GE Aviation is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year, and Darrel Jarboe has been here for nearly half of it.
Jarboe began his career as a machinist in 1972 and has worked at the Strother overhaul site in Arkansas City, Kansas, for 47 years. He left briefly after his first year to serve as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War.
When Jarboe returned from his tour of duty, the Strother facility had only one building and a handful of people working second shift. Sometimes he was the only person working. Still, “I was never lonely,” he said. “I liked the laid-back atmosphere. It’s a very friendly shop. Everyone gets along real well.
“I’m working on a T700 right now,” he said. “But I’ve worked on the J85, J79, F110, F118, CT-7 and others too.”
Starting from that single building, the site has expanded significantly since it opened in 1951. Back in the early 1970s, the team members were crowded into one building. “It was crowded, 800 to 900 people maybe,” Jarboe recalled. Since then, the site has expanded into 12 buildings to meet the demand for engine overhauls. The Strother site overhauls commercial engines including the CFM56 and CF34, as well as military engines including T700, YT706, F110 and F118.
To work for one business for nearly half a century requires an impressive amount of stamina, but Jarboe wouldn’t have it any other way. He keeps coming back, he says, “cause it’s a challenge. It’s a good job that I like. Not many people can say they genuinely enjoy their job.”
Jarboe has worked as a machinist for his entire career at Strother and was made a work leader in the early ’90s, but when the day is done he leaves the shop floor well behind.
“I grew up on a cattle ranch,” he said. “Outside of work, I enjoy ranching. Feeding cattle, cows, bailing hay. It’s something I was born with.”
At first glance, there would seem to be few similarities between ranching and overhauling. In fact, there’s a shared element of determination and perseverance. When you encounter problems and setbacks you face them, conquer them, and move forward. A process ever-present in work that is as detailed as jet engine assembly.
Jarboe never gets bored.
“The aviation industry is gonna keep getting bigger and bigger, and growing and changing,” he said. “There’s always something new, always new challenges to face.” It’s those changes that have kept him coming back to the shop floor at Strother for so many years.
So, what’s his retirement plan? Jarboe laughs.
“Retirement,” he said, “isn’t in my vocabulary.”