July 31 – August 6, 2020Vol. 22, No. 8

The World of the Old Garage

by Rod Johnson

I'd like to tell you a little about some of the old garages and their operators that existed right here in Belgrade in the decades gone by. Most towns or villages had at least one. There are a few left, but [running one is] not something that is easy to do these days for multiple reasons.

First, Bud Knowle's garage on the Knowles Road in Belgrade: As a teenager and through my twenties, this is where you went for EVERYTHING that you couldn't fix yourself. It could be a car sticker needed, a broken tractor, or a big dump truck with a broken spring. Bud did it all and what you needed was patience to wait your turn. Don't even think about being in a hurry. It was also where your vehicle ended up when it couldn't be fixed anymore. "Down behind Bud's in the field" meant that your vehicle was in the junkyard. Bud picked them apart for used items and eventually ran right up over them with a bulldozer when he had his sort of annual clean-up day every year or two. When scrap steel prices were good Bud would winch a few of the crushed relics up onto a flat bed trailer behind his wrecker and take them in. Bud's wrecker truck was an icon of the times. A one-ton Chevy with hand welded body, winches etc. which he loved to use. He actually towed home from North Augusta to Belgrade a loaded cement truck and was proud of it. He pulled cousin Skip and me out of ditches in the middle of the night when our big plow trucks had ventured too far into the ditches.

Ken Baker was another garage icon, his garage being in the center of Belgrade Lakes. The building exists today as three storefronts in the middle of the village. When out riding bikes we boys would often ride in and out of his garage. We'd holler "Hi" to Ken who was usually ensconced under a jeep hood or just his feet were showing out from under a local's car. When the time came and one of us had a flat tire or a loose wheel, Ken showed us what to do and even showed us how to put hot vulcanized patches on a tube. From then on we just went in and patched our own tire tubes regardless of what Ken was doing.

As the years crept by Ken became ill with heart issues and was forced to sell the garage. The new owner was Leland J. Buzzell, a.k.a. Red. I had known Red and worked with him in my teenage years at Day's Marina. He was just as accommodating as Ken had been and our bike crew now had old cars. Red was a wizard at making something work with next to nothing. It was said that Red kept most of the cars and trucks running in Kennebec and Franklin counties during WWII, as he was not taken into the military due to some orthopedic issues.

One good Red story then I'll let you go: My cousin had a big old wrecker truck with side saddle gas tanks — the kind that the drivers step down or up on to get into the cab. The gasoline was oozing out of a tiny rust hole about half way up the tank. The tank had just been filled at Red's gas pump. We didn't know what to do and Red said, "Damn it, you wait a minute." Red never said much without swearing. In fact we kids all learned many of his swear words, and still use them. We moved the truck away from the gas pump and off to the side. Red came out of the garage with a clean white rag torn from an old bed sheet. His wife Blandine always kept the rag bag full of various selections. He wiped off the area where the leak was steadily oozing and spread a nice batch of Ambroid glue onto the area. He then tore a small piece of the sheet rag, maybe 2 inches square, and pressed it into the glue over the leaky spot, waited 15 or 20 seconds and put on some more glue and another layer. It turns out that Ambroid glue is not dissolved by gasoline. The patch stayed there for as long as the old Diamond T wrecker was around. Who knew? Red did!

And so it went, these older generation garage owners had a wealth of knowledge and passed some of it along. I doubt that anyone teaches a course today like Bud Holland, Ken Baker, and Leland J. Buzzell did. Hats off to them all!

Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.