Old school machinist 

April 21, 2021

Old school machinist 

A tribute to Roger Hansen.

Editor’s Note: As a writer, photojournalist, and historian, I am blessed to be able to enter into people’s lives and tell their story. In my 35-year career I have written hundreds of “human interest” stories and remember most of them. Some stand out more than others. I have always been proud of this story I wrote in March 2011 of machinist Roger Hansen. Roger died Monday, after a valiant battle against AL amyloidosis.

He was a master at his craft and was trusted to build parts for many local industries and businesses, including creating one-of-a-kind parts for the SS Badger. He was born and raised at Cherry Hill Farm on Conrad Road in Amber Township, and lived his entire life there. He dedicated the last 40 years to serving on the Western Michigan Fair Association Board of Directors, making sure that our community had one of the best fairs in the state. Here is my story on Roger:

March 2011

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

AMBER TWP. — When you approach Roger Hansen’s Cherry Hill Machine Shop you are greeted by three barking dogs. “Are you bothering my dogs?” the soft spoken Hansen asks facetiously. “They won’t bite.”

The shop is located on West Conrad Road, just a few steps from the house where Hansen was raised in, on the 120 acre farm that has been in his family since 1920.

Hansen, 69, has been a machinist for about 50 years. He started his career at Star Watch Case (which was where Harbor Front Marina and Condominiums is now located along Rath Avenue in Ludington), then he worked at Harrington Tool in Ludington before eventually ending up at Dow Chemical. He retired from Dow in 1996, taking an early retirement at age 55.

Since that time he has operated his own shop. 

“It’s good out here’” he says. “It’s kind of out of the way but people find me.”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a machinist is a craftsman who fabricates, assembles or repairs machinery. That pretty much defines Roger Hansen.

He says he keeps pretty busy. He builds and repairs parts for five area factories plus many farmers and excavators.

“It’s been a good racket for me. I’ve done it all. When I got out of Dow people just thought I would retire and do something different. People will ask, ‘why don’t you go to Florida?’ After the second day I would have to get a job or I’d go nuts.

Hansen’s shop smells of burning metal and a slight haze of smoke fills the air. At first glance the shop seems cluttered. But, after spending some time the piles of scrap metal each serve a purpose. He often recycles old parts to make new items.

His style of work is old school and he likes it that way. He doesn’t use computers. Ironically many of the projects he works on are for factories that use computer-operated fabricators. However, it is not always cost effective to create a computer program for limited quantity parts.

“All my machines are manual. I have to do it myself,” he says.

Though most of the work is done with metal, some parts require fabrication of plastic.

One day earlier this week he was repairing metal crates for a local factory. Most of that work required welding and a hammer. On another day he was making pulleys for a customer’s lawn tractor. He built the pulleys from scratch, each one taking at least an hour.

“It’s basically pretty simple,” he says with a slight smile.

He has built a variety of parts over the years, including building custom parts for the SS Badger.

“One of the more unique things I have built were some parts for an antique Belgian car,” he says. “I’ve also built brake drums for a couple other antique cars.

“I even get some decorative gadgets which is kind of fun, something different. Yesterday I had a fellow from Hart come in who needed locks built for an old door. You never know what’s going to come through the door.”

He says he likes a challenge. “I really enjoy the jobs when someone comes in and says they brought it somewhere else and they said it couldn’t be done. I’m not saying I can always do the job, but those are fun.”

Hansen and his wife, Marcia, have three adult children and three grandchildren. Besides machine work, he still raises cows and horses and is on the Western Michigan Fair Association board. “I still enjoy this. I will do this until I can’t get here. I have no desire to quit. Plus, I’m right here on the farm and I still do some farming too.”

 

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