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My Personal Side

By Craig Hastings
Where have all the auto mechanics gone? As most of you remember, Greg Bates Automotive closed the doors about a year ago and now Jim Nees and his mother have called it quits at Pro Hardware/Automotive/Towing. I know Greg and Bill Bates very well and have known Jim his whole life. Most of you may remember when Jim worked for Red Profitt at Century Motors and later for Phil Lamb at Four Seasons Chevrolet/GMC/Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth. Greg moved to Texas and Jim to Florida and now I’m envious of both. If you’ve been reading my stories you know gas and oil run through my veins and took me hostage at about age twelve. I used to walk to Ferguson Ford on Saturdays and hang out on the lot looking at and studying all the high performance new and used cars that were plentiful in the late 60’s. The inventory rotated out weekly so there was always something different to look at. Jim’s dad, Larry Nees, worked for Ned Ferguson back then as his parts manager. Jim and his parents lived in the same neighborhood as my family and his mother still does. I moved back to the neighborhood in 1994 and still reside there today. Gotta love the small town connections. So where’s this going?

This trend of small businesses going away is slowly driving a stake through my heart. When I was a punk kid driving what I thought then were fast cars, there was an automotive mechanic on every corner in most every filling station and boy did we have many filling stations in Tuscola. I’ll repeat a bit of my own history from the 70’s. I was working for Jim and Kay Higgins at thirteen as a simple sales clerk/stock boy and was lucky enough to have Jim give me a chance at repairing small engines and the equipment they powered when he purchased the old East Tower Dodge building on South Carico Street. I think he only did it because he got tired of yelling at me for hanging out in the shop watching Kenny Nelson working. I think I was fifteen or sixteen at the time. Kenny Nelson was our go to auto mechanic at True Value and Kenny was good at what he did. I was fortunate because Kenny took me under his wing and taught me everything he possibly could about auto and truck repair. I loved fixing things; I still do today. My life plan was to pursue auto mechanics as a career. What happened? My parents came calling wanting me to come to work at the family newspaper business, The Tuscola Review, which I did.

Being honest with you, I never enjoyed the newspaper business as much as I did fixing things. I had already accumulated a loyal following of customers at True Value whom I felt I had betrayed and let down. In 1979 I was offered a part time job as a police officer here and the rest is history. But, I’ve never lost my desire to modify and repair automobiles. And since I’m still working as a police officer and the small town automotive repair business is drying up, maybe it was for the best I chose law enforcement as my career. Fortunately Tuscola still has Do It Best, Tuscola Ford, Bob’s Super Service, and Little Automotive Repair, doing business in the auto repair business. Lost are twice that many more over the years.

What happened? The industry has become too technical and continues to trend even more that way. Any of the small independent shops will tell you with the up and coming move to partially electric and all electric vehicles, they are being pushed out of business. The tools and training are too expensive to make keeping up worthwhile. So again, the little guys and gals are pushed out of business. Most of us can remember being fortunate to have Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth all right here in Tuscola! Thank god we still have Ford. And of course with all of these brands came repair shops within to maintain the cars and trucks which in turn requires many mechanics. Sadly, most all of this has left Tuscola.

I get a feel that the latest two generations behind me could care less about any of this. Mostly because they don’t even care to understand how all the components that make up an automobile work together to make a vehicle function. But I don’t understand the complete loss of interest? Could it be they shake and shudder at the thought of having dirty hands and smelling like exhaust fumes? Is it that they just expect things to work forever after they buy them? Are they hoping that the all electric vehicles will take over the market sooner than later lessening the need for old school mechanics? (which it will) I think disposable vehicles may someday be a real thing. With the replacement lithium battery packs starting at $7000 dollars and topping out at $25,000 per vehicle today, can you even imagine the cost once the gas and oil cars are forced out of the manufacturing industry? I believe the trend will be to simply recycle vehicles with expired battery packs and buy new. After all, how many people purchasing and driving used electric vehicles could come up with $10,000 to repair that same vehicle a few years down the road? It will be easier for these people to get a loan for another car than try to get a loan to repair the one they have needing a new battery pack. Sure it will. The battery pack will be worth more than the book value of the complete car running. Had this same person bought a used gas and oil vehicle and spread that same $10,000 dollars in repairs over say six to eight years, they could do that. But hit with $10,000 estimates at one service, forget it. 

Okay, I’m done predicting the car industry tonight. It makes an old die hard hot rodder angry and a little bit afraid of what’s to come. All I can tell all of you is this; I’m sure as hell glad I was one of the fortunate ones that God chose to be born in the late 50’s so I would get to enjoy the height of the muscle car era of the 60’s and 70’s. It was addicting, it was fun, it was fast, and it spoiled me rotten! The best part of these years was what we didn’t have; social media, cell phones and computers. We had to leave the house to socialize. If I was still good enough and financially able, I’d open my own shop and fix vehicles for only what it cost in parts. I love fixing them this much. I wouldn’t want to have to make a living doing it, no, just as my retired hobby of doing something I enjoy. No golf, no bowling, no craft shop, no breakfast clubs, no card playing, no animal hunting, no fishing, just old school auto repair and high performance tuning for my retirement time please!

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