THEY got the job done Some old-timers, and how they did it by Hugh Kelleher, Master Plumber #10848
hey were young men who were usually just a little too young to go off to World War II. Most of them are now approaching 80, though some of them have already passed that landmark age. All of them have contributed to the creation of the Boston we Lou Visco prepared these notes when he was studying to see today. If take his plumbing exam. He would handwrite the notes which his sister would then type up. you put them all in a car and drove around the city, you would be unlikely to find a building that one of them didn’t help build, or reconstruct, or inspect when it was done.
As this Boston Plumbing License from 1894 issued to William Fandel demonstrates, the industry is all in the family for Jack Fandel. William Fandel was Jack’s grandfather.
This 1957 Application for Gas Fitter’s Examination is another item from Lou Visco‘s collection. Until the 1960s, some cities, such as Boston, required their own licenses for plumbing and gasfitting.
In the day-to-day work of plumbing, we often forget that we are actually helping to build the future. The pipes that Local No. 12 contractors and members install today, in 2004, are likely to be functioning decades from now. Systems that these guys built over a half century ago are certainly working well to this very day. The work of men like John Cannistraro, Sr., Eddie Duggan, Jack Fandel, John O’Leary, Sr., and Lou Visco has been a big part of our industry for over half a century. Each of them has played a unique role, and some have played multiple roles. Whether a union member, contractor, plumbing instructor, inspector, or state official, each of these men has earned a place of special recognition in our business. Here are their stories.
JOHN CANNISTRARO, SR. Master Plumber #7125
“It is a moral obligation to keep your clients out of trouble, and to honor and respect all your employees.”
oung men and women who dream of one day opening their own business would benefit from the example of John Cannistraro, Sr. In 1963, without any tools, lacking a vehicle, and with a wife three months pregnant, Cannistraro took $1,500 and entered the plumbing business. It was a bold move for a young engineer with his second child on the way. “I bought a station wagon,” Cannistraro recalls. “I put in extra helper springs, because we’d be carrying heavy stock.”
Those familiar with the New England construction industry know how the story turned out. The J.C. Cannistraro Company today has over 300 employees, making it the largest privately owned mechanical contractor in New England. John Cannistraro remembers how it all began. “When I was a kid growing up in Waltham, I lived next door to a man, a great man, Thomas Nolan. He was my mentor. He had a plumbing business, and even when I was little, I would work in his shop, picking out stock, loading trucks,
taken all of these math repairing water feeders. My courses, geometry, trigonomown father was an upholetry. I didn’t have any of sterer, and for a long time I that, so I went back to thought I would go into the Huntington furniture School and business. My took extra plan was to courses. I go to college would haunt and study those teachbusiness. ers with Then one questions. day, Mr. Then I went Nolan said Hangers from John Cannistraro’s first copper to see the to me, ‘Kid, tube rack are on display in his shop. The Dean of the rack originally hung in his home’s garage. you know Tufts there are Engineering School. I remembusinessmen still walking ber I had $25 to my name. I the streets from the last walked into the Dean’s office Depression. You should be and he said to me, ‘We’ll take an engineer.’ So I decided to you if you have all As.’ become an engineer.” “I couldn’t tell the Dean I More than a half-century later, had all As, because I didn’t. John Cannistraro stills refer to But I was third in my class, Thomas Nolan as his mentor. He laughs, recalling one of Nolan’s many suggestions.
out of fifty. I told the Dean that MIT always took the top five students from Huntington. One week later, I got the letter saying I was admitted to Tufts.” Today on Cannistraro’s office wall hangs a special “Career Achievement” award from the Tufts School of Engineering. After graduating from Tufts, Cannistraro took jobs in the contracting business, including a stint with J.C. Higgins. “It was the best job I ever had working for somebody else. I met some of the nicest, most intelligent people that I ever met in this business. “I always made of point of being home for dinner with my family. Rita and I always put that emphasis on family. I started my own business in one of the bedrooms in our Newton apartment. “One day I was in there working, and a call came in. I remember it was quarter to six, dinner time. Rita picked up the phone and said, ‘The office is closed.’ “The guy says, ‘But he’s right there at the house.’ Rita just says, ‘Please call tomorrow.
“One time he said to me, ‘You can always get ideas from a dope,’ and so I learned to listen to everybody—and I expect everybody to listen to me!” Once he decided to become an engineer, he discovered that his high school business courses were not sufficient. “To get into engineering school, you had to have
PRECIOUS CARGO. John Cannistraro always put an emphasis on family. In this 1970s photo, John Sr. is at the wheel. In the rear, on the left, are sons David and Vincent, in the middle is daughter Anne Marie Cannistraro Cotton, and on the far right is today’s company President, John Cannistraro, Jr.
tractor getting change orders approved. Rita was eight months pregnant, and one night we drove over to Boston, waiting for the contractor and the developer to return from dinner.
John displays a perfectly maintained pipe threading device called a “donkey,” which is over 80 years old.
The office is closed.’ She hung up, and we had dinner.” Cannistraro today has a number of his children working in the business. These include company President John Cannistraro, Jr., Anne Marie Cannistraro Cotton, and Vince, David, Joe, and Eddie Cannistraro. Most of all, the elder Cannistraro credits his wife Rita for helping make his success possible. “After we got going, and I bought my first building, some days I would come home stressed. Rita would ask me questions. She would take notes. Then she goes into the home office, writes a letter. And the problem would go away. She’s the most reliable, dependable, intelligent person I ever met in my life. “I remember I was having trouble with a general con-
“They came back, and the developer said, ‘I can’t accept change orders like this. Everything has to be separated.’ “So we borrowed the typewriter and some paper. Rita sat there and she typed everything up. At ten, Rita took the car home. At midnight the guys came out of their meeting. They approved the change orders, took me into town for a drink, and drove me home.” To this day, Cannistraro is a man with exceptional energy and focus. He proudly gives a tour of his shop (which could double as a major supply house), and he discusses the value of prefabrication and quality control. He has many stories about jobs on which he worked. “My first plumbing job was a launderette in a strip mall. I went out to the job, and I could see it needed some underground piping. Eddie Duggan was on a job next
door, and he saw I needed men. ‘Don’t worry about it, lad,’ he said, ‘We’ll take care of it.’ Eddie had his guys put in the pipe—at no charge.” Cannistraro is a businessman who has a toughened sense of humor about competition in the construction business. As he describes the launderette job, he adds with a smile: “If he knew then what he knows now, Eddie would probably wish he’d put a two-by-four in the pipe. But I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Duggans. “In my business I follow a few basic rules. I call it my Triangle of Success. One: Complete all your contracts and obligations, including paying your bills on time. Two: It is a moral obligation to keep your clients out of trouble. And three: Honor and respect all your employees.” What advice would Cannistraro give to a young person going into the plumbing industry today? “When I look back, I can tell you that nothing was ever planned. But things happened. I agree with the writer who said, ‘There is never a day when it is not worthwhile to be at your best.’ ”
NAVY GUYS John Cannistraro (top) and Jack Fandel (above) were two practicalminded Navy men. Both served on naval ships in the 1950s. For a time, Fandel worked for Cannistraro as the company’s Outside Superintendent.
Today, J. C. Cannistraro’s shop occupies a sprawling complex in Watertown.
ED DUGGAN II Master Plumber #5466
“I was interested in the trade from early on.”
d Duggan has indeed been one of the great competitors and success stories of the Boston plumbing industry. In fact, the Duggan plumbing business may go back further than any other in the Boston area. In 1991 the Duggan Company was already celebrating its 100th Anniversary. It is a company that is looking forward to its fifth generation of leaders.
E.M. Duggan Co. was started by Ed Duggan’s grandfather. In 1891, founder Edward M. Duggan arrived in the big city, and opened the doors of his shop in the South End. The country had survived the Civil War, and an economic depression in 1870s. Things were booming again in Boston. It
was a time when a young man with a skilled trade, ambition, and an eye for business could establish himself.
man who had a very keen understanding of business. He tallied his costs to fractions of a cent.
From the first Ed Duggan’s business ledger, a 1939 job on Northampton Street in the South End. All numbers are in pennies.
Edward M. Duggan did not realize he was creating an institution that would prosper in three separate centuries. But as the entries from one of his old financial logs prove, the first Ed Duggan was a
Ed Duggan II, grandson of the founder, will turn 80 within the year. He still serves as the Chairman of the Board of the company, and he apparently inherited his grandfather’s talent with numbers. “I was born in 1925, grew up in Canton, and went to Canton High. I was good at math, lousy at Latin, lousy at French—and I couldn’t speak English!”
Edward M. Duggan stands on the far right, beneath the “GASFITTER” sign outside his shop in the South End around 1900.
In fact, Ed Duggan is an unusually articulate man, a man who is precise with both his words, and with his numbers. He also possesses an exceptional memory. He can tell you the exact number of fixtures he installed in various jobs forty or fifty years ago.
Like many of the successful people in our business, he has succeeded by paying attention to the details. “I was interested in the trade from early on, and I wanted to go to Boston Trade, but my parents said, ‘If he goes there, he’ll become one of those rough Boston characters.’ “But by the time I was 14, I was driving the company truck around the South End, delivering stock. Of course I didn’t have a driver’s license, and the cops would stop me. But we became friendly. I can even remember that they would help me unload stock. “My grandfather ran the business, and I worked in the shop on Shawmut Ave. I remember once I asked him “Where in Ireland were you born?’ My grandfather said, ‘My good man, I was born in Spencer, Massachusetts.’ “He dressed and acted like a banker. He arrived at the shop at noon. But he was very exact. He would put on his accountant’s shades, and then he’d slip behind a Lally column to cut himself a plug of tobacco. And he never spit. “He’d work late into the night, calculating everything. To save money he would cut up old lead pipes, so that they could easily fit into a lead pot for re-melting. He had an adding machine, but he would have me sit by him, and check all his numbers by hand. He was conservative with his money. He always said to me, ‘I pay you $1 per day. That’s five dollars a week, including Saturday.’ ” Ed’s dad, William, also worked in the business. While young
Like others in our business, Ed has clear memories of those who helped him along the way.
A 1942 photo of E. M. Duggan founder Edward Duggan (L) with his grandson, Ed Duggan II.
Ed was a teenager, the three generations worked together at their small non-union shop on Shawmut Avenue. After he graduated from Canton High School, Ed’s parents agreed to let him attend Boston Trade’s night school. “In 1942, my grandfather died. World War II was on, and I wanted to serve, but I had lost vision in one eye when I was a kid. A neighbor was using a wedge to split a telephone pole, and a piece of metal flew out and hit me in the pupil. The Army took me into limited service, and I was in England. I ended up doing more calculations, converting dollars to pounds, things like that. “When I got back from England, I could see that the South End was changing. It was the war that changed it, bringing all the military people to South Boston, and to Charlestown. Those were days when I was really starting to learn the business, and I worked with some wonderful people. There was a guy Fred Ripley, from the Pipefitters Union. He became an estimator for Conley Supply in the South End. He was a man who taught me so much, so much about radiation and heat and estimating. He treated me like a son.”
“By that time, my brother and I wanted to get into the union, but for some reason the guys in Boston weren’t interested in us. But we were able to get into the Quincy local, which eventually merged with Boston. “The rules for running a union shop were very strict. The Master Plumber was not allowed to work with the tools. But I was young, and our shop was very small. I remember one time we were way out in Bellingham, the very furthest town in the Local 12 jurisdiction. I’m down in the trench doing a tie-in, sixty-four miles from the union hall, and I look up and there’s the Business Agent, Paul Madden! I said, ‘Jeez, Paul. What do you expect me to do!’ ” From the late 1940s Ed’s business continued to grow. Like some of his contemporaries, he would often do his estimating at night, at home. He tells another familiar story. “My late wife, Eileen, was a great estimator. I’d always be looking at my book, trying
to figure things out. But Eileen already knew all of the formulas.” Increasingly Duggan focused on industrial and commercial work, and did major housing projects throughout Massachusetts. He built a shop in Canton, and in 2005 that building will expand yet again. Its walls are lined with photos of prominent projects accomplished over the decades, everything from International Place, to major hotels and pharmaceutical jobs. The company still maintains much of the close-knit feeling that Ed Duggan cultivated. At the annual company outing, a special award is presented, “The EDDIE.” The award is given to the ‘Employee who best Demonstrates Dependability, Ingenuity, and Enthusiasm.’ The award is both a tribute to Ed Duggan, and to the people who have helped him build his company. Looking back, Ed Duggan is a man who seems to have a modest attitude but deep appreciation for all that he has accomplished. There is enthusiasm in his eyes when he sums up his feelings for the trade in a single sentence: “I loved the business.”
(Left) From the archives. A 1934 radio public service announcement from the Plumbing and Heating Industries Bureau about the problems caused by outdated plumbing and a cross-connection during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The outbreak resulted in 14 deaths and 721 hospitalizations.
(Right) A collective bargaining agreement from 1948, about the time that many of the men profiled in this book were hitting their strides.
Circa-1914 trade publication image
JACK FANDEL II Master Plumber #6415
“As a kid, I did the usual things that a plumber’s kid does: cleaned fittings, watched my father work.”
or 22 years, beginning in 1972, Jack Fandel was the man who ran the Local No. 12 Training Center. Known as a man of deep conviction, in 2004 Jack will receive his 55-year pin from Local No. 12. To this day he displays the kind of dignity that has won him the respect of contractors and union members alike. Literally thousands of today’s plumbers studied under Fandel. Many of them (including the author) have benefited from his many acts of kindness. Here are parts of Jack Fandel’s story.
“My father and grandfather were both plumbers. (See photo below) So you could say the Fandels are a plumbing family, and we have been now for almost five
generations. One of my sons works as a wholesaler, and several of my nephews are active in Local No. 12. Ours has always been a family that has had a respect for the traditions of our industry. “When I took over the Training Program back in the early ’70s, there really was a kind of turmoil. We didn’t have our own training center back then. We were still using Boston School system facilities. Rocco Sammartano had set up a great program, and for years it was run by Joe Coughlin, who, incidentally, also had the job of assisting the contractors’ association. “But Joe Coughlin had a heart attack in 1971, and by
William Fandel (L), Jack’s grandfather, stands in front of a plumbing shop on Newbury Street in Boston with the shop’s owner, the owner’s wife, and another plumber.
house in Norton. Fandel decided that the layout of the plumbing and ductwork was taking up excess space. Now in his 70’s, Jack is repiping his basement. The work is beautiful. “As a kid, I did the usual things that a plumber’s kid does: cleaned fittings, watched my father work. I can still remember when he put a new heating system in our house in Everett. What a beautiful piece of work that was!
1972 the apprentice program was having big troubles. Kids weren’t showing up, there “When I was in elementary was drinking in the school, school, my dad had a job people weren’t fulfilling their with the obligalate tions. I Frank got Sullivan, appointover in ed to the the Back job in Bay. My 1972. At father got my first me a job meeting cleaning of the the Apprenoffices, tice Comemptying mittee, PROUD DIRECTOR AND HIS SUCCESSOR. The former trash, we Local No. 12 Training Director, Jack Fandel (L) at his that kind brought retirement party in 1994, with the current Director, of thing. Joe Conley. up 62 When I apprengot out of high school in tices on charges. It was a dif1947, I spent three years in ficult time, but we needed to the Navy, and enjoyed it to get the program back on its the hilt. After the Navy, I was feet, and we did.” fortunate enough to get into Before becoming the Training the apprentice program, and Director, Jack Fandel worked worked for Sandy Plumbing with the tools for many years. in Mattapan. By the mid-50’s He got his start working with I was working as a Journeyhis father, William Fandel, who man in Local No. 12.” he refers to as “the finest For several years, Jack worked mechanic I ever knew.” The as the Outside Superintendent precision and care that you for J.C. Cannistraro. He and hear in Jack Fandel’s speech Cannistraro sometimes butted has also been apparent in his heads, but to this day John plumbing work habits. Cannistraro speaks with great Recently Jack and his wife Mary purchased a new townrespect for Fandel. Many
Now retired, Jack and his wife, Mary, have always worked as a team, and put their family first.
others have felt likewise. It was no surprise that when Jack retired, the new Medical Gas classroom at the Local No. 12 Training Center was named in his honor. When asked to reminisce about the people he knew and worked with through the years, Jack has one particularly strong memory. “Once a year, just in a casual way, John Shine would stop by my office, and take me and my secretary out to dinner. It wasn’t because he wanted anything. He just did it in the most natural way. My greatest respect was for that man, John Shine. He
was one of the most intelligent, capable, and honest people I ever met. And many other people in Local No. 12 cherished that same opinion. He had the capacity to be a contractor, and a companion at the same time, without ever compromising the contractors in any way.” Jack Fandel is regarded in much the same way. He is someone who worked closely with both the union and the contractors, a man who earned the respect and appreciation of both groups. His friendship has been a true benefit to those fortunate enough to know him.
Current leaders of our industry. (L to R) Sen. Michael Morrissey of Quincy, who has been a strong advocate for our industry, Joe Clancy, President of American Plumbing & Heating and President of the PHCC of Greater Boston, and Paul Kennedy of P. J. Kennedy & Sons, members of the PHCC of Greater Boston and Chairman of the State Plumbing Board.
Gatherings like Industry Night have been taking place for generations. This photo shows an event from the 1950s at the then-prominent South Boston nightclub, Blinstrub’s, which was later the scene of a tragic fire. Those in attendance included “Bull” Strickland and the late Duncan Ayles, both seated on the right.
JOHN O’LEARY, SR. Master Plumber #5616
“I’ll tell you, I’ve loved every part of the business.”
ohn O’Leary is one of the prominent Local No. 12 members who have played many roles over the years, including that of an instructor in Jack Fandel’s apprentice program. Unlike Fandel, who was already a third-generation plumber, O’Leary got into the business through a friend.
“Tom Tracy lived in our neighborhood, I was getting out of high school back in 1936, and he talked his boss into giving me a job. It was the Depression, and it was a big deal to have a job. Laborers were lucky to be working, and if they were, they were making about 50 cents an hour. A plumber could make $11 a day–a buck thirty-seven and onehalf cents per hour. They paid by the half-cent back in the thirties.”
Now in his eighties, O’Leary is the father of two prominent leaders in the plumbing industry, Joe and John O’Leary, Jr. Even as an instructor in the Local No. 12 apprentice program, O’Leary was known as a storyteller. It is a gift that has only ripened with age. He has a great memory about people, and has an outspoken wit that enables him to tell tremendous episodes that go back decades. “If I told you too much, I’d have to kill you.” It is worth the risk. Spending a couple of hours with O’Leary reminds a person of the rough-and-tumble of the good old days when unioncontractor negotiations sometimes ended with broken ribs. O’Leary himself was never a tough guy, but he knows all the stories. He also remembers details about the industry that few can recall. He might be the only person in the Local, for example, who can tell you which person was working for what company seven decades ago.
It’s an American Express card John is holding, but it was his plumbing license that mattered most. John never left home without it.
“The Back Bay, back then, was filled with plumbing shops. Fandel’s father worked for P.W. Donahue on New-
bury Street near Mass. Ave. Donahue died, and his daughter took it over. Then Frank Sullivan took it over, and that’s why you hear about Jack working for the Sullivan company. “It was a rough time back then in the thirties when I started out. There were guys in the local who had been loafing for two or three years. No damn work. Union dues were three or four dollars a month. People couldn’t afford it. So they dropped out.
“And if you were a plumber back then, you couldn’t be a Johnny-come-lately. If you wanted to work, you had to have natural ability, and you had to produce.” World War II, says O’Leary, started to bring jobs back to the construction industry. “I remember how it started. I was driving a truck for Ahern Company, and I was dropping off stock at the Weymouth Naval Air Station, where they kept the dirigibles. A guy came out of the shack. He’d been listening to the radio, and says to us, ‘They bombed Pearl Harbor.’ Pearl Harbor? No one knew where the hell Pearl Harbor was.” Eventually, O’Leary became a journeyman with Ahern Company. They built a number of public housing projects, including the McCormack Housing in Southie, and similar projects in Roxbury and Charlestown.
“You remember that picture “They fired me.” of the plumbers at Fenway When asked why, O’Leary has Park (below)? I will bet you a quick response. a thousand bucks that those eighty or “Union ninety activiguys ty…No, were you betabout ter say, three‘O’Leary The plumbing crew of the William McKenna Company quarters during the renovation of Fenway Park in 1934. had a of the falling union. Everyone was gone, out over job conditions.’ ” busted. There weren’t 150 Eventually, O’Leary would guys left in Local No. 12. A become an instructor at Local company like McKenna that No. 12. had Fenway Park, they were lucky. Some other shops had “If a kid was good with his the phone company, or the hands but not his head, we diocese. Sure, some of it was could train his hands to be divided up, but believe me, his head. After World War II, they battled for the work. the apprentice program real-
ly started up again. There were some great teachers, leaders like Rocky Sammartano. Those guys had real ability. The teachers were the spine of the industry. “In 1956, I had to make a choice. I had a chance to become an inspector for the City of Boston. Kevin Cotter’s uncle, John Cotter, he was the one who really got that union benefits plan going— him and some of the contractors. Some people thought Cotter was a gruff old guy, but he did the right thing. “Cotter said to me: ‘John, don’t leave the union. Don’t take that city job.You’ll be better off if you stay in the
For many years, John O’Leary Sr. was an instructor in Local No. 12’s training program and taught hundreds of plumbers who are active to this day.
union.’ He might have been right. But I liked being an inspector.You get around, you see people, you talk to people. I liked that kind of thing. “But John Cotter was right about one thing: the union pension. I don’t get a big check, but I get something. Would have been bigger if I’d stayed working with the tools. Even so, it just gives you a feeling of security to know that every month, that check will be there.” Like anyone who managed a full career in our industry, John O’Leary gives credit to certain people. Interestingly, he singles out Tim Crane, who for many years ran Crane Plumbing and Heating of Cambridge. “He was personally really good to me. He took an interest in me.” Of contactor John Cannistraro, Sr., he says, “There’s a guy who’s a man of his word. And there were a couple of others who had watchful eyes and gave me guidance and advice: Joe Risi and Paul Madden.” O’Leary frankly admits that one of the turning points in his life was Alcoholics
Anonymous. He has been involved in helping people through AA for many years. “I have been a friend of Bill Wilson [the founder of AA] since 1953. There’s no place like AA, but you have to want it. I see a guy who has a problem, he needs help. He needs physical help, from his friends. He needs mental help, from himself. He needs spiritual help, from above. I don’t do anything but expose people to the temperature of the water.” O’Leary is one of the great personalities of our industry, and like others who remain involved in our industry into their eighties and beyond, you see that he still has a sharp eye, a witty comment, and a willingness to engage with people. Like his contemporary Ed Duggan, he closes on a note of appreciation. “I’ll tell you, I’ve loved every part of the business. I loved being a teacher, I loved working for the city. I met some great people—some amazing plumbers, guys who could knock your socks off. It’s been a great trip.”
Mechanical Contracting in East Boston. I worked with my brother Anthony.”
LOU VISCO Master Plumber #6452
“When the State Board offices moved out of the Saltonstall Building in 2000, the word came down to clean everything out. I just couldn’t let these things be destroyed.” very plumber knows that no two jobs are exactly the same. Construction always requires bringing a set of skills and standards to new situations. Sometimes there are disputes. Can certain materials be used? Is a particular piping configuration acceptable? What happens if the plumber and the local inspector disagree?
Ultimately, these are the kinds of questions that must go before the State Board of Plumbers and Gasfitters. And for years, their most trusted advisor has been a plumber from Winthrop, Lou Visco.
Look back to the notes that Lou Visco took as a young teenager, studying for his plumbers exam. One example would be his sheet on “Tricks of The Trade.” (See photo on page 5.). Lou would gather information all day, come home at night, write it down, and then have his sister neatly type it up. When Lou Visco took his master plumbers exam fifty years ago in 1954, he was prepared. And he’s been prepared ever since. “My father was a Local No.12 plumber, and I learned the trade the hard way—from him! We lived in
Lou pores over one of the State Board record books he salvaged.
People may not realize that Lou Visco was a contractor for thirty years, until 1984. Like most contractors, he found that it was hard work. He was known as a perfectionist. “We stayed a small shop. It was by choice. If you worked with yourself, you didn’t have to worry about a callback. But there was too much fighting with people over money. That’s what led me to get out of it in the end. It’s a sad thing to say, but it’s the truth.
East Boston, and in the Depression my father had his own business. It was a very difficult time. One day my father had a heart attack. He survived, but work was hard to find. My father couldn’t afford the dues, so he had to quit You’ll never know what you might find in the union. Lou’s “museum” of plumbing artifacts,
In 1984, Lou went to work as a State Investigator. He took over as the Executive such as this antique piston flushometer. “I graduated Secretary of from East Boston High the Plumbing Board in 1987 School, and started working after Joe Risi retired. in the trade in 1946, and by The author remembers being 1948 I had my Boston on jobs at Deer Island when Journeyman Gasfitters Lou would come out to License—Number 1000. inspect work. He had praise Those were the days when when it was warranted. In his cities like Boston issued their calm way he was also clear own licenses. when he thought work could “The gas exam was prepared be improved—by using more by a man named McCusker, I hangers, for instance. think it was. He was a “When the State Board chemist. It was almost like offices moved out of the you had to be a chemist Saltonstall Building in 2000, yourself to pass that test. the word came down to “In 1954 I went up for my clean everything out. There Master Plumbers exam. Jim were old books filled with Curry [a long-time contractor the names and license numbers of old-time plumbers. I and State Board member] thought, ‘We can’t let these gave me the exam. When I things go into the dumpster.’ got my Masters, I opened my So I brought them here.” own business, Visco
“Here, look at this page: David Lane of Roxbury. He had license No.2 in the entire state. I’m still looking for who had No.1.”
Lou shows a four-and-a-half inch threaded fitting from his collection.
The ‘here’ that Lou refers to is a dark old house next to his home, where he keeps literally hundreds of items of plumbing memorabilia. He opens up old record books, some pages in neat, scrolling penmanship, which list alphabetically the names and license numbers of plumbers from the early twentieth century. “I just couldn’t let these things be destroyed.You should have seen the old materials that the electricians threw out. It was a tragedy.
“Does anyone remember what a ‘well ell’ is? It’s a decorative gas fitting. Or how about this? You won’t see this any more.” He holds up a 4-1/2” threaded steel elbow. He reaches into another box and pulls out an old dented pipe. “Look at this. It’s not legal any more. But here’s a threequarter ‘S’ trap. Made in lead. If we don’t save these things, they will be lost forever.” Lou’s old building is filled with hundreds of such antique plumbing items, including tools, fixtures, faucets, fittings, books, pamphlets, photos, and hundreds of other documents. His goal is to make sure these items
Plumbing licenses, 1939. When the Plumbing Board moved its offices, hundreds of old documents were trashed. Lou Visco was able to save some of the most important records. Here is a list of plumbers taken from an old record book. Note Edward M. Duggan, Master Plumber # 1281 of Shawmut Ave.
Lou displays a three-quarter “S” trap in lead. “If we don’t save these things, they will be lost forever,” says the state‘s unofficial plumbing historian.
are preserved and one day made available in a museum. In the meantime, Lou continues to focus on his work with the State Board. Perhaps more than anyone else in Massachusetts, Lou Visco has devoted his life purely to the study of plumbing. He began as a teenager carefully outlining everything he could learn. Today, at 75, he is an unofficial keeper of our trade’s documents and artifacts. Someday, when the history of our trade is written, special thanks will go to Lou Visco, who preserved so much of our past.
Appreciation goes to the five gentlemen who shared their time and their memories. Thanks also to Art Levine of The Art of Communications for his help in the design of this book.
A 1930s ad for a “Combinator” (years before the “Governator!”), a combination refrigerator-sink that was only sold through Master Plumbers.
How they got the job done.