Craig’s Jewelry Repair

Craig at the jewelry bench.

Craig at the jewelry bench.

Craig’s Jewelry Repair was the first real business that I owned and operated. It was also the thing that got me through college without student loans, and mostly financed my first stint in Israel. Becoming a jeweler, though, was not the fulfillment of a childhood dream or the natural result of an interest in creative design. Rather, it was simply God’s providential provision for me … for that season of life. Don’t misunderstand; I thoroughly enjoyed the craft and could happily go back to the bench if I had to get a “regular” job.

This story begins in the fall of 1984. I spent the summer of 1984 working at a camp just north of Colorado Springs and then returned to school for the fall semester. That same semester, Dave Wolfenbarger came from Tennessee to enroll at ABC. In Tennessee, Dave had worked as a jeweler, and was able to hire on with H. J. Wilson, a now defunct catalog showroom, at the Forum 303 Mall.

As Christmas approached, Dave convinced his boss to allow him to hire an apprentice to get through the rush. Initially, Dave asked a couple other students if they were interested; both were interested, but neither passed the polygraph test. Finally, knowing I needed a job, he approached me: “Hey Dunning, you want a job? I know you can pass the polygraph.” That was the beginning.

I had no specific interest in jewelry work, I simply needed a job. So, I said, “yeah, I’ll give it a try.” I passed the polygraph and was very quickly hired on as a jeweler’s apprentice.

Dave set up my first week as a bit of a test to see if I could cut it in a jeweler’s workshop. When I arrived at the store for my first day on the job, Dave showed me how to enter the jewelry area (there was a “secret” button), introduced me to the watchmaker, then showed me to my workbench. On the bench was a golf ball size bundle of gold chains (necklaces and bracelets) that were tangled in a giant knot. “Your first project is to untangle those chains,” he said. Both Dave and Jim, the watchmaker, thought this would be a good test to see if I had the patience and temperament to eventually make it as a jeweler.

Dave gave me a brief intro on how to untangle gold chains, then turned me loose. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he and Jim were watching me pretty closely, trying to measure my interest and commitment level. Their initial assessment was that I would quit pretty quickly because I didn’t show any real interest or excitement about becoming a jeweler. Although their conclusion was wrong, their assessment of my interest in becoming a jeweler was mostly correct. I hired into this particular job because I needed a job and because Dave was confident I could pass the polygraph. I think Dave was a little disappointed that I didn’t share his long interest and excitement in being a jeweler. The upside of taking the job only because I needed a job likely made it easier to walk away when it was time, even though I grew to enjoy, perhaps love working at the bench.

Suddenly working full-time and going to school full-time was a shock to the system. My school work suffered because of the time and energy required to work in jewelry during the Christmas rush, which lasted through the end of January. At that time, I expected that my hours would be cut back and I could get back on a more regular track for my studies. Instead, I had to adjust to do my school work with consideration to working a full-time job. The learning curve in the shop was increasing because Dave was making plans to open his own jewelry shop. And, after six months of on-the-job-training, I was on my own.

Dave had taught me a lot, but there was still so much yet to learn. Now with Dave gone, much of my learning was by trial and error, which would have been quite disconcerting for the customers had they known. Thankfully, I had access to the jeweler at the Irving store who was both experienced and generous. Also, Dave was still available for help, too. This set up was great: I received a salary while learning, I had access to experienced jewelers when I needed help, and any mistakes I made (yes, you can break a diamond!) were paid for by the store. I also learned to work quickly due to the volume of work coming across my bench.

After Dave had been on his own about one year, he encouraged me to follow in his footsteps and open my own shop. By that point, I had begun to take on side work for Arlington Gold and Silver Exchange (an account Dave had, but passed on to me because his business had grown). He also offered to help me get an account with Kay Jewelers, which would provide a location for me to start my own business.

Eventually, Dave persuaded me to take the plunge. However, I didn’t make a sudden break with Service Merchandise; I moonlighted two evenings a week at Kay Jewelers at North Hills Mall in North Richland Hills. This meant I was going to school full-time, working at Service Merchandise 35-40 hours per week, and commuting to my own shop for about 6 hours per week.

The schedule was crazy, but I was making money hand over fist. Kay Jewelers had been without a jeweler for a few months and had an unbelievable backlog of jobs. And, because I had learned to work fast due to the work load at Service Merchandise, in a couple hours at my own shop I could match or surpass the money I made working full-time at Service Merchandise. This went on for a few months before the load became too much to bear. And, after two years at Wilson’s/Service Merchandise, I launched out on my own with two solid accounts, Arlington Gold and Silver Exchange and Kay Jewelers at North Hills Mall. Craig’s Jewelry Repair opened and I was a business owner.

The setup at Kay’s was great: I was an independent contractor, but in exchange for being on premises they provided me a shop area and utilities (I even used their phone). My only overhead was the cost of my equipment and work supplies. Kay only asked that I establish set hours during which I would be at the shop because they advertised “Jeweler on Premises,” which was an important sales tactic they employed well. Having a jeweler on premises meant they could offer to have your new ring sized while you wait so “you can wear it home tonight!” They could also generate another revenue stream via repairs. Both were good for me because I made money on every piece that came across my bench.

Once I left Service Merchandise, I agreed to be on premises at Kay’s for two hours, three evenings per week. After the first year of this arrangement, the district manager pressured the store manager to pressure me to add days and hours. I refused more days, but agreed to bump up to three hours, three times per week. Then, four hours, three times per week.

Having committed my life to vocational ministry, I always guarded against getting “stuck” in jewelry. Don’t get me wrong, by this point, I certainly loved my work. Not just the money either, which was really good … in fact, as good as I was willing to make it. I thoroughly enjoyed the craft and looked forward to going to work. But, I knew I would not sit at a jewelers bench the rest of my life. Thus, I intentionally, did not succumb to the pressure to work more days and hours per week regardless of the fact that I could “make a lot more money.” Making more money was always the carrot the store manager held in front of me as he tried to pressure me to commit to more time in the shop. He would throw out big numbers, even using the amount of money jewelers at other Kay stores were making, to persuade me. But, I never took the bait. And he never understood why.

Neither did I buy more equipment – large or small. I didn’t want to get “stuck” on the bench because I had lots of equipment to pay off. My shop was bare bones; I had the bare necessities, and learned to do things with the tools I had on hand. Jeweler friends that came by my shop were always amazed. “Where are your tools?” they would ask, knowing that I couldn’t get by with so little equipment. But I did. There were rare occasions that I didn’t have sufficient equipment for a particular job, but God took care of that problem. By “chance” I had become friends with a wholesale jewelry shop nearby that had every tool and piece of equipment available. There was nothing – whether specialty pliers or casting and tumbling equipment – they didn’t have, and they gave me free access.

Along the way, I had a few mishaps. I broke a few stones, had a customer’s ring stolen from my dorm room at ABC,  and didn’t make a deadline a few times. But mostly, I just had a great time being a jeweler, or more accurately, a jewelry repairman. Although I could and did manufacture, I didn’t enjoy that aspect. I never viewed myself as a true jewelry craftsman because I didn’t have a creative eye. If a customer brought in a loose stone and asked, what would this look good in? I usually didn’t know … I didn’t have that type of imagination. However, if a customer brought in a piece of broken jewelry, I almost always could figure out a way to fix it and get it back to new (0r near new) condition.

I was interested in becoming GIA certified in diamonds and colored stones, but the time and money were too much. I say that because I knew jewelry wasn’t where I was going in life. I wanted to be in vocational ministry, and I spent my last two years on the bench for the purpose of saving money to go to school in Israel. I wanted to be able to pay for my master’s degree without taking student loans and Craig’s Jewelry Repair made that possible.

Overall, working at a jewelry bench was great! I still enjoy peeking into a shop and looking at the bench and tools. And, I’ve always said, “If I ever have to take a ‘regular’ job, I would be happy to go back to the bench.”

 

 

 

 

RIP Mrs. Betty Gaddy

Betty Gaddy, 3/15/2013 © Jerre G. Beal

Betty Gaddy, 3/15/2013 © Jerre G. Beal

I recently discovered that Mrs. Betty Jo Gaddy (née Bogan) passed away on Sunday, December 28, 2014, in Rock Hill, SC, just eight weeks shy of her 90th birthday.

Mrs. Betty Gaddy was my first grade teacher (1971-72) at Arcadia Park Elementary School in Dallas, Texas.

I met Mrs. Gaddy just before starting first grade, on day trips to the school during which we were introduced to the “ways” of first grade.

I specifically remember her teaching us how to go through the lunch line! She showed us how to get our tray, then silverware, then our plates of food, then our milk as we slid our trays forward. At the cashier, we presented our money or lunch ticket before we carefully took our trays to our tables and sat down. After pretending to eat, she showed us how to put our things away; we took the tray to the dump bin and sorted our paper to the side cans, and in the middle was the slop can for our leftover milk and food. (We were told by the janitor, Mr. Guinn, that the slop can actually went to the hogs!) From there, we took our stuff to the wash window where someone on the other side washed the things. Funny what we remember after so many years; and, yes, we actually did the walk through.

1st Grade (1C), Spring 1972, Arcadia Park Elementary School

Mrs. Gaddy’s 1st Grade Class (1C), Spring 1972, Arcadia Park Elementary School. I am on 2nd row, 3rd from right, yellow shirt.

I remember Mrs. Gaddy’s smile in the classroom when we read or spelled a word correctly. She smiled brightly and easily. She always encouraged us to improve and go somewhere and be somebody, which was important considering our very working class neighborhood. But she never did this in a condescending way; she was a kind thoughtful soul in addition to being a good teacher.

I don’t know that I have fulfilled her dreams for her students, but I regret that she didn’t know that I finally earned my PhD (more than forty years after graduating from her class) and am now carrying on her craft of education. I have a feeling she would smile big and be very happy.

I think she saw things in me that others probably didn’t, and she was the first to give me the opportunity for leadership … as much as a first grader can be a leader. My mother reminded me that on more than one occasion Mrs. Gaddy sent me to her car to retrieve things she had forgotten and to the restroom to retrieve kids that hadn’t come back to class. She said she sent me because she could trust me to come back.

Here are a couple things she noted in my report card:

His conduct generally is good although he sometimes lacks self-control in regard to talking unnecessarily. Craig is a delightful person and seems to have wisdom far beyond his six years! (November 24, 1971)

and

Craig has leadership qualities that have been an asset to our class. (June 1, 1972)

Over the years, Mrs. Gaddy has never been far from my mind; I have never thought of or driven through Arcadia Park without her coming to mind.  I could not have had a better teacher to get me started; she established a good foundation upon which to build.

Thank you, Mrs. Gaddy, for your investment in me and so many other kids during your 30+ years of teaching in the Dallas Independent School District. The difference you made in so many lives is immeasurable in this life. You were the best!

Two Wheel World

After selling my first motorcycle, I throttled down to a variety of bicycles, including a 1976 red, white, and blue 10-speed and a couple different motocross bicycles. It was about 5 years later when I got my next motorized two-wheeler, which was a moped. It seemed kind of cool to have a moped … until the day I rolled into the parking lot my freshman year of high school. It didn’t take long to figure out that a moped was not cool. Let me say that again. Not. Cool. That was the first and last time I rode a moped to South Grand Prairie High School. So, for the rest of the year, I either walked or rode a bicycle to/from school.

SuzukiTS100BlueI turned 14 in the summer of 1979 and got a royal blue Suzuki TS100. On my birthday, I passed the driving test and received my motorcycle license. (Today you the minimum age to get a motorcycle license is 15, but the cc limit is higher. Back then, 100cc was the limit.)

On that same day, I came within inches of hitting an elderly man dressed in overalls who was shuffling across 14th Street in Grand Prairie. As I swerved and barely missed him, I yelled, “Crazy old man, what’s wrong with you?”

It was a very merciful policeman who informed me of the many moving violations I had just committed by speeding through a school zone and almost hitting a crossing guard. I was pretty embarrassed to hand him my paper license that I had received less than 6 hours prior. The only thing I can conclude is that he was so shocked that the ink had barely dried on my license before I sped through a school zone and almost hit an elderly crossing guard that he let me go with only a verbal scolding and warning. He certainly would have been justified to throw the book at me. To my memory, that is the only time I ran afoul of the law on that motorcycle.

In the 2 years I owned this bike, I had an amazing amount of fun, riding about 5,000 miles while commuting to/from school and exploring the country roads between Grand Prairie, Cedar Hill, Midlothian, and Mansfield. I regularly went out for 2-3, even 4 hours riding. One of my favorite places to ride is now under Joe Pool Lake.

I ended up selling the TS100 because my interest began to wane when I bought a 1973 Camaro just prior to my 16th birthday.

Yamaha XS 750 SpecialThe last motorcycle I owned, a 1979 Yamaha 750 Special, had belonged to my dad. He bought a Harley and sorta passed this one down to me when I was 18. I took it to college.

Riding 750 Special was a different experience than any other motorcycle I had ridden. It gave a much smoother ride because it had a drive shaft rather than drive chain. The smoother ride made it difficult to gauge how fast I was going and resulted in me laying the bike down the very first time I drove it.

I was riding near Mountain Creek Lake, trying to get adjusted to the power and weight of this machine. On my previous motorcycles, I had learned to judge my speed by the vibration and whine of the motor; this bike didn’t vibrate or whine. On this occasion as I was moving through an easy curve to the right, I couldn’t stay in my lane and quickly found myself in the on-coming lane then on the opposite shoulder before finally going off the road. Thankfully, I was able to hold things together long enough to leave the pavement onto a dirt road. Unfortunately, it had recently rained and the dirt road was actually mud. The bike slid out from under me and came to rest on its left side. I was embarrassed and scared, but unhurt. Wow.

My mind raced to figure out how I could keep news of this event to myself. I didn’t want my dad to know lest he take it back. I had plenty of time to think about my plan of action because I couldn’t lift the bike. The combination of the bike’s weight and the mud under my feet meant that each time I got the bike almost upright, my feet slipped out from under me, and the bike fell to the ground again and again.

Thankfully, an elderly man came by on a bicycle and I screwed up the courage to ask for  help lifting my motorcycle. I’ll never forget his cutting comment: “I didn’t think you were supposed to lay these on their sides.” Duh! “I didn’t have any choice,” I said. I wanted to cut him back, but I needed his help. So I didn’t say anything more. Thankfully, he was able to help me get the bike upright. I said, “Thank you,” and bid him farewell.

The left side of the bike was caked with mud, so I found a car wash and emptied my wallet to get it clean. After all traces of the accident were gone, I limped my shiny clean motorcycle back to the house and kept the story to myself … until now.

That was the only close call I ever had on that motorcycle. But it wasn’t the last time it was on the ground. I foolishly let another college student ride it around the neighborhood and on his way through the front gate at the school he hit some gravel and lost control. He left the bike laying on the ground and ran back to the dorm to tell me about the crash. Thankfully, there wasn’t major damage, but the gas tank was dented pretty good. I didn’t worry about the repair because he promised to take care of it. Guess what? He didn’t.

I haven’t had a motorcycle in about 30 years. I’m thankful that I survived owning them, and guess I’ll probably never have another.

 

The Oak Cliff Mustangs

Craig-Mustangs-1975

Craig Dunning, Oak Cliff Mustangs, 1975

I had a two-season venture into youth football in 1975 and 1976. I wasn’t so much into football – I was always a baseball guy – but so many of my baseball teammates talked about playing football that I thought I would give it a try.

Most of the talk among my friends was about the Oak Cliff Mustangs, so that was the team I tried out for.

The Mustangs were considered to be one of the best youth football clubs in Dallas in those days (the Jets organization was the other, as I remember it). Therefore, many of the better youth football players chose the Mustangs because of their winning reputation. The odds were stacked against me because the challenge of competing for a roster spot with some of the best football players in Dallas was compounded by my small size and lack of experience. The only thing I brought to the table was effort; I desperately wanted to make the team. Not just any team. This. Team.

The tryout period was rough; it was hot, the practices were long, I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t particularly like getting crushed by the bigger, more experienced players. We practiced daily (M-F) from 6-8pm at the north end of Redbird Park, which is now known as Thurgood Marshall Park.

The head coach’s name was Ray Dean. He was old, stern, and ran a tight ship. We had other coaches, but I only remember him and his son (1976), whose name was Kit or Kip.

Craig Dunning, Oak Cliff Mustangs, 1976

Craig Dunning, Oak Cliff Mustangs, 1976

Tryouts were about 2 weeks long. Maybe longer, and definitely shorter for some! I think I have blocked the specifics of tryouts from my memory to preserve my sanity and dignity. The warm up routine was 3 laps around the field (about 1/2 mile) followed by calesthenics. For calesthinics, a couple players, chosen by Coach Dean, led us through a standard set of jumping jacks, sit ups, neck rolls, etc.

After we were sufficiently warmed and stretched, we went through a variety of skills and coordination drills, which were followed by full-contact and blocking pad drills. I did fine in the skills and coordination sessions, but routinely got smothered in the blocking and contact events.

The best part of practice – besides the end! – was scrimmaging. Even though it was stressful because I didn’t know what I was doing at any position they placed me, I most enjoyed scrimmage. To end practice, we did sprints or laps or both. I. Hated. That. Part.

The final thing each night of tryouts was the cut. I dreaded the thought of being called to the “gallows,” but pretty much expected it. Each night, my dad sat in a lawn chair with the other parents watching practice and waiting for the evening to end with the inevitable summons to meet with Coach Dean. After each practice, Dad always inquired: “He didn’t tell you to stay after?” Surprisingly, that didn’t happen the first week. It should have, but it didn’t. And more surprisingly, it didn’t happen the second week, either. I actually made the team! But not because of any skills or potential. I didn’t have either. According to Coach Dean, I had earned his respect and a spot on the roster because he tried but couldn’t make me quit. (Story continues below.)

1976 Oak Cliff Mustangs

1976 Oak Cliff Mustangs

At the year-end banquet, Coach Dean awarded me the Heart Award, which was 10 silver dollars and a handshake. More important to me, though, is what he said when announcing the award:

The recipient of the Heart Award shouldn’t be here tonight. He should not have made the team; by all accounts, he wasn’t supposed to. At tryouts, he was the smallest, slowest, and least qualified player in the bunch. But, he wouldn’t quit. He came in last on sprints. But, he wouldn’t quit. He shuffled along at the back of the pack on laps. And when I made him run more laps for being last, he ran them … slowly, but he refused to quit. He was easily knocked down. But he always got back up. I wanted him to quit, but he wouldn’t. I tried every way I could to get him to quit. But, he wouldn’t. And because he wouldn’t quit, I kept him on the team.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the recipient of the the Heart Award is Craig Dunning.

For two seasons, I didn’t quit. For two seasons, I went to practice every day Monday thru Friday, then to games on Saturdays. I rarely got to play in the games. It didn’t matter if I sat on the bench near the coach or stayed out of his way, I wasn’t getting into the game until mop-up time, if at all. Sometimes that meant less than 01:00 remaining on the clock. Many times I never entered the game at all. Only a few times in two seasons, did I get into a game when the outcome wasn’t yet decided. On one of those occasions, an away game against the Grand Prairie Packers, I made the most of my opportunity: I sacked the quarterback twice on consecutive plays. (Story continues below.)

In this undated photo, Craig Dunning pursues an opponent. This may be the only existing photo of Dunning in action on a football field.

In this undated photo, Craig Dunning (20) pursues an opponent. This may be the only existing photo of Dunning in action on a football field.

I know it was hard on my parents to see me work so hard and get seemingly so little out of it. There was a financial cost for them, to be sure. But, there must have been an emotional cost, as well. Yet, they never complained in my presence of either. They were team players. I appreciate their willingness to let me fight and struggle and hurt in this way, so that I could be part of something bigger than myself.  I had made the roster of one of the best youth football teams in Dallas, Texas. I was an Oak Cliff Mustang! That was important to me. Thus, it was important to them and they willingly paid their own price for that to happen.

I learned much about life in those two years. I learned the value of getting up when I got knocked down. I learned the value of putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward, even slowly if that’s all I have left in me. I learned the value of being part of something bigger than myself. I learned about team dynamics and team work. I learned the value of suffering. I learned the taste of victory and defeat. I learned what it feels like to be unappreciated. I learned what it feels like to sit the bench. I learned how to earn respect.

Thank you, mom and dad. Thank you, Ray Dean. Thank you, Oak Cliff Mustangs 1975 and 1976.

My First Motorcycle

FT1-Mini-Enduro_1971_01On my seventh or eighth birthday, my Grandad took me out to his car to get my birthday present. I never could have imagined that when he opened the trunk of his car I would see a motorcycle. But that’s exactly what happened!

There, somehow wedged in the trunk, was a gently used desert orange Yamaha Mini-Enduro motorcycle that looked like the one in the photo on the right.

With a little effort, my grandad was able to wrestle the bike out of the trunk and on to the ground. I don’t remember anything that happened between the moment the tires hit the ground and the moment I mounted the bike in the field behind our mobile home. But, I have a very vivid memory of my mom and grandmother watching me through the back window. Their looks of disapproval quickly morphed into a grimace as I approached the fence with no idea how to stop. As they looked away, I crashed into the fence. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt. Neither was the motorcycle. Had I been hurt, I suspect, that would have been the end of that adventure.

Things got better pretty quickly as I learned how to throttle down and use the breaks, which was good because my mom was not happy about the surprise birthday gift.

It wasn’t long until I was racing around the field with a couple older kids, Jeff Baden and David Owen. They were riding Honda Trail 70s, but I was able to keep up in spite of their age and 10cc advantage. The field, about 5 acres, had a trail worn around the perimeter and a small pitcher’s mound type bump on the south end over which we jumped on each go-round. Round and round we went, never tiring of the blaring buzz of the 2-stroke engines, nor the repetition of our course.

I only had one mishap, and that ended up not being anything serious. On my way home, I entered the road while looking over my shoulder and didn’t realize I had crossed the road and was nearing the opposite side curb. When I looked forward, it was too late; I hit the curb and fell over. There was no damage, but the engine was flooded and I couldn’t get it started. Not wanting my parents to know that I had wrecked, I began to push the bike home, hoping I could get it started in a few minutes. I’m not sure how long I had been pushing the bike, but it was long enough that my parents noticed the quiet from the field and got in the car to come look for me. We met on the road, but I only told them that I couldn’t get it started. I never told them why. They never asked for more information, so I didn’t offer any.

The motorcycle fun lasted only a couple years because the owner of the field didn’t want us riding on the property. He had plans to develop it; at least that is what the signs said. However, nothing was done with the property for 30 years. In 2004, Arcadia Park Elementary School was relocated to a new facility on this property.

Had I not had to sell the bike for lack of a place to ride, I think I would have started racing motocross or possibly doing hill climb events because my dad really enjoyed both. Actually, we all seemed to enjoy watching them. But, I guess such wasn’t meant to be. And, I didn’t have another motorcycle until I was in high school.

 

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