By Troy Treasure
As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, a glazier is one whose work is cutting and setting glass.
Mike Vanskike of Shelbyville is well known for possessing that type of craftsmanship, even if some of his clients might be stumped by the term glazier.
“They’re going to say he’s the glass man,” Vanskike said with a chuckle of those in need of repair or replacement of windows, windshields and more.
Vanskike established Northeast Glass Company in 1996. The majority of his work is done in Shelby, Monroe, Knox and Lewis counties. But he once ventured to Marysville, Kansas to replace 30 skylights that had covered an enclosed swimming pool.
The skylights had not weathered a hail storm very well.
“Nobody else wanted to tackle the job. I’m like, ‘I’ll check that out,’” Vanskike said. “It was a challenge. (I) went over there. Looked at it; figured out what we needed. Me and four other guys went over and put it together. And it was neat.
“It was one of the most nerve-wracking jobs,” he continued. “It was one of those things, ‘Man, I do not want to mess this up.’ Other than the danger of it being high, it went together really smooth.”
Vanskike also recalled Marysville had some unique residents … or more specifically … rodents.
“This town was known for black squirrels. All the squirrels were black and if you got caught picking one up, you’d be ticketed, arrested, whatever,” he said.
“It was the neatest thing, it honestly was. It’s like, ‘They’re everywhere.’”
Vanskike’s journey to become a glazier began by fate and, he likely would add, a little luck. After leaving the United States Air Force in 1985, he had found two civilian jobs in the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington area unsatisfying.
“I answered an ad in the paper that wanted veterans and it didn’t say what it was,” Vanskike recalled. “Just out of curiosity, I went there to find out and it was a glass company. It intrigued me when I got there. I didn’t know anything about it.”
Vanskike underwent testing. He was one of seven individuals out of 200 applicants to be hired.
Starting as an apprentice, Vanskike first had to learn the subtlety of cutting glass such as how much pressure to use with a cutter and how to break the glass correctly. In addition, handling and moving glass was a new experience.
In those days, putty was utilized to install business and residential windows. He practiced using putty in the company’s shop. Now, caulking is applied. Repairing automobile windows was also more challenging then than today.
So, during his 30-plus years as a glazier, Vanskike has certainly seen changes in his profession. He also cited the evolution of glass being utilized as a “strength factor in structures. It’s come a long way.”
In the late 1980s and into the early and mid-1990s, Vanskike was looking to the future.
“I thought to myself, ‘this is a job I can take home with me.’ I knew I wasn’t going to live and raise my kids in the city,” he said.
Asked about on-the-job safety hazards, Vanskike was blunt.
“I’ve got an occupation where you bleed damned near every day.” he said. “Just little cuts on your arms, your fingers, all the time.”
Vanskike stated many cuts occur when working on automobile doors. Sometimes cuts are the result of having to remove shards, but also because of the doors’ sharp interior edges.
Vanskike indicated plans to keep working with glass in some shape, form or fashion; though he admitted physical challenges in the future might limit what he can do.
For now, he is still the glass man.