alternative press serving the lower columbia pacific region

Tim Kennedy of Blind Moses Woodworking – Finding a way to get it done

Tim Kennedy

WHEN TIM KENNEDY first arrived in Astoria a few years ago, he set up shop (and camp) in a garage on the property he bought in Uppertown (east Astoria). The neighbors (including this writer) were a little suspicious, but he soon introduced himself to us all, and became good friends with the neighborhood dog, Jamie (recently passed). Kennedy, his wife Kate Darling and his business, Blind Moses Woodworking, are now fixtures in Astoria, and plan to stay.

The custom home builder has been at his trade for 30 years, performing every craft required in the construction of a custom home, from cabinet making to foundation. Its hands-on, and the finest materials. Renovation is his groove too, and many folks in the region have had the pleasure of working with Tim Kennedy and appreciating his top-level craftsmanship, his calm demeanor and cool aesthetic.

No stranger to camping, Kennedy had what he admitted was a fantastic childhood. Summers were spent foraging in Birch Bay, camping at Deception Pass, and working on strawberry farms on Vashon Island, near Seattle. Camping out while on building projects “is just part of the fun.”

When asked the perennial question, “Why did you move to Astoria?” Kennedy answers, “It felt like home.” He gave the same answer when explaining why he moved to Fairbanks, Alaska after a short stint in trade school after graduating high school in Seattle. He explained that though he was born and grew up in Seattle, his parents met in Fairbanks, and he always had a yearning for that area. He met Darling there, and she joined him in a building and woodworking business in a climate that required a lot of creativity to get the job done.

Helping a friend on a project in Vancouver, WA brought Kennedy to the Portland area, and he soon hooked up with some famous architects on projects in the region (including notably the Skamania Lodge). He moved to Portland in 1989, but confided that although Portland is a great city, “It never felt like home.” While there, he often took projects that had him setting up camp in Manzanita, Lincoln City and other cities along the coast. So while these projects took him away from his family, they introduced him to the Oregon coast, and he liked what he saw.

Growing up on Puget Sound, Kennedy is an avid boater, and you can find him in the water here often with his kayak. He even paddled with a friend from Alaska to Russia one summer, on an adventure that could easily be a feature movie. He was arrested upon entering Russia for missing paperwork, and had to plead with the authorities to be released. It all ended up OK, but was a lesson in bureaucracy. He and Darling have also been to Russia the more conventional way.

736 Grand

A striking new hand-built home at 736 Grand. For Sale!

Blind Moses Woodworking (named after a past dog of Kennedy’s) has been involved in many projects around the Astoria area. After employing neighbors to help build his house, which fits in well with the Victorian/Craftsman architecture of the neighborhood, Kennedy has done many cabinet and other woodwork installations around town in between bigger projects. He currently has a house he designed and built for sale at 10th and Grand in Astoria. (Check out his web site at http://www.blindmoseswoodworking.com/ for details if you’re interested.) The recession has made homebuilding tough, but Blind Moses is nonetheless doing OK. Kennedy showed me plans and prototypes for a springy bench at his shop, and he’s always thinking of new ideas to try.

Kennedy’s latest big project was the repurposing of the old Lovell Auto building and the construction of an outdoor patio to the Fort George restaurant and various other upgrades to the Fort George block, now owned by Jack Harris and Chris Nemlowill. The canning operation and new tap room in the Lovell building were great examples of “learning on the job” and “getting the job done,” Kennedy told me. Given a tight budget and a lot of leeway, he worked with owners Jack Harris and Chris Nemlowill and many others to create Astoria’s latest industrial enterprise.

Kennedy has a knack for finding materials that can be repurposed in his projects. Some of the ceiling beams in his house are from pilings from old canneries in the Astoria area. The Fort George project used timbers from the building at 10th and Commercial that burned on Thanksgiving night in 2008 in the outdoor patio railings, “the world’s most elaborate garbage shed” doors, and most impressively, in the new tap room in the Lovell building. “I found them (30 twenty-foot timbers) laying in a pile,” said Kennedy, who was tipped off by Mitch Mitchum, the owner of the now historically-renovated building.

Harris and Nemlowill acquired a 30 barrel brewhouse from Saint Arnold Brewing Company of Houston, Texas, and purchased a state of the art canning operation from Cask Brewing Systems in Calgary, Canada earlier this year. Kennedy’s job was to make it all work, and that required learning a lot about brewing. That’s been a theme for him throughout his career.”

Stairs at Fort George

Re-purposed copper and steel

The walls of the canning area are made of corrugated metal, that was used in the painting of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. They give the place some industrial warehouse character, and the price was right. Copper tubing from the brewing equipment became handrails. In the large cooler that keeps the canned beer cold and ready to distribute,  Kennedy used metal panels that also came with the brewing equipment. This cooler was office space when the building was an auto shop.

During the 7-month project, Kennedy learned all about not only brewing beer, but also about the history of the Lovell Building from the Lovell family and friends. The building used to house 12 businesses, including a movie theater on the upper floor. The owners haven’t yet decided what to do with the parts of the building not being used for canning, but Kennedy thinks the second floor should sport a roller derby arena. “Wouldn’t that be cool!” he exclaimed.

The tour ended with a visit to the bathrooms, which are vintage. But Kennedy’s proudest achievement on the project? “You’ve got to see the pig,” he pleaded. “My artistic contribution to the operation!” Yes, there it was, a barley storage tank with an attitude. The best touch is the ground wire that was fashioned into a pigtail. Not only does Kennedy get the job done, he has fun doing it!

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