Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Marking 35 years as an automotive machinist in Northfield October 3, 2018

Randy at work in the NAPA machine shop in Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


MORE AND MORE, Randy hears the question, “When are you retiring?”

Not because people want him to retire. But because customers worry that he will retire before he completes work for them.

Today marks 35 years since my husband became the automotive machinist at Parts Department, Inc., Northfield, aka NAPA. He’s been in the profession even longer, beginning first as a parts man in Montana, Rochester and Faribault before shifting to automotive machining in Faribault, then Owatonna and for the long term in Northfield.


Randy grinds a flywheel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Thirty-five years. It’s a long time to work in one place turning brake rotors, resurfacing heads, grinding valves and flywheels, and doing a multitude of other automotive machining tasks I don’t understand. He’s a skilled tradesman, a pro whose work is in high demand. Few do what Randy does. Because of that and his exceptional skills, he’s in high demand. Locally, regionally and beyond.


Randy’s toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I’m proud of Randy. He is smart, talented and driven to do the best he can for his customers. He works hard. He works long days—up until a few years ago six days a week. And up until last year, he had only 10 days of vacation annually. Now he gets twenty.


Just one example of all the work that awaits Randy in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


His farm upbringing instilled in him a strong work ethic. That and the cost of health insurance will keep him from retiring for a few years yet. Hopefully his back and his feet will hold out. I’ve seen the physical toll of a labor intensive, on-your-feet job.

For now Randy’s customers need not worry. He has no plans for immediate retirement. But good luck finding someone to do their machining work after he retires…hopefully in a few years.

PLEASE JOIN ME in congratulating Randy on 35 years as the automotive machinist at NAPA in Northfield.

Click here to read a post I wrote about Randy on this 30-year anniversary.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


31 Responses to “Marking 35 years as an automotive machinist in Northfield”

  1. This kind of work, this kind of man, sadly, is vastly disappearing. This is the type of shop I would visit in my younger teen days, when I owned a car. I miss these shops. When I first moved into Manhattan, “mom and pop” shops were everywhere. Now, very few left. I can remember a bike shop on the corner of my block where my first apartment was. The owner brazed his own frames, as well as repaired others. I used to stare at the frames in the window. The lugs joining those steel tubes together, as well as the fancy paint that covered them….just beautiful. His frames garnered cult status in the cycling world here in NYC. Sadly he passed away, but he passed the torch to his son. Unfortunately due to rising rents, he moved somewhere out in New Jersey.

    Bravo Randy!

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Congrats to Randy for a job well done for so many years. I am sure it is not an easy job to be on your feet and working hard every day for so many years but he seems to take it in stride . I know he has integrity and pride in the work he does and that makes it even better. Retirement will be a wonderful gift to him when the time is right.

  3. It is a wonderful and lucky achievement. Not many can say they have put those kind of years into a profession. Those wonderful skills he has are needed and appreciated by all the farming community in your area. I know if you can find someone with your husbands skills and they are good they never go hungry!

  4. Colleen Hondl Gengler Says:

    Congratulations to Randy on 35 years of skilled accomplishments! This really points out the need for more young people to go into the trades.

    • Absolutely. There seems to be a shift, at least in this area of southern Minnesota, to valuing those who can work with their hands. College isn’t for everyone. We need good trained individuals who work with their hands and their minds.

  5. Congrats Randy!!! Machining is a true trade art that not many know how to do, especially with those having the skills retiring out. Enjoy Your Day 🙂

  6. Littlesundog Says:

    Wow! That’s a long history in the industry. And you are correct – there aren’t many like him and not too many young to care to learn the trade or work that hard. More and more I see the “hard work ethic” is a thing of the past. I believe a lot of that was instilled by growing up on the farm, or at least in the past kids grew up learning these skills at home. Everything is technical now and even the farmers can’t fix their machines because so much is computerized and sensors on everything. I am sure Randy’s customers won’t be very happy the day he retires. Don’t be surprised if folks ask him to do projects even AFTER he’s gone from NAPA.

    I totally understand the reason for putting off retirement – cost of health insurance. If our government could work together for the good of the people, maybe we could improve those costs.

    • I fully expect customers will want Randy to do projects for him after he retires. Unfortunately, his work requires specialized equipment that is costly and most of which he doesn’t have at home. Even now he needs machines replaced at work. But it’s not happening given the cost and his nearing retirement.

      The cost of health insurance ($1,500/month with $3,600 deductibles each) is killing us financially. Randy’s company covers only half of his premium. If not for that, we’d pay $2,000/month in premiums. I wrote to a local state representative about our situation as this man is running for re-election and boasts (in campaign literature) about how he’s helped lower health insurance costs. That was weeks ago and I have yet to get a response. For those of us who are self-employed and/or work for small businesses, the cost of health insurance is absolutely unaffordable. When I tell people how much we pay in premiums and how high our deductibles, their mouths drop. They ought to.

      I agree that the strong work ethic of many Baby Boomers is rooted in growing up on a farm. We worked hard without modern conveniences to keep the farm going.

  7. Almost Iowa Says:

    Congratulations Randy! You have the coolest of cool jobs!

  8. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Congratulations to Randy! Lovely tribute to him here. The need for people with Randy’s skills is vast and it’s good to remember that skilled tradespeople keep things working. And that whole cost of health insurance issue is just ridiculous – retired people should be cared for so much better than they are.

  9. Nice article, Audrey. Congrats to Randy! 🙂

  10. Wow! quite the accomplishment. You have often spoken highly of Randy and his rare skills as an automotive machinist. Sounds like he needs an apprentice to work with him for a few years and learn from the best. Congratulations to your Randy on 35 years of important and I’m sure gratifying work.

    • That’s a good idea except that having an apprentice takes away from Randy getting actual work done for customers. In the past, he’s had young men in the shop helping him. But their pay came from his paycheck and that just did not seem right. So, no, he’s not interested in teaching someone his trade, unless he would be fully and fairly compensated.

  11. Bella Says:

    Congratulations to Randy for all his hard work, persistence and dedication to the profession. There is much to admire about 35 years working in a business with long hours and a strong work ethic. .

  12. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I still say you got a keeper! I always try to remind myself when my husband works a lot that it beats the alternative of one who won’t work. I have to wonder is he mostly working on parts for older cars. These days everything even car parts seem to be disposable.

  13. valeriebollinger Says:

    Our congratulations to Randy on 35 years working in the same place and doing a great job. He has a special skill that will be hard to replace. I hope he continues to hold up well until he can retire. This was a nice tribute.

  14. Gunny Says:

    A man with a history and a skill set such as his is very valuable – particularly in this day and age. My truck has only (I have been told) 25% of the updates available for it! A retired mechanic in Moorhead, accepted my car that was ailing. When he fixed it, he insisted that I drive it around the block with him in the passenger seat. When we got back, the bill he presented me was beyond lower than what I considered fair. He also told me that I would need a wheel bearing in another 2,000 miles, but that one other wheel bearing would last for another 8,000 miles but that he could and offered to change them both out at the same time!

    A mechanic that I know of, bought a new vehicle, was checking on a leak. He encountered a tag that said “to be serviced by a qualified mechanic” which almost stopped him from going further until he realized he was a qualified mechanic. Dealer refused to sell him the needed O-ring seal and wanted to sell him the entire assembly priced at over $700!

    The skill set your husband has is appreciated by many and should be valued by many more who may know of him. His retirement will be severely missed by his current patrons. Thank him for his service to the community.

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