James Lee (Jim) Siemers quietly slipped from this life into eternity on July, 9th 2010 after a valiant battle with cancer…
He has always been… And ever will be… My Friend.
Jim was a shipfitter. Jim was one of the few people on planet earth that can make thousands and thousands of tons of steel float and then go 40mph. And nobody, but nobody, did it better.
In his professional life… Jim was sometimes known as “Master Yoda.” And like the Jedi Master… Jim was humble yet quietly confident about his skills. But let there be no doubt… Shipbuilders up and down the West Coast knew him and respected and admired his skills. Jim built and worked on every kind of ship imaginable - Tankers, Tugs and Tuna boats… Aircraft Carriers, Submarines and Coast Guard Cutters. It didn’t matter to him… He loved them all. If it floats and is made of steel… Jim Siemers has very probably got one out on the water with his initials welded into it.
When Jim wasn’t fashioning a ship of some kind… He was working on a car or a motorcycle. His Ranchero and his Trike were projects that he tinkered on for years and years. Jim also had a pretty good reputation as a carpenter… When I met Jim… I thought I was a pretty hotshot Shipfitter myself… I was a babe in the woods compared to this guy. In the almost 10 years that we built ships together… The man constantly amazed me. What’s more… He constantly taught me… And he kept on teaching me for another 20 years.
We became fast friends… I stood best man at Jim’s wedding to the lovely Susan. I’d be somewhere on the other side of the world and call him about some sticky problem in some godforsaken shipyard and the Old Master could see it as though he was standing right there. And you know what?… I can’t remember him ever being stumped.
Building a ship is less a process than it is an avoidance of potential disasters… You get somebody’s perfectly good 400 foot x 100 foot barge built and then you drop it as you’re lowering it into the water… Get it? But most times we didn’t panic… Not if we had Jim around.
Or… Like the time we came in one morning to find that the golden boys on the night shift had cut a 400′ foot ship in half and then trimmed it 11 inches too short… 200 feet of ship on one side… And 200 feet of ship on the other side. Did I mention that the ship was brand new and still on dry land? Guess who got that call.
And he fixed it in four days.
But not before giving me the first of many grey hairs in my beard. Jim calmly turned to me and told me to go round up about 300 tons of steel plate. They’d made him a foreman by that time as punishment for fixing that little barge incident; and as management… he wasn’t supposed to be using his tools in that union shipyard. But since the ship needed to be launched in a week… Nobody protested as Jim walked over to his tool chest and started putting on his leathers. In fact… I distinctly remember hearing sighs of relief all around that day. I’d laughed at him when they took him off his tools… So he’d used his new executive powers to “promote” me to his “Material Coordinator” … Something I knew nothing about. I figured it was because misery likes company. But he’d seen something in me that I hadn’t and it turned out that I had a natural knack for coordinating materials…. A skill that’s fed my family for years now… and afforded me some really great jobs in some really great places… So I’m forever grateful to him.
Jim was like that… Like Master Yoda that is… He wasn’t the biggest guy in the world… But he seemed 10 feet tall when he was doing his thing. And his thing was making steel float. Jim Siemers could make one inch thick steel bend itself into shapes like a baker molds dough. He’d use fire and lightning to do it. That’s a gift. It’s the power of the gods. And my Friend used it better and with more finesse than I’ve ever seen another human being do so. It took me 30 years to get around to it… But I’m glad I got to tell him so before he left.
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