By Tim Leeds
When Victor Spinler was about 30, he took a job for a couple of days helping John Hary do some work on Hary's building, the Park Hotel.
Nearly 43 years and about seven owners and managers later, Spinler is still at the hotel, serving as custodian, caretaker and handyman.
Hary had seen Spinler helping a man move some displays out of a store while Spinler was visiting Havre, in from his family's farm north of Hingham.
"I had come into town - I was a man of leisure," he said. "John Hary asked if I would work for a couple of days. I've been here ever since."
Kurt Johnson, who bought the Park in October 2001, said he can't say enough about what a benefit Spinler is to his business.
"They just don't make 'em like Vic anymore. He can do anything, and if he doesn't know, he learns it. He's priceless," Johnson said.
Barb Wells, who opened Salon Beneath the Streets in the building in October, agrees.
"He's a sweetie, he really is. He does any job I ask," she said. "He can fix anything."
An example is the door to the street closest to her business. The hotel has restricted access, and the door is perpetually locked.
During the summer, she would just block the door open so people could come to her business, Wells said. Once the cold weather hit, that had to stop, but Spinler solved the problem.
He built a detachable clip to keep the latch open, which can be screwed on or off the door, Wells said. No problem.
Spinler said most of what he does he's learned on the job. It began when he was growing up on the farm of his parents, Joseph and Frances Spinler. Living on a farm teaches a person lots of tricks, he said.
"You have to be able to fix things for yourself," Spinler said.
During 43 years at the Park he's learned even more.
"You have to be a plumber and be everything in this place," he said.
He learned from Hary while he worked with him, Spinler said. Hary did most of his construction and remodeling himself. Spinler learned other techniques by watching contractors work on the building, he said.
He learned a lot when Fuglevand Construction remodeled the hotel to house the Iron Horse Restaurant, Spinler said.
"Once you see somebody else do it, you know how to do it," he added.
When Johnson bought the building, Spinler said, he came down to show Johnson where things were in the building, and what needed to be done. He expected Johnson to take over the work himself, but that didn't happen, Spinler said.
"I'm the only one who knows this building, he said," Spinler recalled. "It took me all these years to learn this. You learn all this by doing, in this place. If they don't work here, they have no idea how to keep a place like this going."
Spinler's abilities and knowledge of the history of the building are amazing, Johnson said. If he's pulling a wall down he'll relate when it was first put up, who did the job and who was the owner at the time.
Spinler has seen many changes since he started in 1960. One was the construction of the Iron Horse Restaurant in 1968. The area of the hotel lobby used to be the 707 Electric Shop owned by Oscar Johnson. That space later held Brown's Hardware, Spinler said.
And he knows the history of the building's problems. The biggest problem was when diesel from the railroad started seeping into the pit of the elevator shaft, he said.
Burlington Northern Railway remediated that, he said. BN installed a pump to get the water and diesel out of the shaft, and an exhaust fan to remove the fumes.
The pit itself was later sealed, and there is no longer a problem of seepage, he said.
But water is the worst problem he faces.
"I hate the word water, especially when it floods," Spinler said. "I don't mind showering in it, but I hate working with it when it's all over the place."
A key to controlling the problem is to make sure valves aren't opened all the way, Spinler said. The hotel has water pressure of 90 pounds per square inch, and if they are opened all the way, toilets and sinks will fill too fast and overflow, he said.
He learned that the hard way when he was told there was no hot water in the building. He found the valve shut off at the boiler, and opened it completely, he said.
Later, a person leaving a room told him there was water dripping out of the ceiling around the light fixture.
As he stepped in to look at the problem, the entire ceiling collapsed, Spinler said.
He had to get all the carpets out, roll the water out of them, rebuild the ceiling and remodel the room.
"It was the worst flood I've ever seen. You don't run the water too fast," he said.
Johnson said he doesn't know what he would do to take care of the building without Spinler.
"If you hire a professional contractor it will take half a day for them to figure out what the problem is. Vic, he just tells what the problem is and takes you to it," he said. "I'm proud of Vic, I think he's a great guy. He's probably an unsung hero in this town."