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Ed Reaver
Emmitsburg's Master Cabinet Maker

Michael Hillman

On a recent trip, a flight attendant asked if I would like cream in my coffee. Now for those of you who have never had the ‘pleasure’ of airline coffee, it’s without a doubt the worst coffee there is; axle grease added in large quantity helps to hide the taste. So, needless to say, I said "yes" to the cream. It came as no surprise, however, when I was handed a container of skim milk instead of cream. Now I’m not a dairy expert, but unless there has been a recent change in definitions, skim milk is not cream. (I independently confirmed this with Eugene Grimes and Joe Wivell, Jr.).

When I asked for the cream originally offered, the flight attendant informed me that only the first class passengers received cream.

"Then why did you offer me cream? Why not ask if I want skim milk in my coffee?" Obviously flustered by my completely logical question, the flight attendant reacted and retrieved some "real" cream for me. Other passengers watching this exchange also began to insist on real cream. The following week, I received notice that my frequent flyer status was being revoked.

Now Audrey originally thought that I did this sort of thing just to embarrass her, but after seven or maybe eight years of marriage she's concluded that I'm simply neurotic. A fact I do not deny, especially when it comes to my level of expectations on the quality of products and customer service (not to mention white board fences). As a kid, I remember going down to the local hardware store and being treated like royalty when I asked for help, even though I was only buying fifty cents worth of nails.

In today’s supermarket hardware stores you're lucky to find help and when you do it’s usually nothing but a nod in the general direction you need to go. Not so very long ago, if more than three people were in a check out line you could be fairly sure a second register would be speedily open. Today it is not unusual to stand in a line ten-deep while store employees stand idly by chatting about God-knows-what.

Since moving from the city to Emmitsburg, I have become increasingly aware of the different levels of customer service and quality provided by big-name chain stores compared to that provided by our local merchants and professionals. Sure, we can all run down to "Tire Universe and Donut Shoppe" and save two bucks on a tire. But how long will you have to stand in line to get service when that tire blows out ten months later? And will the owner apologize to you and slap a new tire on without giving you the third degree?

"Super Duper Pets Galore" will surely give you a better deal on some of the services the local vet provides . . . from nine to five, but will anyone meet you with a smile on a rainy night at 2:00 a.m. to look at your sick cat or dog. Do they know your cat’s, or for that matter, your, name without referring to a file? Will they spend hours of there own time searching university databases on the Internet to figure out why your horse is not performing at its peak ability?

Over the last eight years, I have become acquainted and impressed with many local businesses to the point that when I can purchase a product or service locally, I do, even if sometimes shopping locally means spending a few extra dollars in the short run. Businesses like Quality Tire, Zurgables, The Ott House, The Main Street Deli, Allaway Gardens—, to name just a few, are a pleasure to deal with. Emmitsburg also has more than its share of excellent tradesmen and professionals, such as Kermit Glass, Earl May, Ed Reaver, Paul Krietz, and Dr. Gary Kubala. All treat you with respect and honesty, a trait that we often hear is hard to find.

Take Ed Reaver, for example. Ed and his son Brian operate 'Reaver's Woodworking' out at their shop on Dry Bridge road. Born in Taneytown to Sheridan and Helen Myers Reaver. . . on, well, let’s just say on July 31st Ed will be celebrating an anniversary of his 40 birthday. Like most men, tiring of the good bachelor life, Ed got respectable and married "the love of his life," Helen Weevil. Settling in Emmitsburg, they raised a happy brood of six boys and three girls.

For the first thirty years, Ed worked as a mechanist in various clothing factories but all that time his heart and mind longed for the feel of wood. Having built furniture for relatives for years, in 1989 Ed started to produce furniture for people outside the 'clan'. Over the next six years he honed his skills and in 1995 Ed finally made the plunge and went into cabinet making full time.

Just about this time, Audrey was renovating our living room, which included obtaining a new entertainment center. Why she wanted to replace the cinder blocks and pine boards that had served me well since my college days escaped me, but since she had married me, I figured her judgment wasn't all that bad. After several unsuccessful attempts to purchase one, Audrey opted to have one built. Always looking to save a buck, I offered to build the center myself and was rewarded with hysterical laughter.

"You build it? The man who blames a certain country for his bent nails? Mr. ‘good enough for government work?’" Needless to say, Audrey opted not to use my budding carpentry skills. So, while she hunted for a builder, I headed off to see if Earl May would teach me how to fix a transmission.

Our quest to find a builder was relatively easy. Richard Broadband, our neighbor and a professional woodworker specializing in those multi-species cutting boards and Lazy Susans that you can buy out of catalogs and at craft stores, pointed us to Ed Reaver. As did everyone else we contacted. Less then an hour after receiving our call, Ed was sitting in our living room, studying an advertisement depicting the console Audrey wanted, and discussing dimensions, stains, and wood types. When I offered to help build it, Audrey politely showed me the door, pointed to a section of the fence that needed painting, and she and Ed went back to discussing details of how the console would be built.

In spite of Audrey’s trepidation, Ed allowed me to watch him work. Unlike most shops today, Ed's shop does not have a 'customers must wait outside' sign. Throughout the building of the console, Ed never hesitated to take time out to give me a lesson on how to work a piece of equipment or join a piece of wood. I'm sure my never-ending string of questions about how or why something was done, combined with Ed's willingness to teach, significantly lengthened the project. Ed even answered some of my more obtuse questions, which often resulted in him giving me a piece of wood and some nails and telling me practice my nailing technique in some far corner while he figured out an answer.

Every time I entered his shop, I found myself admiring the console, as well as kitchen and bathroom cabinets, bookcases, and other household furniture that were coming to life under his and his son's steady hands. Talk about poetry in motion! Every piece of wood was inspected for imperfections, straightness, grain patterns and a host of other attributes. Every angle was triple checked for squareness. (It is worth noting that there isn't any other truly ‘square’ corner in our 100 years old farmhouse!) Every piece was hand fitted before final assembly to insure proper fit and operation. Even Ed's application of the stain was a royal production. He repeatedly checked and rechecked his work as if he was creating a 18th century masterpiece.

Needless to say, when Ed and his son delivered the console, Audrey was thrilled, for it was exactly what she wished. Sure we could have bought something cheaper out of a catalog, but we wouldn't have gotten a piece of work that always draws the admiration of guests, nor benefited from the 'residuals' of buying local, like gaining a new friend. Several times since the completion of the console, I've found myself stuck on some aspect of a woodworking project, be it making a raised panel, installing molding, or planning an extra large piece of wood. On each occasion, Ed cheerfully, and without charge, showed me how to perform the task. As a result, my level of knowledge about woodworking has increased immeasurably, (now I only miscue one out of three boards!)

My experience with Ed is typical of my experience with other Emmitsburg based businesses and professionals. Ed, and others whom I'll be writing about over the coming months, has strengthened my belief that local businesses are the lifeblood of a healthy community and deserve our support. (Not to mention the fact that each has provided me a seemingly unending source of self-deprecating topics for this column.)

So if you're in the market for some kitchen cabinets (they'll be doing ours if Audrey ever lets me remodel the kitchen), bookcases, or if you would just like to watch true craftsmen at work, give Ed and his son a call; you won't be disappointed. And next time you get the urge to run down to Frederick to save a buck, stop a second and think. Is it really worth missing a friendly smile and down home conversation? Which for me usually goes something like "Hey Mike, Audrey let you back in the house yet . . ."

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

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