PRECEDING the hot-stove season, I always clean the flue-pipe of my workshop chauffage, and this time the chore revealed that I needed a new roof jack. So I've been up on the roof installing a new jack and pertinent parts, and it has been more fun than I thought it would be. A roof jack seems not to have made the dictionary yet, even the big one, but it is a device made by a whitesmith to let smoke pass through a roof while keeping inclement weather out. A flue-pipe passes up into it, and topside another fits down over. A whitesmith is a tinsmith or sheet-metal worker, and hereabouts we call him a tin knocker. My immediate problem seemed to be the loss of tin knockers.
I applied to several hardware stores. No, they used to keep a tin knocker on the payroll back in hot-air furnace days. No, they didn't keep jacks in stock. Sorry.
One man told me there is a tin knocker lives in East Somerville but works in Newcastle, but he couldn't recall his name.
Somebody else said a fellow name of O'Brien, or Gisbourne, or something like that, had just moved in on the Hardscrabble Road, but whether he was a tin knocker or a radio repair man he couldn't be sure.
Then somebody said there's a tin knocker named Morrison at Garfield Four Corners, and when I arrived I found Mr. Morrison knocking tin.
``Mornin','' I said with characteristic affability, ``hear tell you can make a roof jack.''
``Eyah,'' he said, doing a paradiddle on a pail.
``I need one.''
``You got one all made up?''
``Want to make me one?''
So I came home with my new roof jack and began ripping out the old flue-pipes. Used two ladders -- one on the roof with a hook over the peak, and one to get to the roof. No great matter, except that I'm timid on anything taller than a chair, and time that I might spend doing some work is lost by hanging on with both hands and moving with immense caution. I had just started when a voice came to me from below. ``How's the weather up there?''
Fellow was looking for the Blaisdells and came in our road by mistake. I don't know any Blaisdells. He said, ``I see you're fixing your flue-pipe.'' Then he asked, ``You got a roof jack?''
``Eyah, I had a tin knocker make me up one yestiddy.''
``Too bad,'' he said. ``I got one good as new I've had in my barn for 15 years -- would-a given it to you to be rid of it.''
After that Pudgy Callark came by. ``How's the weather up there?'' he called. ``Variable wind,'' I said. Pudgy said, ``That new fellow over on the Hardscrabble Road's name's Dinsmore. But he ain't a tin knocker. He's a barber.''
After Pudgy left, I was uninterrupted long enough so I had the old piping rather well down, but then the foghorn blew. We keep a lobsterman's foghorn, and my wife blows it if I'm wanted on the telephone. I carefully descended to feel the good ground again substantial under my laddery feet, and made it to the house.
``Morrison here,'' the telephone told me. ``I've made you a roof jack!''
``Good boy,'' I said. ``But you made me one already. Tuesday.''
``Oh, that was you? I didn't know that. Two people told me you wanted a roof jack, so I made one up.''
``I don't need two.''
``Course not. My goof, all the way. Well, that's how things go sometimes. Sorry I bothered you.''
My new flue-pipe and roof jack are installed, and I have a good draft to help me while the lingering hours of a rugged Maine winter in comfort. Meantime, if anybody needs a six-inch roof jack, pitched seven inches to the foot, Morrison has one all made up.