Tara Scientific Laboratories was formed as a registered partnership on August 1, 1990. I owned 60% and Mom and Dad each had 20%. The main focus of Tara was to provide analytical services to business, government and the public. Our project began in July, 1990 when we looked for the best location to run the lab. We chose a suite in the old Medical Arts Building on North Cumberland Street in the Port Arthur side of Thunder Bay. It was a good location for us in that it once had a medical lab in it. The building wasn’t designed to accommodate a lab like ours, but we adapted it to our needs. We made renovations to the suite, built benches and set up the equipment. A bank loan for $50,000 covered our start up costs such as two analytical instruments and supplies. To be honest we could have used twice the money. We also had to decide on a name for our business. One evening as we sat in the living room Mom suggested, “What about Tara?” Tara was the ancient capital of Ireland. Dad and I liked it. Then Dad added Scientific Laboratories. I drew the logo by stylizing a Celtic “T” from the ancient Irish text the Book of Kells.
Just after returning to Thunder Bay from London, and while I was starting Tara, I also began studying for a PhD in Health and Human Services with a professor at Columbia Pacific University, CPU, in California. I followed the curriculum set by CPU, conducted the research in my lab, corresponded with a mentor in Minneapolis that CPU appointed to me and the professor at CPU monitored my progress. My days were spent working in my lab and many evenings and weekends studying for my doctorate during the first five years of running Tara.
Soon after starting Tara I realized that my chemistry skills were only half the job. The other half was the administration of the business. Sometimes it seemed the paper work was more important than the analysis. I should have taken a secretarial course. Like Dad I didn’t have the mindset for the intricacies of accounting, paper shuffling and the like. But Mom loved it. She took care of the office and worked with Sherry, our bookkeeper, who tracked payroll and taxes. I kept abreast of the daily ins and outs of the accounts.
Tara was demanding and never a 9 to 5 job. I got to know what 18 hour work days were like. Weekdays, after putting in a full day, I came home, ate dinner, watch an hour of TV and then Tara called me back until eleven o’clock often with Dad coming with me. I returned home, hit the sack and did it again the next day. If I didn’t have to go back to Tara I worked on my PhD.
Tara was like a temperamental love. I never knew what she was going to throw at me from one day to the next. Some days went smoothly and others did not. I went from being swamped with work to having little to do.
Catharine had a steady full time job and she was able to send a fair bit of business my way from her workplace. Dad was still working at McKellar Hospital for the first two years of Tara. I worked the mornings and went home for lunch. Mom came back with me in the afternoons to take care of the office while I ran errands, carried on with lab work or whatever else needed my attention.
Saturday mornings I spent catching up on things such as invoicing and finishing off a letter or report. For the most part I stayed away from Tara on Sundays. One night a week I tried to get out and see a friend. It was long and hard work but I didn’t mind because Tara was mine. I was building my future with the goal of becoming established enough to employ a staff so I could gear down.
I was my own boss and Tara never told me I wasn’t able do something. Once I became the owner of a business I gained instant credibility. I took part in trade shows, manned display booths, gave talks, offered demonstrations and presented workshops as required to operate my business. When I started in the back of my mind were the voices of the people who told me I wouldn’t be able to teach or speak to groups. The words of a self-assured University Professor echoed in my head. “You won’t ever be able to teach.” Despite my challenges I was successful in business.
Tara Scientific Laboratories became known for doing unique, out-of-the-way analyses for entrepreneurs, government ministries and university researchers. These projects were anything but routine. They tended to be one-time, occasional or as-needed tests that paid for themselves but didn’t generate much income. Therefore many labs weren’t interested in them.
These were the projects that were really interesting and often fun. We had to scratch our heads a bit, use our imagination, research the methodology and think about how to tackle the problem. Dad was in his element. I liked them too but I mainly took care of the routine testing.
We advertised that we analyzed garden soil nutrients. The next day an interesting project came through the door. A man walked up to our front desk carrying a large bucket of soil. We had advertised that we only needed a small jar of soil. However he didn’t want the soil tested but the earthworms in it.
We accepted the challenge. There was no method for analyzing earthworms for nutrient content that we knew of. This required some thought. First off if he wanted his worms back after we were finished he was out of luck. They would meet their demise in a blender. Next we had to decide on the ratio of how many worms to how much water. This took some experimenting. If the worm to water ratio was too small the nutrient concentration would be too weak to measure. We went by weight of worms rather than number. Since the worms were in the soil we had to wash them off in a strainer before we could weigh them. Worms don’t stop wiggling for even a second. They kept crawling up the sides of the strainer. A few managed to avoid their fate by escaping down the sink drain before we could catch them.
With the worms cleaned we proceeded to weigh them. Weighing wiggly worms is an art more than a science. We had to be quick weighing them before they squirmed up the sides of the tall glass beakers. When we had a predetermined weight of worms we added a measured amount of water to the blender, dropped the worms in, put the lid on tight, pressed the button and zzzzzzzzzzzz worm puree. We were fast. It was all over for the worms before they knew what was happening. We filtered the puree and tested for the various nutrients. Once our customer had his results he left and we never saw him again. I don’t know what he did with the information. What I can tell you is that earthworms are high in dietary protein and have virtually no fat.
Another time we were involved in a government research project to analyze the nutrients in moose hair to see what nutrients the moose got in their diet. Hair must first be burned to ash before it can be tested. Burning hair produces a lot of smoke and burning moose hair smells a lot like marijuana. A fume hood vented the smoke outside. During the burning process we stood by the window and watched people’s heads turn toward the cloud of marijuana-smelling smoke as they walked by. All the time we were ashing the moose hair samples we cringed as we looked out the window and kept an eye on the door. “The cops are going to show up any minute.”
Tara and study consumed my life for five years. In April, 1995, I graduated with my PhD in Health and Human Services. I’d had more than enough with schooling by then and I swore that, apart from taking an evening course for interest’s sake, it was no more classes for me. But as they say, famous last words.
Two months after I graduated I hired a woman named Judy for the summer. In July I took my first vacation since I started Tara. Mom and I spent the month visiting as many relatives as we could in England, Ireland and France while Dad and Judy ran the lab. The time away recharged my batteries and I was ready to tackle Tara with renewed vigour when I got back.