Graham’s Engine and Machine has been in business for 25 years.
That’s about 20 years too long, says Graham Cole.
“I should have got out years ago,” he says.
Cole has always loved the “whole engine thing from start to finish,” but toiling for 25 years without time off has tuckered him out.
He is more than ready to hand over the business to new owners.
Cole started out as a mechanic for Finning in Whitehorse, and it became painfully obvious there was nowhere here to send your engines, he says.
“Engine machining was really poorly looked after.”
So the opportunity arose, and Cole pounced on it. He started from scratch and worked his way up, acquiring machinery, tools and other equipment one by one, some new and some good used.
Cole obtained his machinery from all over the world.
The crank grinder and the boring mill came from Italy, he says.
Although the local work has been steady since the beginning, Cole grumbles about strict border crossings.
“Since 9-11 all the work from Alaska has dried up because no one wants to send anything across the border.
“There has always been a lot of business, but there have always been other issues.”
Had he hired more employees, he could have taken some time off in the last 25 years.
“It never really materialized here,” Cole says with a shrug. “I guess I’m just too fussy.”
Over the years, many employees didn’t pull through. Cole trained a few guys here and there, but wasn’t able to have any apprentices because he has no formal apprenticeship training himself.
And the government doesn’t see fit to have a specific engine machinist, says Cole.
A heavy duty mechanic, he got his licence after taking the test after accumulating years of working experience.
Ten, or more years just kind of added up, he says.
Both of Graham Cole’s sons, Dan and Ben, have worked for him on and off.
He’s enjoyed sharing the business with his family.
But “it’s hard to make them act like employees instead of sons.”
So Cole forced both of them to go out and get other jobs before they could return to his shop and help him with his beloved engine work.
Now, Cole’s spark has burnt out.
“I’m worn out,” he says, “I’m ready to do something different.”
Cole came to the Yukon in 1979 to build roads, and he has been in the territory ever since.
The Yukon appealed to him because there were not as many rules as the big cities.
“I don’t like rules too much,” Cole admits, “It used to be you could do your own thing-type-deal, (here, in the Yukon).”
In fact, in the early ‘80s Cole was able to build his own house here in Whitehorse without having to hire a contractor.
Now, many advantages of living in the territory have vanished.
“They’re gone,” says Cole, “It’s just not what it used to be.”
Cole plans to move to Winnipeg this September.
“Graham’s Engine and Machine will close its doors on July 25th,” says Cole.
The shop will reopen with a new name under new ownership on August 3. Cole has courteously offered to stick around for the month of August to do intensive training.
“One way or another, at the end of August I’m out of here,” says Cole.
Graham Cole is not the type to retire and do nothing. What most people would categorize as “work” is actually at the top of Cole’s retirement plans.
“I’ve been working on other people’s cars for too long,” says Cole.
Cole is finally going to have time to work on his own engines, his own cars, and his own projects, and he is thrilled about it.
His three “Must Do’s” are his ‘58 Chevy pickup truck, his ‘55 Pontiac, and his ‘28 Pontiac, a car he has had just waiting to be worked on since Cole was 14 years old.
Cole is eager to get outside and do lots of camping and fishing in Winnipeg as well.
There are lots of lakes in Manitoba, Cole says smiling.
“It is not much different from here, except there are no mountains—but I’m not a big mountain climber, or nothing,” Cole continues.
“I am a car person … and there’s a lot of car stuff going on (in Winnipeg).”
Heidi Loos is a freelance writer who lives in Whitehorse.