My father owned his own plastic fabrication business for many years. I grew up around the shop and would learn things like how to make forming molds and how to bend plastic. I learned through the years, my father’s influence on an industry. Here was a self-taught man, who did not go to college, yet he was very well respected and a pioneer in plastic fabrication. He made sense of the not so easy. For those of you who live or have visited Seattle, you know the Monorail. It makes only two stops. One at a shopping center in downtown Seattle and one at the Seattle Center, home of the World’s Fair in 1962. If you have seen the front windows, they have a curve that is a little hard to describe, but also that are very distinct. There was also the Bubblelator, which was an elevator shaped like a giant bubble, made out of plastic. Imagine trying to create the plans and the means to shape those windows in 1962? He went on to create a type of plastic cement, much like super glue, that would adhere plastic to each other without bubbles being shown, again a feat no one else in the Northwest had mastered yet. He wasn’t a chemist, although I found a couple of chemistry books in his shop. What I realized is, he just figured things out...
Imagine trying to create the plans and the means to shape those windows in 1962? He went on to create a type of plastic cement, much like super glue, that would adhere plastic to each other without bubbles being shown, again a feat no one else in the Northwest had mastered yet. He wasn’t a chemist, although I found a couple of chemistry books in his shop. What I realized is, he just figured things out.
So what was his legacy? Yes, he had some amazing works displayed around the city, and he engineered plastic in ways people where not yet formed yet. Here is what I know from people who worked with him over the years. He was a person who asked questions. He asked why? How would be the best way to form something. What was in the plastic that made it adhere to certain materials, and how heat affect it. But, all that being said, here is what is most important; he was kind, he was honest, he had a sense of humor, he was for everyman. He built relationships that lasted.
Sometimes my dad would pick up the phone and say “Hello, Nerland’s Plastic Products!”. You could not hear the other side, but someone he knew was on the other end you could tell and probably asked him “Hey, Harold, how ya doing?”. He would answer “Well I’m Sober!”. Then you could hear laughter on both sides of the phone. The joke was not that my father had quit drinking a few years before, or that it was ok to say those things back then (damn you political correctness), it was the fact that him and someone else just shared a light hearted experience. He was friendly to everyone that walked into his shop. He knew delivery drives and the lunch truck drivers names by heart. He would go out of his way to chat with someone. He often times would go by a customer’s shop, and have some coffee, and just to visit.
Time and time again as I rode with him “shotgun” to the dump, to other plastic shops, to customers, people would light up when they saw my dad. They knew he was a good business man, they knew he was honest, they knew he would deliver. He built relationships. He built them to last. He knew, that in order to succeed he need to help others and make sure the job was done right. He not only delivered, but he would push the plastics industry further in the Northwest.
He had finally sold his shop and was doing some consulting to another much larger fabricator in the Northwest. They hired him because he knew the business and he could make the process go smoother. And, he did. He was there for a few years before he had his stroke. When he did, several of the shop workers came by the hospital to say wish him well. After he was released from the hospital and was left with paralysis and speech problems, he visited the shop. No one said anything about work. Person after person, just came up and said how much they missed him and missed his sense of humor and having him around the shop.
Many Saturdays and many summer holidays I spent sweeping the shop. I spent countless hours watching my dad meld, mold, and bend plastic into signs, letters, bubbles, and other really cool stuff! But, really what I learned was the most valuable lesson. Relationships are more important than the big project you finish; the way you are at work reflects you as a person. Are you honest, are you kind, are you the person your father or your mentor would like you to be? Do you build relationships that will last?
Thank you dad for creating a lasting legacy in business and in peoples life's.