Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Randy is retiring after a long career as an automotive machinist April 26, 2023

My husband at work in the Parts Department, Northfield, machine shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, RANDY received the devastating news that he would be losing his job of almost 39 years. Boom! Just like that, with no warning of the impending sale of Parts Department, Inc., Northfield, where he worked as the sole automotive machinist. He went to a store meeting one evening and came home with news that the business was sold and the new out-of-state owners were closing the busy and profitable machine shop. A life-long of hard work and dedication unappreciated. That event nearly broke us emotionally, mentally. Stress pressed upon us in those initial months of uncertainty. Randy was not yet full retirement age. How do you even begin to deal with job loss in your mid-sixties?

Here we are, a year later, in a much better place. It took awhile to get there. After marking his final day at NAPA on July 29, 2022, Randy was unemployed for nearly three months. It was a period of adjustment, a time of uncertainty, a time of waiting.

One of several truck loads of shop equipment moved from Northfield to rural Randolph in August 2022. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


Then, in mid-October, my husband started working as the automotive machinist at newly-opened Nate’s Machine Shop & Diesel Repair, rural Randolph. Nate bought the equipment from NAPA Northfield. A wise decision given so few people work as automotive machinists and there’s a high demand for the specialized, skilled service. There were a lot of really angry customers when the NAPA shop closed and Randy lost his job. That added to the stress. Randy has always been dedicated to taking care of his customers.


He won’t be doing that much longer, though. He’s transitioning into retirement. And from 4-7 pm this Friday, April 28, Nate’s Garage will host a retirement party for Randy and a grand opening of the machine shop. Randy has been training an apprentice. It takes time, patience and effort to teach someone what you’ve been doing for 43 years. But the reality is that Randy doesn’t want to work forever, even if customers think he should. They will have to trust the new shop guy, Tyler.

Those three months without work caused something to shift inside Randy. He realized that life is about much more than work. And that is the good that came from losing his job. He’s full retirement age now, too, which makes the decision to ease out of his job easier. He no longer feels obligated to be there for his customers.

And it helps that he’s now leaving on his terms, in his time, rather than being shoved out the door.

Before and after cylinder head cleaning process. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


It’s time to be done with long work weeks of physically demanding labor that have taken a toll on his body. He’s been working full-time since graduating from the auto mechanics, auto parts and auto parts management programs at Brainerd Vocational Technical School in 1976. He started in auto parts, at a store in Rochester, eventually relocating to Faribault. There he learned automotive machining. After a short stint in Owatonna, Randy accepted a job with NAPA Northfield, growing a customer base that stretches across the country. He grew to become one of the best in his field in southern Minnesota.

If you do the math, that’s 47 years of working full-time in the automotive field, plus the time he worked while at Brainerd Vo-Tech. So let’s just round the number to 50.

I am incredibly proud of my talented and hardworking husband. He possesses a strong work ethic and is devoted to great customer service. He’s old school that way. I’ve witnessed him solve problems that others can’t. He’s really good at what he does and he deserves to be celebrated. And thanked.

The service door entry to the machine shop at Parts Department, Northfield. Randy really wanted that machine shop sign, given he worked there for nearly 40 years. He asked, but… (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


I welcome your presence at his retirement party (note, he won’t arrive until around 5 pm). I welcome your congratulatory messages in the comments section here. And I invite you to send him a congratulatory card the old-fashioned way, via snail mail. I want Randy to be recognized, honored, celebrated for 50 years of selfless service to others. He deserves the accolades. I want him to feel the gratitude, the love. He’s worked hard all of his life. And now it’s time for Randy to rest, to do what he wants, when he wants.

Randy’s NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

FYI: Nate’s Garage is located at 1471 310th Street Way, Cannon Falls. The shop is two miles south of Randolph along State Highway 56. Food and beverages will be provided by the R-Bar. The celebration is from 4-7 pm. Again, Randy won’t arrive until @ 5pm and I’ll be there if I’m feeling well enough to attend.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to read a previous post about Randy’s work as an automotive machinist, which is different from machining.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


43 Responses to “Randy is retiring after a long career as an automotive machinist”

  1. I’ll likely never meet Randy in person, but let me say Congratulations! anyway. I think you captured the important part when you said: “Those three months without work caused something to shift inside Randy. He realized that life is about much more than work.” It’s hard for someone who’s been doing a job they like for a long time (and doing it well) to move on to life’s next adventure. Some don’t and that’s sad. Randy did and that’s good. I hope you two now have time to explore more of Minnesota together – there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there! 😄

    • Thank you for your congrats and for recognizing the importance of the quoted sentence. I wondered if Randy would ever reach that point and I’m thankful he did. Once I’m back to health, we can hopefully continue our day trips in this beautiful state. Yes, Minnesota offers much to see and do if only we pause to see and do.

  2. beth Says:

    I’m so happy to read this. I remember the sudden ending of his old job and the loss for both of you that you had to deal with. It’s wonderful that he had this new opportunity to work in the field that he was so good at, and had the chance when he was ready to leave and on his own terms. Congrats to both of you and your next chapter will be wonderful

  3. Judith Rowe Says:

    Wishing Randy a long,happy, and very well earned retirement, and hoping you can celebrate with him on Friday. I’ll raise a glass on the day, even though I’m 6 hours ahead here in England. I’m imagining all the lovely long days of summer you’ll be spending together, and with more time for family, friends and fun! Great for Randy to see the legacy he leaves with Tyler too. Cheers.

    • Thank you, Judith. I appreciate the toast and the way you honor Randy here with your words.

      I hope to attend the party, but realistically don’t know if I will feel well enough to do so. I’m beginning to feel slightly better now that I’m finally off Prednisone and getting more sleep. Due to side effects of the med, I’ve managed only a few hours of nightly sleep for the past two weeks. Sleep deprivation amplifies symptoms and generally makes me feel awful. But onward. By Friday I may be minimally well enough to celebrate.

  4. Jane Sarles Larson Says:

    Good morning Audrey – while I’ve never met you or Randy, I feel like I know you both because of your blogs. So as you asked, here’s a toast to Randy for a career well-done!
    Cheers for not letting the nonsense of corporate decisions get you down! Cheers to your unyielding work ethic to get the job done and get it done right the first time! Cheers to you for your dedication and loyalty to your customers for 50 years (rounded up)! And most of all – congratulations to you and Audrey for lives well-lived!
    Wishing you all the best in the next phase of your lives. (We don’t really “retire,” do we? After all, we have grandkids now – more time to enjoy them and our adult children. The best part of retirement.)
    Have a blessed retirement, Randy. Cheers!

    • Jane, thank you for your heartfelt congrats to Randy. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in your comment. I know you “get it.” Yes, more time with our immediate family is something I am looking joyfully toward.

  5. Jane Sarles Larson Says:

    I missed your earlier blog. I’m sorry to hear of the painful virus you’re battling. Hoping you feel better soon – and well enough to attend R’s retirement party. Prayers all around. Jane

    • Thank you for your prayers, Jane. I’m actually dealing with the effects of a virus I had in January that caused my vestibular nerve (which controls balance) to become inflamed. My diagnosis is vestibular neuronitis. I’m not in pain, but have a wide range of symptoms. I plan to post an update next week. It’s complicated and many people think I’m simply experiencing vertigo (which I did have). I hope to feel well enough for the party, but realistically recognize I may not.

  6. Huge congratulations to Randy!

  7. Kathy Hagen Says:

    Congratulations Randy, on your dedication to your craft, to the customers you served and those coworkers fortunate enough to work with you. We’ve never met but yet I have a sense of your deep problem solving skills and desire to do the right thing. I work with many people who have amassed expertise in a specialized area of knowledge or skill only to be let go when leadership does not recognize the asset of that expertise. You had the fortitude to land on your feet, and should be so proud of yourself. You and Audrey are a good team. Be proud, Randy, as you have touched more lives than you know I am sure and I am also sure you have been an inspiration without even realizing.

  8. Susan Ready Says:

    Wow big news and Congratulations to Randy on a new chapter in his life.

  9. AWESOMESauce – FINALLY and on his terms – love that – Happy Retirement – CONGRATS!!! Here’s to the Next Chapter of Adventures. Maybe a little recliner and remote action too – ha! Here’s to finding your groove as you ease into RETIREMENT – Happy Dance time!!! Take Care & TIME TO CELEBRATE 🙂

    • Thank you, Renee. Randy will need to push me out of the recliner as that’s currently my spot, the place with the best lighting. That said, we do have a reclining sofa and he’s claimed one end. We are very much looking forward to this phase of our lives.

  10. Bernadette Arlene Thomasy Says:

    Congratulations, Randy, on your many, long years of excellent work and now a well-deserved retirement. Wishing you and Audrey many blessings, new adventures and time with your family in the years ahead.

  11. Wow! fifty years in any profession is a huge accomplishment! I know that Randy was an incredibly Valued employee. For him to pass along that knowledge to someone else must be bitter/sweet for him. Congratulations, Randy! It’s time to look toward a future for YOU and what you want to do! Happy retirement, Randy! 🙂 ❤

  12. Gunny Says:

    CONGRATS RANDY! Losing one’s job is traumatic to say the least. I lost my job so many times that when I got hired, I started looking for the exit door. It was bitter sweet to see new VPs hired in at no small amount only to see them cost their employer millions outside of their paychecks and perks. Randy walks free of all the burdens and stress of the job While his employer and coworkers are left with a vacancy that is no easy fill. Professionals like Randy make the job look easy. In making the job look “easy”, Randy has gained years of experience and a intimate knowledge that is easily overlooked by observers. Enjoy life Randy. Get out and see Minnesota! I just sent a wedding picture to the Freeborn County Historical Society and Museum in Albert Lea. I found it in Brazoria, Texas! It was made in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory! I try and put things right. That wedding picture had no place in a South Texas junk shop. Maybe you all can tell me how Navasota came up with so much Scandinavia stuff! Get out and see the USA! The old Vang Post Office and General store from around 1870 is still there in Warsaw Township. It is now a private residence – right next to Warsaw Townships public buildings. Been to Dennison? Been to Kenyon? Been to St Cloud, Alexandria, Moorhead? Mile Lacs? And remember, San Antonio is but a trip straight down I-35. Careful, you may run right into the Alamo!

    • Gunny, thanks for appreciating how invaluable Randy is/has been. Few people hold his skills. Tyler is learning. But it takes decades to reach the level of Randy’s mastery in automotive machining.

      We’ve been to all of those towns on your list, except San Antonio. As you know, we love small towns and exploring what’s right here in Minnesota. Would also like to poke around more in Iowa and Wisconsin.

  13. I was just wondering, the other day, how your husband’s job loss had turned out…(such an admirable work ethic!). I am very relieved to know that you both made it through the challenges! Congratulations, I wish you both all the best that life has to offer!

  14. Beth Ann Says:

    Congrats to Randy! ! Well deserved and I am happy he is leaving the work force on his terms now!

  15. Valerie Says:

    Congratulations to Randy. It’s great he had the opportunity to “train in” Tyler during his last year.

  16. Sandra Says:

    Thank you for Randy’s full career story and some explanation of machinist and machining work. I like the “on his own terms” part. He has years ahead of being valuable to people and society still needing trades and craftsmanship delivered with the personal touch, despite how smart we think we’ve become. Certainly congrats are in order, I prefer “keep up the good work”! And for heaven’s sake, Audrey – heal thyself! Prayers coming your way!

    • Yes, I think Randy will find plenty to do in retirement. He hasn’t even started on the lengthy honey-do list of much-delayed home improvement projects. But I hope he also finds time to return to the craft of stained glass art and volunteering in areas which interest him. I’m working on the getting better part. Update coming soon.

  17. Colleen Gengler Says:

    Congratulations to Randy on a long career! Retirement is great and I’m betting he will have no trouble being productive and enjoying freedom from a regular schedule. It’s also good that he could help a young person with their new business and train Tyler as well. Plus, a real party on top of it all!

  18. Merlin Kletscher Says:

    Congratulations on your retirement, Randy! Enjoy retirement to the fullest!!

  19. Randy Says:

    Thanks for the the wonderful write up of my career, and retirement.
    Also thank you to all your readers and especially those who wrote such kind comments.

    • You are most welcome, Randy. Congratulations on your sorta retirement! You’ve worked so hard all of your life and I am incredibly proud of you, an expert in automotive machining and in high demand. I ditto Randy’s comment of “thank you” to all of you dear readers who have congratulated him here.

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