Get ‘Er Done

Jan Pluim – Craftsman Extraordinaire…

It takes a while to settle on a title for Jan Pluim, 84, who keeps a large and immaculate workshop near his Red Bluff home. He loves to work in wood, and he surrounds himself with raw materials and finished products from signs to box crates to cutting boards. He’s made playhouses for grandkids and delicate jewelry boxes. So he’s definitely a wood worker.

But he’s also built five old hot rod cars and loves to fire up his plasma cutter to create metal words for signs. “He’s a tinkerer,” his daughter Janel Fitzgerald finally says. “He works in his shop every day.”

“I don’t want to settle and watch TV,” Pluim adds by way of explanation, though admits that he doesn’t mind taking a break to watch NASCAR races every now and then.

Pluim is a body in motion that tends to stay in motion, and the results are often outstanding. “I see something, I want to build it,” he says with a laugh. “Make it the way I want.” He began as an 8-year-old in his father’s shop in Ventura, where he grew up developing a passion for wooden cars that he’d coast down the street.

He was lucky enough to retire from Louisiana Pacific at the young age of 55 after winning the lottery with a group of friends from the bowling alley in Red Bluff, but found himself soon after creating a cabinet-making business. “I had to have something to do,” he says. Over time, cabinets became too heavy to lift, but he didn’t lose his
desire to create.

He’d turn old bee boxes into packing crates and cut manzanita bushes for birdhouse stands. Old barn wood gets turned into just about anything. “My dad will find an oak desk at a yard sale and then cut it all up to make cutting boards from it,” says Fitzgerald. “He was recycling stuff before it was cool, for sure.”

“I’ve collected things all of my life,” replies Pluim. While he does have a stockpile of materials and finished projects, they are all in their perfect places.

Still, Pluim was outpacing himself, building more than he could store or make for his family. “I said, ‘We’ve got to get rid of some of this stuff.’ Then Enjoy came along and it was a perfect fit,” his daughter says. Pluim has sold signs and birdhouses at Enjoy the Store in Red Bluff since it first opened and makes the popular packing crates for shipping and gift baskets. He also builds displays for the Redding store. Fitzgerald was the original owner of Plum Crazy boutique and salon in Red Bluff and kept her dad busy building displays for her there, putting in a constant rotation of designs.

“As kids growing up, we never thought we’d go out and buy stuff,” says Fitzgerald. “You build it. We didn’t think anything of it. We just thought that’s what you did.”

The next generation is likely growing up with the same thoughts. They have fully functional playhouses with real sinks and fixtures and not a scrap of prefabricated plastic. Pluim also builds board and dice games for his family because he’s a big fan of game night.

Just as it takes a while to land on a title for Pluim, so too does it take a while to add up family members. In fact, an accurate number never gets spoken. Instead, the father and daughter land on “it’s in the 20s” for grandkids and “Great grandkids? It’s got to be in the 30s.” What is crystal clear, however, is the love and respect that goes around such a large group of relatives. “We have an amazing family,” says Fitzgerald, to be followed up by Pluim with, “It’s been a good life.”

Pluim, who has four children of his own, married Hazel more than 40 years ago. She brought her own children to the family, and they all have been keeping Pluim busy making handmade toys for their offspring. As for his DIY philosophy and Maker mentality, “he did pass it on,” says Fitzgerald. “Both of his sons, Jeff and Joel Pluim, are contractors.” Their sister Jill is a schoolteacher. They all are creative in their own ways.

“As kids, there wasn’t anything our dad couldn’t make,” says Fitzgerald. “We just thought it was the way of the world.” Now, she says, “If I need something done, I try to wait until I really need it because he’ll make it right away. I usually want to modify it before I need it, so I wait before telling him.” She laughs as she reflects on his determination to get things done and says, “He’s definitely a get-it-done kind of guy.”•

About Melissa Mendonca

Melissa is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.

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