Trade Stories: Mike Smith of Kenmore Air
Kenmore is our kind of airline. Family owned and operated out of Washington State since 1946, no one knows their way around a bush plane better. We sat down with machinist Mike Smith, a Kenmore veteran of 11 years, to talk welding, banjos, and bird dogs.
What’s your trade?
I make and repair airplane parts, tools for the mechanics. I do a little bit of everything. I’m a machinist, welder, and metal fabricator. Machine-work, heat-treating, all forms of welding, gas welding aluminum, TIG welding, very little MIG welding, some gas welding with steel…
Seems like you’re in the right place then.
Kenmore has been here for 50 plus years, since the ’40s I believe. I started here about a year after the original owner and founder passed away, so I never met him. It’s a family owned business, it’s been here forever, I’ve been here for 11 years and I have no plans to leave. Unless I’m escorted off the premises [laughs].
What is Kenmore known for?
We run our own fleet of airplanes, and we do restorations for customers. We’re considered specialists in Beaver restorations, the de Havilland Beaver, which is the quintessential floatplane or bush plane.
How did you come to work on floatplanes?
Well, I was a metal fabricator for many years before I started working here. I was a German and Italian car mechanic for years, then involved in vintage motor racing for years. These are closely related to vintage aircraft work. So, a lot of my experience and skill crossed over fairly quickly.
What’s the best part of the job?
Being able to work on cool old machinery, and working for an employer that values family and free time. Being able to work on the stuff I enjoy, and to be useful, and still have a life outside of work.
Anything you’d like to know how to do better?
Play the banjo.
What’s the most important invention thus far?
There are innumerable answers… But I’d have to say the bird dog!
How about your favorite tiny thing?
I can’t afford an expensive watch, but I really appreciate watch-work. But my favorite tiny thing is probably my daughter.
Any advice you care to pass on?
My Dad used to say all kinds of stuff… But the one that stuck was “if you can’t shoot pool, shoot hard.”
If you weren’t working as a machinist, what would you be doing?
I’d be in prison! [laughs]