Crofton man’s expertise earns international award with home-built elevator

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Crofton resident Bob Higgins knows all the ups and downs, ins and outs, of machinery operation.

It only stood to reason for the retired machinist, millwright, welder, power engineer and supervisor with more than 50 years of experience to submit details of an elevator he built into his home as his entry in an international contest for furniture and home projects.

Higgins, 77, admitted to being a bit floored when he found out he’d won for the home category in the Metal Supermarkets Metal My Way Contest. He won a metal inert gas welder, known as a Mig welder, that uses a continuous solid wire electrode heated and fed into the weld pool from a welding gun rather than utilizing welding rods.

“It was nice, it made me feel good,” Higgins said. “It was a lot of work to enter the contest.”

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Earlier in the year, entrants were asked to submit a photo or video of their project to vie for two grand prizes and top placement in one of five categories.

The idea was to pit skilled welders, fabricators, metal-workers and artists from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom against each other. Metal professionals and hobbyists showcased their creativity through inventive projects.

“I used to do a little bit of business with them when I worked at United Engineering,” said Higgins of Metal Supermarkets, the title sponsor. “They have a website and I saw this little blurb in September about this contest.”

Higgins’ elevator was not only practical for the contest, but also for potential needs he and his wife Neeltje might have in the two-level home.

“I built it a few years back,” he indicated. “It took me about six months. I built it after I fully retired and I bought some of the metal from Metal Supermarkets. It’s never been used. We don’t need it.”

But if they ever do need it one day, it’s there.

“When we built the house, I had them build the shaft,” Higgins explained. “We want to stay here till we go out feet first. If you become disabled, it’s hard to go up and down the stairs.”

The elevator is screw operated. Higgins did all the design, engineering, welding, steel fabrication, machining, entire installation and wiring himself. An electrician did the final hook-up.

The elevator is capable of lifting 800 pounds and takes a little more than two minutes to go between levels. In case of a power outage, Higgins added a provision to manually release the motor brake and crank the car by hand. The elevator car also contains a landline and emergency lighting.

Higgins was born in Victoria and began his working career right out of high school after graduating from the former Qualicum Beach High School and starting a five-year apprenticeship as a machinist at Victoria Machinery Depot.

At the time, “it was the biggest shop on Vancouver Island,” he pointed out.

Higgins worked there for eight years, acquiring a wide range of skills, and went back there again in later years.

His extensive background also included 12 years as a millwright and supervisor at the former Bamberton cement plant, three years with the B.C. Minister of Labour as an apprenticeship counsellor, back to the VMD, five years at a gold mine in West Africa and 12 years at United Engineering in Victoria.

“It’s all been in heavy industry,” Higgins said. “I’ve had a great life.”

He moved to Crofton in 2008 and keeps himself busy with all sorts of home and restoration projects.

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