BY Sarah smith

ssmith@parkrapidsenterprise.com

The locksmith business has conformed to technology and is no longer a skeleton key slipping into a hole.

Part computer technician, part mechanical engineer, part physicist and all businessman, Joe Eisterhold is in the process of assuming ownership of what is now Park Rapids Lock & Key, three miles south of Park Rapids.

His mentor, Ken Smith, has turned the keys over to the former apprentice and Joe is on his own. Well, actually, Ken isn’t going far away and will still be a backup hitter when Joe’s out on service calls or taking classes.

Joe started by taking a correspondence in locksmithing (this is Ken’s age-old joke when he explains his last name; “Smith as in locksmith”) and so far he’s delighted that he left his job as a biologist for the state of Minnesota, working on Aquatic Invasive Species issues, and is now his own boss, something he’s always wanted to do.

He was not discouraged by the 980 key varieties hanging on the wall, the expense of the commercial equipment, or the hours. (Most hardware stores stock about 300 key varieties, called key ways, for the ability of a key to slide into a lock.)

People call 24/7 but after around 10 p.m., they’ve probably decided they can wait overnight for a locksmith, Ken maintains.

Joe pulls out a machine called an MVP Pro. Which can program a key via computer. It plugs under a dashboard and figures out which vehicle key you left at home in your pants pocket.

A transponder talks to the car to make the car work. One specific key fits a specific vehicle so there’s no mix-up or fraud.

Eisterhold explained his career change as follows: “I like cars and locks” and he treats each lock-out as a challenge.

Joe remembers the “old days” of making a missing key for rental cars, using a gun and punch system.

Locks have evolved light-years since then, the men say. Computers have taken over the business, so lock and key experts have to be computer experts as well.

With 980 keys in stock, Park Rapids Lock & Key can fit most boats, vehicles, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, scissor lifts, and bank locks.

Joe remembers the early days of his career, working in International Falls making missing keys for rental car units. Now computer chips in the keys make sure a certain key only goes into a certain lock.

It’s a business Smith started in1977 after buying the inventory of five hardware stores and two locksmiths.

Now he’s helping Eisterhold prepare for the future and each specialty lock the younger man may encounter.

Smith plans to stick around to cover the shop while Joe’s out on a service call, or at training.

The men figure that 60 percent of the work is done on the road, traveling to homes, cabins, vehicles. Smith said from April 2014 to November of that year, he put 25,000 miles on his vehicle, traveling to service calls.

Not only does the new technology complicate the process, but it also makes many homes and vehicles impenetrable to theft.

And it also makes keys and locks more expensive. Some sidewinder keys can run up to $500 to make.

That’s because today, locks have numerous intricate parts and not just have a key that can trigger a dead bolt. Now there are tubular keys and all kinds of lock-and-key gadgets a locksmith must keep on top of.

With numerous foreign visitors to Itasca State Park and other local destinations, domestic keys won’t fit if a German visitor locks his keys in a car.

“They don’t call Ghostbusters,” Smith quipped.

To reach Joe you can call 255-4700.