When Dewey Brittain started his machine shop in 1966, all he had was a lathe, a bandsaw and a milling machine. But over time, Brittain grew a one-man operation into Brittain Machine Inc., a business that supplied parts to Wichita's major aviation companies and at its peak employed more than 300 people.
Mr. Brittain died Wednesday of cancer. He was 81.
After spending his youth picking cotton and working in gypsum mines in Oklahoma, Mr. Brittain found a job working at a machine shop in Topeka.
"He said it was the easiest work he had done in his life," Brittain's son Michael said.
Mr. Brittain moved in 1953 to Wichita, where he began working at McGinty Machine Shop and Boeing.
He opened his own shop in a garage in downtown Wichita in 1966.
Michael said his father quickly found himself contracted for jobs he didn't have the machines for, but with a loan from his landlord, Mr. Brittain bought machines and expanded his business. He never looked back.
Over the next thirty years, Brittain Machine Inc. became a major machine shop in the city, supplying parts to aviation companies including Boeing, Cessna, Learjet and Beech Aircraft. When Mr. Brittain sold his company in 1998, its sales topped $40 million annually.
The shop was constantly on Mr. Brittain's mind, said Michael, who worked there with his sister. Conversations at the dinner table often centered on the business, and Mr. Brittain once returned from a French vacation with his wife after only three days because he couldn't stand being away from his shop.
Ed Gillespie, a longtime colleague of Mr. Brittain who still
works at the machine shop, described Mr. Brittain as a hands-on owner who was always in the shop and working to come up with faster, better ways to make parts.
And though he was a machinist at heart, Gillespie said Mr. Brittain was a skilled businessman who relentlessly worked to bring in jobs, even when times were difficult.
"That's when he seemed to do the best. He wasn't afraid to hop on a plane and go get the work," Gillespie said. "He never let up even when things were tough."
Mr. Brittain was born July 19, 1928, in Bristow, Okla., to Guy and Louise Brittain.
Mr. Brittain is survived by his wife, Earline; son Michael and wife, Dixie, of Wichita, daughters Regina of Wichita and Debora and husband, Les Lynde, of Wichita; grandchildren Michelle, Jacob, Tiffany and Natasha; and three great- grandchildren.
The service will be at 3 p.m. Monday at Resthaven Mortuary, 11800 W. Kellogg.