author such a book and then to publish it. No internet back then for certain.

There are 27 chapters beyond a preface. It is hard bound in a blue cover with a clear dust cover. There is an engraving on the front that depicts a wilderness explorer on one side and a more modern construction man on the other. Behind the explorer is a tepee and behind the modern man is a downtown skyline. The book covers the period from 1889 to 1968 more or less. The first chapter especially includes time prior to 1889 which was the time of the Oklahoma land run and the founding of the city of Oklahoma City.

My dad's name appears in the book along with those of his partners. The chapter deals with which roofing company might be the oldest in Oklahoma as of the the date of the book. There were three legitimate contenders including our old company. That company still is going strong today, too, by the way.

It is cool (as in rewarding and exhilarating) to stumble across your father's name in such a book. Even cooler is reading a history like this and thinking about the changes that have occurred. It is a little sobering to realize that another 38 years have passed since this book was written. Arguably the changes in the construction industry in the last 38 rival the changes in the preceding 80.

I knew a good many of those mentioned in Mr. Nashert's book. Mostly they are all gone now as is Mr. Nashert himself. I believe he died just a year or two before I came to live with mom and dad.

The thing that I enjoyed about this book is all the characters that are presented by the author. They are presented in such a way that the reader easily understands that Mr. Nashert knew most of them. History is sometimes thought of as a series of events. Really though it is about the people who lived during the time covered.

I am reminded of that time in Wilder's Our Town when Emily Webb has died and she wants to go back and relive a day. Mrs. Gibbs tells her to pick something unimportant and insignificant or it will be too painful. There's another time in Our Town when someone says "Wasn't life awful - and wonderful."

That reminds me of Walter Nashert's book. He describes 80 years of construction in Oklahoma by describing a lot of the people and some of the events.

One story that struck me was about Solomon Layton, the architect of the Oklahoma State Capitol building. Layton interviewed for an assignment to expand Georgetown University in 1894. He was awarded the commission largely because of a shared interest in the poet, John Ruskin. Layton had adopted for his own creed an excerpt from Ruskin's work, "Lamp of Memory." I was struck by the excerpt which follows:

Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever.
Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone:
Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for,
and let them think, as we lay stone on stone,
that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred
because our hands have touched them,
and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, "See! This our fathers did for us."

I love the sentiment and it reminds me of dad telling me that a "job worth doing is one worth doing right." But you know so much of what we do does not result in anything material like a building or a monument. Still the sentiment is valid I think for all of us whether builders or not. We should indeed look farther into the future than we do when be begin some work.

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