I’m not going to tell you Jeff’s last name or where he lives because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want you to know. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want me to know. What I do know for sure, is that Jeff is a genius.
Jeff takes trees and turns them into things. All sorts of things. Most recently he enjoys turning them in to machines with gears, sprockets, and spinning bobbles. He goes through phases. He used to like making trains. He would make fully articulating train engines and cars, all out of hand crafted wood.
He went through a viking ship building phase, a large spherical planter phase, and overall an “I will build as I please” phase that I think has lasted his entire life. His desire to build as he pleases does not include a lumber yard. He was pleased to build his own saw mill behind his house. He told me he wanted to explore the entire process, which is why he bought the mill. Further into the conversation I realized that when he says he bought a mill, what he really meant was he bought the giant saw, then he built what most of us think of as “the mill” up around it. He built it himself. He said it took him an entire summer.
This claim became even more fantastic, and believable, when we found a home made ladder inside the mill. He made it. He made all of it. Alone.
Jeff is very soft spoken and polite. He was quick to meet any of our requests, showing us this and explaining that, even though it was obvious, painfully obvious, that he led a life of intentionally avoiding most of humanity. You will never meet someone who treats you so nicely, despite the fact that they likely wish they never met you.
I asked him how he learned to do all of this. I wanted to know if someone taught him. He responded, “My father did some work with cabinetry but I’m pretty much an autodidact.” He showed me his shelf of books. Engineering, machinery, projects. He says he studies and plans things out. I asked if he networks with other woodworkers or has ever had any desire to market his skills.
He responded that for a while he was selling his trains, he had a business, but he got tired of trains. He said he has seen and been inspired by some inventors he saw on television making large oscillating wind driven sculptures. I responded that I have seen those sculptures on YouTube and was curious if he has ever reached out to those others directly, sent them an email perhaps.
He looked right at me and flatly said, “No. I hate computers. I really. Hate computers.” He went on to tell me that he was in high school right as personal computers were coming out. He and his best friend were excited and wanted to learn everything about them but his school didn’t have any curriculum or equipment. The two of them worked on getting a grant and special approval to get equipment and books and they dove right in. “To give you an idea how much I hate computers, my friend has gone on to become a huge computer tycoon while I don’t ever want to touch one. They aren’t for me.”
He finds them invasive.
My brother has sailed around the entire globe and now works for a Norwegian shipping company, so he had to buy one of Jeff’s ships. These ships did not come from a kit, they came from a tree and Jeff’s research on the Gokstad Ship. He reconstructed the entire thing.
Jeff was happy to sell it to him but when my brother giddily remarked that his associates were all going to want one too, Jeff politely requested that he be careful because he doesn’t want to build any more ships.
He is past that phase.