Recollecting a lifetime of work
Delmer Fairbanks was born inside a farmhouse off Highway 61 about a mile and a quarter south of North Branch.
That was 72 years ago.
He’s been a resident of the North Branch area ever since.
That alone is noteworthy, but how Fairbanks has made his name in town is through his work at Branch Manufacturing, Inc.
Fairbanks recently retired after 54 years with the company.
He’s been with Branch Manufacturing, Inc. his entire adult life.
“I got started here July 18, 1958,” he said. “That was the year I graduated from good, old North Branch High School.”
Harry Dahlstrom started the company in 1942, and moved it from Minneapolis to North Branch 10 years later.
When Dahlstrom showed interest in Fairbanks as a potential employee, Fairbanks jumped at the opportunity.
“I needed a job, and Harry Dahlstrom came out to my parents’ farm and said he wanted to know if I wanted to work for Branch Manufacturing, Inc.,” he remembered.
He further recalled, with a laugh, “I said, ‘Yes, but I have to finish cleaning up the calf pens first.’”
Working his way to the top
After the family dairy farm was spick-and-span, Fairbanks started at Branch Manufacturing as a tool and die maker, a role he assumed for several years until he bought into the company in 1969, two years after the death of Dahlstrom.
In 1984, Fairbanks became more involved in the operation of the company when company part owner Vern Atwater retired and sold his share of the company to Fairbanks and company treasurer Wally Trulson.
Trulson became president and later retired in 1992.
After his retirement, Fairbanks became CEO and brought his sons Troy and Tim into the company as partners.
Remembering the changes
When Fairbanks started at Branch Manufacturing, Inc., working in a machine shop involved a lot of hard, physical labor.
“Just comparing the CNC machines that we have nowadays to the ones back then—now they put something in the computer, type it in and the CNC machine operator watches the machine run around instead of turning the cranks on the bridge board and grinders like we used to have to do,” Fairbanks said.
He added, “Oh, it was completely a physical job.”
As time went on, the business expanded.
In the 1950s, there were less than 20 employees working for the company.
Now there are more than 50, and the building, located off Pine Street, has been subject to eight additions over the course of nearly 40 years.
When thinking back about his years at Branch Manufacturing, Inc. Fairbanks fondly remembered the friendships he forged with employees, the camaraderie that comes from working in a smaller company and the many clients with whom he has worked.
“Our employees are the best asset we have,” Fairbanks said. “Without them we wouldn’t be able to produce any parts.”
Fairbanks noted there is a long list of clients who have purchased from Branch Manufacturing, Inc. for decades, and that there’s a “trick” to keeping them for so long.
“Yeah, there’s a trick to it—give them good parts,” he said with a laugh. “If you give them good things, they’re happy.”
Fairbanks may be retired, but he still stops by the company just about every morning.
Office personnel offer kind “good morning” greetings to him, and when he walks out on the shop floor, employees give him friendly waves.
It’s easy to see Fairbanks is still invested in the company he’s been a part of for so long.
But he does have some retirement plans.
He plans to spend time with family, take a trip south with his wife, Jean, and maybe perfect his bowling game.
He’s been bowling with family teams for 53 years, so his game probably doesn’t need too much polishing.
North Branch’s top elected official, Mayor Ron Lindquist, contacted the Post Review this week and expressed his desire to have Friday denoted “Delmer Fairbanks Day.”
He noted Fairbanks has been an integral part of the community for a generation, and the city would like to extend its gratitude to him.