Men of Steel
Some of my fondest memories as a young boy growing up in the 1960s were the Saturday afternoons I spent with my father at Babe’s Body Shop in the Bronx. Babe and my father were old army buddies that served together in World War II. They grew up in the same neighborhood and remained friends their entire lives. I never knew his real name or even his last name, everyone just called him Babe.
As my father and Babe would talk about the good old days and the war, I would wander off and watch the men in the shop perform their magic. I was captivated by the look of the shop, the sounds and the smell.
I can still remember as if it were yesterday. With cigarettes dangling from their lips, I watched in amazement as these men took a wrecked car and pounded it back into shape. In those days, you didn’t just replace a fender or quarter panel, you fixed it. To me, these guys had the strength of Hercules and the skill of Michelangelo.
I remember one particular Saturday in the summer of 1963. My father noticed how fascinated I was watching the guys in the shop. He knelt down beside me, pointed to the guys and said, “I call these guys men of steel. These are tough guys that work hard each and every day. They can take a crumpled-up fender and with hammer-in-hand, work it back into shape just the way it looked when it rolled off the assembly line; and all by eye.”
Before we left to go home, my father and I would walk around the side of the body shop and he would pull two sodas out of the Coke machine. Then we would sit down on a bench seat taken from of an old DeSoto and drink our Cokes.
My father would tell me stories about his childhood during the Great Depression of the 1930s, how he got started in the automotive business and topped it off with a few wartime stories. Could an 8-year-old ask for a better summer Saturday afternoon?
It’s often said that our childhood experiences have served to create pathways to our future. The auto repair industry is filled with shop owners and mechanics that draw upon past experiences to shape their lives. Like many of you, I started out as a mechanic and became a shop owner. It’s the life I chose and it’s the life you chose. We all have a special bond. A bond formed by the work we do each day. A bond also formed by the challenges we endure and the commitment we have to our industry. The glue that has bonded us together is our shared experiences. That same glue will help secure our future. The auto repair industry may have changed a bit, but we still perform magic every day. We are a dedicated breed and should be proud of what we, as a group, have accomplished.
My passion for this business was born watching those “men of steel” back in the 1960s. I knew from a young age what I wanted to do in my life. I feel lucky that way. I often wonder how many people go to work every day hating their jobs. And while the auto repair business isn’t always a walk in the park, it does have many rewards. We kept America moving in the past, we keep it moving today and we will keep it moving in the future.
My father encouraged me to open my own repair shop and we shared many great times before his passing in 1986. You see, he was also one of those “men of steel.” I’m not one to live in the past, but I would give just about anything to have one more summer Saturday afternoon, sitting on that bench seat behind Babe’s Body Shop sharing a Coke with my Dad. Happy Father’s Day!
Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.