I can't remember exactly when my correspondence with Chuck Siple began, but I'm sure it had its origins in his writing to me about something in one of my books on design. And I expect that he was supplementing what I wrote, was providing an excellent further example of good or poor design, or was simply reporting on a discovery or observation that he made while reading or shopping. In any case, that is what I have come to expect from a Chuck Siple missive.
Chuck's hand-written letters are of the old school -- cursive and discursive. The salutations have calligraphic flourishes, and the closings have even grander and more expansive flourishes. In between, his small, tight handwriting for a long time was executed with a turquoise-colored ink in his fountain pen, though his latest seem to be in black ballpoint, but that has not diminished their allure. There are often postscripts and post-postscripts, and enclosures of clippings. But what makes Chuck's letters more than mere epistles is his frequent interruption of the prose with drawings -- of a recently encountered elegant, curious, or faulty design.
The drawings that Chuck makes are masterful, with perfect perspective and fine detail. When he is describing a process, he will provide a series of drawings, showing the step-by-step progression of the action. In a recent letter, for example, he reported with obvious excitement about his coming across at the supermarket of a self-threading sewing needle. He wrote that he was going to buy a pack of 10 and send me one, but the price was too dear for a retiree. Instead, he provided three drawings showing enlarged views of the needle's eye end showing the steps by which it was threaded.
Chuck has a clear talent for technical drawing. He is a retired patent draftsman, and like a lot of retirees he has continued to practice his craft in a modified form. Some years ago, when my son and I were applying for a patent, Chuck was kind enough to execute from our sketches the final drawings in conformity with patent office requirements, with which he was intimately familiar. In appreciation of his help, I sent him a pear-wood 30-60-90-degree drafting triangle that I had come across in an antique store. It was a thing of beauty, I thought, and I believed that he would not only see it as that but also might put it to use.
After he read my book on delivering newspapers, in which I tried to describe in words alone how we paperboys in the 1950s folded the papers so that we could toss (or "flip") them from our bicycles onto subscribers' stoops and porches, Chuck sent me a series of illustrations showing the steps he used in folding the papers he delivered as a boy. I reproduced (with his permission) Chuck's fine drawings in a subsequent article on the variety of folding schemes that had been used by paperboys at different times in different parts of the country, thus demonstrating how a single design problem can have many different solutions.