A family tree at LAX gives way to many United branches - United Hub
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A family tree at LAX with many United branches

By Pete Rapalus, June 14, 2017

When Scott Calkins was a rookie ground service equipment (GSE) maintenance technician at Los Angeles International Airport in 1987, he carpooled with his father Jim, who at the time was a lead technician and had followed his own father, Fredrick, a longtime communications supervisor to work for United. Now, that three-generation United family has added a fourth. When Scott leaves his Santa Clarita home for work every day, his carpool companion is none other than his son Tristin, the newest technician in the shop where Scott now holds the lead position held by his father Jim who retired in 1998 after more than 37 years of service.

Tristin (left) and Scott Calkins (right) pictured above

Tristin joined the team last year in December, so the Calkins can now celebrate Father's Day with four generations of United employees. Tristin says he's already planning to encourage his two sons to pursue maintenance careers at United in Los Angeles.

"We have a history in this family of the men following in each other's footsteps," Scott said. "I know of quite a few multi-generational United families but don't know of any others with four generations in a row, and three in a row in the same shop, on the same shift no less."

When Jim retired he moved to Bishop, in the Owens Valley east of the Sierra Nevada range in California, and Tristin, then 1, and his family began regular visits that continue to this day. "It seemed like we were always fixing something or working on something or just going through grandpa's toolbox when I was growing up," Tristin said. "We also had to work on the boat on Friday if we wanted to go fishing on Saturday," Scott added.

Jim Calkins, father of Scott and grandfather to Tristin Jim Calkins pictured above

Tristin acquired his first automobile at 14, a 1968 Barracuda, and is now restoring a 1968 Ford Bronco (Scott's first car was his father's 1969 Bronco). In high school, Tristin and his best friend both dreamed of becoming police officers or a sheriff's deputy, but over time it became apparent to him that working on cars and other vehicles was his real gift. That passion led him to an automotive degree and eventually a job offer from United.

"Tristin is the only person I know of who went to college with a focus on becoming a GSE mechanic ," said Los Angeles International Airport and Region GSE Senior Manager James Keating, who also worked with Jim. "We have a lot to learn about Tristin, but I feel what we learn is going to be good!"

While working with a family member might create conflict in some families, that wasn't the case with the Calkins. "It helped in my case that I always had a great relationship with my father," Scott said. "Working for him was pretty simple — he expected me not to screw up and to be better and faster than everybody else," he laughs. For Tristin, "I think there is less pressure from the lead being my dad than there is from other people waiting around to see if the lead's son will make a lot of mistakes."

To minimize those opportunities, Scott teamed his son with veteran Technician Dave Legg on many projects, and all agree the relationship has been good for everyone. "Despite their age and experience differences, they're remarkably alike," Scott said. "They've got the same personality and approach to a problem, which is they want it to be done right and not halfway."

Fred Calkins pictured above was the first member of the family to work at United. Fredrick Calkins pictured above

In addition to Fredrick, Jim, Scott and Tristin, the Calkins family tree has even more United branches. Tristin's maternal grandparents, Scott's in-laws, Dave and Olga Shaw, also worked many decades for United at Los Angeles International Airport — Dave in building maintenance and Olga as a secretary and later a customer service representative. Tristin also has several uncles, great-uncles and other extended family members with United service, in Seattle and San Francisco.

In addition to the career bloodline, the men also share a long and proud history of community service. Fredrick volunteered with the Boy Scouts and other organizations, Jim was a reserve with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and, after retirement, served with the Big Pine Volunteer Fire Department. Scott spends much of his free time as a football coach at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, and Tristin has recently joined him on the sidelines coaching cornerbacks. Working the overnight shift seems to agree with them. Neither the 30-year-veteran nor the rookie has any intention of bidding into daytime work.

"I wouldn't be surprised if I end up on it as long as my dad has," Tristin said. Both Scott and Tristin said they enjoyed the planned maintenance work that tends to take place overnight compared to the hectic unpredictability of much day shift work.

"I think Tristin was seven or eight years old before he even realized that I had a job," Scott said. "After all, I was there when he went to sleep at night and there again all day after he woke up. To him it must have seemed like I was always home."

Obviously, the youngster eventually figured it out and then emulated what his dad was doing. "Working the midnight shift doesn't seem unusual to me," Tristin said. "Just like being handy with tools and enjoying troubleshooting and fixing things, it all works for me too."

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