SHERBURN - Harold Schweiss had a sense of humor and an inventive mind, and he was always looking for a better way to make things work, his family said following the death of the local entrepreneur.
Harold died suddenly at his rural Sherburn home on Wednesday. He was 71. He was the owner of Schweiss Inc., which produced V-type and auger snowblowers, among other products. He was known for tinkering with all kinds of machines, surviving a crash in a gyrocopter, and pulling pranks.
Although he never went to college, Harold had a high mechanical reasoning.
"He said, 'I can look under any lawnmower and tell you what it can do, just by how the blades are placed,'" said his wife, Mary.
It was just the way his mind worked.
"He'd say, 'I didn't hear you. I was thinking about something else,'" Mary said.
Harold grew up a farm boy, said Mary. After his dad's death, Harold took over the family farm at age 20, helping his mother support the eight kids still at home.
He and Mary married in 1966, and a couple of years later, a neighbor brought a snowblower over to help clear a big bank of snow on the Schweiss farm.
"Harold said, 'You'll never get through it,'" Mary recalled.
The men bet each other a fifth of whiskey and Harold lost.
"So he went over to that guy's place, took some cardboard and copied (the snowblower)," Mary said. "He came home and made one and it worked. Cut it out with a cutting torch."
Harold made three; kept one, gave one to a friend and decided to make some money on the third one by selling it. He put an ad in the New Ulm Journal.
Two men called, both wanting it, Mary remembered. Harold only had the one, so he had to make another one quick.
Thus was born a new business.
Harold started his snowblower business in Fairfax, while still helping out on his mom's dairy farm. He bought Terfehr Manufacturing in Ceylon and started manufacturing stubble cleaners, eventually adding items like trailers, pick-up hitches, chicken pluckers, wood burning furnaces, weeders and wood splitters.
In 1975, a fire burned down the business and Harold had to start over. He was contemplating re-building, until friends showed him the old hemp plant in Sherburn.
"He found out what we could buy it for was less than building new," Mary said.
That turned into Schweiss Inc., where they added lawnmowers to the repertoire, partly due to daughter DeLaine.
"I loved to mow the lawn," DeLaine said, but the riding lawnmowers kept breaking down, and she would often be worn out from pushing forward to make the wheel go the right direction.
"He said, 'There's got to be a better way; I don't know why anybody can't make a decent lawnmower,'" said daughter Desiree.
"Our lawnmower was the first to come out with a joystick," Mary said.
In addition to inspiring him, Harold put his four kids - DeLaine, Darren, Desiree and Dynette - to work.
The family had a shop on the farm outside Sherburn, where they raised Tennessee walking horses.
"I got stuck assembling spindles or hubs," said Darren.
"Dad made easy weeders (to ride through soybeans)," said Desiree, "so we never had to walk beans."
"We cleaned, we put fingers in the chicken pluckers," DeLaine said.
"Nuts and bolts in the bags," Desiree said.
"We were his models (at shows)," Delaine added.
The shows were Harold's stage.
"He always pulled pranks," said Darren.
Harold had a bag of magic tricks, including one with a pencil on a string he'd thread through an unsuspecting visitor's buttonhole and challenge them to get it loose.
"He'd do things and draw attention; he made everybody laugh," Desiree said.
Harold enjoyed taking some risks and flew gyrocopters, even building a runway on the north side of the shop and moving the overhead wires for easier landings. He had more than one gyrocopter, but the gold one didn't last long, Mary said. That was the one he crashed, hard enough to break the machine apart.
Harold knew when to walk away, and he sold Schweiss Inc. to B&H Manufacturing in 1999.
That didn't stop his tinkering.
Most recently Harold was working on a motorcycle rack for his and Mary's motorcycles, to put on the back of the couple's motorhome.
"It had an electronic lift, so you didn't have to work so hard," Mary said.
He was also re-working the furnace that heated several buildings on the farm, putting in a bigger boiler so it would work better.
"He always wanted to make something better," Mary said. "He thought if he wanted something, somebody else probably wanted it too."
Services for Harold are set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Sherburn. See the complete obituary on page 5 of today's paper.