Sure, it’s easy to get Tom Stefl going about the dozens of projects he’s headed up for Giffin & Crane over the years. He likes what he does, and when you walk a job site with him, you can tell he’s proud of his achievements. But if you really want to put a smile on his face, ask him about his road bike.
First of all, he explains, it’s custom-sized to match his unusual frame: He’s 6′7″, with long legs and a compact torso. Secondly, it’s titanium, with carbon-fiber wheels — which means it’s light, responsive, and fast — fitted by Santa Barbara’s Dave Lettieri, who raced in the 1988 Summer Olympics and later worked as a mechanic for the now-infamous Lance Armstrong.
Stefl has been cycling since high school, and he typically puts in about 100 miles a week. His favorite ride starts at home in Lompoc and heads out to the quiet scenery of Happy Canyon. Since 1989, he’s done about 50 “centuries,” or 100-mile group rides. Just for fun. When he’s not on his bike, you can find Stefl running job sites for Giffin & Crane, where he’s been a team member for 26 years.
He grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, where he learned the construction trade while building dairy barns. Then, scooped up by Oklahoma Baptist University on a basketball scholarship, he earned an art degree, which he put to use for seven years in downtown Los Angeles as a line illustrator for a design firm. “I enjoyed it, and I was good at it,” he remembers. “But I got tired of sitting at a desk.”
He decided to get back into construction, focusing on high-end custom homebuilding. He landed work with an Arroyo Grande–based contractor building an estate home in Santa Barbara. Needless to say, he grew fond of the place. “I really enjoyed Santa Barbara,” he says. “So, I decided to find the best builder in town and apply.”
“Tom sought us out in 1991,” remembers Bruce Giffin. “Back in the day, we were more hands-on. We framed and finished with our in-house crew, and Tom had a great deal of experience, not only in hands-on construction but also design and illustrative work. That appealed to us. To top it off, he had the Central Valley farm-family work ethic ingrained in him by his folks.”
Starting out on Giffin & Crane’s carpentry crew, Stefl moved up to project management within a year, but he still put on his nail bags regularly to swing a hammer and show the upstarts a few tricks of the trade. “I really enjoyed teaching the younger guys,” he says, “and I still do that to some degree.”
Giffin appreciates Stefl’s influence on the next generation of builders: “Tom likes things done right, and he respects people that work hard,” Giffin says.
Stefl hit retirement age a few years back, but he says he’s happy to keep doing what he enjoys — on his bike and off.