MOUSE – Even though he’s only three months away from retirement, Carman Tufts still plans to spend most of his time in the shop in July.
But rather than working for the company he founded, Tufts Machining, the 66-year-old will focus on personal automotive projects that have been on the back burner for more than three decades.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Tufts told The Sun on Tuesday. “I don’t watch TV much. Cars and practical stuff are my hobby.”
The longtime Souris resident took the Sun for a tour of his personal garage on Thursday morning, highlighting the many classic cars that will receive the lion’s share of his attention this summer.
One of Tufts’ biggest ongoing restorations right now is a 1955 Packard 400, which has barely been touched since he acquired it about 10 years ago.
“Body-wise it’s pretty clean, but there are some wiring issues,” he said.
“I drove it a bit when I first got it, but with the antifreeze leaking and all, it wasn’t something I could take Brandon from here. It just needed a lot careful.”
For the past 33 years, most of Tufts’ mental and physical energy has been devoted to running its machine shop, which began life as a two-door garage and evolved into a space for more than 13,000 square feet which can facilitate all types of industrial and agricultural equipment repair.
Even before Tufts Machining was founded in 1989, he had always been fascinated by this craft, having grown up on a farm where repairing was part of everyday life.
“It was something I was familiar with, so when I started I was a licensed mechanic. I worked for a GM dealership in town,” he said.
“But over time there was a real demand for machining, that’s when we built a new workshop and it really grew from there.”
Tufts first ran the shop with his brother Leonard, and the couple quickly made a name for themselves running a variety of projects in the community, attracting customers from Russell to Killarney to Brandon.
In 1999, the local municipality even entrusted the brothers with such an important task as the reconstruction of parts of the nearby sewage treatment plant.
But even as the company occupied more and more of its time, Tufts never lost its love of classic cars.
Over the years, the Souris resident managed to get his hands on a 1930 Ford Model A, a 1938 Buick Coupe, and a 1940 LaSalle, though those vehicles never required much after-the-fact work.
“So I’ve kind of been in a maintenance phase for a few years,” he said. “I really didn’t build anything. The race car I built [in the early 1990s] was probably the last big project I did.”
The machine shop underwent a major overhaul in 2014 when Leonard decided to retire and was replaced by Tufts’ wife Pat.
While the pair made a good business team, Tufts admits the 24/7 nature of running a machine shop of this size has started to really weigh on them over the past two years. .
“We’ve just reached the age where it’s not as easy to go to the store after supper and do the work that we used to do.”
So last summer, Tufts decided to sell its shop to Jan and Kimberly Eissner, who run oil well servicing company Falcon Enterprises from Souris.
Although Tufts agreed to stay on for a year to facilitate a smooth transition, he is already reaping the benefits of having a bit more free time.
Last winter, Tufts built a massive addition to his personal garage that can store many of his vintage vehicles in one place.
Tufts also finally got some breathing room to get this 1955 Packard back on the road, which is a big deal since the car belonged to close friend Jack Denbow, who passed away.
“I really wanted the car and approached Jack’s widow about it,” he said.
“I was afraid he was going to a shed or a barn or somewhere the mice would come in and destroy him.”
At the same time, Tufts does not plan to cut itself off from the wider community and will continue to use its automotive expertise to help those in need.
“I met a lot of people in the machine shop and made parts for older vehicles.
“So I like doing that, but now it’s going to be a hobby rather than a business.”
As for what the future holds, Tufts admits he’s still pondering the idea of retirement because the machine shop has been such a constant presence in his life.
But that being said, he is confident the business is in good hands, as the Eissners have promised to retain the name, staff and clientele he has built up over the past three decades.
“It’s just different…one day it’s all yours, and the next day it’s all yours,” he said. “So it’s a bit of a transition, but I wish the new owners good luck and know they’ve been very busy in the shop.”