GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — If a one-armed man is going to make his living as a painter, he has to be resourceful.
And Scott Schwieger, who lost his left arm 31 years ago, knows all the tricks, The Grand Island Independent reported .
How does Schwieger apply masking tape? He hooks a small chain on the front of his pants to hold the roll of tape. That way, he can tear off tape with his right hand.
To open a container, he holds it firmly between his legs so he can pry it open with his hand.
Schwieger uses his legs and knees to perform many tasks, such as masking a baseboard or pouring a five-gallon can of paint into a roller pan.
The Grand Island man proves not just that a one-armed man can be a painter, but that he can be a darned good one. His motto is that he provides “the right hand for your job.”
Schwieger, 47, enjoys custom cabinetry, redoing old furniture and interior painting.
He especially likes the creative side of his work. He enjoys talking about faux finishes and glaze techniques.
He likes suede paint and says metallic paints are “really fun to play with.”
In his shop at home, Schwieger is currently painting doors for the Temple Loft apartments downtown.
He gets much his business through word of mouth.
His neighbor, Butch Gordon, says Schwieger is very particular in restoring furniture.
Schwieger gives a lot of credit to Bill Werner, the owner of W.L. Werner Painting Co. Schwieger worked for Werner for a long time.
“I’m very picky. And I get that from Billy,” Schwieger said.
“I wouldn’t be the painter I am today if not for Bill and the people that he had on the crew at the time.”
His Grand Island clients have included Bob and Vicky Ramold.
“He’s done both residential and commercial painting for us,” Bob Ramold said of Schwieger. “He’s a character, always friendly with a good attitude. Unless you press him too hard.”
Ramold said Schwieger is “a good person and an excellent painter.” He’s also creative in dealing with his disability, Ramold said.
Werner agreed that Schwieger is a good worker and “a good guy.” But he doesn’t want to be too complimentary — “I’m in business, too, you know,” he said, laughing.
Schwieger frequently works with carpenter Arlen Hilgenkamp.
Even though he’s been a painter for a long time, Schwieger is still learning. He’s excited by new products and new ideas.
“I’m still creating looks,” said Schwieger, who left Werner nine or 10 years ago.
Schwieger spent his early years in Grand Island but moved to Broderick, California, with his family in 1981, when he was 10. He lost his arm in 1986, when he was 16.
“Just a dumb kid,” he said of the time he jumped off a moving train near Sacramento, California.
He was on the train for not even 250 feet. He jumped off when he realized his cousin wasn’t going to join him.
He broke his tailbone when he landed. As he rolled over to get up, his left arm accidentally fell in the path of the train.
When paramedics arrived, he was dead on arrival. Later, they told him he died twice in the ambulance and twice on the operating table.
“Those EMTs saved my life,” says a grateful Schwieger.
“Let me tell you, I’m not a religious person. But I believe in God,” he said.
Schwieger moved back to Grand Island in 1992.
He’s always had a knack for art. When he was young, he used to do a lot of drawing.
When he was 22 or 23, he decided he was going to paint for a living.
He knows he’s “pretty damn good” at what he does. He might not satisfy people who want work done quickly, but he pleases clients who want things to look good.
When he has trouble lifting things, Schwieger often gets help from his neighbors.
He enjoys his work. “Oh yeah, I love life. Just wish we had better people in this world,” he said.
Schwieger occasionally encounters skepticism from people who don’t believe a one-armed painter can do the job. “I’m sure I’ve lost a few jobs,” he said.
People also stare when he enters stores and other public places. A person with one arm is always going to be subject to gawking, he said. “It’s going to be that way the rest of my life,” he said.
He can’t help but notice it, but he just keeps on moving.
Besides, he realizes that some people have lost the ability to walk, or are in even tougher shape.
“There are other people out there worse than I am,” he said.
Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Grand Island Independent.