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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesdays with Gindy. Mr. Henry and Cars.

Suzanne learned to drive from her cousin and me.  I would take her out to try driving and Suzanne would be very uncomfortable with it.  After a great deal of getting used to it, Suzanne was able to become one with the vehicle.

It always seemed like Suzanne had this extra sense that could feel that something was off with a car. She can get in a car and say that it feels like one of the tires is low.  I’ll put the air gauge to the tires and find that one of them is about a pound low.  When I inflate it, Suzanne will no longer have that feeling.

Throughout the years, Suzanne has driven many cars.  Back when we had the Western Auto Store, we would often have to drive customers' cars.  Suzanne could tell in an instant if something was wrong with a car.

Evidently, Suzanne inherited this knack for knowing cars from her Daddy. He was one of only two mechanics I would trust with my brakes.  He was also one of the few mechanics who would come to the store when fixing a car who did not have to come back for more parts.  He always knew what was wrong with the cars he was working on.

Papa Jim had once owned his own mechanic shop where he worked on cars as a side line. According to his friends, he always had more work than he could do and could have made a great business out of it, if he had wanted.

We had a team of great mechanics who worked for us.  One had been a mechanic since he was knee high to a bullfrog.  He was the only mechanic I would let work on Suzanne’s car if it was not under warranty and the other mechanic I would let work on my brakes.

He knew cars.   He had that ear where he could hear from a mile away what was wrong with a car. Often Suzanne would pull up into the parking lot at the store and this mechanic would grab a service order and fill it in knowing Suzanne’s car would be in his shop shortly.

My father had a car dealership that he always dealt with. Claude Ray Ford in Elberton, Georgia, had earned Papa’s trust years ago and he bought all his cars from Mr. Ray.  He bought many of these sight unseen.

Most of the cars in the store’s fleet of 13 cars and 13 trucks had been purchased from Claude Ray.  Several of these were still in warranty, including Suzanne’s car.

Since it was in warranty, we would take Suzanne’s car to Claude Ray for service.  We would leave the car with “Mr. Henry” who, I believe, was Claude Ray’s brother, Henry Ray.  Mr. Henry would provide a loaner car for Suzanne since her car was “Mission Critical” to McClendon Company Incorporated and its affiliated business, Western Auto Associate Store-Iva and McClendon Rental. 

Suzanne had the knack.  Sometimes she would crank the loaner car and get out and go tell Mr. Henry that something was wrong with the loaner car. He would send his mechanic to get the car and low and behold, there was always something wrong with it.

One day we dropped off Suzanne’s car for service.  We had an appointment in Atlanta, GA, later that day so I told Mr. Henry we needed to make sure we had a reliable car.  Mr. Henry said, “I ALWAYS give you a reliable car”.

This car broke down in downtown Atlanta.  A man, who looked like he had just killed his parents, approached and offered to help.  We got the car "Redneck engineered” and he said, “Get your *** out of here.  You got no business being in this part of town”.  As it turns out, where we broke down was just minutes away from a minor riot.

On another occasion, Mr. Henry had three of his best mechanics go over a current year’s Ford Grenada.  He told them to take it all the way apart if they had to so that the car would be in perfect shape for Suzanne.

Suzanne picked up the car and then later Suzanne and a friend of ours went to pick up something at the friend’s house.  They took the back way through a less than desirable neighborhood. 

The car, which had been looked over and certified by not one, but three Ford Certified “Factory Trained” mechanics, broke down in that neighborhood.  It broke a timing chain.   As most of you know, this is extremely rare in a car that was less than six months old and still had the original factory warranty.

One mechanic said Mr. Ray told them that anyone who worked on the loaner car that Suzanne was going to get would get a steak dinner for him and his wife if Suzanne did not find anything wrong with it.

Mr. Henry told my father, “If I ever take a car in trade that I am the least bit unsure about, I am going to pay your daughter-in-law to drive it for the day.  If she doesn’t feel like something is wrong, or it don’t break down on her, I will put a Su-Dee-Lu Certificate of Excellence on it and sell it for top dollar. I will know it is a reliable car." Papa Bruce was the only one who called Suzanne Su-Dee_Lu, but he and Mr. Henry talked about her so much that Mr. Henry thought that was her “sho nuff" name, as we used to say.

Papa Bruce died shortly after that.  Mr. Henry never needed Suzanne to test a car for him, but he was serious. He told Papa he already had what the sticker would look like in his mind. 

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