SUTHERLIN — Charlie Swift likes being productive. So he works. About six hours a day, six days a week.
Age has slowed him down — he’s 94 — but it hasn’t stopped him from continuing his long career as an electrician.
“It’s still a pleasure to work,” Swift said Friday morning in his Sutherlin home before heading out to his backyard shop to work on a couple of irrigation pumps. “I’ve never quit working. It’s really a ball to figure something out, to get it working again, to know you did something good in the world. I just don’t feel right unless I’m getting something done.”
The longtime Sutherlin resident is the owner of Swift Electric. Although his movements are slower and he’s lost some strength, he has no major health problems. Personal stories and electrical knowledge fill his sharp mind.
His hands and fingers are steady.
“I guess the Lord has taken care of me,” he said. “So many people have bad hips, bad knees, bad backs, I don’t have those things. I’m so fortunate.”
For many years he crawled up and down river and creek banks, installing and wiring water pumps. He’s not able to negotiate those banks anymore, but he can work on the pumps when they’re brought to him.
He makes house calls, too. His driver’s license is good until he turns 100.
Last Wednesday, he went to a home and got an oven working. Friday morning, he was called about minor electrical problems in another home. He wrote down notes about the problems and made an appointment to come out.
“He’s still willing and able,” said Pat Fenton, a fellow Sutherlin resident who has known Swift for most of his 70 years. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s helped me with business and home projects. He’s an amazing character.”
Charlie Edwards, also of Sutherlin, has known Swift for 15 years. For a few years, Edwards helped Swift whenever a project required a second person.
“He was a nice, nice man who would do anything for anybody in the world,” Edwards said. “If you had an emergency, you could give him a call, and if he wasn’t already on an emergency, he’d come help out right away.”
Swift only does repair work now, mainly on appliances and fixtures. He quit wiring houses a few years ago when he didn’t renew his license to do such work. He also admitted he’s been stumped a few times on repair jobs by the modern technology found in automatic control boxes and remote control units. But he said he has no qualms about admitting he can’t fix the problem and that the installer should be contacted.
Swift got his first electrical training in the U.S. Navy in the mid-1940s. He opted for that training because just before leaving for the service, electricity had reached his family’s rural house in Minnesota. He tried to wire the barn and outbuildings of the farm, but realized “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
He figured that with some training in the Navy he could return home and finish what he’d started. But while away, his parents sold the farm and moved to Sutherlin to care for his grandmother. So when Swift was discharged from the Navy at Norfolk, Va., in 1946 he took a bus cross-country to Oregon. He was hired as an electrician’s helper at a small sawmill in Sutherlin. He worked that job five days a week and wired houses for an electrical contractor the other two days.
He also began taking night classes in Roseburg to earn his electrical apprenticeship. He eventually passed the tests to become an apprentice and then a journeyman. When the mill where he was working closed, he went north and took electrical engineering classes at Oregon State University for a couple of years. He returned to Sutherlin in 1954 and went to work for Beacon Electric.
About four years later, Swift and Gene Cherry started their own business, Cherry and Swift Electric. They worked together for six years before Cherry moved to Alaska. Swift then opened his own business, Swift Electric, in 1963.
Swift said he tried retirement once, taking a motor home to Arizona for a couple of months. It wasn’t a good fit for him.
“I feel so much better fixing things for people rather than doing nothing,” said Swift, who remembered fixing machinery on the family farm before becoming a sailor. “I have a knack for working with my hands. People have been calling me to fix things ever since I came to town. Everything man has made eventually goes bad and needs fixed. I just don’t feel like quittin’.”
• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at email@example.com.
I just don’t feel right unless I’m getting something done.
--Charlie Swift, owner, Swift Electric