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Wide White: AirPro Fan & Blower Company, Rhinelander, WI

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

AirPro Fan & Blower Company, Rhinelander, WI

This is part 3 of my summer job series. Click the following links for part 1, 2, 4, or 5.

For my first two summers in college I worked for my dad's company, AirPro. He was starting the business manufacturing industrial fans and I was what I would label a "shop rat."

I made trips to pick up materials. I painted fans. I assembled fans. I did some light welding and metal cutting. I operated a forklift.

Of all of the jobs I've had, I think I have more memorable stories from this one. Part of it was the fact that it was a startup business. Things are always more interesting with startups. Part of it was it was a machine shop, which was really outside of my element.

I had a few incidents with the van and trailer I used to haul materials. On a return with a load of steel I realized the tailgate on the trailer had fallen off. It was big, probably 8x4 feet, and I knew it was lying in the middle of the road a few miles back, just waiting to take out someone's tires. I had to turn around ASAP. I was on a 55 MPH highway and pulled off into a driveway, deciding to attempt a 3-point turn. Halfway into maneuvering what I'm sure became at least a 5-point turn, I saw a car coming and knew I had to hurry. I made my final turn and decided I had enough clearance to keep going. The sound of metal on metal told me that I didn't have as much clearance as I thought as the trailer punctured a hole in the corner of the van.

In another incident with the van I realized I had gone past the road I needed and had to turn around. (Are you seeing a theme with turning around?) This time I was free of the trailer but no better a driver. I pulled off on the shoulder and was again going to make a 3-point turn. The tall grass on the side of the road hid the fact that after the one foot of gravel shoulder there was a 2-foot drop straight down into a marshy area. The front right side of the van plummeted and the van was left teetering. A passerby offered to call a tow truck once they got service since I was in the middle of nowhere. After about an hour, a visit from an obviously disgusted deputy to help with traffic diversion on the small county road, and a $75 tow truck fee later, I was free again.

My uncle, an engineer at the company, still talks about an incident where I got stuck with the forklift. I was taking a load outside the building and got stuck in some soft sand in front of the building where the street was being repaved. The guys working on the street came to my aid with a big front end loader. They attached a chain to the front end loader and hooked it onto the forklift. My uncle said he looked out the window and the appearance was that my rinky-dink forklift was hauling this huge front end loader.

I did a lot of painting. As a small company trying to meet shipping deadlines, we had a number of cases where I was there until 2 AM trying to finish a paint job for a fan that had to be assembled, tested, and shipped out the next day. In some cases the paint was still wet as it went on the truck, normally spots that I was touching up at the last minute. After those summers I have a huge appreciation for painters!

I have a few scars from my time there. In one case I got careless with a grinder and put a big slice into my knuckle. In another case my brother and I were trying to flip a huge sheet of metal. It was 6-8 feet long and between 1/2 and 3/4 inches thick. We were dumb enough to try to flip it on a table, which didn't work. The sheet came sliding down and did some fairly significant damage to the skin on my hands.

After two summers, I felt I had received pretty solid confirmation that I had not found my calling in life. I made $10 an hour my first summer and $7.50 an hour my second summer. (I could explain that reverse in fortunes, but I don't recall all of the details of my conversations with my dad over that agreement, just that that's what it was.)

I go back to visit the shop at least every few years. After my first summer they moved locations and have since expanded on that location a few times. The place is a professional outfit that's impressive to see.

But on the wall in the break room is a picture of me after a long day of painting, covered head to toe. It's a reminder of where the place has been - and really, of where I've been.

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Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

You're 4th already. ;-)

1/12/2011 6:50 AM  

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