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Bob Mitchell of R.A. Mitchell: “You do what it takes”

Jennifer, Karen, and Bob of R.A. Mitchell. (Sam Murfitt photo/courtesy of R.A. Mitchell)

by Brian Robbins

NEW BEDFORD, MA – These days R.A. Mitchell Co., Inc. is probably best known as a source for John Deere-powered auxiliary drives and gensets (along with propulsion engines) – and a full line of Mitsubishi diesels that range from a 429-horse 6-cylinder up to a 1676 hp V-16.

But when I was first aware of the R.A. Mitchell name back in the 1970s, it was synonymous with Lister – the incredibly tough English-built diesels that were the go-to whether you wanted to run a big circulating pump for lobster tanks, an onboard genset, or winch engines.

And that’s where our visit with Bob Mitchell begins: with a story about a Lister diesel.

“It had just come off the Mayflower,” Bob tells me.  Not the original that crossed the Atlantic in 1620, of course – Bob’s only 74 – but the replica that Capt. Alan Villiers skippered from England to the US in 1957.

“Villiers’ first stop was in Provincetown – same as the Pilgrims,” says Bob.  The modern equipment aboard that had provided comfort during the crossing was removed to restore the replica to vintage specs and the Lister gensets were delivered to the area Lister dealer: R.A. Mitchell.  At the time, Bob’s father Robert had a shop in Fairhaven.

“I remember seeing that engine under the bench with the hand crank facing out,” says Bob – and as he tells it, you can see the 14-year-old boy in him rise to the surface.

“I grabbed ahold of the handle and cranked it – apparently fast enough…

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