On The Level: Keson and SOLA: Made in America: The Best Measuring, Marking, And Layout Products For Bricklayers And Masons

On The Level: Keson and SOLA: Made in America: The Best Measuring, Marking, And Layout Products For Bricklayers And Masons

Jude Nosek

My grandfather, Keson’s founder Roy Nosek, told me a story about perspective when I was a boy. It has stuck with me over the years. I am now North of 50, probably close to the age he was when he told me. I have told this story to my children and sometimes to others. I have heard a similar tale about many builders, architects, even other professions, so I am certain it’s an old story and has been co-opted by many to illustrate a simple truth: how you choose to see what you do is important. This is close to how I heard it first:

Christopher Wren stood in the rain surveying the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in the 1660s. There had been a great fire that had burned much of London to the ground. As the Crown’s Architect, he built or rebuilt more than 50 churches, St. Paul’s chief among them. During his appraisal, Wren noticed that one wall was behind schedule and another wall ahead. He went trudging through the muck to find out why. Wren approached the builder of the first wall and watched him for a moment before asking him about his task. The worker grumbled, “I’m building this here wall.” 

He went on to complain about how cold the rain was, how much his hands ached, how the workers who supplied him with bricks were too slow, and on and on. Wren thanked him and went to speak to the worker on the wall ahead of schedule. Wren heard the man whistling a happy tune as he toiled in the drizzle. Again, Wren observed for a moment and then asked the man about his work. The man paused and turned to the speaker. He looked into Wren’s eyes, his face lit up with a smile, and he said, “Why, I’m helping to build a house for God.” The man winked at Wren and got back to it. 

I am so grateful for that story and the memory of my grandfather telling it to me. Through many trials and traumas, I have been reminded to shift my perspective and see things in a different light or reframe things differently, which has enriched my life. Most recently, I was asked to write this article about building products here, in America. This story came back to me. Writing these articles is difficult for me. However, a slight shift in my perspective about what it means to work and build products here makes the work better for me and, hopefully, better for the work. 

308 feet. 

That’s how far it is from my office to where Paco Ortiz runs the molding department for Keson. Out of these machines come parts that are then rolled 25 to 220 feet to our assembly lines (we have a few), where Perla Glover oversees their combining with other components like screws, washers, and string (or spokes) to produce a chalk line reel (or a measuring wheel). That reel is boxed and passed through shipping (thank you, Roberto Salazar and team) to make its way to one of the hundreds of distributors we serve. That distributor, in turn, serves that chalk line reel up to a professional, maybe you, who will take it and go out and make their mark.

In this school, children are educated, a church where communities gather, and a building where other goods and services are provided to support those communities. That chalk line reel, which came together under our roof, loaded with chalk blended in our mixers, will help that builder strike straight lines on a work site. That chalk line reel will be used to construct the road, which knits them all together. That chalk line reel has come into existence—from plastic pelts and steel and cotton and other materials under the careful hands of our workers—to enable someone, maybe you, to strike a straight line and get started on what you do for a living.  

We could take the narrow view and see that we are driving screws into plastic housing. Or we can change our perspective (which is what we encourage!). We can see what we do as critical. It is simple and it is profound: We supply products that enable people to construct civilization. We are humbled by that. We feel grateful to be a part of that process. This is one of the reasons we choose to build as much as we can in the US. 

Keson did not start out as an American manufacturer. In the late 60s, we began by importing open reel fiberglass tape measures from Japan into the US professional building market. In the 70s we grew this offering into many more measuring tapes and we began finding complementary products of similar, excellent quality to supply this market. In the 80s we added “wheels and reels” to the offering, and we started in earnest to make as much as we could here, now in Aurora Illinois, a city west and a little south of Chicago. That continues to this day. We choose to make what we can here in the United States. Currently, that is over 50% of what we sell. That percentage has been as high as the upper 60s. It has dipped over the last few years, not because we are making fewer products or fewer items here, but rather because we teamed up with SOLA, which has been a premier European manufacturer of levels for over 70 years. We could not be happier about this arrangement, even though it impacts our “Made in the USA” numbers. 

We choose to manufacture in America for a number of strategic reasons: better control over our supply chain, lower shipping costs, better control over the quality, and many others. We can also shift that perspective slightly. Several aspirational reasons arise: provide gainful employment to people striving to make their mark, make the best products you can for those who build the structures of our communities. 

For more information on Keson products, visit www.keson.com 

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