Corporate Benfeasance

Some years before I met Pretty Wife, she was gifted with a mighty fine spade by her excellent mother, who is a gardening dynamo of distinguished taste. Even several years later, it remains a lovely thing with the kind of gleam to its ever-honed stainless steel blade that exemplifies a friend’s description of my snappy little motorcycle’s acceleration: “goes like shit off a shiny shovel!

Gratuitous bike shot goes

Gratuitous bike shot

PW hasn’t deployed her spade seriously in some time. You have to understand that women in her family garden, if not competitively, at least rather seriously. My mother-in-law conjures more vegetables per parched and sandy Phoenix acre than most mortals can manage in the Willamette Valley. Even Smalldaughter maintains her own corner of the yard, filled up with colorful blossoms, kiwi fruits, and her own personal willow tree <slash> private retreat.

What I mean to say here is that, in this family, a spade with a lifetime guarantee is guaranteed a fairly hard life. Pretty Wife has a nice waist, real muscles in her legs, actual functioning shoulders (yes, I am jealous), and a fierce glint in her eye when she shoulders her spade to march on the asparagus beds. Small craft advisory to gardening tools: keep up or keep out.

About five years back, she broke right through the D-handle of that excellent stainless spade whilst turning manure into a raised bed. Undeterred, she cast it aside and soldiered on with the nearest roundnose shovel. Since then, she (and we) have been through a number of dirt-slingin’ tools, mostly settling on a pair of digging shovels, one a double-rivet hot rod from Home Depot and the other a formerly rusty old head that we literally dug out of the backyard when we bought the place. Periodically, they get new handles from Hardwick’s, from which I scrape off the blister-raising factory lacquer and to which I apply copious drenchings of boiled linseed oil in an effort to make them last a full two seasons. Turns out I can be a little hard on handles, myself.

We never tossed it, though. We value good tools so, despite our increasing aversion to harboring extra junky stuff around the place, we held onto it, occasionally puzzling over how to repair it. We even used it lightly, just enough to keep it properly soiled, so it wouldn’t feel left out.

BMW heads

I like simple things that last. This has nothing to do with an aversion to technology — ask me about the SawStop anchoring my shop; my fuel injected, double-plugged, semi-overhead cam BMW; or the “ultrabook” on which I’m typing this, and I’ll cheerfully bore your ears off about the joys of high-end spec.

If you wander around the property, though, you’ll find more handsaws than table saws, bandsaws, or chainsaws. I rely on scribblings in a Leuchtturm notebook when I travel — they never run out of juice and the hard drives are functionally eternal. And, following the Three Horsemen of the Mayan Nuclear Zombie Apocalypse, my portly old R69S stands to inherit the Earth from the last, dying roach (don’t call her “meek,” though — she’s pushing 42 bhp, bitches!).

Shopping at Langlitz

Shopping at Langlitz

“Buy the best and cry once,” they say, and I’ve found it mostly true. Motorcycle leathers are ungodly expensive, but when a clapped-out Chevette turned left against traffic and parked directly on my Langlitz jacket (unfortunately, with me inside it), I toted the old hide into the Portland shop of its origin where they sewed up the damage on the spot and charged me all of two bucks for materials (i.e. small patch and a leather zipper toggle).

When I pushed the forward knob slantways on my Lie-Nielsen No. 4-½ and bent the bronze screw, they shipped me a new knob and screw gratis. Despite my protestations that I was tired and clumsy and using poor technique when I scrunched it, they wouldn’t accept a dime for the replacement.

Plane and simple

Plane and simple

Because I couldn’t quite stand to throw the old knob out due to the wrinkle at its base — they turn them from a fine grade of Eastern cherry — I kept it lying around in a tool tote until I finally mated it to a brass lamp part and mounted it onto a walking stick for Dad, who falls more than he used to or ought.

Filson standing shot

The old Filson: still in better shape than me

And Seattle’s own Filson store replaced my entire jacket when it unaccountably  failed to withstand sustained rodent assault.

Still, despite the sterling reputation of Lee Valley‘s lifetime warranty, I wasn’t sure they could back up a tool that was:

A) A decade or so old;

B) clearly abused; and

C) maybe not even from there (we were just guessing, based on Ma/Law’s exacting taste).

Couldn’t find the precise spade on their site, so I dropped an email inquiry to LV’s customer service box. A few days later, they asked if I had any supporting information, such as the original receipt (hah!), or Ma/Law’s customer ID number (and again, hah!).

Spade up

I replied with a picture of the spade and her shipping address, with a note asking them to please not ship any replacement to Arizona but instead to our Seattle-area home, and received this note in response:

Thank you for the information and we were able to confirm the original purchase of this Border Spade (PG244) made by your mother in law and indeed it is covered by warranty.  We would ask that you please return the broken Spade, using the packaging from the replacement we are shipping to you tomorrow.  We will also send you a return label for your convenience which will cover the return postage costs.  You will find the label attached at the bottom of your invoice.
Once you receive this return label, simply place it on the outside of the parcel and take it to your local post office.  Please include a brief note with the parcel indicating why you are returning the item as well as your customer number (6XXXXXX) as this will help our Returns Department process the return quickly.

We trust this meets with your approval.

Mxxxx McXxxxx
Internet Customer Service

Those taking issue with our treatment of garden tools may wish to note that a “PG244” is a steel-handled spade. Pretty Wife is clearly not a woman with whom to trifle.

Still, I believe that this very complete solution will, indeed, “meet with her approval.” The deep and enduring pleasure of dealing with Maine plane builders, Oregon leather tailors, and Washington haberdashers consists in encountering the cast iron integrity of humane companies. They do business on a handshake, a phone call, or an email, with a list of limitations on their warranty that is zero pages thick. They back their wares to your satisfaction, forever, and they can do that because they’re just that good. They’re my favorite brand of Americans.

And so are those Canadians at Lee Valley. We’ll buy more things from them — most likely by mail, since we don’t want to pay admission into our own country, but we’ll definitely do business with them again for all the obvious reasons.

We can either reserve our limited dollars for the good guys, or piss  them away on corporations which try to corner the markets on potable water and breathable air; which deliver energy to your coastline via oil slick, relying on tax-funded cleanup while paying no actual taxes; which are “too big to fail” and also big enough to buy out your representation; and which lobby for laws affirming that the citizens who are constantly monitored to ensure “free markets” may not freely film the open activities of corporations from a public right of way.

In other words, we’re gonna pull for the good guys while there are still a few around. My grandfather used to say, “You vote with your dollars.” For as long as we live in the shadow of Citizens United, dollars are the only real votes left. Grandpa Lewis also said, “Your dollars are like your soldiers. No matter how many you have, you shouldn’t sacrifice them lightly.”

Nor should they be expended on evil.

Thanks, Lee Valley. We may no longer enjoy “a thousand points of light,” but you exemplify the best of the few remaining, warmly glowing lamps.

You get our vote.



  1. john m flores says

    Good stuff. Good read. An inveterate gardener from a family of immigrant farmers, my father-in-law has been unable to garden for the last twenty years due to deer. I know, they were there first, but don’t tell my father-in-law that. One of the few blessing that Superstorm Sandy bestowed upon the wet state of NJ was the downing of two trees in my in-laws yard, opening up a now sunlit area of soil that could be easily protected. My father-in-law has been beside himself ever since, and has planned the garden over the winter. We got him a serious looking spade for Christmas and have a great picture of him with a maniacal grin, holding his new spade in front of the tree.

    I never knew that spades and shovels could garner such fervor.

  2. Jack, you’re always hitting ’em out of the ball-park. One of these days I’ll learn to park my car on the other side of the street so my hood stops getting dinged.

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