Though we hustled to be ready for inspection of our new shop, that inspection was disappointingly postponed. Nevertheless, we got to work on The Big Order.
One of the first things Mike did was retire his Sears chop saw and replace it with a seven horsepower radial arm saw he found on Craigslist. The saw was located in Salem, New Hampshire, and when he drove there to pick it up, the seller loaded the 800-pound saw into the truck with a car lift. Well, now Mike’s problem was how to get it off the truck and into the shop.
While wrestling with the saw, the radial arm shifted and Mike helplessly watched as the thing crashed to the ground. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt, the saw was fine, and eventually he muscled that behemoth into the shop.
But the best laid plans often don’t turn out the way we think, do they? It soon became clear the big saw wasn’t going to work out after all. Aluminum chaff from cutting continually short circuited it, so Mike had to bring the Sears chop saw temporarily back into service.
Night after night during this period, I would find him burning the midnight oil searching for the perfect saw for the job. Without a disposable twelve thousand dollars to burn, he was back to searching Craigslist. Finally, he found a 1963 Whirlwind uncut saw with a 14-inch blade, in perfect condition. We purchased it and have been using it ever since.
Our next dilemma was punching holes in the aluminum. Five holes were needed for every Buttler. But with the use we were putting them to, our mix of off-the-shelf punch presses (as well as a custom-built punch) would each go out of alignment and eventually break. Problem solving time again! Mike and his brother did several rebuilds to make the system work, but during these delays, production ceased and our deadline was looming. It was nerve-wracking.
All the Buttlers are powder coated to give them their sleek look and our finisher was another ongoing frustration. As it turned out, our sense of urgency and quality standards were not aligned with their schedule or standards. Around this time, Lapine informed us that they would be sending a Underwriters Laboratories inspector to examine every 2,000 Buttlers we finished.
With a proposed schedule for these inspections coming up fast, and because of the issues with our finisher, we were spot-finishing all the Buttlers once they arrived back at the shop. This extra step was slowing our process down tremendously!
But Mike and John never gave up and finally — after many long nights sanding and buffing — met every deadline. In November 2018, the last of The Big Order of Sidewalk Buttlers went out the door.
Fast forward to present day.
The Big Order has enabled us to purchase a CNC (computer numeric control) machine that cuts metal to any specification and eliminates the need for a hydraulic punch press and hand tooling. Mike and John have also designed and built an oven and powder booth so high-quality, timely finishing is now all accomplished in-house.
I might be a bit biased, but I’m constantly amazed by the determination, grit and intelligence of these guys.
And, as I look back on Sidewalk Buttler's last three years of growth and development, the big lessons learned are also the simplest:
- Always plan ahead for off loading deliveries;
- Get help when needed;
- Perseverance during long days and nights pays off.
And when you think about it, these lessons really apply to anybody with a dream and a positive, do-it-yourself attitude. Now, onward into a cleaner, greener future for all!