I started visiting Tweet/Garot Mechanical in Green Bay, Wisconsin, when I was a kid. My Great Grandfather, Andy Tweet, had started a Tweet Brothers Plumbing in 1924 and after a series of purchases, acquisitions, mergers…I’m not good with the terminology…it became Tweet/Garot Mechanical in the late-1970’s. In 1979 they moved to a shop on Larsen Road. At that time I had a handful of family members working there including three uncles. My dad was an elementary school principal, and when he’d get some time off during the summer we’d drive in to Green Bay to visit my uncles and bring doughnuts to the guys working in the shop.
Growing up in my family getting a summer job at TG was a rite of passage. Coincidentally, I never did get a summer job there in high school. My brother and a lot of my cousins did. I never had any interest in working there and really knew little, if anything, about it. But, in the summer 1995 when I transferred to UWGB for my sophomore year in college, I went to TG looking for some part-time work to make a few bucks. I was hired to help in the tool crib two days a week. On September 5, 1995, I made my tool crib debut. I had no business fixing tools, but I could load trucks and help with odds and ends around the shop. It was only about 12 hours a week anyway. I spent most of it getting yelled at by Paul Reynolds or getting ridiculed by Bud Van Lannen and Art Gauthier.
A few months later I decided college wasn’t my thing and came back to TG wondering if I could work full-time until I figured out what I wanted to do. They agreed, and suddenly I was the fourth generation of my family working there. Something I take pride in to this day. While I learned a lot in the tool crib, I’m pretty sure I pissed off all the guys in the shop with my lack of understanding of the sheet metal trade. A few of the guys took me under their wing and treated me like I belonged. Rob Taylor, Rod Dax, Bernie LeGreve…they have no idea how much they helped out a terrified 19-year-old. Still, even with their help I was probably not the guy anyone in that shop wanted to see sitting in the tool crib when they needed someone to grab consumables from the back. My response was usually, “What’s that again? Why don’t you just come back and find it?”
One thing I did know a little bit about was computers. Specifically Microsoft Excel. My boss in the tool crib, Al Leppala, was supposed to be creating an Excel spreadsheet with all of the tool inventory so they could be tracked. He had less business doing that than I did repairing tools. So, he arranged a swap. I’d sit at the desk in his tiny office in the back of the tool crib working on his tool spreadsheet and he’d fix tools and find consumables for the guys. I remember thinking, “This is amazing. I’m getting paid seven bucks an hour to work on a computer!”
One day in March of 1996 the tool crib got a visit from Ray Withbroe. I believe he was a Division Manager at the time. Either way, he asked if I could come to his office with him. I figured he found out I was working on Al’s computer instead of doing my job and I was in trouble. This was it. I’m done for. I don’t recall the conversation exactly but I know this: When I got to Ray’s office he asked me if I was the one working on the tool crib spreadsheet. I said that I was and braced myself for a pink slip. I was supposed to be fixing extension cords, not playing with Excel. Instead he asked if I thought I could do the same thing keeping track of shop time. The company had big jobs starting up at Appleton Papers and Consolidated Papers in Wisconsin Rapids and they needed someone who could enter time cards in to a database with union labor rates that would calculate the labor dollars spent on those jobs. Then I’d have to fax them to our project managers at the jobs. This is a database that a child could probably set up in a matter of minutes in 2018, but in 1996, this was kind of a big deal. It meant I’d get paid to work in Microsoft Access all day. DONE!*
*I’m a dork
I traded in my safety glasses and vast knowledge of shop consumables for a copy of Office 95 and a binder of union labor rates. I took my seat in the Service Department office next to Louie Danielson, Greg Wierzba, and Norma Ascher. It was the only desk open at the time. I had a blast hanging out with Werz, Louie, and the service techs every day. I’d go out to the shop to collect time cards every afternoon and it meant I could sneak in a few minutes of Jim Rome with Bernie and Rod in the shop office while I asked questions about the day’s time. Norma had to listen to her country music station in the Service office, but the Packers won the Super Bowl that season, so I would find any excuse I could get to head out to the shop with Bernie and Rod to sneak in some Jungle time.
Over the next two years I bounced around to every open office, conference room, and modified closet in that building. I shared an office with Rob. I shared a conference room with Rob. We’d get kicked out anytime someone needed to have a meeting. I joked about it for years, but I will still make the argument that I called more locations in that building “my desk” than anyone in TG history. As much as I loved the job, I didn’t know what my future was at TG. To be honest, the bigger issue was that I couldn’t stand another minute of working with the payroll supervisor at the time (not gonna name names). In May of 1998 I left Tweet/Garot and took my talents to Bradford Beach: the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.
I loved Milwaukee, but it didn’t take me long to remember that I didn’t love school. After a few semesters I was back out of school and working an assortment of dead end jobs. The lowlight was my three month stint giving out motorcycle insurance quotes over the phone. “OK, let me double check this, sir. You’re 19 years old, you’ve had three speeding tickets and a DUI, and you want a quote on insurance on a crotch rocket? OK, sir, that’ll be $3,500 every six months. What? I know the magazine ad said we had the lowest prices, but you’re in an interesting situation. You see, prices are higher when you’ve had violations and you’re young so…oh, fuck me? Yes, I know I suck. Have a nice day, sir.”
In late-June of 2000 Werz called me. The guys I worked with at TG had come down to Milwaukee several times over the past couple years to meet up for concerts, Brewer games, or other events. I figured with Summerfest starting up we’d go to a concert or maybe there was a Brewer game. Nope. Ray was a VP now and needed an assistant. I’d be working for Ray this time??? Hell yes.
On July 5 after exactly 26 months away I made my return to the hallowed halls of 2545 Larsen Road. It was awkward for about an hour. Everyone welcomed me back and it felt like home again by the time Ray and I went to lunch that day. I took my seat at my desk in an office in the newly renovated northwest corner of the 2nd floor. Holy shit! I had a freaking office now! A brand new office on The Dark Side, no less. Our area was often referred to as “the dark side.” Still not sure what that was all about, to be honest.
Over the next eight years I had the pleasure of working with fellow assistant, Mary Jo Harrison, and Ray. We knocked out countless rate sheets, PowerPoint presentations, sales books, bid packages, quarterly reports, and had a blast doing it. We were the dream team, or at least we were in my mind.
It became clear early in my career that my strengths as an assistant were in technology. I spent most of my time on cell phones, databases, spreadsheets, and PowerPoints. I could set up a Motorola W385 or Palm Treo 650 like nobody’s business. Pretty soon I was fixing computers and training people. I wasn’t just working on computers in our department. I was working on them in every department. After eight years I moved downstairs as a part of IT. No more Ray and MJ. No more Dark Side.
After my move to IT I regressed back to my nomadic ways of the late-90’s. No more office. I was bouncing from cubicle to cubicle every six months again. The good part of doing that is you get to know a lot of people. I missed my friends upstairs and I missed my door, but it didn’t take long to meet a lot of other cool people. I also went back to school at night and learned enough to make me dangerous on a network. Now I had added server, firewall, and switch configuration to my unique and diverse skill set next to shop consumables expert, union labor rate database curation, and motorcycle insurance peddling.
Over all of these years TG had grown. A lot. The old office I once had to myself now had three desks. So did a lot of others. It was time to move. In 2016 we found out that we’d be moving to a new office the following summer. We did just that on June 15, 2017. It didn’t feel strange to leave the old building at the time because our sheet metal shop was still operating there so I’d get back there occasionally. I was also so busy with the move there wasn’t a lot of time for emotion or nostalgia.
In 2018 the company built a new shop down the road in Wrightstown to replace Larsen Road. That move has taken place over the past month and suddenly, for the first time since 1979, the old Larsen Road shop sits empty. I got an e-mail from Leah Cohen – our fantastic Director of Manufacturing – today telling me that the final walkthrough at Larsen Road is this Friday. If there’s anything IT needs from the old shop it has to be out by Friday. I hopped on 41 north and took the Mason Street exit like I’ve done thousands of times before. When I pulled up to the building and and walked in it occurred to me: This is probably the last time I’ll ever set foot in 2545 Larsen Road. I walked the building and removed the remaining wireless access points and switching equipment. I found a printer and some power strips we’ll have some use for in the new shop. The walk around the building was more like one last trip down memory lane than it was a trip to pick up switches.
I grew up in that building. I’ve made amazing, lifelong friends there. I got to know my uncles there. Not as uncles, but as co-workers and friends. I had some wonderful times there. I had some terrible times, too. Bruce Van Grinsven died. We watched the events of 9/11 unfold in the conference room. I had friends leave or get fired over the years. There were more sleepless nights fixing network issues than I care to remember. In fact, the server room in that building will haunt my nightmares forever. On second thought, maybe I won’t miss that building. The Cryptolocker scare. The time I worked 31 hours straight because of a hardware failure in the server and the HP guy said it happened because we manhandled it (he was an idiot). The week of the office move when I was working around the clock and had my grandmother’s funeral sandwiched in the middle of it. Not one of my favorite weeks.
Those bad memories are few and far between. When I walked through there today I thought about things like the spot where Uncle Dave, Ray, and I went upstairs and smoked cigars on the mezzanine with Uncle Bill. The office supply area upstairs where MJ, Holly Hill, and I scrambled to put together quarterly reports at 6:00 in the morning because the meeting was at 7:00 and nobody turned their shit in on time. The conference room where we held our fantasy football drafts. One last trip past all the spots I sat over the years. The desk with Werz in the Service Department. The shop office where I listened to Romey with Rod and Bernie. Of course, the Dark Side. The cubicle I shared upstairs with Doug Casper after he joined us in the IT Department. The cinder block bomb shelter I worked in with Doug, Kody Seefeld, and Michelle Holford for the last few years there. My cubicle across from Dave Evans’s office. I laughed out loud when I thought of the time Dave got reprimanded for not wearing appropriate clothes and he half-heartedly attempted to make up some bullshit about wearing them because he was packing for the move. He wasn’t.
There are a million other stories to tell about that building. I know dozens of people who have far better stories than I about the old shop Christmas parties and the shit that used to go on there long before I arrived. When all was said and done, a great place to spend 20 years of my life. Farewell, 2545 Larsen Road. Time to make more great memories in the new buildings.