Written by Mike Draper
This issue we interviewed Craig Hendzel for Lakewood OH. He’s a cool dude and been in the business along time. Enjoy his story.
AWC- When did you first get into the business and how?
Craig- I was born into the business, it was/is a family thing. My grandfather was a window cleaner back in his younger days; he worked for a gentleman named Jim Slota. Jim ran Lakewood Window Cleaning which he sold to my grandfather in 1935. My grandfather lived in Tremont, Ohio at the time; when he purchased the company he moved his new bride and family to Lakewood, Ohio, where we remain to this day. My father was a window cleaner, my uncle worked with my father cleaning windows, my grandmother was the voice on the other end of the line from the beginning until she passed on, and my brother cleaned windows but not for long as it was not for him.
As a child window cleaning was everywhere around me. In the basement were the 3 shops for the repairs and a storage room with brushes and tools; in those days at my grandparents house we used shammies and cleaned our terry towels and ran them through the laundry "roller" wringers. The garage was filled with wooden ladders and wooden planks, old twisted metal scaffold jacks for the ladders; it was always dark and menacing in that garage at my grandparents. At 5 years of age we moved into our new home and that home had a garage that housed the trucks and more shops in the basement for repairs and fabricating, inventing ways to make existing tools work better. Early on there was not much at all to work with, not like these days, oh how lucky window cleaners are these days, so safe!
Watching my dad leave the house every day, going to work cleaning windows, coming home smelling like that soap he always used, that scent lingers and stays with me to this day, in very good ways. He always came home a bit tired; he was a giant man to me and in real life the years of ladder work were very unkind to my father. He worked hard and he could handle any ladder; like a giant he would throw the fully extended extension ladder on his shoulder and move along so fast with that thing, I always wanted to learn how to handle a ladder like a giant. To watch the guys move their ladders, this was childhood, watching my dad, uncle, and even my grandfather move ladders, It was a sight to see, an art to it for sure. Window cleaning was all around me.
The summer just before I turned 13 my dad took me out on real jobs. Prior to that I was really only allowed to work on our home, grandparents home, etc. I will never forget that first house in Bay Village, we still do the same customer's the daughter-in-law's home. 12 years old and my new bucket, my very own Ettore tools, a hammer loop of my own to hold a tool, and a garage with some very dirty windows with my name on them! I worked many garages that summer, and ran the "routes" with my dad 2 days a week as well; learning the poles and perfecting my detail skills on the store-front for that day I went into the home.
AWC- Why have you stayed in the biz?
Craig- It is my life, it runs in my blood. It is a flow that I exist in, somewhere I have always been, a place of balance and harmony for me, when I am working I am flowing. Not sure if this makes sense?
AWC- What is your favorite aspect of the business?
Craig- The flow, my community, the homes I work in. Where do you begin and end with this? I love the freedom to set my pace, to grow in knowledge, utilize old and new, and develop new ways. Where this business once took bodies from window cleaners this business now is moving forward with technologies and methods that are saving our bodies. I also love the seasons; the days sitting by the lake eating lunch in the truck, a fall/winter storm brewing, no particular hurry, a small house on the lake with some amazing views waiting for me to arrive. I love working with a few window cleaner friends, the flow when two guys who have been around long enough and having watched master window cleaners, having had knowledge and window cleaning wisdom handed down, that right there is some nice flow. Working with my dad who I considered a Master Window Cleaner I find it hard to "second" with just anyone, anyone who runs a small solo or two-man operation knows the value of two top notch window cleaners, some nice flow. I love that for me it is not about money, I love being in the field, will stay in the field another 17 years, until 2035, when we have 100 years in family business in our town! I have to try to plan some sort of window cleaners party when that happens.
AWC- What is your favorite tool in the business?
Craig- A few years ago I almost quit window cleaning. I was browsing the sites like I always do, looking at everything window cleaning, I was thinking about making a new "Shorty" pole that I had been using since I first got into water-fed window cleaning technology. The "Shorty" pole is a cut-down Tucker aluminum 3-section pole system, I always hated that poles did not work so well for the ground level work so I cut my Tucker pole down to size for ground level work. I remember being on the WCR site, browsing away, and I noticed that Tucker was no longer available, I called, sent messages, emailed, and found out Tucker was no more. I love my Tucker gear, even my old poles sections with the thumb screws. I have several from those old ones to the new Carbon Fiber, I made mine convertible, they are also my traditional window cleaning poles, a few modifications using existing window cleaning parts and I have my own modified Tucker pole called the "Shorty". It accepts a wooden tip for standard tools, and converts to accept the Tucker alpha brush, hands down my favorite tool is my Tucker Shorty with the Alpha brush.
AWC- What hobbies do you have outside window cleaning?
Craig- I spend most of my free time with my family, we belong to a dance studio and a camping club; aside from that I love to golf, tinker in my shops, and play a little guitar every now and then. We do a great deal of charity work, for our community. I like to consider gathering with friends a hobby.
AWC- What one goal in your business you want to accomplish this year?
Craig- I want to develop my methods and systems to enable me to continue on in window cleaning for many more years, one year at a time. I do not really look at my window cleaning by days or months or years, it is for life, I want to accomplish the never ending goal of staying safe, coming home to my family each day, take care of my body and my mind so that I can continue on this year and beyond.
AWC - Whats your proudest window cleaning moment?
Craig- My dad said something to me when he was in the hospital a little while before he passed on. For so many years he and I had lived the window cleaning life together, we were in the flow together, experienced so many things together. I watched him deteriorate right in front of me, year after year, ladder climb after ladder climb, knees replaced, hips replaced, ankle replaced, until it took him out of the game. During those years I always tried hard to take all the ladder work away from him, he rejected me and maintained his pace, and he did this while dealing with cancer. I have never seen a man work so hard, and face so much pain and keep going, he never stopped, not until his body broke. Along the way he never really told me I was good at window cleaning, he never complimented me, not his style, even after I went out to California and learned water-fed and came back home with it he was still that stubborn guy, would never let me know that I had passed his standard. When he was in that hospital bed, not doing so hot, I was actually cleaning the windows in that hospital, so I would stop in during the night and check in on him, like me he hardly was a deep sleeper, we would talk and talk, and in one moment when I was not expecting it he told me he was proud of me, that he considered me a worthy window cleaner, he even told me he actually was extremely impressed with my water-fed system, and I had always wished I could have brought that system home sooner so he would never have had to feel that pain he felt. He finally told me I was doing a good job, that felt great! Now to make it to that 100 year mark so I can add that moment!
I am proud of what my family has done over the many years, from where my grandfather began, where my father took over, where I am going with it, and how amazing it is to see my daughter cleaning windows at an early age with her daddy, my 4th generation window cleaner!
I feel like one part of our history is a very special happening, worth the mention. Window cleaners get the attention in all of this but it was my grandmother who impressed me the most, she kept us men in line, made sure we were fed, and that I always had cookies and pastries for the day, every day. She made sure we had food and water for our day, our shirts were neatly tucked in, and got us out the door on our way each day. For so many years she answered the phone, it was her voice they heard, she was the first impression of our business to new folks. When she passed on we had been shocked, in a good way, at how many people who had never even seen her face before had come to say goodbye, to the lady on the other end of the line. Deep down I believe my grandmother is the soul of our family business.