John Stone and his locks

Transy locksmith of 12 years, John Stone sits smiling at his desk in the basement of Physical Plant.

Transy has a lot of doors, which means it also has a lot of locks. But have you ever wondered who makes all of these locks and how your room key can fit the lock for your room and the entrances of your residence hall, but not the doors of the rest of your peers on your hall?

The man behind the locks on campus is John Stone, a retiree who came out of retirement because it was “too boring” for him.

About himself Stone says, “I’m a single guy, I love working here. I guess what I tell everybody all the time here is that I hate to see weekends come because I miss working, that being said I can’t work 24/7 and it’s not like students can call South Perth Locksmiths to come to their rescue if they’ve locked themselves out as it’s only me that’s allowed to deal with all these locks so my job definitely isn’t 9 to 5, but I do love working which was one of the reasons I went out of retirement is because retirement is too boring for me right now, so I just continue to work. And of course, I’ve got a couple kids, I’ve got one that lives with me, he’s company to me, and I’ve got a granddaughter, which she’s about 14 and that’s the love of my life right now.”

Stone’s office sits in the basement of Physical Plant, but his office resembles more of a work room; the work bench lining the back wall is covered with different tools and machinery. The wall has boards of keys, organized in straight rows and columns. Later in our conversation, Stone would explain how each key is organized and how he knows where to look for each key. He has a wooden box full of tiny metal pins which he fits into the lock cores to create each unique doorknob and lock. The pins are labeled with numbers, and each unique core is made up of six or seven pins that he will later cut a key to fit. The key cutting machine sits in the middle of the work area, littered with metal key shavings. I had come in as Stone was cutting a key to try out on a new core he was making.

Stone sits in front of his work bench covered in tools and lock parts.

Stone, however, hasn’t always been a locksmith. In the past, he served in the army, which he says, “was a lot of fun to me ‘cause everything we did in there, especially in the basic training, was what I was growing up to be-huntin’ and fishin’ and gettin’ in the woods and just doin’ everything, you know? Especially shooting guns, and they had a lot of guns. And I enjoyed that, I didn’t care so much about the marching uphill stuff though.”

Stone also worked in two different steel companies, one where he was a superintendent for around ten years and the other he worked at for about seven years. Stone left both companies because they went out of business.

“I was good at putting people out of business,” Stone said, laughing about his past jobs.

However, Stone’s career at Transy started when he was working in security at Lexmark. After Lexmark’s locksmith was fired, Stone was approached about taking over the position. At first Stone had no idea what he was doing with only two days of training from the previous locksmith under his belt. Of course, nowadays, whenever a repair safe job comes up, Stone, like most good locksmiths, knows exactly what he’s doing

“I could remember a few things,” he said. “Everything else was trial and error. You know, I’d try this, I’d read books on it, and then I got introduced to my rep, and he told me anytime I’ve got a problem, just give him a call, and boy did I ever call him a lot, and I still call him every once in a while because I mean we’re real good friends now.”

Stone worked as a locksmith with Lexmark for about two years before they started to “do away with security.” So, one of his friends in maintenance approached him to let him know that Transy was looking to hire a locksmith, starting the story of how Stone came to Transy almost 13 years ago.

Stone hadn’t heard back after turning in his application, but about two weeks later, Stone got a call back from Darrell Banks, Associate Vice President and University Construction Manager, asking him to come in for an interview.

Stone inserting tiny pins into a lock core to create a new, one-of-a-kind lock.

“So I came in for the interview”, Stone said, “and pretty much his biggest concern was if I knew the program or not. I said ‘Oh, what program?’ and he said ‘KS-600′ and boy in my mind, just right in a nano-second, I said, ‘man, I’m in the ballpark’ because that’s the same program I used in Lexmark.”

Although Stone thought he would get the job because he was familiar with the computer program Transy uses to keep track of the keys and locks on campus, after a few weeks he assumed that he hadn’t gotten it when he hadn’t heard back from Banks.

However, one day while sitting in his office at Lexmark, Stone got the call from Banks he had been wanting. Stone said, “So I was sitting in my desk in my office out there, and my big boss, the main boss, he was down there talking to me when the phone rings, and it’s Darrell Banks. He said, ‘This is Darrell Banks, and I’m prepared to offer you the job.’ Well I didn’t know what to say with my boss standing here at the same time, now this all is just in like another nano-second. I said, ‘And I’m prepared to take your job.’ Boy, he walked straight out, went to my superintendent said, ‘Did you know John was quitting?’ He said, ‘Well, I kinda thought he was.’ So that’s how all that came about.”

At Transy, Stone started a new process of trial and error like he did at Lexmark. He remarked, “If it’s on a door, I have to fix it,” which was different from his previous job where he was just making cores for locks.

Stone holding a lock core. Each little gold-colored circle on top is a different pin which makes a unique lock.

Stone said, “I had to really bluff my way through here for about the first year… Finally after 12 years, I’ve learned some things.”

Stone was also concerned about working at Transy at first because of the school’s reputation. He said, “When I first started here I thought that this was really a prestigious college. People would really be uppity-up and whatever. But, it was the total opposite. Everything I’ve worked with on the academic side has been super nice, I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the people over there. I’ve seen a lot of people retire over there that I wish they’d stayed.”

Occasionally Stone is asked to do other things that work on locks around campus, but one time when the campus plumber Rocky Applegate told him to fix a nut on one of the toilets in MFA, he took off the wrong nut and flooded the whole floor.

Stone recalled the accident laughing, “I mean we had everybody in housekeeping, everybody in maintenance was over there squeegee’ing. When I took it off I called Rocky, I said, ‘Rocky get over here NOW.’ ‘Cause I took the wrong nut off, and this thing had it seemed about 50 pounds of pressure on it, and I had no way in the world I could put it back on.”

In a funny ending to the story Stone said, “But, hey it was the cleanest place in the world when we got done.”

Now, the locksmith is strictly not allowed to do any plumbing work.

In almost 13 years on campus, Stone has seen a lot of changes. In his time here, he has seen four new buildings be built, created the keys and cores for all of the locks in the Fourth Street Apartments after Transy acquired them, and is now about to see the renovation of Haupt.

But what is his favorite story from his time at Transy? Stone recalled to me about a time when a lady in Old Morrison kept telling him he couldn’t get in a room in there even after she told her he was the locksmith.

Proudly smiling on this memory, Stone said, “So I get ready to put my key in there and this girl comes by and says, ‘You can’t get in there.’ I said, ‘Why not?’, she said ‘we had a special key and core and everything made for that’. I said, ‘So I can still get in there’, she said, ‘No, it’s a special core,’ and Jeff’s sitting over there in his office and he says, ‘He can get in!’ (laughing). And she said, ‘No, you can’t get in,’ and I said, ‘Ma’am, I’m the locksmith, I can get in.’ And she says, ‘I don’t care who you are, you still can’t get in.’ She clearly didn’t have a full appreciation of how skilled people like myself or a locksmith in Scarborough are when it comes to getting past a lock; she found out soon enough. I said, ‘Well, just let me show you what I can do’. I stuck that key in there, turned it, pulled it out, took this little deal right here, this is my screwdriver, stuck it in that lock and turned it, opened the door right up, and she just walked off. Jeff called over, ‘I told you he can get in!’ I guess that’s one of my better stories.”

For lock and key repair and replacement in Alabama, get in touch with locksmiths Birmingham.

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I'm a sophomore at Transylvania, where I study Writing, Rhetoric, and Communications (WRC) and Spanish. I hope to someday pursue a career that allows me to write and be creative for a living. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, singing, and riding horses. In my free time you can usually find me napping, snacking, or bothering my friends.