Train conductor starts handyman business: 5 Questions for Charlie Engen

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Charlie Engen, owner of Red Level Improvements. (Submitted photo)

For 5 Questions this week, the Herald speaks with Charlie Engen, who owns Red Level Improvements, in Grand Forks. Red Level Improvements can be found at .

Q: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to run Red Level Improvements.

A: I've been doing construction for about five years with another gentleman who is retiring. I figured I had better legitimize it and make it an actual business and try to try to take it from there. I did have a main job. I’m a conductor on the railroad, but I’m furloughed, so this is my full-time job. It started on Jan. 1, and I was just going to do it part-time to kind of ease into it and see where it went. January was kind of getting my feet on the ground. February got busy, March, with the COVID deal slowed down. April was really busy, and, in May, it’s absolutely nuts. I got furloughed April 20, so it kind of played right into what was going on.

Q: What services do you offer?

A: Everything from bathroom and kitchen remodels, flooring, fencing and gutters to building sheds. A little bit of everything. We don't build houses and a two-car garage is too big for us, but we do anything smaller than that.


Q: What are you mostly working on right now?

A: We've got one deck we're finishing up, then we're starting a fence job, and then we've got large flooring jobs. That's what we got going on in the next two weeks, and we're booked out almost 50 days right now. I’ve got another fence job and another deck railing job just in the last half hour, so it's been kind of nuts.

Q: How do you feel about working on your own?

A: It's a little bit like getting kicked out of the nest. It’s challenging because now I don't have that guy with 40 years experience next to me, saying “This is what I think we should do.” Now I'm calling the shots, which is a little bit different. It's working well. It’s satisfying, for sure, when you finish a project and you step back and say, that part went really well.

Q: What challenges have you faced in doing your job during the coronavirus pandemic?

A: I've got four major projects on hold because of the coronavirus. They’re projects that we've started, but ended up postponing until the dust settles, so to speak. In the middle of March, things just kind of stopped for a little bit, while everybody was trying to adjust. Things are gradually picking up, and everybody's thinking they need things done immediately. The coronavirus definitely has had an impact, but one thing I can say about it is people have been at home looking at things that need to be done, because now they're just hanging out at home.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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