Dean Christensen, a Bellingham locksmith who is retiring after 42 years on the job, says no two of his 10,000 or so work days were alike.
His morning work order could have him drilling into a safe, looking into a lock with a scope and cutting a key with a file, running a skeleton key machine, or helping someone remember the code to their combination lock.
After spending his whole career with Security Solutions NW in Bellingham, Christensen is retiring on Jan. 7. In retirement, Christensen plans to take care of his mother.
Christensen was 17 when he moved to Bellingham from Darrington, Washington to start working at Security Solutions, which was then called Bellingham Lock & Safe. But he had already been making keys and working with locks for five years. He started making keys when he was 12 after his grandfather gave him a key cutting machine.
Christensen had a small locksmith business in high school, and the Darrington School District hired him to re-key the locks in his school.
During the course of his career, Christensen said mechanical locks haven’t changed, but he has had to learn about a lot of new electronic locks.
“It’s still interesting. Everyday is a new challenge,” Christensen said. “If you want a career where you never get bored, it’s a good profession.”
The skills Christensen learned on the job go beyond mechanical and electronic locks. Several times in his career he’s made keys to open cars locked with babies inside.
He has also helped people trapped in locked bathrooms with broken locks. That typically happens at restaurants or other businesses where the bathroom is used constantly. Someone will lock the door behind them and the worn lock will break.
Since locks can typically only be disassembled from inside the locked room, Christensen would slip a special set of flat tools under the door, and talk the trapped victim through disassembling the lock. In situations like that, helping someone stay calm is more important than mechanical aptitude, Christensen said.
Christensen plans to help train Security Solutions’ new locksmith. The skill takes about seven years to learn, he said.
Christensen has been with Security Solutions for four moves as the business has grown and expanded. Each time, he helped haul all the store’s uncut key blanks – there are over a million – to the new location. In his career, he’s also driven the shops’ vehicle for more than a million miles, he said.
“He’s been a fixture here,” said Jamie Vos, Security Solutions’ general manager, in a press release. “One of the best natural locksmiths around – and a lot of fun.”
Security Solutions is honoring Christensen with an open house and reception with beer, wine and appetizers from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 7, at 1619 Security Solutions at N. State St. The public is invited to stop by Security Solutions between 8:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Jan. 7 to visit with Christensen.