2011-09-08 / Local & State

Hammering Out Tin And Piece Of History

By Michelle Ganassi
(SOMERSET) DAILY AMERICAN

LISTIE, Pa. (AP) – Roy Phillips can often be found in his Listie garage methodically hammering out a small piece of tin.

The former technology instructor has found plenty to keep him busy during retirement.

“ When you retire the worst thing you can do is nothing,’’ he said.

After retirement Phillips went to the Somerset Historical Center and said “hey what can I do?’’

“I said I’d do anything as long as it doesn’t relate to computers,’’ the former computer instructor said. “They said `we don’t have a tinsmith.’’’

Phillips was interested so he traveled to Canada to learn from a master tinsmith and started to collect tools. Phillips found his calling.

“I do it for fun,’’ he said. “It’s very relaxing.’’ Inside his garage is a variety of handcrafted items from cups to candle holders and coffee pots. It can take hours to raise the center of a small piece of tin for a coffee pot lid. Phillips turns on his CD player with 1800s inspired music and gets to work. As he works with the tin he recalls something his father told him. “If you do something, do it well,’’ he recalled his father telling him

Mark Ware, director of the Somerset Historical Center, said Phillips is a board member, re-enactor and craftsman.

“Roy was willing to travel to Canada through our crafts apprenticeship program we have here and work with a master tinsmith up there to learn the trade of tinsmithing,’’ Ware said. “He’s practiced that craft and acquired the tools for traditional tinsmithing.’’

Ware said the items Phillips reproduces are used for school programs and in the museum shop. He also does demonstrations during Mountain Craft Days.

Phillips said that he only makes a few of each item because he does not want to make tinsmithing a chore. He takes pride in the fact that he only uses tools that are historically correct. Tinsmiths used tin to make anything that can be used in the home. It was a cost effective way to make the items. He attends conferences

“Each year I try to find something new and make it historically correct,’’ he said.

Finding authentic tools can be difficult and often costly. Ideally Phillips would like to obtain enough tools to teach a small tinsmithing class.

Phillips was named Volunteer of the Year by the Pa. Historical and Museum Soci- ety for the Somerset Historical Center. Phillips is modest about the recognition. “I’m just glad I can do it,’’ he said.

He said the center needs volunteers, especially since the state slashed funding two years ago. “Without the volunteers it would basically have to close,’’ he said.

When Phillips is not shaping tin into household items he also finds enjoyment as a French solider for French and Indian war re-enactments. “It’s like kids playing cowboys and Indians almost,’’ he said.

Phillips has an authentic uniform, bayonet and musket. The musket alone can cost between $1,200 and $1,500. “It’s not cheap to be a re- enactor,’’ he said. “Everything is historically correct. They’re not toys.’’

He has traveled a lot of participate in different reenactments. “I enjoy it because we are portraying actually events and you get to talk to the youth,’’ he said.

Phillips taught computer science for 30 years until he retired eight years ago. He was also the scoutmaster for the Friedens Boy Scout Troop for 10 years and is one of few people to obtain a silver eagle during his scouting career. He received a draft notice in 1964. He joined the Navy and was on the U.S.S. Putman for a tour in Vietnam. He then transferred to another ship that also went to Vietnam.

After he left the service he went to school for a degree in the computer field in 1968. He worked for several companies out of Pittsburgh during a 13 year period.

Computers have come a long way since he began working with them.

“We’ve evolved entirely,’’ he said. “The first computer I worked on would have taken the entire floor of the house. The latest computer I worked on I held in my hand and it was 1,000 times more powerful.’’

Philips moved to Listie from Connellsville in 1978 when he took a job at the Somerset County Technology Center as a computer instructor. His father was an engineer for the B&O railroad for 48 years. His father-inlaw also worked for the railroad. “We used to hop the train to go to Connellsville,’’ he said. “If he had known that we’d be in big trouble.’’

It is good the family has a history with trains because the house sits about 100 feet from train tracks.

“The first night everyone jumped up,’’ he said, adding that the family has gotten used to trains. He has four boys and seven grandchildren.

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