|Ed Spahl & Son has Long Family Legacy in Webster|
Thursday, November 17, 2011
¡§I've got a scoop for you,¡¨ Richard Spahl of Webster said on a recent morning, ¡§I'm retiring Dec. 31.¡¨ The information, made known on the move at the entrance to a town supermarket, demanded attention. This wouldn't be your average retirement, even for an outstanding automobile technician.
Mr. Spahl's notice was different, because of his lifelong association with the garage that his parents, Edmund and Rose Spahl, established in 1929. His late father's insistence on a partnership came a decade later.
Richard was a newborn the day it happened in 1939. Rose and Edmund Spahl brought their baby son home from the local hospital, and the sign on the Ed Spahl's garage on Thompson Road was amended to read: ¡§Ed Spahl & Son.¡¨ This was 75 years ago.
The location of the sign has changed over time, but the name hasn't. The line over the door to the garage still reports: ¡§Ed Spahl & Son.¡¨ It was a small filling station with an outdoor service pit in the beginning, said Mr. Spahl, standing on a crease to the cement floor in an ell to the garage, offering an approximation.
¡§That's all my parents had for space when they started this business in 1929,¡¨ he said. His father kept busy with automobile repairs and maintenance, and his mother pumped gasoline when things got busy. They lived nearby, so Mrs. Spahl was generally around to help.
Ed Mason & Sons Co. built the garage before Richard arrived on the scene. ¡§Jim Mason Sr. remembers working on the garage,¡¨ he reported. People subsequently said they remember when I used to ride my tricycle around the garage, said Richard.
Spahl & Son signage was in place just a matter of days when the partnership was reported in a town newspaper. The venture took a back seat because the young partner had to grow into the partnership.
Still, the first acknowledgement took place just about a year later, when Richard celebrated his first birthday and shared a cake with customers stopping by the garage.
Ed Spahl assured his customers that things were going along splendidly, but there wasn't any need to rush matters. His young partner had other priorities, like being a preschooler.
He was like all the other kids in the neighborhood, and in school, except that he was the ¡§& Son¡¨ on the Spahl garage sign. Besides, this was stuff he'd never remember.
As fate would have it, Edmund Spahl realized his dream. Partner Richard Spahl worked in the garage part time from his 16th birthday, graduated from Bartlett High School and completed automotive courses before truly serving as a working partner in the business.
Richard attended an automotive school in St. Louis and kept up with developments through courses at General Motors Corp. schools. ¡§Keeping current was important.¡¨ Richard gained a reputation as a knowledgeable auto technician, as repair terminology changed, and kept busy through some pretty soft times. ¡§I went to work in the garage when I was 16, and I've owned it 45 years,¡¨ says Mr. Spahl, acknowledging 71 years to the 75-year partnership set up by his father.
The garage fell more and more to his concern, but a state Highway Department decision nearly doomed the business. When Route 52, now Interstate 395, opened, the Spahl & Son garage was declared too close to a south on-ramp, so the state sealed the Spahl property behind a chain-link fence. Ingress and egress to the station's pumps island was blocked, even though the garage was in place years before the road was built.
Gasoline sales suffered. Customers relied on a back-door approach to the garage. The Spahls' reputation for quality work at a fair price saved the day, but gasoline sales were ultimately discontinued. This still seems to bother Richard Spahl. It is something he no longer talks about. The state said Edmund Spahl was compensated when the garage, and even his next-door dwelling, was fenced from the highway, but there weren't any takings.
Edmund Spahl died in 1957, leaving Richard alone in the garage. Another automotive specialist, Romuald ¡§Ray¡¨ Kokernak, a longtime friend, subsequently shared space in the Spahl garage for 11 years. Like Mr. Spahl, Mr. Kokernak worked with his late father, and he was in a similar situation, alone in a garage for two, when his Lake Street building burned down one year on Thanksgiving Day.
The men worked together, but independently. ¡§It was on a handshake,¡¨ said Mr. Spahl. ¡§We went on until it was time for Ray to retire.¡¨ Pausing, he added: ¡§We worked as hard as ever. But we had a lot of fun.¡¨
His business persisted because of some great customers, says Mr. Spahl. ¡§William Trepanier, who lives in Quaddic (a lake development in Thompson, Conn.), is my oldest customer in terms of time,¡¨ Richard said. ¡§He started coming here when he got out of the service in 1957.¡¨ That's 55 years.
Mrs. Rose Spahl continued at the garage as long as she could, passing away in 2000. Now, the junior partner is about to retire, so the future of the garage is uncertain.
¡§Time will tell,¡¨ said Richard. ¡§Somebody might come along.¡¨
Richard Spahl will start 2012 behind the garage and its adjacent office, in a seemingly comfortable dwelling with his wife, Mary Jane, and their two grown daughters.
¡§She's been at home, just 125 feet away, all the while. Now we'll be able to spend more time together,¡¨ said Richard Spahl, obviously looking forward to retirement.
It's no secret that John Guy LaPlante, once a resident of Webster and later of Dudley, but now of Deep River, Conn., is one of my longtime friends.
Once a reporter, editor, publisher and public relations officer, John Guy broke the work daily mold a couple of decades ago, writing travel pieces, traveling around the world. He managed to do OK self-publishing his books.
He resumed a routine schedule about three years ago, joining the Peace Corps, teaching English and French, the languages he heard and became proficient in as a young person in the Ukraine.
The pickup line here is another book: ¡§27 months in the Peace Corps, My Story Unvarnished.¡¨ As previously noted here, John Guy, now 82, was recognized as the oldest volunteer in the Peace Corps in 2009.
His other titles, ¡§Around the World Alone at 75. Dammit,¡¨ and ¡§Around Asia in 80 Days, Oops, 83 Days¡¨ are also available. John fields inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His sales sites are www.buybooksontheweb.com or www.Amazon.com.
Roger E. and Junice (Racicot) Marchand, of The Villages, Fla., generally celebrate Thanksgiving with a pre-holiday gathering in a Webster-area restaurant.
This year's assembly, with more than 100 guests, both sides of their families, was held at an eatery in Sturbridge, but the story was in the preliminaries. Roger and Junice allowed ample time to oversee the 2011 party, arriving here just before the first major snowstorm of the season.
They were living their northern roots, without electrical power and the inconveniences imposed, when we met them three days later.
Roger remembered ¡§when we were kids in baby grade at St. Anne's School (Junice entered school later at St. Louis), I don't recall stuff like this.¡¨ He wondered about advance preparations, like pruning trees.
Anyway, they beat us to Thanksgiving once more, and Roger will probably remember his mid-1940s holiday years on the Bartlett grid team by playing a round of golf in Florida.
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