Skill Level: Amateur
- Electrician 42 years
- Shop Owner/Employer 32 years
- Master Electrician 12 years
- Serious hobby metal work 2 years
- Old Iron-Tractors, Farm Equipment
- Computers/Automation, PLC work
- Cabinet Making
- Logan 820 lathe, my baby
- South Bend M13-14½-16 Lathe
- Bridgeport 2hp J Head
- Delta/Rockwell 24” Bandsaw
- Jet Horizontal Bandsaw
- Delta Floor Drill Press
- Rockwell Radial Arm Bench Drill Press
- Walker Turner Radial Arm Drill Press
- 3 pedestal grinders, 8” disk sander, 1” x 42” belt sander
- 50 ton Hyd Press
- 16 ga 50” Shear and Brake, 4” Notcher
- 15 ton Weideman Punch Press
- Welders, stick, Mig, Torches
- Hand tools/Portable Tools
- Engraving Machine
- Electrical Test Equipment
- Wood Working Machines and Tools
I grew up on a dairy/wheat farm in the plateaus of Northern Idaho. I was exposed to metal work just by following Dad around and doing what had to be done. One of my earliest memories was working with Dad and manning the hand cranked blower for the forge. I thought that was a real Man’s job at the time, playing with fire and all. I was first exposed to machine tools by dropping stuff off to be repaired at the local Iron Works. I loved to see and hear those machines grind, cut and tear and pound.
Finally in Agriculture Shop in High school I got my hands on a lathe and it was all over. From High School I applied at the local trade school for their machining/metallurgy course. I was accepted but Uncle Sam got in the way by issuing me a rather low draft number to go play in the sunny South Pacific. Not wanting to sleep in a mud hole I joined the Navy. Try as I may the Navy could not see my future worth to them as a Machinery Repairman (machinist) but had openings for Electricians. So most anything being better then chipping paint and repainting for four years I agreed. They sent me to school for sixteen months and considering it is eight hours a day five days a week they cram in a lot in a short time. Their attitude is pretty much keep up or get out.
I advanced through the ranks and duty became much more palatable with better and better appointments. Desiring to have some semblance to real life I got married. A year and a half later when I was discharged I had a wife, one on the way, and needed a job. NOW. Electricians were in high demand in the area so I went right to work and in the next forty years was only laid off once missing only one day of work between jobs. Mighty lucky I’d say.
After working many jobs, for many people, I found I liked industrial electricity the most so when I started my own shop I aimed in that direction. Control wiring and machine automation became my forte. I loved making a whole string of machines come to life doing their jobs with a people person hardly necessary to intervene. I was expensive to have around but usually rapidly paid for myself at the cost of others in the long run. Such is the price of progress these days.
In 1998 I needed back surgery for a tired worn out back. Arthritis had found a home. Long story short, I contracted a hospital borne staph infection that almost won the battle. Thirteen months later I feebly returned to my shop. Thankfully my boys had kept the doors open. The last ten years were not near the fun as I was a now supervisor and not a flunky who got to actually turn the screws. In the long run I must have enjoyed it all as one morning I got up and realized that thirty two years ago when I opened my shop doors, I wondered how to pay the mortgage and feed Ma and the Kids. Now today I am retired. Seemed more like a week or two. So much water under the bridge.
As time was going by I anticipated this day so as “Deals” came by I snatched them up if I could. A machine here, some tools there and pretty soon the shop got full. One advantage to my profession was that the IRS would not allow you to have money, but you could have stuff. Tools and machinery used in the progression of work, custom industrial control panels, were written off by my accountant. A perk so to speak!
Finally here we are today. My second trade is going well and I thoroughly enjoy it. I keep my Machinery’s Handbook handy, surf the web constantly and go for any source of knowledge of machine work. I will go CNC one day but first I want to turn the cranks to get the experience and feel for the job. I have already started in that direction by putting a DRO on my Bridgeport, what a great enhancement! You can tell I am an amateur as I still have all ten digits!
Let’s go make some SWARF!
Articles by Russ Harman: