By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Hard work, experience, and determination are the driving forces behind Joel Zabel’s machining and engineering design business in rural Delano.
“I learned it all from on-the-job training,” said Zabel, who started Joel’s Machining & Design in 2002. “It was something I always wanted to do.”
Sometimes, people ask him how he got so far without a degree.
“I just worked hard at it,” he tells them.
When Zabel graduated from Delano High School in 1960, he worked at the Delano flower shop, which was called Butterfield’s Flowers.
After six months, he was hired as a machine operator at Washington Scientific Industries in Long Lake. He was later promoted to building tooling.
“In 1983, one of the engineers talked me into engineering design,” he said.
Soon, Zabel became the head of design, and also supervised the tool room.
After 32 years at Washington Scientific, Zabel did engineering work for four other companies in the metro area.
“And then, I went out on my own,” he said.
Zabel has his own shop next to his house, with equipment to create precise, high-quality parts and fixtures. His company specializes in the design of short-run production, prototype, and inspection fixtures.
Zabel’s favorite part of his business is being his own boss, he said.
“I also get to walk to work,” he said.
Having a business takes time, however, and Zabel estimated that he works about 65 hours per week.
“I haven’t got a lot of free time right now,” he said.
He often has several jobs at once.
“It’s up and down,” he said.
When he does find spare time, Zabel enjoys spending it with his wife, Linda, as well as his children and grandchildren.
Zabel and his wife met as teenagers at Linda’s church youth group. She was 18 when they got married, and he was 20.
“Our twins were born in October of that year,” he said. The Zabels had two more children after that.
Now, two of his children are married, and his grandchildren range in age from 10 to 17.
“My first two grandchildren are nine days apart,” Zabel said.
Zabel enjoys doing woodworking projects, and made a cedar chest and china cabinet for his daughters.
Zabel also loves John Deere tractors. Eventually, he hopes to retire and sell his engineering and machining business.
“Then, I’ll work on my John Deere tractors,” Zabel said. He has six full-size tractors, plus a John Deere toy collection with all 25 precision classics, as well as about 40 other toy John Deere tractors.
Zabel grew up on a dairy farm less than a mile from where he lives now, and he doesn’t plan to move away when he retires. Zabel does enjoy traveling, however.
“I mostly like seeing the mountains in Colorado,” he said.