MECHANIC FALLS — Mike Brown started his home improvement company after losing his longtime job at Bath Iron Works to a layoff, then losing his next job when his new employer went under.

He does roofing, siding, anything handy, and with a fleet of three trucks and three eye-catching license plates — NOTACON, NO CONS and NO CON — he’s used to the double take.

It has nothing to do with a prison record, or flouting a lack thereof. It’s also not intended, he said, as reverse psychology; Brown had someone tell him once, “You’re only saying you’re not a con because you are one.”

It’s simply supposed to be a reference to being a straight shooter, Brown said.

Since starting NOT-A-CON in 2009, “I’ve had mixed feelings about (the name),” he said. Three out of four comments are positive. “People will call me up and give me a little chuckle. I’ve gotten chuckles out of some of the good contractors. I think it’s the ones that are the cons that are offended by it.”

Brown, 54, grew up in Lewiston and Sabattus and began his working life in machine shops, making tools and dyes for the shoe industry. A series of jobs at BIW eventually led to a position in structural design, mostly for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

“I enjoyed that work immensely,” Brown said. “It’s the satisfaction of knowing your design is out there, floating on the ocean, that it works.”

But after 17 years at BIW, he was laid off in 2006. His next job at a metal fabbing company didn’t last. To make ends meet, he took odd jobs in construction. Friends would hire him to build a porch or he would temporarily join a contractor’s crew.

He asked a boss once how he knew what to charge. “Initially, right out of his mouth, ‘Well, I look at what they drive,'” Brown said.

“It gives you an inside look at what goes on in other companies,” he said. “A lot of times, I would just shake my head.”

Shoveling and breaking up ice on a woman’s new roof this winter, Brown said he asked if the crew had laid down an ice and water shield to prevent ice dams. They told her they had.

“Of course, she’s 80-something, she’s not going to get out and look,” he said. “I doubt they did but that’s just the type of thing you’ll see. It’s so common. People aren’t going to go out on their own roof — so many homeowners are scared of ladders.”

Brown said he enjoys the variety of his days. He’ll install cabinets, flooring or windows, change light bulbs or break out his computer-aided design software and render something new from the ground up. 

He’s replaced a roof just once in the dead of winter.

“I was up there with my electric leaf blower blowing away snow because we were putting down shingles,” Brown said. “I tell people, they’ll ask me what I’ll do, I’ll do anything. I’ll come in and do your dishes.”

He does still miss BIW some days. The work was interesting. The office was climate-controlled. He could wear a suit.

“This would have been 25 years,” Brown said.

Eventually, he’d like to take his two associate degrees in ship production and design, see what, if any, credits transfer, and forge ahead to become an architect.

“I love to give the customer a bunch of ideas,” Brown said.

Working is a monthly feature on people at work. Send ideas to staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]

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