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Conversations with James Hurley

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Hurley.

Hi James, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Machinery has fascinated me from a very young age. Erector Sets, bicycles, mini-bikes, go-karts and the like filled my childhood. More often than not, the first thing I would do was disassemble whatever had caught my attention just to see how it went back together. In adulthood, resurrecting old trucks and cars became an adjunct (and sometimes fallback) to my chosen career. As luck would have it, the inherently unstable industry I had chosen to pursue went into steep decline in the early 2000’s and that, coupled with some other concerns, led me to re-think what I was doing. So in 2014, I “pulled the plug” on that career, having no real idea what might be next.

Suddenly after a lifetime of hectic activity, I found myself struggling to come up with a new area of pursuit that would provide not just a living but creativity and a sense of worth and value as well.

One day while scanning the want ads an old, neglected drill press caught my eye. Despite the fact that it was troubled, rusty, and covered with grime, it was reminiscent of the machines I used to use in high school metal shop way back in the ’70s…Built with longevity in mind and styled during the halcyon days of industrial design…To my eye, “functional art”. I simply couldn’t resist. So I bought it, brought it home, and began reversing the damage and wear that had accumulated over the decades. Before long, it looked and performed at least as well as it had the day it was first sold.

And then a visiting friend saw it… And rent was due… And that was the beginning of Iron Age Enterprises.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
As with any new pursuit, there has been a learning curve. But for the most part, the obstacles have been accompanied by solutions. The service I provide is rather unique so I sort of had to invent the business model as I went along. There have been a few stumbles and setbacks, but so far nothing insurmountable.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Iron Age Enterprises provides restoration services for vintage belt-driven shop machinery dating from the “Golden Era” of industrial machinery design; the mid-’30s through the mid-’70s. While the focus is on client-owned machines we do keep a small inventory of “core machines” available for clients that do not already own one to start from. There’s a great deal of creativity involved in a pursuit like this. Problem solving is a daily endeavor whether it’s sleuthing out rare and obsolete parts from around the country and/or fabrication and machining of parts that are simply unavailable at any price. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in bringing these beautiful old machines back to peak condition and watching them go home with a satisfied client to perform another lifetime of service.

Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
There is no way to call this a growth industry. What we do is highly specialized and the number of available “core machines” diminishes daily. Though hundreds of thousands were built, many have been scrapped and turned into refrigerators and automobiles over the years. Then there are those that have already been restored and won’t need significant service for many years to come. So no, I don’t see this as a burgeoning industry… But I’m okay with that.

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James Hurley

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