On Labor Day 2013, there still are businesses for which it might as well be 1953.
They do not seek a presence on social media. They do not rely on an Internet connection as a bridge to success. Their future is rooted in the present and their careers depend on skills well known in the past.
And they’re doing just fine, thank you very much.
A tugboat operator in Olympia, a barber in Tacoma, a repairer of glass in Puyallup, a farrier in Key Peninsula – each proud of his heritage, each respectful of his tradition and trade.
Kevin Campbell, 48, of Montesano, has been a tugboat captain, relief captain and deckhand since the late 1980s, following in the footsteps of his father at Brusco Tug & Barge, a Longview-based company that recently took on new business at the Port of Olympia.
Two Brusco tugs are now permanently moored at the port’s marine terminal, helping guide in and out of Budd Inlet the log ships, barges and other ships that call on the port.
When Campbell isn’t working in Olympia, he’s at the Port of Grays Harbor doing similar work — what they call “ship assist” in the tug trade, he said.
Campbell estimates that he has helped guide thousands of ships in and out of ports during his career.
For example, he handles about 200 ships a year at the Port of Grays Harbor, he said.
And although tugs are more powerful and the ships are bigger — the biggest he’s ever been involved with was an empty oil tanker, estimated at 900 feet — the basics of the job haven’t changed.
“At the end of the day, it’s still the same thing that you’re trying to do,” he said.
That means pulling up alongside a ship and slowing it down as it approaches port, or when it is time for the ship to depart, pulling it away from the dock and staying with it until it is clear of the shipping channel.
The two Brusco tugs at the port are the Roland Brusco Sr. and the Bo Brusco. One measures 65 feet and the other is 75 feet, Campbell said.
Recently, Campbell was at the helm for two jobs: helping the Aster K of Panama and its log load begin the trip to Japan and pushing the Yangtze Pioneer of Singapore into place so it could load Pacific Lumber & Shipping logs.
Brusco Tug & Barge also works at the Port of Everett and several ports in California.
Although Brusco technically is based in Longview, Campbell said the company’s home maintenance dock is in Cathlamet. Tacoma barber Pete Lira, 65, wears a suit and tie to work. It’s about giving his profession a certain degree of class, of panache, of respect for the customer and the trade of barbering.
“A lot of my clients are doctors and lawyers, and they wear a suit and tie,” he said.
Pete shaves clients with a hand-stropped straight razor. He sanitizes his instruments with Marvy barbicide, a liquid as unknown to modern barbering as the once-ubiquitous cinnamon-flavored red Lavoris mouthwash is to the present-day dentist.
This is the way a barber used to work, and the way a barber shop used to feel – with men’s magazines on the table, a union plaque and barber competition certificates on the wall and a running dialogue that occasionally goes salty.
“The only time a computer is used around here is when a kid comes in and shows me pictures on a smartphone,” Lira said.
Lira has been barbering along lower Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma for several years, beginning at the Doric Hotel. When he found the current location on lower Pacific Avenue, he said, “It was dead. There was nothing here.”
And when he tried to retire, his clients complained.
“They started coming to my house,” he said. “I came down here because I like the area. I saw this place was vacant. This used to be Pat Patterson’s barber shop.”
When he was in barber school, he said, an education lasted three years comprising 750 haircuts, 350 shaves and a written test with 250 questions. A license required time spent under the eye of a master barber.
Now, he said, the test has 50 questions and does not demand so many cuts and shaves.
“The pros are dying off,” Lira said. “I’m one of the younger guys.”
These days, customers sit working on their laptops or tablets. Before, clients would wait while laughing and telling jokes.
Lira condones neither the drunk nor the obnoxious. He has been known to throw people out of his shop. Lira once aspired to become a middleweight boxer.
“I’ve got some customers who have been with me for 30 years,” he said. “I’m a barber, that’s all I am, and I’m proud of it.” Roy Taylor, 69, father of two and grandfather of four, lives in Puyallup and graduated from Puyallup High School in 1962. He has been a body-and-fender man, an insurance adjuster, a parts and service clerk at an Oldsmobile dealership and a mobile home dealer, and a seller of antiques.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff,” he said.
Today, he repairs glass, pottery, porcelain and assorted valuable knickknacks. He is one of only a handful of people in the West who do what he does.
If he can fix an antique or a collectible, it will sell for more than it would when broken. He works for both dealers and owners.
Taylor taught himself the trade.
“I trace this work back to the early Chinese,” he said. “You’ve got this old man with a donkey and cart, and when people in the village had a pottery piece, here comes the old man. He would drill holes, bend wires like staples, and it would hold water again.”
Taylor’s shop contains a trio of grinding wheels. One is water-cooled, one is grease-cooled and the other, a polisher, uses water and cerium oxide.
Taylor has glued tails back on ceramic horses. He has smoothed away the sharp chips that mar the lips of goblets.
“I get a good feeling when I take something that people think has been destroyed, and when I’m through, I feel like I made the piece. I’ve worked on old Oriental pieces, or Victorian. It’s that feeling – these guys made this 1,500 years ago, or 200 years ago, and here I am, keeping their work alive. My fingers and hands have become my eyes.” Ray Bradshaw, 42, of Key Peninsula, said he ran into some bad apples in the early days of his farrier work.
“Some horses would rather stomp you into the ground than let you work on their feet,” Bradshaw said.
Despite the physical demands of handling horses and the occasional broken rib or finger, Bradshaw said he relishes the individual relationship he has with every horse he shoes.
A compact, muscular picture of efficiency, Bradshaw hopped out of his white Chevy truck in the swirling dust at 2 Waters Stable in Olalla. On this day, he expected no issues with Ariel, a pregnant cutting horse in need of new shoes.
After taking her hoof between his legs, Bradshaw grimaced as he pried off one shoe after another. With the shoes off, Bradshaw cleaned the dirt from each hoof and performed an equine pedicure, removing excess skin and trimming and balancing each hoof while he checked for signs of defect or infection.
“A lot of people say it’s a dying profession. It’s not easy, and it’s specialized. It dates back to the time of the Romans,” he said while firing up a propane forge mounted on his truck for a hot fit of the horse’s shoes.
Pulling the shoes from the forge one at a time, Bradshaw rained blows with a rounding hammer to shape the hot steel on an anvil, customizing the fit to the horse. He quickly held the smoldering shoe against the hoof just long enough to produce an acrid cloud of smoke.
A moment later, Bradshaw immersed the shoe in a bucket of cold water, causing a hissing and boiling at the surface.
“It’s important to learn about each individual horse and what’s required of them. We ask a lot of these horses, and it’s important to know the horse and what’s going to help them move better and be at their best,” he said.
Bradshaw said the attention to detail pays off.
“The owners pay attention to your work. If they’re in tune with their horse and compete a lot, they notice the difference.”
Bradshaw knows he won’t earn his next job through Twitter or Facebook.
“This business is word of mouth,” he said. But he uses the tools of the digital age in a different, albeit limited, way.
“Digital technology is a great tool for knowledge sharing, and I have integrated it in my business, but if it were to suddenly vanish I would not be significantly impacted by it. This profession has been around well over 1,000 years. Science has led to many changes, but digital technology is not a vital part of modern-day equine hoof care,” said Bradshaw.
Tenderly but firmly, Bradshaw sunk six nails into each new shoe on Ariel and stood back to watch how she liked the fit.
“Ever since I started shoeing horses, I realized that’s what I was drawn to do in life. I can’t get enough of it.”
Rolf Boone, staff writer; C.R. Roberts, staff writer; Dean Koepfler, staff photographer