Daily Breeze in 2007 written by Muhammed El-Hasan.

Heavy on metal

To Gardena businessman, junk can be a treasure By Muhammed El-Hasan Daily Breeze

         George Kettel has accumulated more than three decades' worth of "junk. The Gardena business owner uses the term affectionately. In fact, he sees his "junk" more as collectibles. "I'm ... considered the Sanford & Son of Gardena because I don't throw anything away," Kettel said while giving a tour of his collection. "I'm ... a collector of anything that people want to sell or give away. People call me up and say, 'We have a milling machine. Do you want it?' And I say, 'OK. I'll be right there.' I don't even ask what condition it's in."

         Kettel, 67, owns three businesses in Gardena that work with metal: Cook Machine & Engineering, Dynamic Industries and Karrior Electric Vehicles, Trans Lectric. His 15 employees machine steel parts, form sheet metal, and assemble electric carts. Kettel's companies are among many South Bay firms that work in the metal industry. But Kettel's three ventures stand out by the immense quantity of accumulated items surrounding them. Kettel's main Gardena building is circled on three sides by his "junk. The outer wall frames thousands of bars, poles, tubes, rollers and other items mostly resting on large racks. His two other nearby buildings also are cluttered with things he couldn't get himself to discard or pass up.

         He admits being virtually unable to say "no" to a new item to squirrel away on his property. "It was all either given to me or I bought some at an auction, and lo and behold, it was more than I expected," said Kettel, whose thick white beard gives him a grandfatherly aura. "It's good metal and I don't want to throw it away. I'm sure I'll use it someday. If he doesn't use it, he may refurbish and sell it, when he finds the time, he said. In addition to the metal bars and parts, Kettel estimates that he has about 20 unused forklifts, numerous empty steel barrels -- "I don't know for what" -- hydraulic gate openers, a 1950s-era three-wheel golf cart, a giant fan he plans to "clean up" someday, a drill press, two electric buses -- "It was just such a good deal, I couldn't resist it" -- and much more.

         "I got this old sheet metal rack here. And people say, 'George, why don't you throw it away?' " Kettel said. "And I say, 'Why? What am I going to put in its place?' " Kettel says his junk and companies are on his mind constantly. Instead of listening to the car radio, he thinks about work. He barely follows current events because it's too upsetting. So the time he could spend keeping up with Iraq or Washington politics is devoted to his businesses. Kettel comes to work six days a week. He works from home on Sunday. He carries a tape recorder wherever he goes to record his thoughts and reminders of things to do throughout the day. He keeps the tape recorder on his nightstand when he sleeps in case a thought pops into his head when he's in bed.

         "I've committed my entire life to work," he said. "I don't think I've had a hundred Saturdays off in my entire life. Kettel, who lives with his wife, Susan, in Rancho Palos Verdes, credits his childhood in Detroit for developing his work ethic. He grew up poor with his brother and mother. On his paper route during Detroit's chilly winters, Kettel would wear socks to keep his hands warm because he couldn't afford gloves. "I've always said I'm glad I grew up tough because that's what keeps you going," he said.

         Kettel dropped out of school in the 10th grade to enlist in the Navy to make money and get experience. He spent four years in the service, mostly as a navigator and bugler on the USS Galveston cruiser, based out of Norfolk, Va. He rose to third class quartermaster. He never saw combat. Soon after his Navy stint, Kettel landed a job  making prototype parts for automobiles. He spent seven years making auto parts with various contractors. In 1969, Kettel moved to Southern California for the weather and a change in scenery. He ended up sharing a rented Manhattan Beach house with his cousin and two friends.

         Kettel quickly landed a job in Torrance making airplane parts. But the job wore him out. "They wouldn't let me take a break if I was dying," he recalled. "I only lasted six months. I quit. I had it. I came to California to raise hell, and I was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. So Kettel, who owned a motorcycle, took a six-month vacation that included driving up to Oregon and Nevada and spending time on the beach near his house.

         Six months later, Kettel ended his vacation to take a job selling welding equipment. The 2½ years he spent in sales taught Kettel to "knock on doors without being afraid. He credits that experience with preparing him for running his own businesses, whose services and products he constantly must promote to customers. In 1973, Kettel and a partner opened a welding shop in Gardena. Kettel bought out his partner less than a year later.

         In 1976, Kettel purchased Cook Machine & Engineering, whose owner ran it from his Gardena residential garage. Kettel bought the business and the owner's home. Kettel financed the deal by selling a Manhattan Beach house he had owned. About two years later, Kettel bought a Gardena industrial building, which allowed him to move Cook Machine out of the garage. In 1981, he purchased Modesto Machine Works, a Central California machine shop. He would go on to buy two other Modesto metal-related businesses. He continues to co-own all three Modesto companies with a partner. In 1985, Kettel bought Dynamic Industries, a sheet metal forming business. That same year he purchased the main building from which he runs his South Bay companies. Later, Kettel made a transaction that would expand his business. In 1989 he purchased Karrior Electric Vehicles.

LA NTMA -Members Directory, 20 May 2006