Merle Glaser: a man of many talents

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

You might say that Merle Glaser has done it all.

Of course he hasn’t really, but he’s covered a lot more territory than most people during his 90 years.

“If I can see it, I can do it,” he said last week, thinking back on his life.merleg

Farmer, blacksmith, welder, wood carver, jewelry maker, gunsmith, radiator repairman, collector of arrowheads and other Native American artifacts, knife maker.

It might appear as a mishmash of hobbies, skills and careers, but Merle sees some order to his myriad experiences.

“I’ve lived three lives and this is my fourth,” said the long-time Morenci resident.

“I worked for a long time as a farmer, then as a blacksmith and welder, and finally as a factory owner.”

Now he’s in his fourth era, retired and living out his final years in Morenci’s Citizen’s For Quality Care home.

His favorite time period covered the years from about age 20 to 40.

“A lot of dancing, a lot of loving. I was alive then,” he says.

Merle was born in Miner, Ill., in 1912. His grandfather bought land in Ohio and the remainder of the family moved east to join him. The farm—southeast of Powers Station—is no longer there, but the memories remain.

“I remember getting up at three in the morning to start work,” he said. “Such long hours, sometimes my father would come out to the tractor to stop me. He was afraid I’d fall asleep and get run over.”

That was during the busy summers. In the winter, he started blacksmith work in Zone, south of Fayette.

“That’s where the wheels started turning.”

He was born too late to be part of the era of shoeing horses, but he plied his trade in the creation and repair of shovels, chisels, wagon wheels, plowshares and much more.

“I don’t believe they even use plowshares anymore,” Merle said. “Maybe a few old-timers do.”

After a couple years of blacksmithing, Merle started traveling in the winters to Detroit to work, and that is where he learned the finer points of welding. The job was at a factory that made soap powder.

“I hired in as a welder, but I wasn’t a very good welder when I started. There was a guy who took a shining to me and I really learned how to weld there.”

There was even a little welding acrobatics on that job, such as the time he had to hang upside down, suspended by his feet into a giant mixer.

He took those skills back with him to Ohio and soon on to Morenci. He got the message that a blacksmith was needed in town, so he moved here and bought a house on Page Street.

That led to his many years of service in his shop on Baker Street as a welder and fabricator, and as a radiator repair man.

“I watched a guy in Toledo fix a radiator,” Merle said, “and then I soon had a radiator shop. I fixed radiators for 20 years.”

He also made trailer hitches and once he came up with a trash compactor long before they became a commercially-available item. He helped fabricate a tanker truck for the Lyons fire department.

Eventually he moved some tube bending equipment from Fayette Tubular Products to the former Blanchard horse barn on the east side of Morenci. That was the birth of what was eventually to become Roth Fabricating.

This also marked the beginning of his factory owner era, but that didn’t mean his puttering was finished.

He spent about five years worth of evenings and weekends building a little roadster. The pieces came from 15 different cars.

He also made a pair of dueling pistols and a rifle, he started to do wood carvings…and the list goes on and on.

“If I saw it done and it was in my line, I could do it,” he said. “If, in my prime, I watched a doctor take out an appendix, I think I could have done it in an emergency.”

Such confidence had its limits, however, with the arrival of the computer age. Finally, Merle felt he had met his match.

“I tried a computer for about 15 minutes once,” Merle said. “I knew I’d never learn to use that thing.”

Merle turns away from that thought and instead recalls the well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

“Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.”

Merle looks down at his 90-year-old hands and turns them in the fading afternoon light. Mighty. Sinewy. Brawny. Those words were once part of his life, but that’s from another era, a time when blacksmiths still existed.

    - Oct. 23, 2002 
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