Bob Eich Talks About Retiring, Working in the Industry, and Favorite Memories of the Business

by Bridget DeWaard

R. Eich & Sons, Plumbing & Heating, has been a staple in Herscher for quite some time. Since 1973, they have strived to provide not only excellent service/repair, but also affordable, eco-friendly products. Recently, owner Bob Eich announced his plans to retire, which will involve closing the business. Eich reminisced about meeting people through his business, reflected on changes in the industry throughout the years, and discussed hopes for the future. “I’ve been a plumber for 70 years,” Bob started out, thinking back to his first experience working in this trade, and the moment he discovered his career path. “I started working with my dad when I was 14 years old, it was hard work.” Later, at age 18, Eich went on to work for Moyemonts, staying there for six years. After eventually spending some time working at other plumbing and heating companies, he found himself in Herscher, deciding instead to open his own business. Much of the move to Herscher was also about raising a family at the time, with Eich quick to say how much he has loved being a part of the community. “I started my business 50 years ago,” Bob said, especially fond of the various people he has met while operating his store. “You find a lot of good people in business, come across a lot of good customers. It stays with you throughout the years.” He told a story of one particular customer, who he had discovered spent months and months saving to have a new heater installed. “It was the kind of thing I would have done [right away] for free,” he said as he remembered the phone call. He still remains moved by her resolve to this day. Eich has also witnessed a lot of changes in the industry since first starting out accompanying his father. Piping, he mentioned, was once made of much heavier materials, like cast iron or lead. This made already difficult work very strenuous, though that didn’t matter to Eich. “It’s the only thing I’ve done, I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I loved going out and solving problems. It’s a challenge.” Plumbing materials now are made of PVC and plastic, making things lighter and a bit easier to install. Beyond piping, he also discussed working on furnaces that weren’t automatic, using coal or wood to keep customers warm until different options, like oil, became available for heat producing appliances. Oil reigned supreme for a while, until the emergence of gas. “None of the smaller communities had natural gas,” he recalled. “They finally made the switch around the ’60s.” Bob also brought up air conditioning, at one time a rarity. “The only places that had it were places like movie theaters,” he remembered. Once Air Conditioning was introduced, though, it would continue to become more prevalent, and today there aren’t many buildings left without it. Despite there always being something new to learn in the industry, Eich related his worry about waning interest in trades as professions. “One thing that has really bothered me is seeing younger people not getting into this profession,” he said. “It’s getting to be a problem, especially for people in the industry who are planning retirement.” In fact, one of Bob’s favorite parts of having his own business was partnering with the local high school, and training interested students in his trade. “When I first started, there would be a kid that would be mechanically inclined,” he described, missing the mini internships. “Four or five [that were trained here eventually] went on to open up their own business.” He hopes this is just a passing phase, urging people to consider the trades as a profession. “We need carpenters, plumbers, people who want to (continued on page 3) go to trade schools,” he said, a fact that some forget, until something needs to be fixed. He also loved fostering this interest in his own son, who has since gone on to become an engineer. “We had an old telephone we weren’t using anymore,” he remembered fondly. “He would take it apart, and put it back together.” He suggested parents encourage this type of exploration, feeling that the greatest time during a child’s growth is seeing them learn. He recommended getting toys that kids can disassemble and reassemble, to encourage that inquisitiveness, and let the ideas and opportunities branch out from there. Now, at 85 years old, Bob Eich has decided to retire. With his son focussing on a separate career, he has simply closed up the shop. He has considered other options for the future, including possibly selling the business, but nothing has been formally determined at this time. “I’m planning on spending more time with my grandkids,” he said. “And would love to do some traveling.” Overall, Eich has loved serving his community, and getting the chance to share his knowledge with others. “I’ve greatly enjoyed being in business, and will miss all my customers.”