50 years in the making: Norway machine shop still humming

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NORWAY — At T.R. & H. INC. Machine Shop, there’s nearly two centuries of experience between the men running the shop, which is still chugging along.

TON OF EXPERIENCE — Co-owner of T.R. & H. INC. Machine Shop George Tibbets, employee Paul Benson and co-owner Bob Richardson, along with employee Bruce Skinner, not pictured, have 190 years of machine shop experience between the four of them.
TON OF EXPERIENCE — Co-owner of T.R. & H. INC. Machine Shop George Tibbets, employee Paul Benson and co-owner Bob Richardson, along with employee Bruce Skinner, not pictured, have 190 years of machine shop experience between the four of them.

The Norway business recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary. From inside the shop – which looks like a big red barn at 186 Ashton Road – remaining co-owners Bob Richardson and George Tibbets talk about their five decades of running the business. The third co-owner, Don Holden, has passed away. Each of men’s initials from their last names were used in creating the business name.

And there are only two remaining employees who work for Richardson and Tibbets. They are Paul Benson, who’s been there the shortest of the four, clocking in 40 years, and Bruce Skinner, who’s been with the machine shop for 42 years.

“That’s 190 years of experience with four people, which is quite a lot of experience,” Richardson said.

Workers can make machines and parts for other businesses and specialize in repair work not only in industrial settings, but for vehicles, fixing broken drive shafts, bolts and the like.

In the past, they’ve created titanium pieces for aircraft engines, crafted transatlantic cable connections and done work for General Electric, Richardson said. They also do fabrication and welding, as Skinner was working in the large bay area of the shop, welding together pieces of metal last week.

“We can make almost anything,” Richardson said. “We’ve done some fancy work.”

“[We] worked on anything you can possibly imagine,” Tibbets added.

Richardson was trained at Southern Maine Vocational College in South Portland.

“I walked into a machine shop and it was a maze,” Richardson recalled. “I said, ‘I have to learn how to run this stuff.’”

Tibbets earned a degree in engineering and spent 49 years at Cummings Machine Shop as a foreman and design engineer.

“You name it, I had the title,” he said.

THEN AND NOW — Not much looks different from when T.R. & H. INC. Machine Shop opened its doors in Norway roughly 50 years ago, except for the style of vehicles.
THEN AND NOW — Not much looks different from when T.R. & H. INC. Machine Shop opened its doors in Norway roughly 50 years ago, except for the style of vehicles.

It was at Cummings where Tibbets and Richarson met. The pair thought there might be an opportunity for them to go into business with each other.

“Uncle Sam sent me a letter thinking he needed me more than Cummings did,” Richardson remembered. He spent 13 months in the Army in Taiwan and missed being shipped to Vietnam by one day, he said, noting he counted his blessings multiple times.

He told Tibbets if he had a building ready to go when he got out of the service, they could go into business together. Holden was in trucking and logging and joined forces with them, creating a trio, when they opened their doors in 1965.

When they first launched T.R. & H. INC Machine Shop, they had to go knocking on doors to get work. But soon things picked up.

“The little business got pretty good. We kind of crowded Don out,” Richardson said, adding Holden had to get his own space down the road from them.

Locally, Richardson and Tibbets did work for a lot of companies. Some of them include C.B. Cummings dowel mill, the Shoe Shop, SnoCraft, A.L. Stewart and Sons canning company, A.C. Lawrence Leather Company, Paris Manufacturing, A.W. Walker & Son, Maine Machine, Norway Laundry, big rig shops in Oxford and Bethel Furniture. They also crafted brake drums for developer Bob Bahre for his antique car collection.

“We had to make them look antique,” Richardson said.

They even designed and manufactured a machine for Steve Cummings that would drill six holes to create tinker toys sets. It could drill 50 holes a minute and two shifts a day for years ran that machine, Richardson said.

At the height of business, they employed eight people at the machine shop.

“I wish there was business around so we could hire five or six people like we used to. … It’s a little tight now, there’s just not that much [work] out there,” Richardson lamented. “It’s really a crying shame that a lot of these businesses have to go out of business.”

For the immediate future, the goal is to keep Benson and Skinner employed.

WELDING MASTER — Bruce Skinner clamps down pieces of metal he's preparing to weld at the Norway machine shop last week.
WELDING MASTER — Bruce Skinner clamps down pieces of metal he’s preparing to weld at the Norway machine shop last week.

“It would be another year or so plus before Paul can retire,” Tibbets said. “We’d like to keep the shop open for him.”

“Our plan is to keep plugging along,” Richardson added. “It is kind of a matter of pride to keep it going.”

For more information on T.R. & H. INC. Machine Shop, call 743-8981.

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