The Davy Crockett of Screw Machines

May 10, 2013 - 10:57am -- Noah Graff

Tim Haendle was pleased with himself when I talked to him Wednesday. He had bought 100 carbide inserts – used of course – for a hundred bucks at a Hoff Online Auctions Internet sale of a screw machine shop in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’ll regrind them for use on one of the 22 National Acmes he runs in his shop, buried in a forest in Mendocino County, 100 miles north of San Francisco.

Tim is a customer of Graff-Pinkert, of sorts. He is a rugged individualist determined to live life and do business his own way. I never make any money selling to Tim, but he tells good stories and teaches me stuff when I talk to him, which is usually to remind him of obligations, because whenever I sell to him he pays in installments.

Tim runs two dozen multis and complimentary CNC machines, basically by himself and a couple helpers. His wife used to work with him, but now she’s occupied, working at a hospital in Willets, California.

Haendle’s factory is 3.5 miles deep on a gravel road in the pines and redwoods on 300 acres he owns. It is part of the ranch where the great racehorse, Seabiscuit, trained and lays buried. He paid heavily to bring power and phone to the property, though knowing Tim, he got a deal. His machines are set up on specific jobs and he runs them when he gets an order. Lean manufacturing? Don’t be ridiculous, but extremely people efficient. His M.O. is to buy cheap but good machines, set them up infrequently, and put them in a big old barn of a building that seldom requires heating out in the "middle of the middle of nowhere.” He uses the Web to find the best deals, and can still breathe deep of the piney scents of nature. I see Tim as the Davy Crockett of screw machines. He confirmed this view by telling me about a wilderness moment he had had on his land. He took two of his dogs, a dachshund and a lab, out for a walk. He often takes a handgun on such strolls, but he left it home this time. The little dog started growling, sensing danger. Tim stopped and turned around to see a fierce looking mountain lion a few feet away. “I couldn’t run, so I just froze and looked into his eyes,” he told me. Tim figured the mountain lion wanted his dachshund for breakfast, and hopefully not him for lunch. But he stared down the big cat and lived to tell the tale to a machinery peddler in Chicago. Tim is not the only wilderness machinist I do business with. Chuck Fluharty runs seven Swiss CNCs in rural Pennsylvania since leaving the big company rat race at Exxon. I saw him at PMTS in Columbus in April. His shop is thriving and financially his ship has come in because his land is smack dab in the heart of the Marcellus shale oil and gas formation. Drillers want to shower him with money for mineral rights. Good news, but bad news for him because he enjoys his bucolic setting to run his quiet Swiss lathes. I like touching base with guys like Tim and Chuck who live amidst a simpler America, connected to the world but happily away from the chatter and clutter of civilization. Question: Is it easier to run a business in the boonies?

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