You would never know from meeting Ed Drachenberg that his early life was so tumultuous. Born in Poland during World War Two, Ed’s father had been killed before he was born by advancing Russian soldiers. His mother in a prisoner of war camp, Ed and his grandmother got out of Poland on the last train before they closed the Iron Curtain in 1949. They lived in Germany for three years before emigrating to Canada to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm near Watrous. In 1960, his mother and stepfather finally made it to Canada, and Ed moved to Regina with them, where he attended high school and found his calling – in his words, he “was smitten” by the machining trade.
After the harrowing circumstances of his early life, Ed has built a fulfilling and meaningful life, a large part of that being his continuing love for machine work. My interview with Ed resulted from a recommendation by Jennifer Fitzpatrick at the Humboldt Museum and Art Gallery. I was heading to Humboldt for a workshop and asked if she knew of any interesting stories in the community. Part of what made this Canada 150 series possible was planning interviews in places I was already visiting for my community engagement work. She suggested Ed Drachenberg, and I gave him a call. He told me that he was a retired machinist, but that he loved the trade so much he had set up a machine shop in his basement where he continued to work on projects.
Ed was involved in some groundbreaking projects throughout his career, including working on the very first cell phone. However, what I found most intriguing about Ed’s story from a Living Heritage perspective was how he was drawn to the trade at a young age, and how he has continued in it even after retirement. His story shows how the things we are interested in children sometimes lead us to our passions as adults, and if we can translate that into a career, we’re bound to live much more fulfilling and meaningful lives. In this way, it is our own Living Heritage that informs the choices we make and the paths we pursue.
During his early career, Ed worked on farm machinery, including at a company known at the time as Brandt Electric, which has now become the corporation Brandt Industries, well known throughout the province and beyond. In this way, Ed was part of the innovations in agricultural technology development that has been done in Saskatchewan and by Saskatchewan people throughout the past century, and continuing to this day. The need for innovation was often borne out of the unique challenges of farming in Saskatchewan. Humboldt, where Ed calls home, is a well-known centre for agriculture and equipment manufacture, part of the so-called “Iron Triangle,” named for the concentration of manufacturers in the area.
In the interview, Ed talked about the Industrial Revolution and how almost everything we equate with modern society came about due to the technological developments of that period - most of which had their beginnings in machine shops. The everyday technologies we take for granted have a long heritage, and it was machinists like Ed who were at the forefront of their development. Ed talked about how when he started out in the trade, he had to learn things by hand. This brings up an important theme which can be found across a variety of trades, arts, crafts, and even basic, everyday tasks: important skills and knowledge are being lost to globalization and modernization.
Ed related stories of how nurturing young folks interested in machine work led to a couple of kids finding their path in life. This highlights the importance of creating opportunities for youth to connect with older people, to discover interests they may not yet know they have. There’s a whole world of skills out there, and the school system can’t expose kids to all the many options. Ed’s interview ends with his reflections on the lessons he learned from the master he apprenticed with, a German machinist, whom he still thinks of often.
If you’re interested in learning more about the machine trade, check out the Saskatoon Model Engineering Society http://saskatoonmodelengineers.webs.com/