The Hart of the Matter

Column: I love the smell of machines in the morning

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 4/4/24

Making stuff, and knowing how to fix stuff, is an art form that for reasons beyond my comprehension, we stopped appreciating as a society for a long time.

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The Hart of the Matter

Column: I love the smell of machines in the morning


This is going to sound weird, but few things make me more joyful in life than the smell of a machine shop.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, no amount of description will do it justice. No two shops smell exactly the same, but whether they’re processing specialized plastic polymers for the plumbing industry or crafting controller boards for military aircraft, underneath the surface always lies a similar aroma; often times attributed to a combination of various lubricating fluids that protect essential tools against the intense heat generated during a cutting or finishing process.

The nostalgia that triggers in my brain every time I step foot into one of these facilities is directly due to my father, who ran his own manufacturing company (along with my mother, who handled the books) for the better part of my childhood, fabricating customized parts of various metals and plastics with lathes and milling machines and fixing other machines for companies who faced thousands in lost profits for each minute those machines weren’t operational.

I spent a significant amount of time many weekend days exploring my dad’s shop as a kid; wandering around blissfully unsupervised, observing and poking at the various machines, instruments and colorful fluids of various viscosities; each one probably more unknowingly perilous than the last. Ironically enough, the worst injury I ever sustained at my dad’s shop happened on a bicycle, outside of it.

My dad made a life for his family thanks to his interest and innate talent for tinkering with stuff, and although my own career went a very different direction than his, I have never lost my sense of appreciation for how much work and precision and expertise goes into literally everything around us that makes up our modern world.

Making stuff, and knowing how to fix stuff, is an art form that for reasons beyond my comprehension, we stopped appreciating as a society for a long time. Maybe it was greed, maybe it was convenience, maybe a combination of the two, but with every manufacturing job that got shipped overseas, every factory that closed down, I would contend that the heart and soul of America, too, began to suffer.

This is why it was so heartwarming to walk into Ward’s Manufacturing — located in a former rubber mill at 84 Cutler St. in Warren — last week to see a shop full of people (many of who were probably stepping foot into a machine shop for the first time). They crowded around a laser CNC machine to watch it cut through a piece of steel like butter, fabricating a part for a local company that was producing sports equipment.

Their clients are primarily other American companies, making things here in America, who require their services to make a part that often is placed within another component, which then becomes a crucial part of a final product, ready to sell to an customer within an industry that needs it to build something else.

We were watching the beauty of the American small business manufacturing supply chain, happening right here in Warren. That same kind of demonstration, I hope, is starting to happen more and more in communities like ours throughout the nation.

We should be very grateful that our small town has businesses like these, more than you might ever even be aware of, working diligently behind the scenes to make the modern world around us, and restore a little bit of America’s soul while they do it.

Smells like a triumph to me.

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email