A Man And His Hammers
Article by Laura Boast
Wolfgang Schoor has a simple desire - he wants to be listed in World Records as the first-ever world champion nail driver.
But what has brought the city resident to this point is a complex web of life experiences and an almost spirtual connection with tools; a sense of hammer as an extention of his body.
"I can go anywhere and all I need is my hammer. If one has a hammer, one can survive."
Schoor mentions the German term for this mindset: wander geselle (the wandering tradesman), someone who uses his tools to make friends and picks up wisdom everywhere.
Wise at 45, Schoor can still put enough force behind his hammer to drive three, four inch nails consecutively in four seconds. That was good enough to crown him champion at the last two Hymers Fall Fairs.
He has since approached the people at the Guiness Book of World Records with a request to create a new category for nail driving.
Nail-driving has been a part of Schoor's life since childhood. He was born in a small West German village near Bonn two years after the end of the Second World War.
As a boy of five, he was already eager to participate in nail-driving competitions. The youngest of three brothers, he wanted to prove his worth even if he was disadvantaged by size.
" A hammer is a sign of strength," he said, "As a little guy driving nails, just the feel of the hammer and to be able to drive the nails is in itself an accomplishement.
In these German competitions, participants drove nails into a piece of timber in three or four blows, Sometimes people cheated the competitors by putting steel in the wood, making it impossible to drive the nail home.
"You very quickly learn to assess the timber and who you are contending with," said Schoor.
One day, Schoor discovered the metal head of and American hammer. He found a tree branch that would fit the head, whittled it until it was smooth and made his own hammer.
"I knew that when I had a hammer, it would give me independence."
A resourceful nine-year-old, he went to carpenters and offered to straighten bent nails with his hammer. Eventually, he was taken on as an apprentice in a toolmaking and furniture making shop.
When he finished his apprenticeship in 1965, he came to Thunder Bay with his mother and two brothers. He got a job working in the bush near Upsala, but he didn't enjoy the lifestyle.
He missed his hammer and nails. He and a friend headed out to Haney, B.C. in the Fraser River Balley. With $80, Schoor pruchased new tools and went to a subdivision to off his services as a tradesman.Although he was struggling with English, he soon got a job nailing down floors in a new housing development. He earned $7 for each 1,200 foot square home and coud do two homes a day.
"Eventually word got around because the hammer rang like a bell and it was quite a feat to drive that many nails," he said.
The owner of the subdivision hired Schoor to do more work so he was earning $300 a week.
He started apprenticing again in B.C. to learn the English terminology for his work and became a Canadian journeyman in 1973. But he didn't stay on the west coast.
"As nice as it is out there, you're always wet, working in the rain," he said.
He returned to Thunder Bay and started working for a construction firm. That's when he met and married his wife Joan. They had a son together. He says is proud of David.
In 1978, he entered the Hymers Fall Fair nail-driving competition for the first time. He won first place.
He was champion again in 1979 and 1980. He stopped because a friend said people resented his repeated successes, and it probably wasn't helping his business.
There were other challenges he wanted to fulfill - some of them academic.
My intellectual curiosity drove me to university," he said.
In 1986, he went to the University of Waterloo to earn a bachelor of independent studies in ergonomics - the science of fitting tools and equipment to people.
When ge got back to Thunder Bay in 1991, he entered the Hymers Fall Fair nail-driving competion again.
"I'm almost halfways around the biological clock," he said. "it was moe of a battle with myself. I hadn't worked a hard physically as I had before, and now I was out of university."
He won the battle. In 1992, he was again crowned nail-driving champion at the Hymers Fall Fair.
Wether he becomes world champion or not, Schoor will never give nail-driving.
There's a German saying. "Was rested, rosted': What rests, rusts. If you use your hammer, it won't rust. These traditional phrases are what I live by. Its so simple. "Simplicity is the essence"