According to Linda Wyant, tinkerers and inventors are basically lazy and that’s why they keep finding easier and more efficient ways to do things. She was speaking about her dad, Lee Safranek, who passed away three weeks ago at the age of 91.
Safranek and the late Fred Hermann formed a partnership in 1955, and since 1957 a large tin building at the corner of El Camino Real and San Anselmo Avenue has been the home of their cabinet shop.
Their first big job was doing the millwork for the brand-new Lewis Avenue Elementary School, which is now the junior high.
I’ve driven by that large building for 45 years knowing it contained a cabinet and mill shop. But I got to know Lee Safranek first in his role as a vital member of the Atascadero branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. I covered a number of the group’s community service activities and usually covered the installation of officers for both Odd Fellows and the companion woman’s group, Rebekahs. I knew a lot about both organizations because my grandparents were active in the Santa Ana lodge of the organizations.
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About 10 years ago Lee called and asked if I’d like to have a baggage cart from the old Atascadero Train Depot. He and his wife, Ellen, donated it to the Historical Society and it has since been completely restored by a local Boy Scout working on his Eagle Badge. Lee bought the baggage cart from Southern Pacific when the depot was demolished in the early 1960s and used it to move stacks of plywood around the shop.
Lee began making much of the machinery used in his own shop and that led to developing a line of router bits — an entire line of insert tooling used by cabinet shops and furniture makers throughout the United States and now in foreign markets. Some of their bits are used in plastics and even some metal products. The name of the company contains a portion of both partners’ names: Her-Saf.
Much of the equipment needed to make cutting tools out of very hard steel was created by Lee. A vacuum table to hold a piece of wood while you worked on it drew my fancy. Wyant said of her dad, “he would write programs for automated machines, but he couldn’t use the office computer. This was his playground.” She’s proud that the line of made-in-the-USA tools was made right here in Atascadero.
Lee continued to go to work for at least four hours a day up until last April.