One of the largest machine shops in Carbon and Schuylkill counties will close at the end of the year, leaving in question the future of a historic railway building and adjacent property.
Owner Ken Hill of Hill’s Machine Shop, Lansford, a 10,000 square foot industrial complex located in the former Lehigh and New England Railroad freight station on Dock Street, said now is the time to retire.
“Dec 31 will be the last day on the job after being over 65,” Hill said.
The industrial machine shop specializes in the maintenance, repair and reconstruction of specialized parts and machines used by businesses and industry.
Hill, 80, said the closure would impact three full-time employees, all of whom are special to him and his wife, former Jeanie Kulhavy.
These employees, like Hill’s customers, played an important role in the life of the Hometown couple.
“We have developed deep and meaningful relationships over the years. The emotional roller coaster is overwhelming, ”Hill said Thursday.
Employees include Terra Bradford, a versatile person who can even drive a forklift, Ken and Rob Nevenglosky, skilled machinists.
Ken Nevenglosky has worked alongside Hill for 48 years.
“I was so young when I started that my dad drove me to work,” he said.
The store once employed nine workers, but “others have died,” Hill said.
In a sense, Hill’s Machine Shop has been the backbone of the industry in the Tamaqua-Panther Valley region for six decades.
The store, with 61 machines, some computerized, powered the region’s largest operations: Atlas Powder Company, Lehigh Coal and Navigation, Ametek, Silberline Manufacturing and many more.
“We used to do a lot of work on site, rig their machines and test them. “
When companies had major issues with their expensive equipment, they called Hill.
In fact, Hill’s Machine Shop has become so essential that its unofficial slogan has become: “Your problems are our problems.
Hill remembers important work for Atlas Powder Company.
“We built a machine for a sister factory in Quebec. It was so large that it occupied the interior of a semi-trailer. When it was installed, they had to drill a hole in the roof of the building and use a crane to put it in place.
Yet the shop also excelled at doing small, delicate jobs requiring tight tolerances that few people could handle, such as replacing a balancing mechanism inside the front fork of a rare bicycle with wheels. Ferris wheel from the 1880s.
Hill and his wife are both from Lansford.
Hill graduated from Lansford High School in 1959 and Williamson Trade School in 1962.
For a time he worked as a journeyman machinist for Dorr Oliver, Hazleton, and master machinist at Western Electric, Allentown.
In 1964, he opened a part-time machine shop in the basement of his parents’ house at 213 E. Ridge St., becoming full-time in 1966. He moved the shop to 508 E. Kline Ave. in 1971. But the biggest move came in 1976 when he bought the old LNE freight depot at 1 Dock St. In 1989 he also bought the former 9,000 square foot Zimmerman warehouse at 2 Dock St .
Over the years, Hill has equipped the LNE site with crushers, presses, boring machines and heavy-duty inventories, with operations responding to growing demand.
The closure of Hill’s Machine Shop calls into question the future of the historic old railway complex.
The solid brick and steel Art Deco building features thick concrete floors designed to support the weight of heavy freight and machinery shipped to Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company.
The adaptive reuse as the headquarters of Hill’s machine shop, with its heavy drilling and boring machines, heavy lathes and milling machines, was the perfect fit.
Hill has renovated the site, but with a concern for preservation. For example, when the original doors were replaced with new varieties to save on heating costs, Hill hid the originals in storage areas. They are still there.
Hill said he did not have specific plans for all of the machinery, equipment and buildings. His only hope is that a new owner worthy of the name steps in.
“I would like to see something that employs people.
Comments or inquiries about the business, buildings or machinery can be directed to Hill at 570-668-5533.
Ken Hill, a Lansford native of Hill’s Machine Shop, will retire at the end of December, ending six decades as a key support service for virtually every major industry in the Tamaqua-Panther Valley area. DONALD R. SERFASS / SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The future of the former Lehigh and New England Railroad freight depot circa 1925 is unclear after Ken Hill’s recent announcement that his machine shop will close on December 31 after 65 years.
Ken Hill was 26 when he opened a machine shop in the basement of his parents’ house in Lansford, at 213 E. Ridge St., shown here in an image from Krexton Studios, Lansford.
Jeanie Kulhavy Hill, wife of Hill’s Machine Shop owner Ken Hill, reviews published stories and photos of highlights of the 65-year-old Lansford business. DONALD R. SERFASS / SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Machinist Ken Hill is demonstrating his 25-ton vertical drill, one of 61 heavy industrial machines at his Lansford shop that will close on December 31. The future is not clear for the building and all equipment, supplies and inventory. DONALD R. SERFASS / SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Hill’s Machine Shop, which will close at the end of the year, occupies the former Lehigh and New England rail freight depot and the ticket offices in Lansford.