MARSHALL - Some people know what they were meant to do in life at an early age. Dale Morrill took apart his own bicycle before he could even ride it, so it wasn't a big surprise when he opened his own shop, Absolute Performance and Machine, this past spring.
"I've been taking things apart since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," Morrill said. "When I was four, I wanted to see how my bike was put together and fastened, so I took it all apart. My dad was pretty upset. He had to spent all Sunday afternoon putting it back together.
"But I feel like I was put on Earth to serve others and by capturing my talent, I've tried to make the world a better place."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Dale Morrill has always had a fascination with taking things apart, and as a business owner, he’s taken that passion under the hood as a machinist for high-performance engines.
Morrill continued to pursue his passion, educating himself in tech schools and acquiring experience in different shops over the years.
"I had two years at Granite Falls for fluid power and a year of automotive machinist up at Bemidji," Morrill said. "I've been in about five or six different shops along the way. I went into a one-man shop right out of tech school and it just about ruined me. You have no experience and you don't know how to handle customers, so it was some pretty tough sledding."
The best thing Morrill, who grew up in Clinton, did to learn the trade was move out west.
"Being young and ambitious, I actually moved out to Seattle and got into a shop out there," he said. " I worked along side a guy that had 35 years of experience. Jack (Bergeson) never said anything. He'd let me figure it out. He'd stand there and watch me, wiping his hands, and I'd talk it out. We worked together well. I got a myriad of experience I don't think I could have gotten too many places."
In Seattle, Morrill worked on everything from brand new motors to antique ones.
"The shop had a reputation for restoration of antique cars," Morrill said. "We did some cutting edge restoration. My experience out there was huge, working with people who not only had vast experience, they were very good at what they did."
Morrill knows that a good machinist has to keep up to date with the newest techniques and technology.
"With the market changing all the time, it's been a constant evolution of learning," Morrill said. "I have to learn every day. I try to make every project better than the one before. It's a challenge sometimes, but in my mind, I have to."
Before opening Absolute Performance and Machine, Morrill worked as a machinist for six years at Arnold Motors in Marshall.
"My goals and where I wanted to go with my skills and abilities were different than what Arnold Motors wanted," Morrill said. "Their focus is more auto parts and their shop is more of a service to the customer. I don't like the repetition, assembly line stuff. With what I do now, every job is a little different, so I'm happy with my decision to start my own shop."
A lot of what Morrill does depends on the needs and budgets of his customers.
"A stock motor is what you'd have in your typical passenger car or work truck," he said. "Some customers just want a pure stock situation, make it run like it did when it was new. Others that come in might want to squeeze every last ounce of life out of an engine. Everyone has their own goal."
Morrill said he gets business from repair shops, dealers, walk-in customers and referrals.
"I see a little of everything," Morrill said. "I have a guy that wants to do some tractor pulling, so I'll be starting to get through that. I'll put some real soup to it. It's amazing what people are out there restoring. They're keeping history alive."
Morrill said the motors put in some of the older cars can really go the distance now.
"We build them as Detroit should have, so they're a little more spirited to drive, a little more fun," he said. " It's kind of ironic, but many times, they can be more fuel-efficient, too."
Morrill also get racers of all different sorts, building hot rods and street rods, and admits that he sometimes lives vicariously through his customers.
"A performance motor is where we made component changes internally and sometimes externally to increase the horsepower and torque out of the motor to enhance the performance," Morrill said. "We perk them up a little bit. The most satisfying part of it is when the customer calls back and says 'I got it running and this is fantastic.'"
With steady work and the full support of his wife Tracy, Morrill sees a positive future.
"I've been keeping busy, and we're heading into the first part of the year, which is truly the busiest season," he said. "You have all the stock car guys starting to get their stuff ready. They have to be ready when they get hard into it on the track in April or May. They want to have a showpiece. It's amazing."