Monday, September 9, 2013

Stuff I love #1: J. Edwards gloves

Last month's special fiction week was well-received, so I thought I'd dedicate another week this month to another specific theme, and exceptional objects came to mind. So this week I am calling, "Stuff I love," beginning with these sturdy gloves, made in Chicago.

     Coincidence is a powerful motivator.
     For instance. 
     I would never have bought expensive industrial gloves—lineworkers short cuff gloves, to be exact—to garden in. I'm too practical, and it might look strange.
     But a 2007 New Yorker article about the Great Wall of China contained this description of David Spindler, a 6-foot-7 American who was hiking the wall: 
      "In the mountains he wore a red-checked wool hunting shirt, a floppy white Tilley safari hat, high-end La Sportiva mountaineering boots, and large elk-leather gloves designed for utility-line workers by J. Edwards of Chicago."
     J. Edwards? Never heard of it. I jotted down the name, gingerly, because —and here's where coincidence came in—the side of my left index finger, from the tip to the first joint, was still numb and a deep purple-black, as it had been for the previous 10 days, the result of an infection caused by a weed prickle that pierced the cheap, coming-apart-at-the-seams cowhide glove I was using at the time to work in the yard.
     A few pages later, the article mentioned the gloves again: "elk-leather line-worker gloves from J. Edwards of Chicago." 
     This cried out for investigation.
     "We're the best known name worldwide supplying gloves for the guys you see stringing power lines,'' said Kevin Deady, president of Edwards Glove and also the guy who answers the phone ("We're a small company," he explained).
    Why do linemen need special gloves?
      "You're climbing poles, you're climbing towers; if you've ever tried to climb a steel tower, they're galvanized," he said "If you try to go up there without a pair of gloves, you're going to rip your hands up."
    And elk skin?
    "Deer or cow doesn't get as thick," he said. "These are really thick gloves, 1.6 to 2.0 millimeters. And our elk are not your farm-raised elk; they're shot, in Colorado."
    I told him about my encounter with the malignant weed.
    "Hand protection is important, as important as eye protection or hearing protection."
    Deady graduated from the University of Illinois and got into safety equipment for power companies. He also owns Kunz Glove, and bought Edwards in 2003. Both were at 339 N. Oakley, and recently moved six blocks, to 1532 W. Fullerton, where 44 employees turn out the gloves. 
    "Made in America -- 24,000 dozen gloves last year," he said, six years ago. "We ship all over the world. To Korea. We had an order go out to New Zealand today." I checked in with him last week—sales have dipped a little, to 23,000, which is not bad in this economy, particularly for high-end gloves.
     The gloves don't normally sell retail, but in 2007 I prevailed on Deady to sell me a pair, a bargain at $31, when you consider the $80 in doctor and hospital co-payments required to make sure that my fingertip wasn't about to fall off.
   "They actually make a great gardening glove," he said, adding, unable to leave well enough alone. "Although you're really overkilling it. These are a pair of gloves you'll have for the rest of your life."
     Unless I lose them, I thought.
     "Unless," he said, reading my mind, "you lose them."
     I'm happy to report that I haven't lost them. At first, when I put them on, it was all I could do not to spread my fingers and hold my arms straight out over my head, wiggling my fingers and waving at the world. I still glance about, to see if the neighbors are pausing at their yard tasks and passing drivers slowing in the cars, thinking, "Whoa. Check out that guy's gloves."
     Soft. Sturdy. And by now nicely broken in. Recently, emboldened by their mightiness, I used them to arrange logs on a roaring fire a bit too vigorously, and they dried out. But it was nothing a dousing of neatsfoot oil couldn't fix. In fact, they are better than ever. One seam started to open up at the wrist, but I took some heavy white thread and sewed it back tight, my tongue working the corner of my mouth as I pushed the big needle through. I wouldn't have done that for just any gloves. These aren't gloves you throw out, these are gloves you pass on. 
    With these gloves, I usually don't have to dig weeds with a tool, I can just grab them and slowly pull. That's something worth noting about weeds—I've found, the pricklier they are, the shallower their roots, the easier it is to pull them out. I imagine that's because few things in nature yank at spiky weeds. They don't need deep roots. Which also struck me as a phenomenon that might transfer to people, too. Prickly = shallow. Something to keep in mind.
    Oh, and one more thing. When I talked to Kevin Deady last week (he has a good memory. "You haven't lost them, have you?" he asked, after six years) he said while he was grateful for the original column —he has it framed in his office—it did lead to an annoyance: many, many people calling, wanting to buy the gloves. 
    And that's a bad thing? I asked.
    "No," he said. "But they would talk for half an hour." Half an hour is a long time to spend selling a pair of gloves, even expensive gloves. So if you feel compelled to phone J. Edwards and buy a pair of gloves, that's fine, and I recommend you do so. But please keep the jawboning to a minimum. Just order your gloves, get off the line and let the man go about his business. He has important work to do. 


  1. I don't have a garden or any need for such gloves, but this article made me almost give the guy a call to buy a pair.

  2. You're right about the spiky weeds, they are easier to yank out. I have to be extra careful, though, since I use plain old cotton gardening gloves and grasp the weed's stem near the soil (no spikes).

  3. Cotton! Get yourself some decent gloves!

    1. They're pretty though, little flowers and butterflies...

  4. "...let the man go about his business. He has important work to do." Good advice. I like to tell people getting ready to fly: "Don't bother the pilot. He's busy." I might be the only one who thinks that's funny, but I say it anyway.

  5. “Whoa!. Check out that guy’s gloves!” Made me chuckle. Are you often in your head like that or do you just come up with it for your writing? Bet you could write a hilarious sitcom.


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