No Matter How Advanced Technology Gets, You Still Can’t Hack A Key.
Article from The Hour:
George Beebe leans into a large, toolbox-like case that houses jewel-tone dowels of metal, each about the size of an earring stud. The tiny pieces of metal glisten like iridescent gems in their plastic pod, a bit like paint in a watercolor box. Beebe, of Cheshire, pinches a single amethyst pin from its receptacle with a long, slender pair of tweezers and brings it to a brass cylinder that he grips in his bear-like paw. With studied poise, Beebe releases the colored pin into an empty circular chamber about the size of a watch stem. The pin slides into a snug fit, and Beebe’s tweezers return to the plastic pod for more.
George Beebe is a locksmith.
He also is a former Marine, Alpaca farmer, and cowboy action shooter. Of these vocations, Beebe figures the locksmith might be the most anachronistic.
“I don’t think there are going to be locked like we know today,” says Beebe, a short, burly man with sky blue eyes that sit under a pair of perpetually alarmed-looking eyebrows. “I think they’re going to be more and more electronic. Manual locks will be a thing of the past.”
Possibly, but not from looking around Beebe’s Cheshire Locksmith, which sits in a former Bovano’s gift shop. Brass door jams sit alongside beefy dead bolts and tiny wire springs that look like inch worms. A series of flat files and rasps, awls and hairpins snap along the magnetic strip that runs across the edge of Beebe’s gunmetal wood bench.
Locksmithing is not the most lucrative profession.
Beebe, 61, says he only wants to make enough to keep the doors open. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median salary of a locksmith at about $39,000, which may be why Beebe has had such trouble getting an apprentice in his shop to pass on the craft.
“It’s not a lot of money and a lot of these kids want to go to college.” Beebe turns his hands up in the air and scowls. “College isn’t for everybody. Wasn’t for me.”
Beebe is built like a fire plug. Born in Kittery, Maine, his parents split up before he hit grade school and he and his sister moved in with his maternal grandparents. When his grandfather got a job at the Napier Co. in Meriden, the family relocated to Connecticut. Beebe was raised mostly by his grandmother, Ida Bell.
“She believed in fast cars and fast living,” he said. With Ida Bell at the wheel, Beebe could deliver 150 newspapers in a half-hour. “She was the best grandmother I knew,” he says.
Beebe left school and joined the Marine Corps for 20 years.
He retired from the military in 1995, worked servicing ATMs for Dunbar Armored Car before Diebold hired him as a second line technician for its Windsor Locks facility. He later worked for Domestic Bank of Rhode Island until 2010, when the FBI indicted a subsidiary of the company in a multibillion-dollar bank fraud scheme. The CEO and general manager of the company were sentenced to federal prison in 2012. Beebe was out of work.
He decided to start a business in the trade he knew best. “Trade schools don’t even offer this anymore,” he says, gesturing to his workbench. “A lot of things are going electronic. But is it really that secure? People hack into the White House, you think they can’t hack into your phone and get into your house?”
Beebe strolls past Uro, his large German shepherd, a retired Fidelco guide dog, and flicks on the lights of a back office. Beebe’s no romantic. He possesses a straight-shooting candor with sentences as clipped as his trim white beard. You’ve got to be patient to do this work, he says, stamping tiny metal pins into a brass cylinder with a slender metal rod.
Beebe is not the type of guy who goes weak in the knees rhapsodizing about the intricate mechanic symphony of springs and bolts, wards and tumblers that comprise a lock. He knows how to make them, how to pick them, how to rekey them and how to judge them.
“Locksmithing’s all math, is all it is,” says Beebe
Striding past his Duplicator and HPC Blitz machine. The two key-making devices sit on the long, horizontal workbench where clumps of brass keys rest like onions on a cutting board. Most of Beebe’s keys are cut here, in the Blitz machine, where brass keys can be sliced to within thousandths of a millimeter.
Beebe’s been called in to secure doors after law enforcement has kicked them in. He’s been called to pick locks — and, he says with a wink, any lock can be picked — when a homeowner has been locked out. He rekeys locks when new owners move in and install locks when new properties go up for sale.
With sausage-size fingers, Beebe plucks a single Schlage key into the viselike carriage of his Blitz machine. Each key has its own fingerprint, a specific depth and space measurement between each tooth cut off the body of the key.
As Beebe presses the key into the swirling blade, fine particles of metal flicker out in a thin gold mist. Each jagged edge merits its own cut and when the key has been cut, Beebe plucks the hot metal out of the vice, finishes it under a spinning carbide brush and places it in the heart of his palm.
Key swipes. Cards. Apps. Fobs.
“A lot of people put their faith in electronics,” Beebe says. “That’s what we’ve become, dependent on convenience. Everybody’s looking for convenience. Convenience to get in your house quicker.”