Cass celebrates the 50th anniversary of his coming to USA.
He arrived to New York on January 19, 1968.
THE ROOTS OF METALSHAPING SKILLS
If you just had turned twenty during the cold war times, and if you live in the middle of the socialist camp, what would be the best way to plan your future? You had to accept the system and tried to get something for yourself like a free education. If you won’t be stubborn in your resentment of the totalitarian system, this course could bring you eventually to a mid-level position in the socialist hierarchy, a subsidized apartment, a once-a-year voucher at a sea or a mountain resort, a decent record of accomplishments, presented for your 50th birthday, and an unpretentious retirement at sixty. Or, if the rules of bureaucratic race made you sick and tired, there was always an easy way to escape the system for a while and to get drunk. This simple acumen was preached by millions, who lived on the Eastern side of the iron curtain from the Berlin wall to the Pacific Ocean.
Cass turned twenty in Poland in early 1960s. Berlin wall was just erected in East Germany. In Poland the Soviet soldiers were lazily played their casual Sunday soccer game on a suburban field near Torun, next to Cass’s home. Though the young fellow was not occupied much with politics, a couple of political formulas already took deep roots in his head. The first came from his old uncle, who returned to Poland from America after the Great Depression. The uncle had a perpetual belief in unbeatable advantages of the free enterprise system over the regulated social distribution. The second assertion was something that hung in the air over Poland for centuries, the fear and the resentment of anything that came from Russia or Germany. Germany was beaten up in the World War II and seemed not able to cause more danger in a foreseeable future. So the fears turned to the East.
The Polish centrally planned economy and bureaucracy were modelled after the Soviet Union in the precision details. The imported ideology proved to be contagious. A drunk neighbor, who served in a worker's militia unit, which carried local them property expropriation operations, yelled toward the windows on his customary walk, while swinging from one side of a narrow street to another: "Uh, you, disguised bourgeoisie, wait! We'll show you!"
With a good deal of surprise the small boy observed the mass enthusiasm and joy of his fellow citizens that was expressed by a crowd gathering in 1956 at the celebratory meeting for the shift of power from the former totalitarian socialist government to the Gomulka's socialism "with a human face". It was all strange and odd to him. What is the difference how did they paint the yoke, if it was still on your neck?
Such political views, however, could not be openly shared with the neighbors or even friends. Once an anecdotic case happened at a youngsters' party. As usual, the guests danced for two hours, entirely relaxed after a few drinks. The ceiling lights turned off, the dim flares from the street lights projected the vague silhouettes to the walls. Whispers, giggles and the occasional glass jingles were the only sounds blended with the music. Suddenly, a loud and startled hostess’s voice broke the comforting flux of tones. She turned the lights on, her face blushed, her left arm raised up. She held in her hand a small red jetton with the gold imprinted letters UB. Everybody knew this abbreviation stood for the secret political police. "Somebody dropped it on the floor," she uttered. All faces turned around, but nobody moved forward. Music stopped. The awkward pause became lengthy. Finally the young woman suggested: "Let's do that: I'll keep the paper here. Whoever wants it back - come tomorrow morning before I go to work." No more guests were in the room a minute later. Everybody left in a hustle, mumbling excuses about a sick mother-in-law, an unfed dogs and an expected phone calls. Early next morning two unfamiliar young men in dark overcoats and hats rang the doorbell of the apartment. "Good morning, panni! Yesterday one of our colleagues left something here. We came to pick it up." She never found out who was a secret agent among her guests.
Cass's father never wanted to collaborate with the system and to get employed at some socialist office or factory. He stubbornly ran his private business as a taxi cab driver. Occasionally he grumbled to the passengers about the shortages of spare parts or a corrupted traffic policeman. He became less inclined to chat after spending three weeks in a local jail. When he returned home his shoes had straws instead of the shoe strings. His clothes was stinky. In the kitchen the stepmother silently washed his garments and asked no questions. Cass was a small boy. As usual he played under the dining table with his favorite and only toys, pot and pan lids. It was a good observation point to remember the straws instead of the shoe strings for the rest of his life.
The best days for a taxi driver were when weddings were celebrated in a nearby village. On these occasions passengers became generous. Giving a ride to a happy, well dressed young couple and their guests was fun. A taxi driver in these days was almost like a coach to Wonderland. To hire a taxi for a wedding was a sign of prestige. The car was usually followed by the ornamented horse carriages on the way to a local church. Showers of grain and candies gushed to the bystanders along sidewalks. No fun was left for the driver's son on a holiday. The car booked for a wedding had to emit shine and glitter, old nickel plated handles had to be polished, fenders had to be scraped inside. All these cleaning duties laid on Cass.
Dad’s first car, a trophy German Opel Kadet, gave place later to a second hand (possible, fifth or sixth) American Studebaker Champion. Both cars catastrophically needed the spare parts. No spare parts suppliers existed in the postwar Poland. The scrape metal left just after the war was used. Dad constantly looked for any junk idling along the road sides and waste lands. Any piece of rusted steel became a valuable. Machining, filing, welding, blacksmith skills were the most reliable ways to get the spare parts. For a short while the debris of the war supplied a good portion of the desired metal parts. But the idling skeletons of the war machines disappeared from the road sides very soon. The next source of parts could be found only in the state machine shops, if a proper man was bribed. A large pile with a diverse selection of bearings, bolts, nuts, axles, latches, bars, old panels, rims and who knows what else, was accumulated in a garage corner. Cass and his Dad should be sure of their ability to face any technical problem promptly and be able to fix the car at any moment. If, unfortunately, the car broke before a wedding, Cass had to stay in the garage for the entire night. By the morning the car had to be fixed no matter what.
However, people did not have wedding festivities daily. Taxi venture did not boom in a small medieval town by the Visla River, which had narrow, curved, cobblestone streets and unpretentious citizens, who used to walks to and from a market place carrying their backpacks. To make ends meet the family with four children had to be engaged in other of activities. One of them was building wagons for farmers. As anything around the vehicle trade, the materials and supplies were in an extreme shortage. Every wheel, tire, metal pipe or a piece of board for a frame were diligently uncovered from trash, stored in a corner until finally all four wheels of the approximately equal size had been collected. It was a small joy when an old wheel of the matching size was discovered. When all wheels were in place, the whole construction project moved ahead. Seven years old Cass enthusiastically pounded nails into a wood wagon frame, while friends from his elementary school played ball at a backyard. "To make something from nothing" - since then Cass took this motto with him to the long, long journey.
The automobile fed the family. It also became a cause of the tragedy. The second brother, Leonard, got into a fatal collision on a bumpy rural road one holiday night. He was 32 years old and left a young wife and three kids. Eight years old Cass remained a single technical helper to his father. Other children in the family were sisters, Ela and Ursula. The oldest brother Jerzy left home in 1945. He was mobilized as a truck driver by the retreating German troops. He was in the American occupation zone when the war ended and later immigrated to Australia, where he resides with his wife, children and grandchildren.
The father tried his best to cope with his rickety vehicles, but the constant repairs dragged his cab business down. He always dreamed about a new car, almost an illusory fantasy in Poland of early 1950s. Only the top officials or the exclusive national heroes were allowed to have them, like a bike racer Kròlak, whom the government awarded with a brand new car Warsawa in 1955. This car was copied from the Soviet Pobeda, which in its turn was modelled after the German Opel Capitan.
If a new car was an elusive dream, occasionally, some opportunities appeared to buy a used car. Once, in 1956, the government loosened up the restrictions for the ship crews sailing abroad. The sailor got a permission to buy cars in the foreign ports and to transport them home without the customs duties. In eleven months, while this loophole lasted, Poland was almost flooded with old Opel, Adler and even Mercedes cars. It turned to be a flourishing business among the sailors to resell the second hand cars. Their eagerness to motorize their fellow citizens was limited only by the deck size and the bureaucratic procedures of issuing the foreign travel permits. Of course, it did not take long for the government to realize a hazard of the inequitable enrichment of the astute entrepreneurs, to correct the mistake and to restore the killing customs duties.
But the damage was already done. For many years through the 1960s and 1970s, the German, French and English cars of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s circulated on Polish market. Dad took an advantage of the situation. In his search of a dream car he changed nearly a dozen of models during 15-20 years. An East-West automobile salon could be opened, if put together all the cars that went through the small garage. Opel Olimpia, Opel Kadet, Adler Triumf, Adler Admiral, Mercedes 170V, Studebaker Champion, Soviet Moskviches 402 and 407, Chechoslovakian Skoda, East German made IFA. Of course, none of them was a new car. Each car, like its predecessor, craved for the spare parts and repair work. But it was a unique technical school for Cass!
July 26, 2016
Cass Nawrocki shows portable gear roller on YouTube
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Pictures and videos from Rt. 56 Metalshaping Event in Minnesota, May 7, 2016.
Cass attended Rt. 56 Metalshaping Event in Minnesota, May 7, 2016.
April 4, 2016
Cass Nawrocki Shaping Metal on Youtube