Mt. Shasta Saw Man Bob Kemp
● By Paul Boerger
Bob Kemp of Bob's Sharpening Service
Seventy-year-old Mount Shastan Bob Kemp, no relation to the NFL quarterback and then U.S. senator, he quickly points out, believes “there is no such thing as unemployment.”
“I was never out of work in my whole life,” Kemp says.
Kemp notes he has had 37 lines of work, including mortician’s assistant, contractor, concrete worker, gunsmith (a trade he learned in a stint in the Marine Corps), plumber, hot dog stand owner, cable television system installer and underground utility superintendent. Kemp is emphatic that he didn’t do his many careers “well,” but that he was “proficient” at them all. For Kemp, that is a big difference.
For the last four years, Kemp has been ensconced at a table in the corner of a parking lot on South Mount Shasta Boulevard, sharpening just about anything that comes along. Kemp says he sharpens 104 items, from surgical scissors to chain saws. Kemp’s table, tools and portable shade cover are unloaded every day from the camper that sits in his old pickup truck. He always has time to greet folks as they come in to get something sharpened or just to chat.
Kemp loves to talk, and just as important, he is a welcoming listener. Folks come by to see how he is doing, and often you will see a half dozen or more people gathered around the table swapping stories, catching up on their friendships or saying high to Wolfie, Kemp’s 90 percent wolf, 10 percent husky that keeps him company.
“Joking around and having a good time is one of the most important things in life,” Kemp says.
Kemp’s sharpening service was not always at a table in a parking lot. His sharpening career began in 1994 when he was trying to find out, “What can I be now?” He had a dream where a voice said to him, “May your days be as sharp as your blade.”
“Scythes, swords, spears?” Kemp wondered. “It was sharpening things.”
He learned the trade through mentors and trial and error, and for many years, he was a traveling sharpener with a route that took him from Canada to the casino restaurants of Reno.
“I researched it, watched other people do it and rolled with it. I experimented sometimes,” Kemp says with a laugh at the tools he had to replace because of mistakes.
In 2009, however, he had a heart attack that resulted in a quadruple bypass operation, and because of the failing economy, the casinos, the most profitable part of his business, cancelled his contracts.
“That’s why I’m here,” Kemp says.
Kemp notes that during his recovery from the heart attack, folks waited until he was well to fulfill their sharpening needs.
“I had had 237 people who called when I got back,” Kemp says.
Kemp is proud of the fact that he has not raised his prices in 14 years. A small chain saw, for example, costs just $5.50 to sharpen. Kemp doesn’t only sharpen the chain; he dismantles the saw, cleans it, puts it back together and adjusts the tension.
“People keep telling me to raise my prices,” Kemp says. “It’s more important to keep people happy. I get a kick out of it.”
Kemp says the most important things in his life are “my wife, my children and my freedom.” •
Bob's Sharpening Service • (530) 926-6536
Located at 305 South Mount Shasta Blvd. in the parking lot across from the US post office