‘Mr. Fix It’ retires after 56 years at MDCI
SALEM – They call him “Mr. Fix It,” “Mechanical Man,” and “The Wizard.” Bob Cole, who is 81, can fix or make just about anything, his employers at MDCI are convinced.
On Sept. 7, Cole retired from the 62-year-old company, exactly 56 years after he first went to work there.
“I love to fix things and make things,” Cole explained. “That’s just the gift the good Lord gave me, I guess. I fixed little kids’ bicycles when I was a kid.”
When he started at MDCI in 1956, he was hired as a machinist. “When I first came I was moving machinery,” recalled Salem resident Cole. “I never had been in a machine shop before. I had a garage in Riner when I was 16, and had worked on cars.” He grew up in Floyd County. Altogether, he worked for 65 years.
By the time he retired from MDCI, Cole was shop superintendent.
“See those file cabinets there?” Cole said, motioning to two 4-drawer file cabinets behind his plain chair in a room off the work floor of the custom machine company. “Those are filled with jobs that have gone through this shop since I’ve been here.
“With this guy right here, all you did was ask him to fix something,” said MDCI President J.D. Powell whose father, Paul Powell, was founder of MDCI with Roy Spain. “He’s a genius.”
Powell also admires Cole’s values. “He’s just one of those people you have to know, a man of his word and honor, a good Christian who applies Christian principles to his life.
“Bob’s been one of the most, if no the most, loyal and reliable employees this company has ever had,” said Margie Bowles, corporate secretary-treasurer. “Especially important to MDCI, Bob, as a machinist, has a level of knowledge, talent, ability and skill well above the average. He is respected in the industry for his working knowledge and his ability to grasp an idea and create an intricate precision part. We feel we are losing an ‘institution.’ ”
Manager Jerry Daniel, a grandson of one of the founders, praised Cole for his abilities. “Most anything you need to have fixed, you bring it in and Bob will make that his No. 1 priority. He’ll have it fixed and back to you right away.”
Daniel recalled that one of the first times he went to Cole’s garage at his house, “He had a map of where his travels on his motorcycle had taken him. He rode his BMW in 47 of the 48 continental states.”
Cole also worked on and fixed motorcycles for people from all over.
True to his humble personality, Cole didn’t want any fuss made over his last day. Powell, Bowles and others gave him a few gifts, but didn’t throw Cole a party, at his request. He did get a handsome wood-and-metal plaque, marking his service.
On Friday as usual, at 6:15 a.m. Cole opened up the doors to the building at the corner of Apperson and Brook Avenue near the Hammerhead Hardware.
As shop superintendent, he has been getting to MDCI early in the morning for 20 years “to turn the lights on and to get them going by 7 a.m.”
The last thing he did that day before leaving was to pass out the paychecks. And then he walked out the door.
Cole and his wife, Mary, have been married for 58 years. They plan to continue living in their home in Salem. So what’s next for Cole? “I’ll still tinker in my garage. I fix a bit of everything for people,” Cole said.