Fixing propellers can be hot, dangerous work

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Bobby Crawley welds an aluminum propeller at Southeastern Prop Repair in Augusta. The 65-year-old works two jobs: He does construction during the day and fixes brass, stainless steel and aluminum propellers at night. He uses a counterweight system to handle the propellers.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Bobby Crawley welds an aluminum propeller at Southeastern Prop Repair in Augusta. The 65-year-old works two jobs: He does construction during the day and fixes brass, stainless steel and aluminum propellers at night. He uses a counterweight system to handle the propellers.

If you're a boater who has had propeller problems, the chances are you've heard of Bobby Crawley.

The owner of Southeastern Prop Repair has fixed brass, stainless steel and aluminum propeller blades at his shop since 1976.

For most of his 65 years, Mr. Crawley has worked two jobs, pulling double duty in construction during the day and repairing propellers at night.

"I don't know how I did it," said Mr. Crawley, who began working full time in his shop in 1995.

He relies on common sense to repair most propellers, though he does tinker with different welding and fabrication techniques.

"You have to keep experimenting to keep up with the factories, because they won't tell you anything," he said. "I like to come down (to the shop) on Sundays after church to do my experimenting."

Mr. Crawley said he believes his craft is in decline because the younger generation is less likely to work hard for a relatively small financial reward.

Mr. Crawley uses a counterweight system to handle the propellers, some of which weigh more than 22 pounds, during grinding and buffing. He still has to use plenty of muscle, though.

"Back in the grinding room, it gets hot," he said. "About 45 minutes of steady working is about all I can do, and then I come out and rest for about 15 minutes."

The job has given Mr. Crawley his share of injuries. An exploding aluminum hub sheared off the tip of a finger on his left hand, and a propeller that snagged on the buffer dislocated his shoulders.

He's not ready to give up just yet. The decaying original front door to his shop serves as an alarm clock: The day it falls off the hinges is the day he shuts down.

So far, it has survived 32 years of wear, tear and water damage.

"I want to be here when I die," Mr. Crawley said, "good Lord willing."


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