A Mechanic’s Mechanic
After a half-century of work at NASSCO, Frank Kingman eschews retirement
By Manny Lopez
After 50 years as a dedicated employee at the NASSCO shipyard in National City, Frank Kingman has earned himself a place in the annals of San Diego’s shipbuilding history.
“He has a special personality,” said Fred Harris, president of General Dynamics NASSCO since 2006. “Most of us don’t do as much as we should. He does and he’s well thought of for it.”
Showing no signs of slowing down, the 70-year-old transplant from Detroit, who has worked in more departments than he can remember, recently confessed that the thought of celebrating a golden anniversary never crossed his mind.
“I was rejected immediately by the foreman who interviewed me,” said Kingman as he recounted the story of how he got hired as a helper for $2.48 hourly at what was then the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. “It was a beautiful day in May 1960, and the gentleman in the personnel department told me to come back the next day ready to work. So I did and I’ve been here ever since.”
Kingman’s wife of nearly 50 years, Lydia, recalled getting a phone call from him on the day he was hired. “He was so thrilled,” she said. “Within six months we were married and now here we are.” In August, the couple will celebrate five decades of marriage.
When asked why he’s stayed so long, Kingman, intoned that it’s the steadiness of the work and the diversity of the job that have kept him coming back after so many years.
“It’s always something different all the time,” he said. “There’s always new planning, new building or new machines to keep you interested.”
In a modest and seasoned voice, Kingman described the secret to his longevity. “You’ve got to have a good attitude coming into the job and then take those good spirits home with you to your family,” he said. “If you’ve had a bad day, don’t bring that home, never hold a grudge with co-workers or supervisors and just listen and do your job and everything will go smooth.”
Buzz Clark, Kingman’s immediate supervisor for the past 38 years, described him as a dedicated person, who is very dependable and always completes a project no matter how long it takes. “I can do my job and count on that his work will be done right,” said Clark. “He has an incredible work ethic.”
Looking back on a career that has thus far spanned over half a century, it’s expected that things would have changed somewhat. For Kingman, a maintenance mechanic, the biggest transformation has been working side-by-side with NASSCO’s two robots, which were unheard of in the shipbuilding industry back in the ’60s.
One thing that hasn’t changed is his amazement at watching the big ships leave the dry dock and sail out of San Diego Bay. “I love to see them go out after everything’s been done, the last bolt has been tightened and the ship’s been bought,” said Kingman. “I think of my co-workers and all of the sweat and hard work that went into it. And then we go build another one.”
The question on the minds of many is when Kingman will retire. He tells people that he’ll retire when the stock market goes up. Although he has no immediate plans, Kingman expects that it won’t be too much longer. He admitted that the thought scares him. “I’m still healthy,” said Kingman. “I’ll go crazy sitting at home.”