Tim Steffl likes to joke that he was never hired to work for Blackburn Manufacturing. Instead, they simply inherited him and he stuck around 25 years.
Either way, Wednesday was a bittersweet day for Steffl, who officially retired as vice president of purchasing and research development.
Steffl, a 1966 graduate of Neligh Public School, began working for the Neligh-based industrial leader in 1990 and has played a key role in the company’s flag-making process with the plastic staffs.
Not surprisingly, Steffl downplays his importance to the company that was named “The World’s Greatest” flag maker in 2013.
Steffl admitted it’s tough for him to stay interested in a job, and Blackburn Mfg. was a perfect fit because the business was always changing and he was constantly developing new products.
A mechanically gifted man, Steffl graduated from high school at 17 and spent the next 20 years in a variety of jobs. He and wife, Sherry, married in Colorado but have lived in the Neligh area nearly their entire marriage.
From writing computer code to being field superintendent for a construction company building intake structures for power plants and, Steffl found his niche with mechanical avenues.
“I get bored fairly quickly,” he said with a laugh.
When their second child was born, Steffl was lucky to be home two days every six weeks while working in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Wanting to be home more, he started his own company doing commercial site work. When inflation and high interest rates halted construction, Steffl stumbled onto “a serendipity thing.”
He went to an auction in Kansas City and bought an extruder that eventually changed his life.
“I didn’t even know what an extruder was, but it looked like a neat piece of equipment,” he said. “I didn’t think it was bringing enough money, although I didn’t know what it did, so I bought one.”
Stefl started studying extruders and bought a modeling machine to go along with it. He spent 18 months rebuilding the machines and started custom molding plastic parts for sewage digestive system.
That was about the same time Blackburn’s started making plastic staff flags.
“Eventually, Blackburn’s consumption of my equipment’s availability became most of my time, and by then, I was getting kind of bored with that,” he said with a chuckle. “So I sold the company to Blackburn’s. Jim actually inherited me. He never did really hire me.”
That was in 1990, and Steffl said he never intended to stay with the company. But other projects came up and he developed other equipment and processes that are still used today.
“One thing kind of led to another, and 25 years later, I’m still here,” he said.
Although Wednesday was Steffl’s last day at Blackburn Mfg., he’ll occasionally return to help the company with the machines he developed.
“I’m the guy who made a lot of things work, but I’m not the genius behind anything,” he said. “I did what I was paid to do and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Steffl said he’s enjoyed his time at Blackburn’s because of the team atmosphere. While he does get bored quickly, there’s always a tangible product to show at the end of the day. And the people he worked with, along with the Blackburn family, kept it from becoming just another job.
“It’s been a great family to work for. I’m happy I had the opportunity to do it because a guy like me in order to stay in a community like this, you’d have to find a spot like I found. There’s not many out there, and I was lucky to be able to come to a local company like this and to stay in Neligh,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky and have enjoyed my time at Blackburn’s."