Monday, May 25, 2009

Sam, Sam, Sam, and Sam

A very well-known and successful woodworker passed away last week. His name was Sam Maloof. Regrettably, I never got the chance to meet him or visit his shop, although I came close once. A friend in Southern California, who was rather close to Sam, invited me to meet Maloof one weekend. Unfortunately it didn't work out, and I flew home a bit disappointed. Maloof reached the point in his woodworking that a lot of woodworkers only dream about. And he was a great inspiration to woodworkers everywhere. Rest in Peace, Sam Maloof.

Maloof was the son of Lebanese immigrants, as was my paternal grandfather, so meeting Maloof held some special significance for me. Both of my grandfathers were casual woodworkers. My paternal grandfather's middle name was Sam. That's him above, sitting below a carved and gilded frame he made (this is probably from the late 50's) to hold an icon of the Virgin Mary. A large portion of my grandfather's work had a religious theme and he built many pieces specifically for his church, free of charge in most cases. His father was also named Sam (that's him and my great-grandmother in the first photo--a stylish fellow if I do say so myself!)

My maternal grandfather was also named Sam. And he was the son of German immigrants. Sam fought in WWII in the Battle of the Bulge, and spent several months in a German POW camp. Although he returned home safely from the War, I'm thinking about his service this Memorial Day. And since he was also an avid woodworker, I thought I'd share some nice woodworking related items about Sam. That's grandpa above, sitting on his tractor. He farmed and raised cattle after the War.

A few years ago I came into possession of Sam's war memorabilia. Like many veterans and POW's, grandpa didn't talk about the war. I didn't know much about his service until after he passed away. Among the items that I received were Sam's medals, including two purple hearts and several medals for service in the European theatre, his recognition as a POW, a Western Union telegram announcing his liberation, his dog tag and POW identification badge marked "Stalag IVB". But the most interesting were the personal items that he brought back from his time as a POW in Nazi Germany. A small, aluminum cigarette case held some fascinating items. Aside from the case itself, which Sam engraved with the names of his close fellow soliders (which he dubbed "The Mighty Hungry Seven"--Sam weighed about 90 pounds when his POW camp was liberated by Russian soliders), his itinerary from Iowa to German captivity (including a train Sam was being transported in that was bombed by Allied forces) and an image of a dove with an olive branch in its mouth, the case contained German postcards with lists of sandwiches and recipes, and cigarette paper inscribed with names of dozens of ice cream Sundaes and other treats. It's quite obvious what was on Sam's mind during his months in German captivity.

A couple years ago I decided to build a small wall cabinet to display these items. I had the top rail laser engraved with Sam's rank and name. The walnut case is outfitted with Brusso hinges. It was a very enjoyable project to build.

A German post card with Sam's sandwich list. The peanut butter and bacon sounds interesting.

Recipes written on a cigarette paper wrapper.

Sam's progress from the States to POW camp, written in pencil on cigarette paper.

Around the same time I received these items, my uncle (Sam's son) gave me grandpa's old jack plane. Not grandpa Sam's, but great-great-grandpa Peter's jack plane. Peter came to America in
1870 on the steamer ship Hammonia.

Peter was a stone mason and in the 16 years he spent in northern Iowa (he died of cancer at the age of 40) managed to raise a family of seven, and build a stone church which unfortunately stands in ruins some 120 years later. I'm not sure how much woodworking Peter did, but I bet he purchased this Sandusky Tool Co. jack plane brand new. Perhaps he used it to build forms of some sort for his masonry work, or to do some of the trim work once the church was finished? Needless to say, its a piece of family history that I'll always treasure.

My grandmother wrote down the names of the last 4 generations on the sole, just behind the mouth. I suppose I'll add my name at some point.


  1. Jameel,

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful family history! Yours is a wonderful tribute to Sam, all of them.

  2. Excellent post. You mentioned that Peter's church is in ruins. Have you taken the time to photograph its current state? As a chaser of ghost towns, I know the church's current state will seem wonderfully preserved at some later date.


  3. Chuck, great idea. I'll do that next time I'm there.


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