Repair Shop Creates Community "Field Trip" Experience
When Jeff Baker, owner of Local Wrench in Belfair, Wash., sent out a message over Facebook last spring offering a “field trip” experience for children in his community, he thought he’d get just a few messages.
His idea was to bring the kids into the shop, one household at a time, and let them hold tools, watch the mechanics work and try some activities for themselves. He’d seen how tough the first months of the pandemic had been on the town’s population of under 5,000 and wanted to give kids, and their parents, an opportunity to leave the house and have some fun.
He figured a couple families might be interested. A couple days later, the post had 350 comments. And it wasn’t just from parents, community members reached out to voice their support.
Once he saw that, it became clear. “I've got to do this. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. But I knew I've got to do this,” he said.
So through the summer and into the fall, Baker coordinated roughly 25 visits. A family would arrive just as most of the technicians left for lunch and he would take them through the shop, show them the cars, educate them about the tools and then let them use those tools through different games.
The idea was not just to show them what the shop does, but to give them some hands on experience with the tools. Once he put the tools in their hands, “their eyes lit up,” he said.
By far the fan favorite was the spark plug race. Baker set up two series of spark plugs, four of which were spray painted black, the other four spray painted red. After showing how to properly change them, Baker would let the kids race their siblings or their parents. It was just one way Baker tried to keep them engaged.
The intentions for Baker were twofold. First, and most importantly, he wanted to bring some joy to the community. Secondly, he hoped to expose children to the auto repair industry. Baker remembers his dad putting tools in his hand from a young age. He and his friends were always fixing things and working on cars in a way that younger generations haven’t.
So while he didn’t expect any kid to become a mechanic because of this visit, he hoped maybe it would spark an interest that could grow down the road.
He also hopes his story could encourage other shops to do the same.
“I hope businesses will be more likely to be engaged in this when the dust settles,” he said. “We can only care about ourselves, our retirement, getting out of the business, or we can sow the seeds and try to plant these seeds so that something bigger can happen for the people that succeed us and buy our businesses.”
Baker’s full story will be featured on the R+W podcast, Ratchet and Wrench Radio, on Feb. 9.
Watch out for that episode to dive even deeper into Baker’s story and his efforts in the Belfair community.