High degree of difficulty

To fully arrive at Wakefield High School it was necessary to pass through freshman Initiation. Careful observation of the below photograph shows two lines of students. The freshmen in costume in the foreground are being herded into line by the upperclassmen. Standing in line for a picture is part of the hazing. The building immediately behind the students is the old shop building, now long gone. It was the site of an indelible moment in the school’s history. As may be seen, it was a one story building with a pitched roof. It had front, rear, and side doors as needed for escaping in a hurry.


The shop inside was essentially one large room with windows all around. A single gas heater with a blower in one corner took the chill off the building in the winter. There was a full ceiling suspended below the rafters 10 feet above the floor to conserve heat. Inside were several work benches and an assortment of machine and power tools. This included a drill press, lathe, band saw, planer, and a power saw. We were told the planer could remove a hand from your finger tips to your wrist before any blood was visible. We stayed away from the planer.

The boys didn’t have to take shop, but it boiled down to a choice between shop and solid geometry. Given this choice, the Keener boys opted to take shop class together. They came off the farm as a pair, much like Mutt and Jeff, Laurel and Hardy, or Abbott and Costello. Ralph was the lesser of the two Keeners, appearing to be about half the size of his older brother. He preferred smoking and drinking to eating, and could hide behind most girls if they would stand still. Ben could not hide behind anyone, and would rather be anywhere than attending school. His status in school was never quite clear, but they took classes together like Siamese twins.

During one perfectly nice school day, the bells rang for classes to assemble. As was the practice during shop class, each morning would start by sitting around one of the large work benches. John ‘Blackie’ Lane was the shop instructor and always looked forward to breathing sawdust and welding fumes, a pleasant change from smelly lockers and sweaty bodies which encompassed the rest of his day. Blackie took roll, checked on assignments, and dealt with the special problems which come up with individual projects. On this particular morning when Ben did not answer roll, he turned to Ralph and asked if Ben had come to school with him. Ralph assured him that they had come together. The follow-up question was somewhat more direct, inquiring if Ralph had any idea where Ben might be.

Ralph had probably been down this slippery slope before, fearing that any cover for his big brother might come apart at any moment. He said “I haven’t the foggiest idea where Ben might be”. With that, Blackie seemed to understand, and their assembly continued around the workbench.

As is characteristic of all shops, they produce a wide assortment of strange and exotic noises, beyond the usual sawing, pounding, planning and drilling. Four letter words were not unusual around farm hands, and critters like rats, cats, and possums regularly appear when least expected. The group was about to return to their individual projects when a distinct shuffling noise was sensed in the ceiling above. Had possums gotten into the ceiling again? Were the rats playing games?

Suddenly a huge chunk of ceiling dislodged over the assembled group. Immediately thereafter an equally large object came hurtling through the hole toward the table below. Ben dropped like a cat, feet first, landing squarely in the middle of the workbench. It happened so fast the startled group scarcely had time to jump. After regaining their composure they applauded. Ralph observed that “Ben has unexpectedly arrived for class”

If Ralph had known what Ben was up to, he would certainly not have said a word, as little Ralph had been down that road before, too. Ben had crawled up a ladder through a trap door into the ceiling, and had been wandering in near darkness across the rafters. His descent into class was clearly not an integral part of his plan, as judged by the huge hole in the ceiling.

Blackie was eminently benevolent. Drawing upon his judging skills in gymnastics, he assessed the degree of difficulty of Ben’s descent to be quite high. Landing like a ballerina in the middle of the table clearly called into play years of dedicated experience jumping out of haylofts. In Blackie’s grade book for the day, he recorded an A for balance, with an added bonus of 10 style points.

This may have been the only A Ben received during his years at Wakefield High School. With this miraculous feat, he is also credited with being the only student in school history to enter class through the ceiling.

Comments are closed.