Andrew Muth can remember the first moment he was able to hear his car’s turn signal.
“My wife would always tell me, ‘Turn off the blinker!’ ” he said.
When Muth was around 6 months old, he contracted German measles. Complications damaged his eardrums, resulting in 70 percent hearing loss in one ear, and even more in the other.
“I’ve had crappy hearing aids my whole life. It didn’t do a lot for my self-esteem,” he said.
But when Rick Giles, a hearing specialist at Hearing By Design, donated high-end hearing aids to Muth last year, it changed his life.
“It brought me tears. Before I couldn’t hear the blinker in the car … Now I can hear it,” Muth said. “Now I have like 80 percent (hearing). I could hear the trees and the leaves rustling. I could never hear it before. I could never afford $10,000 hearing aids.”
The 37-year-old metal fabricator also faced another challenge. In high school, he lost two fingers in shop class: his left index and middle fingers.
“That kind of shaped my life,” he said.
But neither challenge has stopped Muth from pushing on through work at Marks Design & Metalworks, where he is the lead in the small parts department. The company, which specializes in making custom brewing, processing and storage equipment, continues to operate during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has reduced sales by 75 percent. We did reduce staff at the start of (the pandemic) but have been able to bring back nearly everyone,” said Jim Paulsen, the company’s president. Marks Design & Metalworks, named after founder Ryan Marks, makes equipment used for beverages such as coffee, beer, wine, cider, and hard seltzer. Though they focus on the beverage industry, they even make equipment for cannabis production and methane tanks for sewage plants.
Muth specifically works on the small parts that go on the larger tanks — such as fittings and foot pads.
WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY
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“Some of the day I’m building and welding, and sometimes half of my day is helping people, and some days I do installs,” he said.
One popular regional customer is Seattle’s Elysian Brewing.
Muth grew up in Oregon City, Ore., but had to travel to speech therapy in Portland during his first few years of school. In 2004, Muth was working as a server when a friend told him that Clackamas Community College was partnering with the former JV Northwest, a fabrication shop now called ICC Northwest. The program offered participants two weeks of training, Muth said.
“They still do that program and more people need to get involved with it,” Muth said. “There’s not a lot of places for kids that are more hands-on to get involved with this type of trade. That’s the biggest struggle, to find people to do what I do.”
Muth prefers to be called a fabricator, though he said he “does a bit of everything” at Marks Design & Metalworks, where he has worked for eight years. The company opened in 2008, first operating in Washougal before moving to its current location in Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood.
“He has learned to adapt and overcome his setbacks,” Paulsen said, adding that Muth is one of the company’s best employees. “He doesn’t seem to be impacted at all by his hand, except counting to 10.”
Muth said he just wants to continue to work with his hands, live life and spend time with his family.
“My whole goal is just to prepare a nice future with my daughter. That’s what drives me,” he said.
However, the pandemic is stirring a lot of anxiety.
“But I’m definitely worried for the future. People aren’t going to brewpubs and breweries like they used to,” he said. “You know, if it keeps just standing like this, I don’t know what work looks like next year.”