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Sunday, June 21, 2015

FATHER’S DAY SPECIAL - a cranky re-run

This re-run is from June 2012.  It was originally a two part post because it is too long for the attention span of most blog readers, but I decided this time I would run it all at once.

My brother, Chris, recently found a letter he sent to my Aunt Nancy years ago to be read at a reunion he was unable to attend.  It gives wonderful insight to my dad and I thought it a perfect post for Father’s Day. 

Dear Aunt Nancy:
I am so sorry that we will not be able to join you and the others at the Hagy reunion later this month.  Carolyn asked that I drop you a line with a few stories about Dad that you might rehash or read to the group as a reminder of whom he was, and who we are.

Dad was an exceedingly bright individual with an insatiable, intellectual curiosity matched only by his confidence that he could do anything.  But he didn’t just read about it or think about doing it, he did it.

When we lived in Tulsa after WWII he read about hydroponics, a then developing field fueled by the belief that plants could be enhanced and prolific if they were fed directly the nutrients they needed rather than having to extract them from the soil.  A chemical engineer, this inspired him to believe that he could grow the world’s biggest vegetables if he grew them in a greenhouse in gravel and fed them chemicals by injection at their base.  But he just didn’t think it, he did it.  While raising 3 boys and working full time at Sun Oil, in his spare time he built a large (30' x 100') greenhouse and installed an injector system throughout the rows of hip high boxes that he installed in his greenhouse.  He then developed a chemical container system, determined what nutrients, and how much, each type of plant would require, filled the boxes with gravel, planted lettuce, tomatoes, corn and other vegetables, fed them injected chemical nutrients and, in fact, grew the biggest vegetables imaginable. 

Mom and Dad kept busy harvesting his crop year round and sold to grocery stores.  When we moved to New York the property (a 4 acre “farm”) was sold more for the greenhouse than the house, and my recollection is that the purchaser became a full time grower and made a nice living off of Dad’s greenhouse. 

(As an aside, we hated to leave that farm because we had a pony, black haired and sassy, and appropriately named “Nancy”.  You will recall that you took her and kept her on your farm and renamed her “GG”.  She was so much fun that I think she was more aptly named after you, and to me she will always be Nancy.) 

A Cranky aside – Aunt Nancy’s real name was Eleanor, but that is a different story.

When we left Oklahoma Dad got out of gardening and into boats, and he struggled long and hard sanding and painting first a sailboat on Long Island and then a “stinkpot” in Southern California.  He spent more time working on them then using them, and I think that is why he became infatuated with the possibilities of building boats of fiberglass. 

Unfortunately, unlike wood, fiberglass boats sank like a stone if capsized and that stunted the initial appetite for them.  But Dad conceived of the idea of building a hull inside the hull of a fiberglass boat and filling the core with foam.  Tests demonstrated to Dad that this construction would not only  give the boat a firmness not present in initial fiberglass boats, which felt like you were sitting or standing on eggshells, but, more importantly, it could make  fiberglass boats even more buoyant than wooden ones.  He then set about making a fiberglass boat. 

He designed a racing sailboat that fit the allowable dimensions of the moth, a type of 1-2 man 11 foot racing sailboat then popular at the Ocean City Yacht Club, and set about building it in our basement on Long Island. 

He did this from scratch.  It required building a wood frame, upside down, then covering it with chicken wire and ultimately plaster.  A separating compound was then spread on the plaster and fiberglass on top of that.  When it set, the fiberglass was popped off the plaster mold and it became a mold for the actual fiberglass boat that was built inside of it so that, on its removal from the mold, it would have a smooth exterior.  He then built a second, smaller hull, installed it within the larger outer hull, filled the gap between the hulls with Styrofoam, and eureka, he had created one of the first (if not the first) fiberglass boats that would not sink. 

This is now essentially the method used in constructing all fiberglass boats even to today.  Not only would the boat not sink, his design was so good that the boat dominated the moth class for some time. My brother Jim sailed it to third place against far more seasoned competition in the first regatta the new boat was entered in, the International Championships, which had more than 100 entrants.  Because it was fast, and would not sink, there was a demand for the boats and we made and sold 10-15 over the next few years as a hobby for Dad and summer job for Jim and me.

And then came the computer and digital age.  Dad was just a little early for it.  Too bad, he would have reveled in all that has come in the past 20 years.  But he was fascinated by what he did see of the new developments and the potentially powerful new tools that could be developed. 

I remember how he applied his intellectual curiosity and “can do” attitude when Aunt Phil came to live with him and Mom as she battled cancer.  She was bedridden and helpless at times.  That distressed Dad, but he was intrigued with the then developing use of electric garage door openers and remote TV channel changers.  He wondered how that might help Phil, and he developed a remote for her that she could use to turn on and off lights in the room, summon them and, I think, control the radio.  All pretty standard stuff now, but he developed it from scratch.

Wonderful as he was, Dad had his human side; and now for the rest of the story. 
While he built a wonderful fiberglass boat in our basement, he was caught at the conclusion with a boat that was too big to get up the stairs and out of the house.  We struggled all one morning trying, and then, when Mom announced she was going to the store, a crazed look came into his eye. As soon as she left the house he was at her beautiful oak floors with a rip saw opening a huge hole to the basement.  He fearlessly cut through not only the oak floor, but the supporting beams, and, before the floor collapsed, shored up the beams and framed the cut out section of oak floor to make a trap door.  The boat was then extracted and the trap door fit into place and covered with a rug, all before Mom got back from the store.
But there is more.  After extracting the boat it was towed to Manhasset Bay for its inaugural cruise.  Unfortunately, upon being launched the boat immediately rolled over.  It was top heavy and, while it wouldn’t sink, it wouldn’t stay right side up either.  After a whole year of hard work and the caesarian removal of the boat from the basement you can imagine how distressed Dad was; but not for long.  After a short period of mourning he redesigned the boat, threw out the old molds, built new ones and delivered a new boat by the next racing season.

A cranky aside – Several Years later my brother Jim and I (90% Jim) rebuilt the original boat from dad's design without the extra heavy inner hull.  In our haste the mold was imperfect and we did not have time for a do-over in order to enter the last sailing event of the season.  We fitted out the MOLD with its rough exterior (causing slowing inefficient water flow) and Jim still finished 2nd in a fleet of 45 boats.  That boat was then retired, never to sail again.


 It was that boat, his second effort, which my brother Jim sailed to third in the Internationals and to first in the South Jersey championships and which captured the hearts of all who were longing for fast, safe fiberglass boats and the end of more sanding and varnishing than sailing.

I also remember Dad’s human side as a wonderful, loving father.  He knew that some Friday nights when I was out late while in high school that I had been into some beverages that weren’t appropriate.  But he never said anything----just came into the room early Saturday morning and insisted that I get up and come to the basement to work on those blasted boats.  He would then run the rip saw all day and otherwise make as much noise as possible.  Believe me; you didn’t want a hangover at our house, and a couple Saturday mornings like that were all that were needed to get me to behave a little better on Friday nights.

A Cranky aside – I remember the night outs as being on Saturday and it was on those Sundays that Dad got religion and we went to Church…early.  Either way, the lesson was delivered so well that Mr. Cranky did not have his first hangover until I was in college and far from home.

What I remember most, however, was the night I totaled his new 1959 Ford Galaxy.  It was about 2 months old, and I was in my senior year of high school.  He let me use his new car one night and, while tuning the radio, I looked down and drifted through a stop light into a major thoroughfare and was broadsided.  The car was demolished.  While it was being cleared out of the street a policeman took me to a drug store where, shaking with fear and expecting the wrath of God, I called home.  Dad answered, I told him I had been in an accident and was afraid his new car had been totaled.  He asked was I all right, and when I said yes he said: “Fine, that is all that matters.  I will come pick you up.” 
That is the last thing he said about that accident.

A Cranky aside – The story I remember is that Chris pulled out as soon as the light turned green and got hit by a car running the red light.  Now the truth is out.  I’m guessing Dad had Chris' back and went along with the cover up story.

I hope this gives you some things to remember about Dad as you reminisce about the family later this month.  I miss him, and all the Hagy’s, and wish I could be with you.

Happy Father’s Day to all you great Dads!




  1. You had quite an interesting Dad. I love your Cranky asides, because that's how siblings are. Happy Father's Day to you.

  2. I think you look a lot like your handsome dad. He was a creative genius. Probably should have appeared in a science/technology textbook somewhere!
    The only way I can relate to him is by recalling the story of the 8' paper mache dinosaur I built for my grandkids. No one here had the smarts to saw a trap door to accommodate his exit. My T-Rex lost his hind legs and one arm on the way out. Your dad would have constructed me a skylight and crane instead!
    Happy Father's Day, Mr. C! You're a great one yourself!

  3. what a sharp, inventive, hard-working man! the kitchen floor made me shudder!

  4. A wonderful tribute to your dad. He sounds like an inspiring and loving dad and I can tell you miss him. Happy Father's Day to you, my friend.

  5. What a great tribute to your dad!! I think he was wise to have the kids work off a hangover rather than preach about the effects of drinking. That probably made more of an impact with actions of working when not feeling well rather than a lecture. May you have an enjoyable Father's Day!


  6. What a great tribute to your dad. A very enjoyable read.

    Have a fabulous day and a happy fathers day too. ☺

  7. May you be admired as much by your kids as your dad is/was by his!!

  8. I wonder if your dad ever patented any of his inventions.

  9. What a great tribute to a clever, entrepreneurial guy!

  10. Happy Father's Day. Your father sounds like a fabulous man.

  11. Not only a genius, but a very brave man to open up that trapdoor!

  12. Wow, what a clever and brilliant man your Dad was. Lovely tribute to such a special man.
    Hope you had a great father's day.