Getting to work at Copper Kettle
James and Amber Patrick (Fores) are the children of Russ and Darlene Patrick. James was educated at Colonel Crawford, then transferred to the Pioneer Career and Technology Center, studying industrial diesel and a year in welding. From there he worked at the landfill as a heavy equipment mechanic for a few years but wanted to move on. He joined Transco in railcar repair but continued to be laid off.
James’ friend suggested working in underwater welding. He read online that the nearest diving academy was in New Jersey. After a five-month course, he went to Louisiana and got a job as a dishwasher. They offered a job in Trinidad, so he worked there for six months too. He worked in this industry for seven years, but the oil fields began to slow down and he returned home.
James took a job with Timken as a steam engineer, and with plenty of free time, he opened a blacksmith shop on his in-laws’ farm. He started doing welding and blacksmithing projects for local farmers. One of the farmers who opened his own blacksmith shop had purchased a drop hammer from Bucyrus Cooper Kettle Works and told him there was another for sale.
At this point, James met Steve Schifer at Cooper Kettle about an electric hammer for sale, but there was none. Instead, Steve and James started talking about welding, firewood and carpentry.
When he first walked into the Cooper Kettle, he was “intimidated” by the shop of the past. Of course, everyone in the area knows the legacy of the Picking family and this business. Helen died in 2015 aged 99; it was then that his son-in-law, Steve Schifer, took over.
Learn the trade of boilermaker and get to work
James Patrick began helping Steve with welding and blacksmithing and learning the coppersmith’s trade from him. He was there about seven months when COVID hit, and Steve closed the store for a few months. When they got back to work, Steve was shaping a kettle when he said, “Hey, would you be interested in buying the business?”
James was very humble and said “let’s think about it”. Then he waited for Steve to bring the subject up in about a week. They talked it over and James made a deal to take over the business.
One of the first things James did was get to know and learn from 34-year-old longtime employee Rex Bitner. He confided in Rex about what he wanted to do for the next steps of the business. He really needed to know the logistics of someone with all those years of talent and experience.
As James charts the future plans for the business, he is relieved to know that Rex and his wife, Jennie, are taking care of everything.
Fearing a copper shortage, companies focus on repairing kettles
James and Rex anticipated a shortage of copper, so they created a Facebook page and focused on fixing the kettles as a priority. Facebook gave them the opportunity the Amish used for 80 years; they fixed the kettles and sent them back. Additionally, businesses that thought they had been bankrupt since Helen’s death began contacting them for repairs and new business.
They still have a shortage of copper but anticipate their regular return and soon continue their tradition. They also repaired timpani shells from the 1700s for a company in France.
James has a vision to be financially self-sufficient and to continue the tradition of past history and copper kettle works. He hopes to rebuild the rear as it was before it was demolished in the 1930s. The goal is to teach others blacksmithing, boilermaking and welding. There would also be room for a gift shop after the tours and out the back door.
There’s a lot of volunteerism that comes with owning a store
James also does volunteer blacksmithing services at blacksmithing events. The other thing about owning the business, as Steve explained, is that it requires a lot of volunteer work, like the Bucyrus Preservation Society. Steve told him “it also takes a lot of faith to run the business” and James respects that concept, especially in the difficult times we are living in today.
James wants to thank his wife, Amanda, and how they have always supported each other to improve. She works at Whirlpool in Clyde.
James is honored to be the owner and compelled to do the right thing by representing a business, setting a good example, and taking responsibility for continuing it.
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