Jim Rohn famously asserted
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
There is undeniable truth in the statement, though it doesn’t accurately reflect how everyone you come into contact with impacts you. In some cases, the influence of one person in particular doesn’t get averaged out against the rest of your influences.
In that context, and with all due respect to Jim Rohn, I will say that in many ways I am the SUM of some of the most influential people in my life.
When I look at who those people are, I realize just how much I have been molded and shaped by my father and grandfathers. I can trace a story back from everything I am and all I have achieved, back to the influences of those three men. When it came time to name my latest company, I chose to name it after them. Bruce Charles Designs is named in tribute and thanks to the men who set me on a good path.
You might be asking how I can name it after three men with just the names Bruce and Charles. Simply put, two of them were both named Bruce.
My grandfather Charles, my grandfather Bruce, and my father Bruce Jr. shaped me in significant ways, not just during my childhood years but all throughout my life.
Charles (Charlie) Lutz, my grandfather
Dad-dad was an engineer, inventor, ham radio operator, and he freely and joyfully shared his knowledge with me as a kid. I still own the five book set on basic electricity that he gave me more than 40 years ago. I was that kid in 3rd grade who could not only explain ohm’s law, but do so from from a position of understanding, and it was all due to Dad-dad. He would discuss any idea I had, no matter how harebrained, and he would patiently talk about what would work and what wouldn’t.
I still clearly recall him patiently taking my excited 2am phone call when I thought I had discovered a source of free energy. I was 11. He told me what I needed to complete the circuit I thought would work, and later (after he slept) he didn’t shoot me down. He just walked through the math with me and taught me to understand what was going on. It turns out that a motor driving a generator that then powers the motor isn’t free energy now and it wasn’t then either. Don’t judge, I was 11.
He taught me more than nuts and bolts. He would sometimes take me into the oil field with him for his work, and I remember him refusing what I only understood many years later to be a kickback from a vendor. Dad-dad invited him to leave, and as he was leaving he exclaimed “Charlie, your problem is you’re too honest.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Dad-dad responded “It doesn’t come in shades.” I didn’t understand what I had just witnessed for many years, but it stuck with me, as did all of his teaching and guidance.
Dad-dad died when I was 12, but influences me to this day. I have and use tools he gave me before he passed, and those help me remember to think of him often.
Bruce Strahan, Sr., my grandfather
Grandaddy was a dentist by profession, but also had a large ranch in Texas that we spent time at almost every summer. It is the time on the ranch that I remember the most.
We did fairly normal things like a bit of fishing from the old bridge, or setting trotlines for catfish in the river that ran through his property. We also did a bit of hunting, but my favorite part was riding the mini-bikes he had at his ranch. Of course, they were ridden hard, and that meant they broke, which finally meant they had to be repaired. And for a young boy trying to figure out how everything in the world works, he did a great job of educating me on machinery.
We had to replace a suspension spring on one of the bikes, and he found an old spring, cut it with a torch, then heated up the tip and flattened it into the rest of the coil. At that moment, seeing metal actually formed by hand after being heated, I knew I had to learn about this stuff. I am fortunate that Granddaddy was happy to share this knowledge.
He taught me to use a torch, and how to weld with a stick welder, and years later when I was older and married he gave me my first oxy-acetylene torch as well as an old Lincoln AC/DC welder. One of the last things he gave me before he died was a giant angle grinder that I still use regularly, and every time I get it out I’m reminded of my Granddaddy and his influence.
Bruce Strahan, Jr.
For some reason I’ve never understood, I call him “dad” when talking to someone else, and “Daddy” when I’m talking to him.
My dad was a serial entrepreneur. I was lucky enough to witness (and at times be a part of) the building of businesses ranging from oil & gas drilling and development to exploration for gold in South America. I learned there is almost nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it. And I saw that modeled time after time.
I grew up in a home that didn’t assume things were impossible. Under my dad’s leadership, we had a home in which everyone was encouraged to achieve their dreams. And furthermore, we were encouraged to be audacious in our dreams!
Somehow, in 1979, 2 years before the IBM PC was released, my parents decided to give me exactly what I asked for as a Christmas present: A computer. A computer for a 12 year old was basically unheard of back then. It was $399 or about $1200 in 2017 dollars.
My parents fondly describe at this point in my story how I essentially disappeared into my bedroom, only to emerge a few years later when girls began to compete with computers for my time. I think it was a slight exaggeration, but I do recall a similar event to the perpetual energy call with my granddad.
I had taught myself machine language for the Motorola 6809 processor, and had just moved a byte from one place to another in memory. I excitedly woke my dad up in the wee hours of the morning and showed him the numbers on the screen. He told me he didn’t totally understand, but that I sure seemed excited about it so it must be great. And then he asked if we could get some sleep. How many dads do that?
My dad’s patience, love, and generous spirit continue to inspire me today, and I continue to learn and benefit from him every time I’m with him.
These three men are the foundation upon which I was built For all of my adult life, I’ve thought it was just normal to know how to weld, solder, program computers, build and fabricate anything I want (from electric vehicles to airplanes now) and to start any business that struck my fancy. I certainly don’t know everything, but I was taught how to learn, so I’ve learned everything I ever needed to know to do what I wanted to do.
I never could get myself to finish a single college course because they just didn’t move at a pace that was engaging for me, but the education I received from these awesome and influential men has provided me everything I needed to be successful doing whatever I set out to do.
I don’t know how I could have been so blessed, but I find myself thankful on a daily basis that they were my start, and that they were willing to contribute to who I am today. To all three, I say “Thank you.”
The Schulte Story
The “Schulte” was designed several years ago after acquiring my first metal lathe. As I was gaining experience turning different materials, applying knurling, cutting threads, etc., I made a list of projects as challenges for myself on the use of the lathe, one of which was a brass spinning top.
As I was sketching out my first design and planning the order of machining operations, a close friend texted me and said, “Now that you have a lathe, you should make a metal spinning top!” Enjoying the serendipity of the moment, I decided that I would eventually give him the first brass top I created, and if I ever produced it I would name it after him. So I did.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!
The Captive Nut Story
“The Captive Nut” was one of my early lathe projects that started as a way to get better at turning threads and multiple machining operations. I originally learned about it as a machinist’s puzzle to be made on the lathe, but my twist on it was to turn it into a keyring with an additional operation on the milling machine. It served as a fantastic conversation starter as I carried the first one I made as my personal everyday carry keyring for years.
When I made one for my friend Todd, I told him it was representative of the time he took me hiking in Colorado and I had no way to leave and return to civilization. I told him that I was the “Captive Nut” for that trip. He didn’t think my joke was very funny either, but the name stuck. Over the years, I made a few more as EDC gear for friends, and even had the joy of teaching my daughter how to make one for her boyfriend. It took many hours spread out over two days, but she got it done!
It’s simple; it’s just brass, stainless, and nickel plated stainless steel rings. But it’s not so simple when you hand it to a friend and ask them how to remove the nut. Then, while they’re just starting to realize they can’t, ask them an even better question: “How did the nut get on there?”
I hope you enjoy the reactions you get, and enjoy divulging the secret...or not, it’s up to you!