[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/09/harrison.harmonica.art.jpg caption="Bradley Harrison risked everything to make his dream of owning a harmonica factory come true."]
By Katherine Wojtecki, CNN
ROCKFORD, IL (CNN) – “It's the coolest instrument in the world. You can put it in your pocket you can carry it around... it’s a real musical instrument.”
For Bradley Harrison, that musical instrument – the harmonica – became an instrument of change in his own life.
After picking one up at a house party 14 years ago, Harrison decided to leave his job as a restaurant manager to pursue his new passion. With no formal business training and only a high school education he risked everything to make his dream a reality.
“I think they thought I was a pipe dreamer. And that can either destroy you or make you even more determined and it made me more determined to prove everyone wrong.”
With that determination, Harrison commuted 90 miles each way, maxed out five credit cards and even slept on the floor in his office.
“I'd work until 2 a.m. and I went to the local store and I bought a sleeping bag and I'd sleep here. I know it sounds sad its not but at the time I was living the high life, so it's all how you look at it.”
Then the economy took a turn for the worse.
“Financially I risked everything. I said I can do this.”
Harrison said that actually helped his business when it came to finding and then hiring his six employees.
“In all reality it has really helped Harrison Harmonics, because now we are in a community in Rockford that has unemployment just under 20%, so now I can get these engineers and all this talent at a much cheaper rate than you would if the economy was doing really well.”
And that staff is his biggest responsibility.
“The things I struggle with today is I have a staff that depends on my talent and I don’t take that very lightly. It really weighs on me. Sometimes it’s hard to go to bed at night knowing I have a payroll to meet.”
So what is it like coming into work everyday at Harrison Harmonicas?
“Its like making cake, I always say. Its just fun its great come on. Sometimes it gets stressful and you just have a little how-down. Michael and I are the only musicians in here so all the other people just relax and enjoy it. It’s a great time.”
But even with that advantage success didn't come easy for Harrison.” I just thought about it and I thought I am going to do this. I am going to make a harmonica factory in the US. I knew it was going to be hard but I didn't know it was going to be this hard.”
But when he played his first Harrison Harmonica for the first time, it seemed easy.
“That was magic. It was one of those magic moments that I feel lucky to have. I don't know if a lot of people get those magic moments, but it’s something that I had in my head that this is what a harmonica should look like for so long.”
A moment made even more magical in a struggling economy.
"If you want something, you go do it. And you chart your life and you figure it out.”
Harrison Harmonicas has been in business now for two years. About two months ago they shipped their first harmonica. But it took a little longer for owner Bradley Harrison to receive his.
"When did I receive my personal harmonica? [Laughs] Probably about 4 days ago is when I received my first harmonica. My customers received their harmonica before I did.”