News: Granton – John Prior (Locksmith - 1974)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Prior

----Source: Tribune Record Gleaner (Loyal, Clark Co., WI) 5/16/1974

Granton – John Prior (Locksmith - 1974)

Mingling with Mary (By Mary Woods)

John Prior checks a key that he recently cut.

If you have thought lately about robbing a bank and breaking into the safe and getting all the money, you better think twice about it, for according to John Prior of Granton you could be trying the safe combination for 120 years and not too many people live that long!

You may wonder why Prior knows. No, he isn’t 120 years old, he just happens to be in the profession that working with keys and safes in his main line of work. Prior operates a locksmith shop in Harry’s Hardware Store in the Village of Granton.

Asked how he became interested in the locksmith business, Prior states that his father was a great collector of gun antiques and he worked with them and it gradually led to his interest in repairing of guns and working with keys and safes. He pointed out that his father had approximately 3,500 firearms in the house, all in one room, ranging from a replica of Billy the Kid’s rifle to firearms carved and inlaid in gold. Many of the firearms were destroyed in a fire.

Always having an interest in the field, Prior attended the Wilber Wright Technical School in Michigan, specializing in machine tools. After his schooling, he set up a gun shop in Seattle and later worked as a quality control engineer for Aerojet General of Sacramento. While working there he worked with the Polaris Submarine, Titian Rocket, and the Minute Man Missal. His main line of work was as a customer quality representative in which he traveled extensively throughout the states.

As traveling became a way of life for Prior, his family decided to move to a farm in Michigan, since his boys enjoyed the country and farm life. He later joined them in 1963. The family purchased a 160-acre farm in Lake City, Michigan and according to Prior, the village “was about the size of Granton without the grain elevators.” While farming, he also purchased a gun shop which was destroyed by fire.

Deciding where to go after the fire, Prior states that Wisconsin was a state that he always enjoyed traveling in and since his family could continue their farming interest, they decided to move to the area of Granton. Prior states that, “since we moved here in 1972, we have felt more at home than any other place that we have been. The people in the community are friendly, and life seems to be more enjoyable here than any other place.”

“Being a locksmith is like being a dentist, when you need one you need one really bad,” states Prior. It’s not the lock that is hard to open when I am called to a place where help is needed, it’s the toothpicks, the hair pins, and other small object that are forced into the key opening.” Prior commented that he usually called out twice a week to let someone into their house because they either lost the key or locked it in the house.

“Gone are the days when people say they never lock their house,” comments Prior, “With many people having antiques and valuables in their homes, keys and safes are very common. People are also getting away from cheap locks and purchasing locks that are not so easy to pick. In my work, I have also noticed that people don’t repair safes like they should and this also causes problems for they are just like everything else, they do get out of condition and should be kept in working order.”

Turning to the topic as to what makes a good key, Prior noted that skeleton keys that can be purchased for 29 cents in the dime store, can open up most any doors with that type of lock, but when you purchase tumbler keys the story is different. Safe combination locks with a 3-tumbler wheel may have as many as 10 million different combinations and if they have four tumblers they may have as many as 100 million combinations. For each key blank, there are 10,000 combinations and there are approximately 600 different key blanks that are used frequently. He also noted that padlock keys are safe along with cylinder keys.

Speaking from experience, Prior states that he has opened two safes that were attempted to be burglarized, and they proved to be impossible to open for the would-be safe crackers. Most of the time, they are opened by cutting them, but if anyone tried to cut a safe, it would be heard from all parts of the city, and so they would automatically get caught.

Living in the Granton area on County W, Prior and his wife, Ruth, have eight children, who enjoy working on a 176-acre dairy farm.

Still doing some gun work but putting more emphasis on keys and locks, Prior believes strongly in security, and the need for good locks. He states that more and more farmers and county people are becoming aware that robberies don’t only happen in the big cities, but countryside’s are becoming the interest to many robbers.

Watching John Prior opening a safe isn’t the easiest thing to do, and from his past experience he has never known of anyone who could open a safe trying all combinations, even if they did work a little faster, and take off a few years.



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