Pulaski County, the state, the nation and the world have lost a champion.
Ira Jackson Cornett, better known as “Red,” founder of Cornett Machine Shop, died yesterday morning at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. He was 95.
“Red” Cornett was probably the most talented; the most dedicated man to his business and his family; the hardest worker Pulaski County has ever known.
Who among us, like “Red,” will report to work every day as we pass our 95th birthday and, even at that age, personally care for a loved one, like Mary Elizabeth, his beloved wife of more than 70 years?
“He was a good man,” said his son, Jack. “He cared about people, especially about people in need. He always wanted to help people in need.”
An internationally known engine rebuilding firm, Cornett Machine Shop and Cornett Racing Engines rebuild engines, all kinds of engines; racing engines; engines from all over the world. Last year, Cornett Racing Engines was featured on the cover of Race Engine Technology magazine.
Red Waka Motorsports was sole distributor for Cornett Racing Engines in Australia and New Zealand. The list is endless.
Cornett talked about his company’s worldwide recognition last September, on occasion of his birthday. “We sold (golfer) Tiger Woods’ caddy an engine last week. We shipped it to New Zealand. We sent an engine to Bend, Oregon, yesterday.”
Recently, Cornett Machine Shop rebuilt a V-12 airplane engine like the one flown by Eddie Rickenbacker, an American fighter ace in World War I. Cornett Machine Shop rebuilt a Jones car made in Kansas in 1917.
“Very few people know there was a Jones car,” Cornett laughed. “They were making them back in 1902 and 1903.”
“I started out on my own in 1948,” he told the Commonwealth Journal a few days after his 95th birthday on September 12. His first machine shop was located on South Main Street. “... The telephone company was in the same block,” he said.
Next, Cornett Machine Shop moved to U.S. 27 where the Tradewind shopping center is now located. “(U.S. 27) was a single lane (each way) then,” he remembers. “Finley’s (Drive-in) was the next thing that built out there.”
“I bought that lot (Tradewind location) for $2,000,” Cornett recalled. “I went to Pope Walker at First and Farmers Bank and he told me I could borrow all the money I needed.” Cornett Machine Shop has since located on a hilltop farther south on the west side of U.S. 27, now a six-lane boulevard.
Cornett Machine Shop was “Red” Cornett’s baby. He loved it. It was part of his life.
“The Lord gave me a talent ... if you can break it I can fix it,” said Cornett. “If nobody else wants to tackle it, I’ll do it.” He passed his talents along to son, David, who manages the machine shop, and to Jack, who is in charge of the Racing Division.
Cornett was born in nearby London but his family moved to Oregon. They later returned to Somerset.
He had a compelling sense of humor. Someone spoke, calling him “Red,” as he showed a visitor through his machine shop. He rubbed a hand through a headful of gray hair. “My hair used to be bright red,” he laughed. “My whiskers still are ... and they’re thick too.”
His love for the outdoors lingered throughout his life. His hobbies were shooting, and big-game hunting. “I’ve killed moose, elk, deer, antelope and hundreds of prairie dogs in South Dakota and Montana,” Cornett recalled. He developed a unique shooting bench.
Work was such a part of his life that he didn’t know how to quit. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” said Cornett, shortly after his 95th birthday. “He was at work last week,” his son, Jack, said yesterday.
Then yesterday, less than two months before he would be 96, “Red” Cornett crossed the finish line of his greatest race; that of a wonderful life.
As Apostle Paul said: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
Funeral arrangements for Mr. Cornett are pending.