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Men forge bond at local repair shop

Tornados have stimulated the local economy.

Aside from the obvious, shingles, building materials and logging, a vital sector of Hubbard County is in dire need of repair - its boats.

Enter Izzy and Shawn Mahowald. The father-son welding team has a yard full of boats, awning supports, lifts and aluminum pieces unrecognizable as marine parts in their twisted condition. They've come to the men courtesy of three tornados and countless wind storms.

"There's a short list of things we don't repair," said Shawn, surveying the piles of aluminum and steel parts - all repair worthy.

"Here's a pontoon awning support that was wind-damaged," he said, reciting the current inventory that litters his lawn.

Izzy's Machine & Welding Shop has been a mainstay in Park Rapids since Isidor Mahowald escaped the "rat race" of Shakopee in 1989 to live a more quiet life. His wife had relatives in the area, so Park Rapids seemed a good fit.

"Nobody would hire me when I first moved here," Izzy reminisces. "I was cutting corn stalks out of potato fields."

In Shakopee Izzy'd been a maintenance supervisor for a large company, so he'd mastered several tricks of the fix-it trade. When he started his own business just to get a job, Izzy's Welding became an instant fixture.

What may not have been anticipated was that it also became a male-dominated mecca. Men from all over the county began to bring in every household item imaginable that had broken, worn or fallen into disrepair.

Whether an excuse to get out of the house, or a male bonding experience, legions of local men flocked to Izzy's Welding.

Along the way, Izzy dispensed advice about building projects or repairs that never came through his door. On June 26, a steady parade of men streamed through Izzy's doors. Some came to borrow his tools, some just came for the camaraderie. Many came for the free advice.

It's a guy thing.

"Tell people Izzy isn't giving out free advice anymore," admonished the elder Mahowald in jest.

Shawn took over the business in April 2007 after working side-by-side with his dad since 1991.

Izzy and wife Marlene then went south for a major portion of last winter, escaping to southern Texas, leaving the tools behind. They plan on returning to the Donna-Weslaco area of Texas this winter, where many Midwesterners migrate.

"The business is in good hands with Shawn," said the proud father. "He learned a lot on his own - and a little from me," he joked.

Shawn's even assumed the role of advice-giver. At one point that Tuesday afternoon, both father and son got interrupted for advice more than once, which they patiently dole out.

Izzy is fond of telling people the welders' work mantra: "We can fix anything but a broken heart."

It hasn't all been drudgery. The shop gets to indulge in some creative endeavors aside from the repairs. Izzy's makes the frames that hold the loon nests on Big Mantrap Lake, which state wildlife specialists recently studied as models of preservation.

Meanwhile, the pile of broken boats outside grows. If the boat owner or insurance company deems a damaged boat or part beyond repair, Izzy and Shawn refurbish it for resale themselves.

Many of the boat parts - and the boats themselves - are so cumbersome they're two-man jobs. It takes one man to handle the part and another to do the actual welding.

They've got to make headway on the chores this summer.

When school starts in the fall, Shawn drives a school bus for special needs kids. That breaks up his day. But he's also formed a bond with many of the kids he drives to and from school, as special as any customer at the welding shop.

Summers Shawn works 12 to 14 hours a day to get the work done. Izzy puts in comparable days, but for a different reason. He's motivated by hot Texas, tool-free winters.

The Mahowalds actually welcome the constant company - the hangers-on who like the atmosphere, even if the uninvited interrupt the workflow. But there are no plans to put a coffee pot on and benches outside, because that might be too much of a good thing.