Passing of the wrench
After 37 years owning his own plumbing business, Wayne Wyffels will soon pass the pipe wrench to Brian Kloos and basically switch positions with the man who was previously his right-hand man. “Sometime in early February we will make this transition,” said Wyffels.
“I'm not retiring from the business; just retiring from owning the business.” Kloos has worked beside Wyffels for the past 14 years, beginning as an intern out of St. Cloud State University.
“I started out doing a lot of different things when I was an intern for Wayne,” said Kloos.
“He really taught me a lot. He was basically another teacher to me. I think I learned as much or more on the job with him as I did in the classroom.”
“Wayne has not only taught me a lot about plumbing, but also a lot about life. The one thing he’s always told me is to do a job like you would want it done for yourself.”
When the transfer of ownership is complete, Kloos will call the business “BK Plumbing”. He is purchasing Wyffels’ equipment and material, as well as the company truck.
“Brian has always been well-received and liked by the people we do work for,” said Wyffels. “He has a good temperament.”
Kloos is a 2000 Minneota graduate. He and his wife, Shalayna, have three children; Colten, 5; and 18-month-old twin daughters Kenleigh and Bryleigh.
“I like the challenge of helping people out,” said Kloos, when asked what made him chose the plumbing profession. “I’m a little excited and a little nervous about taking over.”
Wyffels, 68, was born and raised in Minneota near where he currently lives on the east side of town with Kathy, his wife of 45 years. “He designed our house,” said Kathy. “It took him a few years because he would see something he liked in a certain house that he was working at and would come home and change his design.”
Wyffels wants to make the transition now while he is in good health, allowing himself more freedom to do other things.
“I won't have to plan the day like I've always done,” he said. “And I won't have to bid on a job or things like that. I'll have a little extra time and little less stress.”
The Wyffels are big Minnesota Twins fans and have been to Fort Myers on two separate occasions to watch their favorite team during spring training.
They also recently went on a bus tour trip to Washington, D.C. and up to New York. Wayne and Kathy also enjoy spending time with their three daughters and four grandchildren.
Renee is single and lives in Marshall, while Alison (and Darin) Neet and Gail (and Casey) Boe both reside in New Ulm and each have two children; Emma and Ethan Neet, and Carson and Lucy Boe. Wayne started out working part-time for Gislason's Hardware when he finished high school.
“I went on jobs with Shorty Culshaw, a plumber employed with Gislason's Hardware,” said Wyffels.
“He would have me help carry the tools into a house or something like that. He would always say 'go get a fitting' and I'd run out to the truck to get a fitting. That's how I got interested in plumbing.”
Wyffels then attended Jackson Vocational Technical School for Plumbing for one year while working for Gislason's on weekends.
He then returned to Minneota and began working for Marshall Plumbing and Heating in 1970. “I got tired of driving back and forth to Marshall,” he said. “So I went back to work for Gislason's.” Off and on, Wyffels worked for Gislason's from 1967-81.
After obtaining his Journeymen Plumber’s license in 1981, he decided to go into business for himself with Wayne's Plumbing Repair. The first van he used in his business was a 1949 “foot-start” Dodge that he purchased in 1969.
“It was the first car I ever bought. It's the same age I am,” Wyffels laughed. “It was all black and looked like a hearse, so I had it painted 'Bell Telephone' green.”
Wyffels still owns that van, although it currently is out of circulation. Small patches of the original black paint are visible in some areas where the green paint has worn away.
The magnetic “Wayne's Plumbing” sign is affixed to the panel on each side. “It's quite a jewel,” Wyffels said with a grin. “It used to be the St. Leo grocery truck. I'm going to fix it up some day and get it running again. It was a good van. I used it for hunting with my buddies when I first got it.”
Being a plumber is a little like being a doctor in that a late-night emergency call can come when you least expect it. “You never know what you're going to get when the phone rings,” Wyffels said. Wyffels credits his wife with being a vital part of the longtime business.
“I couldn't have done it without her,” he said. “She's half the battle. She did all the bookwork and took calls from customers. She kept everything in order.”
Wyffels jokes that the reason he will continue to work is, “Over 36 years I collected a big mess that I still need to clean up”.
As an example, he points to a back wall of his shop behind The Roundup in the business district to show off his collection of toilet tank covers.
“You never know if someone might need one,” he says, half-joking. “I was thinking maybe someone could use them sometime for a project or something. I also have a bucket full of metal faucet handles. I guess I have a hard time throwing things out.”
Wyffels has encountered all kinds of situations over the years, from unclogging drains, to fixing leaky pipes, to installing new fixtures in a home. Not all the jobs are pleasant, nor are they all similar.
“I've had to pull teeth out of a toilet more than once,” he said, when asked for some examples. “Someone would be sick and lose their false teeth down in the toilet (while vomiting).” “I've found a lot of things in toilets like apples, toys and things that might fall off the tank,” he added.
“And I've found wedding rings and earrings in sink drains.” The majority of the work Wyffels has done over the years has been within a 12-mile radius of Minneota.
“And 90 percent of that has been right here in Minneota,” he said.
“My granddaughter asked me one time if I've been to every house in Minneota, and I told her I think I have been.” Through it all, Wyffels has no regrets about the profession he chose.
“I've always liked working with my hands,” he said.
“I like the satisfaction of accomplishment when I repair a problem. It's as much about satisfaction of the job as it is about the money.” And Wyffels understands the value of someone else's dollar when he enters a home to find out the repair was easier than the customer expected. “It might be something as easy as pulling the drain-pull out to get it unclogged,” he said.
“And sometimes they will say to me 'I could have done that'. Well, I don't feel right charging them a lot for something like that.”
Wyffels is proud of the fact that he is remained in the same profession for a half-century.
“It was 50 years this past June,” he said. “Not many people work that long, let alone in the same kind of job.” And he has no plans of fully retiring just yet. “My health will dictate that,” he said. “I enjoy what I do and I will continue to do it as long as I can.”