Is there anything one can find in their tool box or on their work bench more useful than duct tape? I doubt it.
If there’s a rip in something, you can use duct tape to fix it. If a pipe is leaking, chances are you can staunch the flow of water at least for the time being by wrapping the pipe with copious amounts of duct tape.
Sealing a package for shipping? Duct tape. Piecing together a broken broom or rake handle? Ditto. Bridging a gap in torn vinyl? Duct tape again. Some people have even been known to use duct tape to repair air conditioning ducts, although doing so creates a safety hazard and has been banned in the state of California. Imagine that!
What I and most people I know today call duct tape was originally called “duck tape” when it was invented during WWII as a means to keep soldier’s ammunition sealed and water-free. Its uses have multiplied exponentially in the years since. Historically, perhaps its most famous use was by American astronauts aboard the badly damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft who saved themselves from carbon dioxide poisoning by using it to piece together a Rube Goldberg contraption that filtered their air supply and kept them alive long enough to return to earth. (Film aficionados may recall this incident as depicted in Apollo 13, the movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks.)
On a recent visit to Tacoma, Washington, I was reminded again of the many colorful uses of duct/ duck tape. The occasion was a reunion of oarsmen from Pacific Lutheran University. Among the people attending were my first cousin Ray Willman and his wife, Judy Rantz Willman. Readers may remember an article that appeared in these pages some years ago about Daniel James Brown’s best-selling sports epic, The Boys in the Boat. Judy’s father, Joe Rantz, was the chief protagonist in that moving tale. Thanks to family connections and social friendships, I was fortunate to be a guest in a festive gathering of old friends.
One of the attendees that week, an Alaskan resident and PLU grad by the name of Roger Hansen—better known to his close friends as “Lobo”—told a story about duct tape the likes of which I had never heard before. I used to think that Texans told the tallest tales. I’m not so sure anymore after listening to Lobo’s story.
It seems that one day some years ago an Alaskan bush pilot was out in the middle of nowhere when a grizzly bear attacked his single-engine airplane. As shown in the accompanying image, the damage the bear inflicted was massive. Ever resourceful as most Alaskans are forced to be by the challenging environment they live in, the pilot turned to duct tape to repair his aircraft. The second accompanying image shows the results. Thanks to all-purpose, ubiquitous duct tape, the plane was repaired, the day was saved, and the pilot was able to fly back to civilization (such as it exists in the Far North, once known as “Seward’s Icebox”).
Lobo’s yarn was inspired by an image shared amongst his teammates of a venerable red cedar eight-oared racing shell known as the 27-year-old “Loyal Shoudy” that he and 13 of his fellow teammates rowed down Puget Sound from Seattle to Tacoma in December 1967—a distance estimated at anywhere from 43 to 55 miles. The “Shoudy” had been donated to the PLU rowing program by the University of Washington in Seattle as a replacement for the “Husky Clipper”—the shell a crew from the UW rowed to Olympic gold in Berlin in 1936. Dan Brown’s Boys is centered on that epic victory. Hence, Judy Rantz Willman’s invitation to join the 50th-anniversary celebration of that winter row, and my invitation as well. The oarsmen needed a way to transport their “new” shell to Tacoma, but lacked the funds or means to do so. Then someone said, “Why don’t you row her down?” and an event that came to be known as “The Rowdown” was born. Their winter paddle gained front page news in Seattle and Tacoma papers and helped establish the rowing program at the university.
The image I’m referring to was taken of the “Shoudy” in the early spring of 1968, three months after The Rowdown. The rough conditions that day had taken a significant toll on the shell, and cracks in her 1/8” thick (thin?) cedar skin were appearing in abundance. Forced to deal with yet another problem and lacking the funds and resources to make proper repairs, the PLU oarsmen turned to duct tape, with efficient, workmanlike results. Thanks to artfully-applied duct tape, the “Shoudy” stayed afloat and the crew was able to practice and race in her for years to come.
Those are my two “tales of the tape.” Knowing how enterprising and inventive Aramcons can be working in the fields of Arabia, I can’t help but think that some of you readers have your own duct tape stories to tell. If so, please send them to us and we’ll try to include them in a future edition of this newsletter.
In the meantime, if you ever find yourself short of formal wear and need a tux or an evening gown to wear for a special occasion, consider what these people were able to accomplish sartorially using duct tape. Their attire is proof positive of the multiple uses of duct tape to creative-minded people.