is a skilled tradesman
who knows his job. A person whom you provide the blueprint
needed parts and tool
s and the job will get done. And done right. The name comes from medieval
times, when workmen travelled from project to project. I can imagine some skilled mason
s talking about a fire in Amiens
and how a new cathedral
would be built on that site, possibly one of those new Gothic
buildings popularized by Abbot Sugar
. And then they would journey to where the work was.
Amiens Cathedral took centuries to build. Today a couple years is a big project. But journeymen still journeys. When I began my apprenticeship my employer explained that "in the trades you are always working yourself out of a job." This isn't the Winchester Mystery House where the purpose was to keep building. You finish, you leave and head for the next job.
As a green apprentice the journeymen seemed impossibly skilled. They would take a pipe and bend it in impossible shapes. There was so much to learn, so many different parts and pieces. There was the National Electric Code. Dealing with building inspectors who are friendly enough when they think you're doing good work. Contactors and motor starters controlled macinery located everywhere.
As a former academic I was far more skilled with libraries than tools. My body was soft, skin tender. I remember struggling to carry a 4x8' plywood sheet. But as I worked I learned, as I went to class I learned. My body grew strong, and my hands covered with callouses. I won an apprenticeship contest during my final year and was sent to compete in a national competition. I didn't win, and even when I graduated I really didn't feel like a journeyman, not the truly skilled men I began with.
Then a few weeks ago we had to move a few thousand feet of pipe. There was me and a few green apprentices. I sent one out to get the truck, and when it arrived we started loading.
I watched them as I worked, struggling to grab each bundle of pipe, looking so unsure of where they were. I knew to stick my fingers in the openings to pop them up to grab, and though I am old enough to be these boys fathers, I outworked any three of them. And I barked out instructions, showing them how I worked. Today it is my pipe that arches across obstructions to land at its destination, perfectly plumb and level. Today I spent lunch teaching apprentice Molly about Class A circuits for a fire alarm system.
I watched those apprentices looking at me, like I once admired Rich, Forde and Dave, trying to master the things they had to teach. And I realized that I am, at last, a journeyman.