MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Most people know him as the "propeller guy," but he also devoted 54 years to teaching. Today Glen Gilbertson can still be found at the welding and repair business he started 40 years ago in southwest Minot.
"I've been a shop teacher all my life," said Gilbertson. "I was at Minot High for six years and then took an opening at the Dakota Boy's Ranch. I was out there 43 years. My sum total of teaching is 53 years. Unreal!"
Gilbertson started his teaching career at Noonan where he spent four years as a history instructor. He decided that wasn't the best career choice for him and enrolled at the University of North Dakota to pursue an Industrial Arts degree. That led to him being hired at Minot High School. He taught shop class during the school year and work for a welding firm during the summer months.
"I was always a welder," Gilbertson said. "On the first of June I'd go to work at Minot Welding. I ran the shop and wouldn't see the owner again for the rest of the summer. I did that for a number of years."
The likeable Gilbertson, always eager to share a laugh and a smile, recalls how he got his start in the propeller repair business. The avid angler was fishing in northern Saskatchewan when fate unexpectedly struck.
"I had a 16-foot Lund with a 30 horsepower Chrysler or Montgomery Ward tiller on it," said Gilbertson. "I was going across the lake and hit a rock so hard the guys in the front of the boat were down in the middle. It was the first day of a week-long fishing trip. Now what were we going to do?"
Gilbertson's fishing party drove into the small town of LaRonge where a man had a reputation for fixing damaged propellers. Upon seeing the damaged prop he assured Gilbertson he could repair it. Then he said, "You are a welder. Come and watch me."
"So I got a helmet on," recalled Gilbertson. "I told myself I could do that and came back home and started doing it. That's kind of the way it started. He showed me how to weld props and do everything."
Everything included a lesson on how to repair damaged skegs, a rudder that is the lowest part of an outboard motor and even more vulnerable to damage from underwater obstacles than a propeller. Gilbertson purchased a small building and expanded it to what he works out of today. He worked at his repair business when not otherwise occupied with teaching. The response for his services was immediate.
"I did 1,500 props a summer for a while," Gilbertson told Minot Daily News .
Four years ago Gilbertson had a heart attack, which necessarily required several months of recovery. Only then did he step away from his teaching profession.
"I liked teaching kids. That was a great thing for me, especially in the shop," said Gilbertson. "Most of the kids had never been in a shop. They loved it. Woodworking, metal working, small engine repair — I taught it all."
A few months shy of his 80th birthday, he's backed off from doing as much work at his business as he once did. However, he has shunned complete retirement and doesn't work regular hours anymore, instead choosing to open his shop each day when he's ready to do so. It's what Gilbertson calls "retirement hours." Recently when a man inquired what time the shop would open the next day he responded, "Oh, at the crack of ten."
A nearby sign reflects Gilbertson's comfortable work style. It reads: "Open most days about 8 or 9, occasionally as early as 7, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12."
There's been a number of changes in boats, motors and propellers during Gilbertson's 40 years in the repair business. Boats and motors have gotten bigger. Propeller choices have changed.
"It's pretty much all stainless steel propellers now," Gilbertson remarked. "There's very few aluminum."
Boaters bringing in aluminum propellers for repair was commonplace for years for Gilbertson. He has several sets of "pitch blocks" used to guide proper repair angles for propellers. Today, though, propellers have become, according to Gilbertson, "much more simplified and interchangeable."
Gilbertson has always enjoyed interacting with customers. He's heard thousands of stories about how boaters damaged their propellers or skegs. One man, he said, had never had his new boat in the water. When he pulled it out of storage with the motor lowered he ripped off the skeg.
"One day a guy walked in with a prop behind his back which he showed me and said, 'She did this,' " laughed Gilbertson. "His wife was right behind him motioning that, no, she did not. I've heard a million reasons why things get damaged and I've even been accused of putting rockpiles in certain places."
Always an avid fisherman, Gilbertson gets on the water as often as possible. He made a fishing trip to Saskatchewan earlier this year, something he has done for so many years he has lost count. Accompanying him this year was his brother, nephew and great-nephew.
"My nephew has been going up since he was 14," said Gilbertson. "He's in college now."
As for the future and the propeller repair business, Gilbertson has no immediate plans to quit entirely. Quite the opposite.
"I like to work. If I get to be 100 I'll still be sitting here if nobody buys it," laughed Gilbertson.
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com