Broken Props Keep Family-Owned Business Whirring
Broken boat propellers adorn the railroad ties along the fence.
Two 50-gallon drums are welded together into a large bin known as the “Prop drop.”
Inside Precision Propeller at 5626 N. Freya, a tame bobcat and three Akita dogs roam the shop.
The animals are relative newcomers at this family-owned North Side business that dates back to 1962. Darl Prouty and his son, Darren, fix hundreds of damaged propellers every week and ship them to customers and dealers throughout the West.
Even Darren Prouty’s stepson, 6-year-old Colton Watson, spends time helping out in the shop during the summer.
Darren Prouty, 32, said: “My dad started me when I was 8. Fired me and rehired me when I was nine, and I’ve been working here ever since.”
Like any trade, it takes skill and knowledge to repair a propeller properly. Boats don’t run efficiently without a well-tuned and balanced propeller.
So when a boater hits a log or runs aground, the prop is usually damaged to the point where it needs fixing. That’s when they call the Proutys.
Usually, props come in with deep knicks, broken edges and bent blades, or fins.
The Proutys and their employees reshape the fins to their original shape, strip the paint off them, weld new metal into the gouges, then grind and balance and repaint them.
During boating season, it is demanding, somewhat tedious work.
“I get intense,” said Darl Prouty, who is 67 and has no plans of retiring any time soon.
The Proutys make it fun.
The pet bobcat, Nala, roams the shop floor looking for someone to pet her.
Earlier this week, Darren Prouty pulled a stewing hen from the refrigerator, and the bobcat tore into it like a ravenous dog. After the meal, the bobcat climbed the stairs to its favorite chair overlooking the shop floor and fell asleep.
The bobcat came from a breeder in Montana, and is something of a feline celebrity when the Proutys go on the trade show circuit in the winter, they said. They take Nala with them.
“We’ve got people calling just to see the cat,” said Darren Prouty, who also keeps a female lynx at his home on the south shore of Long Lake.
The gentle Akitas start barking whenever the neighborhood lunch wagon arrives outside because they know the operator of the wagon is going to feed them a couple of hamburger patties.
For all their years of hard work, Darl Prouty and his son have built comfortable livelihoods, they said.
They also save boaters money.
A new boat propeller costs about $150. Repairing a prop might run $40 to $50. So boat owners know they are money ahead.
They also distribute new propellers, which helps profits.
Over the years, Darl Prouty built a network of dealers throughout the West, and they send him damaged propellers from their customers. The Proutys fix them and ship them back to the customers in less than a week.
“It’s kind of a win-win for our customers,” Darren Prouty said.
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