In a dark corner of the Marcon Custom Metals shop hides a small wooden box.
This timber time capsule holds a humble bicycle.
“It’s back there somewhere,” Mike Gondosch said as the 80-year-old founder of the 50-year-old company points toward the five bays and 36,000-square-feet of building on Wilson Avenue near the bridge over the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks.
“Unless you boys got rid of it.”
His sons Randy and Rick, who took over the custom metal fabricator from their father when he retired in 1989, shake their heads. No way.
There’s no chance they tossed that box out the 16-by-16-foot doors that deliver towers and wind tunnels and waste treatment plants all over the environmentally-conscious world. Marcon takes dreamy designs and makes them carbon and stainless steel reality.
That little box and the disassembled parts of a handmade bike are priceless family heirlooms. A Transylvanian tinsmith’s dreams of toil and triumph emerged from that case.
Mike lugged it off the boat from Germany when he arrived in Quebec City after a 12-day journey with his family in 1953. He was a displaced Transylvania Saxon with Grade 5 schooling. He spoke German, but no English. But he had a bike he built out of scraps and scrounged parts.
Sheet metal — mastered in Austria, where tin eavestroughs and copper roofing was in high demand after the war — was his trade.
And inside one piece of splintery luggage, he had the three-speed means to get to a job.
“I painted it red,” said Mike, with the look of a man describing his first love. “It had tires with yellow on the side.”
It was a looker. So was his beloved wife Maria, when they met and danced at the Transylvania Club so long ago in Kitchener. She still looks great to him today.
He polishes up the memories, just like he polished black-and-white television screens for 75 cents an hour when he came to Kitchener.
Mike got a job with a steel fabricator before he and business partner Bruce Schamber started Marcon in the village of Bridgeport in 1963.
The name Marcon? The Mar is for Maria. The Con is for Schamber’s wife Connie. Put them together and you get Marcon, which has spawned two other companies while still employing 45 on two sites, including a second plant on Bleams Road. Sales are $6 million to $7 million a year.
Schamber got out of the company after five years. Marcon has lasted 50.
Other manufacturers have come and gone. Yet Marcon endures by nurturing homegrown talent, right out of high school. You can start as an apprentice and be promoted.
“We don’t churn through people,” Rick said. “In tough times, we can lean on our people and they can lean on us.”
The two Gondosch brothers started at Marcon when they were 13. They rode their bikes to the Wilson Avenue location, which Marcon moved to in 1974, and snuck onto the bridge to watch Star Wars on the giant movie screen of the drive-in across the road from Marcon.
Today, there’s Toys “R” Us store on that site.
These days, Mike concentrates on relaxing and working on his golf game. He used to be a left-handed golfer and even shot a hole-in-one. Then, his sons taught to hit right-handed. He got another hole-in-one.
The boys run the business now. Their father leaves them alone. Just like when he and Maria took them to the drive-in as kids. They’d stretch out sleeping bags in the back of the convertible and fall asleep before movie’s end. Now, Rick and Randy sit in front.
The second generation is steering Marcon into its sixth decade.
The two brothers, now in their 50s, have five daughters between them. The girls have worked a bit for the company but it’s uncertain if fabricating will be their forte.
“Whether it goes to a third generation, I’m not sure,” Randy said.
But in the back of the shop, there is a wooden box. And inside, there is a beautiful old bicycle.
That’s one thing the Gondosch boys are sure of.