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When security bites back, longtime Colorado Springs locksmiths hold the key

April 18, 2016 Updated: April 25, 2016 at 1:14 pm
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Locksmith Paul Henley works Friday, April 1, 2016, in the back of the 1929 Ford delivery truck he uses on calls. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Good fences make good neighbors, but good locks make good sleep - especially when you're not sure about who's next door.

"People think they can trust their neighbor, and then their neighbor rips them off. When that happens, you learn to keep everything locked up so that you don't have a problem," Colorado Springs locksmith Paul Henley said. "So I guess good locks make good neighbors, too."

But the ancient solution to a timeless paranoia can be a double-edged sword. Anyone who has misplaced a key or forgotten a password knows that a momentary lapse can lead to major headaches, if not worse. When you're shy a spare and the situation's nonvirtual, the job might call for the professional touch of someone who knows the particular language of our insecurities.

Henley might be that someone, and he might arrive to save your day in a 1929 Ford delivery truck with an odometer that's flirting with 400,000.

"People do seem to notice it," said Henley, who inherited the master set at Henley's Key Service from his late father, Homer, who founded the business in 1945 and retired in 2003, at age 89. A former schoolteacher, the lock fanatic inspired in his son a passion for the trade, as well as for restoring and collecting antique rides.

"That's the best advertising we've got," said Henley, 66, of the company's showcase vehicle, which he fixed up and put on the road in 1982.

The services often are called on due to misplaced keys or, say, "because someone has keys that shouldn't have them, maybe because they gave their neighbor a key and they turned out to be untrustworthy," said Henley, whose workdays are something of a family reunion. Son Timothy has worked at the shop, in various roles, for 12 years since he was in high school. "Basically, we've got three generations of Henleys here."

What have they learned in 71 years serving the Springs' lock and key needs?

Caveat emptor doesn't end at the register. Be careful who you trust isn't always a statement about the outside world.

The best advice when it comes to locks and keys simply might be, "Just be careful" - and don't ever, ever go outside in your underpants.

"I had one (customer) who was in his skivvies in about 20 degrees at about 4 o'clock in the morning," said Henley, who received a call from police when the man contacted them about his predicament. "His car alarm went off and he jumped up and ran out to see what was going on and the door went shut behind him. The police . they were laughing about it. They had the guy in their car so he could stay warm."

Sometimes the scenario isn't slapstick at all.

"We have had kids lock themselves in a safe. They're playing and their parents left the door to the safe open and they get in, it shuts and locks on them," said longtime office manager Phyllis Adams, whose husband, Tom, started working for Henley's after high school in 1964 and now is the company's vice president.

That's not the only potentially deadly scenario to which locksmiths have responded.

"Maybe there's a young mother, she goes to put the kid in the car seat and lays the keys down on the car and the kid gets locked inside. That happens frequently," Henley said. "Summertime, we tell them just to call 911."

When it comes to picking a lock - and preserving the surrounding structure - things haven't changed so much since the early days, employee Van Lucero said.

"Sometimes you get real lucky and the customer walks away like you're magic, like 'How'd you do that?' " he said. "Other times, it's not so easy. You can sit down to pick at a simple lock and it can give you more problems than a high-security one. We have fun, though. It's a learning experience every day."

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