The memory still sends chills down my spine - the 2:30 a.m. phone call on Nov. 21, 1982 saying “Get over here right away, the warehouse is on fire.” Click.
On Aug. 1 that year we had started our new business, Preferred Airparts. We were in an old chicken house and didn’t think we could afford the fire insurance rates they wanted for putting airplane parts in this old building.
We took steps to act responsibly, like building a parts-cleaning room with block walls and a lot of blown insulation in the ceiling. We figured that if we ever got a fire it would start in the cleaning room, and that would contain it long enough for us to get help. We also kept a few parts out at repair shops that had reworked them for us.
We had bought a damaged, late-model twin-turbine helicopter (Augusta 109A) on an insurance bid. It was an incredible deal and was going to make our fledging company debt free and cash in the bank. I told the sons that we’d leave it outside until we needed the trailer, and then we’d rent a more fire-resistant storage bay somewhere and put it there.
Early in the week of the fire we needed the trailer, and without a thought we unloaded the helicopter into our chicken house. I can’t imagine how that happened.
Son Ken lived in a little house on the farm and was awakened by the cracking of the fire in the timbers of the chicken house. He called the fire company, and us. I awakened Brian and we jumped in the pickup and dashed over.
As we came down the road we could see that the hottest point was in the corner where our precious helicopter was. It was rather distressing! I said, “Brian, you know that our corporate name is JILCO Industries, Inc. (Jesus Is Lord Co.) We need to decide right now if Jesus is truly Lord of us. If He is, this is okay. If He’s not, we’re in deep trouble.”
We had equipment there from five fire companies and men from six. Lots of flashing lights. Elaine and son Mark soon arrived and our family went out in the hay field and prayed. We rebuked the flames in Jesus’ Name, but they didn’t listen. Due to an oversight the firemen ran out of water and we just had to watch it burn for a while. God gave our family a deep peace. People couldn’t figure out why my sons were walking around taking photos instead of being distraught!
Around 8:00 or so the fire was out and we went home, tired and dirty. Elaine made breakfast and we sat around the table and talked, cried and laughed. There was so much to be thankful for. I told the family, “I promise you that within three years Preferred Airparts will be a better business because of this fire than we could have been without it. I don’t know how that will happen, but I know God and I promise you it will.”
Mid-morning we went back to the smoldering mess. The helicopter was totally gone. A few parts in our cleaning room were safe but most of the rest was useless scrap metal.
Neighbors soon arrived with hay wagons, shovels, a Bobcat and dump truck. There was no suspicion of arson because of no insurance, so we got to work cleaning up. By late that afternoon most of the rubble was hauled away and even the floor was swept up.
A few days later the farmer came to us and said, “If you want to start over, I’ll build you a new 54x90’ pole building.”
A church couple who had sold their house so they could go into missions, said, “We have $12,000 in the bank and we’ll let you use it without interest if you want to start over.” Another couple came with $10,000 and we paid them some interest. And in His own way, God connected me with a nice inventory of new parts in Delaware that we could buy to start over. And then there were the engines and parts of my mother’s (#2, Integrity Pays), and the fact that she paid our house rent for six months!
God used all of that to impart to Elaine’s and my three sons, Ken Jr., Brian and Mark, a sense of responsibility toward their community. As others blessed us in our time of deep need, they would reach to those in need around them. They do.
It was in the recovery from the fire that I was able to lay down the foundational principles which sustain their businesses today. I’m not speaking of the sophisticated formulas and theories of MBA’s but of “Proverbs stuff” like doing what you say, diligence, integrity, generosity, wise buying, and so on.
We saw God’s hand in this “tragedy” in many ways. There was an unusual wind from the south, driving the heat and debris away from the huge old barn close by on the south and the large frame house to the west. Our 12x70 office trailer, only a few feet on the east side, was hardly damaged! There was the sense that, while God had allowed a fire which He could have forbidden, He also set boundaries to it.
The fire apparently started in our flatbed truck, which was so hot that the frame sagged. The helicopter itself was destroyed, but we had removed the engines. They were only a few feet from the truck but the wires weren’t even burnt off of them. Go figure! (Some angels had a hot assignment that night!) We got about half of our investment out of the engines. My twin Karl, who had financed the helicopter purchase, forgave much of the rest that we owed him.
It would have spoiled my sons if we had sold that helicopter and made so much quick profit. Instead, we had to build a new business in the ashes. We had to draw together as a family; and work hard; and depend on others; and constantly look to God for help in buying and selling. We did – He did.
I’m not a prophet or a super-saint, but I serve a wonderful, all-knowing and sovereign God Who cares deeply about us. It humbles and gratifies me to consider the way in which He used this devastating fire to lay the foundation for the three God-honoring business that my sons own and operate. That is a perspective that can direct us from the inside out as we live for Him and serve Him in a world that has a way of throwing unfriendly challenges at us. God is!