‘The Force' is with this Calif. sheet metal shop
November 1, 2011
I always liked “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” but realized at a young age that there were people who liked them a lot more than me.
Even though I was a little young for it, my parents took me to see “Empire Strikes Back” in the theater in 1980, and gave me a few of the “action figures” - boy-speak for dolls - for my birthday and Christmas that year.
I remember watching the first “Star Wars” movie numerous times when it first made its way to cable television, just a few months after my parents had cable - with its set-top box and amazing remote control that somehow worked our dial-only Zenith TV - installed. My parents quickly tired of watching “Star Wars,” however, and my father took to carrying the remote in his shirt pocket as a way to control me and my sister’s viewing habits.
And I liked reruns of the old 1960s “Star Trek” TV series enough to attend a “Star Trek” convention about 25 years ago. It was there that I first saw the lengths some people would go to show their love of a long-canceled television series. Attendees debated and argued which film series - “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” - was superior, and challenged each other to trivia questions such as what color was an alien’s tunic in episode seven.
They walked the convention hall sporting detailed Starfleet uniforms and imitation laser guns as good as or better than those used on TV. It blew away the wrapped bed sheet and utility belt I wore as “Luke Skywalker” on Halloween a few years earlier.
There was no way I could compete.
DedicationThese memories came back to me while reading associate editor James J. Siegel’s cover story on the work of a group of “Star Wars” enthusiasts with sheet metal skills to spare. He first found out about the group while attending WonderCon, the annual gathering for science fiction fanatics in San Francisco last summer (You can read about it on “Blogging by the Bay” at www.snipsmag.com). Even though they are barred by trademark laws from profiting from their work, the members of Totally Wired Droids spend hours making highly detailed replicas of R2D2 for “Star Wars” fans throughout the country.
Instead of being used to bang out ductwork and fittings, the members of Totally Wired Droids use the fabricating machinery of a Sacramento, Calif., company to produce robots that may be more intricate than what “Star Wars” creator George Lucas built for the first “Star Wars” film 34 years ago.
When Siegel first told me about the club and how they use sheet metal equipment to make their Droids, I thought it would be a great story for Snips, even if a quick look at the cover this month might make you think it’s 1977. Contractors who specialize in architectural sheet metal make a lot more than just ducts. We’ve interviewed contractors who manufacture custom kitchen counters and cabinets, as well as sculptures. And when you think about it, is an R2D2 that much different than the tin man than graces the lobbies and exteriors of many sheet metal shops across North America?
We’re always looking for stories about sheet metal workers who do interesting things to keep their skills sharp. If you or somebody you know has a real talent for making unusual things out of metal, email me at email@example.com. I’ll bet there are readers out there who make things even more unusual than an R2D2. I can’t wait to find out.