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Wholesale Observations: The kindness of retired country mechanics
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

As noted earlier, our wholesale business sold to retail customers across eastern South Carolina and Georgia and northern Florida, many of them in small towns. Most of those had local economies based primarily on agriculture.

Smaller towns may not have offered a large variety of entertainment options, but they were usually close knit communities with very friendly people. I will never forget driving up to Athens one weekend, to visit a family I was very close to, and go hiking. My car at the time (a small four-cylinder Chevy Monza) had been acting a little funny recently, so when I got to Millen about 4 p.m. that Friday afternoon, I pulled into the Chevrolet dealership downtown to ask if they could take a look at it.

“Sorry,” came the reply from the service manager.

“It’s too late in the day, and we’re already tied up.”

So I went a block down the street to the local hardware store, a long-time good customer of ours, and told the manager there my issue, and asked if he had any suggestions. He picked up the phone and made a call, then gave me directions to a fellow’s house around the corner nearby.

“He’s a retired mechanic, he can help you,” Bobby told me.

Sure enough, when I got there the fellow quickly discerned that my problem was simply a clogged fuel filter. He unscrewed this little device about the size of a cigarette lighter, brought the small end to his mouth and gave it a good blow. A stream of particles blew out the other end. He put it back on, and then my car ran fine. He didn’t want to take any money from me, either, but I insisted, so he said $5 would do it. I happily paid him and went on my way.

Nice people abound in small towns!

Another time I was driving to Atlanta for a friend’s wedding, on a back road (GA 15 outside of Soperton) on a Saturday morning.

Suddenly my car gave a POP! and a red light came on. I pulled over to the side of this lonely country road and lifted the hood, but didn’t see anything. I had no idea what had just happened, or how close I was to the nearest town, but I knew I was nowhere near anyone who could help me on a midday Saturday morning.

I walked up the driveway to the fellow’s house I’d stopped in front of, to ask if I could use his telephone to call AAA – this being long before cell phones had been invented. It turns out this guy was also a retired car mechanic, with his own shop in his back yard. He later told me, after looking at my car (a battered old 1978 Mustang) that I had simply “blown out a freeze plug,” whatever that was, but he said he had a spare one that would fit my car, so he put it in, and said I would be fine.

I think he only let me pay him $5 for his time and trouble, too. I made it to the wedding and back home again just fine. (Over the next couple of months, I had another couple of freeze plugs blow out, before I finally realized my radiator was getting clogged with mineral deposits, and needed replacing.) I’ve learned a little bit about how cars work, over the years, from the various things that have happened and repairs required. And I’ve never forgotten the kindness of those two retired country mechanics who came to my aid at inopportune times.

There are nice people everywhere.

More in my next installment.

Rafe Semmes lives down in Midway with his wife and some pets. He’s a Savannah native and a graduate of Savannah High and the University of Georgia.

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