Bob’s Motor Clinic

Bob BrattonMy dad was a mechanic. He always smelled like grease. His fingernails were black, and the creases in his hands where either black from the grease, or white because they never saw sunlight. And he could fix everything… from his front engine, front drive German Goliath, to a rear engine rear drive VW, and all the Fords, Chevy’s and Studebakers you could put in between. He even went to trade school to learn refrigeration, and he could fix anything, and I mean anything. From a Japanese transistor radio to Aunt Mary’s Sewing machine.

His was a different age, and he lived his life to a different set of rules. Bob’s Motor Clinic was a small garage in a whisper of a town called Moses Lake. It always was full of stuff waiting for parts, or waiting for Dad to get around to them. More magic happened in that shop than the back lot of Disney. Dad couldn’t just fix it, he had to improve it in the process.  He did have a lot of money, but he had a ton of ingenuity, and creativity, and the skill to use both.

The day I turned 16, I got my drivers license with a motorcycle endorsement, got a job working for the local crop duster, got my student pilots license, and destroyed my dad’s almost new Volkswagon by rolling it down a sand dune, folding his pride and joy into a sheetmetal scrap ball.

He sat in a rocking chair for 24 hours not saying a word, and then… just went back to work. A month later a package arrived with some blue prints, and dad started to work on the “EMPI”. This was when the idea of a “dune buggy” had just started, and dad had bought plans to turn the mashed VW bug into one. It took months of late nights, but he built an “EMPI Sportster” out of the wreck… and THEN told me to pick the color to paint it. For a 16 year old, that was quite an honor, and I even got to watch as he sprayed the bright blue enamel.

Since I was in high school and only had a small motorcycle to get around on, dad offered to trade me vehicles so I could “ask girls out on a date.” I drove the EMPI all the way though high school… and most of those stories will be in another post. This one is about Bob’s Motor Clinic.

Dad was not a normal dad. He wasn’t much with a ball, and didn’t really get into the sports scene… he fixed stuff. He didn’t make very much money, because for him that wasn’t the real goal. For him all the really mattered was that he FIXED IT, and that it was better than original. If parts were no longer made for a something, Dad would make new parts out of stuff laying around. If there was no manual, he would sit up at night reading other manuals until he figured out a way to make it work. Seldom could people actually pay him for all the time he spent to do this, so he just accepted what they could afford. It was only important that he had found a way to make it better than original.

He took us fishing, but first we had to build a boat… and a pole. He taught us how to pitch a ball… sort of… but first we had to weld up a backstop. He taught me how to sail, in a kayak with a bed sheet sail on an electrical conduit mast and scrap aircraft aluminum lee boards.

My Dad died on my birthday at the age of 67. When you approached the casket at the funeral, you could still smell the transmission fluid and grease that no amount of embalming could remove from Dad’s pores. I flew from Florida to Seattle to speak a few words at the service, but almost couldn’t get them out. The little church in a whisper of a town, was packed with over 300 people who had come to pay their respects to the little mechanic from Bob’s Motor Clinic. To this day, I have no idea how one simple man could have made such an impact on the world around him.

DAD left a legacy that only in my own retirement do I finally begin to understand. He wasn’t trying to leave a legacy, he was just trying to do the best job he could at every task that came in front of him…. including raising two sons. His life “values” were helping people that needed help by fixing what they couldn’t. Doing only that, my DAD became the greatest man I have ever known. I strive every day to be as good as he was. Thanks Dad.

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