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Q and A with Bob Strong

by: JIM CLARK, Handyman Bob Strong can take care of just about anything on a “honey do” list. Just don’t ask to borrow his tools.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

When he's really on his game, Bob Strong keeps marriages intact. At the very least, he keeps homes intact, and functioning.

Strong, who lives in Southeast Portland, is a handyman - a hired gun (glue or staples only) who will take on the undone household repairs that can drive a wedge between even the most loving of couples.

More recently, Strong became host of the Saturday afternoon KXL radio show called, appropriately enough, 'Around the House With Bob Strong.'

Strong's handyman career came about by accident. In 1996, he moved back to Portland to live in the house in which he'd grown up. Soon he was working as a site supervisor building homes in Tigard. Once that job was finished, Strong, 61, began looking for work.

But finding that next job was proving difficult, Strong says.

'People called me because they had furniture they needed assembled, or they wanted a shelf built or a new light fixture hung,' Strong says. 'I woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning and realized my job search wasn't going anywhere because I was too busy making money.'

Portland Tribune: What are some memorable repairs you've done for customers?

Bob Strong: I got a call at 9 o'clock one night from one of my regular customers. 'Bob, I don't know what happened. I can't get water to drain from the kitchen sink.' I went to her house, and two and a half hours later I'd unplugged two artichokes she had tried to run through the garbage disposal. They were like cement.

Last summer a customer was complaining that the clothes dryer wouldn't dry his clothes. The most common reason is the vent is blocked up. I tried to clean it from the inside but couldn't.

I went outside, opened up the house, found that the vent was broken off in the wall and there was a bird's nest inside the cavity of the wall. The birds had blocked the vent to keep that hot air blowing on their nest. It was amazing.

Tribune: So many years doing repairs, what was your biggest goof?

Strong: I cut the top of a door off instead of the bottom. I was supposed to trim about three-quarters of an inch off because they had put carpet down. I cut the top of the door off. They look the same when they're laying on the sawhorse.

Tribune: What did you do?

Strong: I bought them a new door.

Tribune: Is everything in good repair at your own house?

Strong: Ah, the cobbler's kid has no shoes. It's true. Our house is in terrible repair. My wife has a honey-do list just like my customers.

Tribune: And how do you justify that?

Strong: My customers pay me. My wife doesn't.

Tribune: One job you dread?

Strong: Climbing in crawl spaces. They're always so constricted and usually dirty. And full of rocks and sharp objects. They're just nasty to be in.

One of my customers couldn't figure out what a noise in their crawl space was. I went under and came face to face with a raccoon family.

Tribune: Do you have a favorite tool?

Strong: I do. It is my Fein MultiMaster.

Tribune: What's that?

Strong: It's a German tool, a saw that looks like a pair of barber shears, but instead of double blades it has a single saw blade and I can plunge it right into a piece of wood. It's the only tool that will do what it does. With zero clearance I can cut a piece of wood out of almost anywhere.

Tribune: Do you let people borrow your tools?

Strong: Not anymore. I loaned an angle grinder that came back broken. I loaned a reciprocating saw that came back broken. Those were the last two tools I ever loaned.

Tribune: What was the saw reciprocation for in the first place?

Strong: I was reciprocating for someone being a good neighbor by loaning him tools. He's still my neighbor, but he doesn't borrow tools anymore.

Tribune: Now that you're on radio, do people recognize you in public?

Strong: I was working in Hillsboro a few weeks ago when a lady stopped me on the street as I was getting out of my truck. She said, 'You must be Bob the handyman.' I asked her, 'How did you know?' She said, 'That's simple. You're wearing the yellow suspenders, and all my friends told me I should look for you.'

Tribune: Those would be the yellow suspenders you're wearing now that double as tape measures. Do you actually take them off and use them?

Strong: No. My pants would fall down.

Tribune: Oh, that's right. You're a handyman, not a plumber.

- Peter Korn