Parkers Garage Put-in-Bay – A Glance Back In Put-in-Bay History
By Jeff Koehler Put-in-Bay Gazette
We marked the late Joe Parker’s 100th birthday with an article in the paper last month. This article is just a follow up about Joe’s business, Parkers Garage. One of the best-known men who have called Put-in-Bay home is Joe Parker, owner of Parker’s Garage, the island filling station and garage for five decades during the latter half of the 20th Century. No matter your need, whether it was car repairs, lawn-mower repair, gasoline or towing, you were bound to meet Joe.
In 1964, I had my first summer job on Put-in-Bay. It was with Joe Parker. Parker’s Garage was located on Catawba Ave. Across the street from the buildings that now house the Put-in-Bay Brewing Company and the Put-in-Bay Town Hall. Joe’s brother, Earl, had built the concrete block building that was the home of Parker’s Garage after World War II. Earl had worked for Bill Kunzler at the Blacksmith Shop (now home to The Old Forge), where you could also buy gasoline and get your vehicle repaired, but he decided to break away and start his own business.
Earl started in a small one-car garage on Erie Street and then built the new building. Joe, a U.S. Navy medic who served in the Pacific during
World War II, came home from the war and went to work for his brother. When Earl retired, Joe bought the business. The garage’s concrete block garage building had a half-round roof, not a peaked one. There was a front door entrance sandwiched between two large windows. On the left, as you entered was a small display area with cans of oil and tires enclosed behind a counter. On the right was Joe’s small office where
transactions took place. It included a desk and cash register, plus a filing cabinet where all the accounts were kept.
Also upfront was a small washroom and steps leading to a tiny basement. The rest of the building was devoted to automobile servicing. There was a large workbench along the south wall, a hydraulic lift for oil changes, a solvent tank for cleaning parts, plus a lot of stuff you’d have found in any service station of the day. Joe always insisted the garage floor be swept at the end of the workday. The brand of gasoline Joe sold was SOHIO, and there was a big SOHIO sign out front, but unlike most gas stations, Joe’s had planted a big bed of flowers between the gas pumps and the street, which he tended with loving care.
Over the years, Joe had lots of different help to take care of the influx of cottagers and tourists who came to the island in the summer. One particular year, Joe had a head mechanic working for him named Al Denis. Al was a wiry redhead whose family was French Canadian. Al’s wife was named Cookie, and they lived with their young kids in the house Mark, and Rosann Keiser now live in across from the Goat, then Cooper’s Restaurant. Al was a talker, and Joe was at times frustrated with what sometimes seemed more talk than work being done.
The other mechanic was Richard Zura, a teacher who grew up on the island (Put-in-Bay High School Class of 1955), and who worked for Parkers Garage in the summer. Rich not only could work on cars, but he was also the go-to guy when cottagers brought their gas lawn mowers in to get tuned up and repaired. Rich also had a colorful vocabulary when things didn’t go right. For the other minor things, like pumping gas, doing oil changes, washing cars, sweeping up, fixing flat tires and all the other things people need to have done, Joe had me and Kinsley Renshaw, the son of the island doctor who lived in the doctor’s home where the EMS is located today.
Joe was open seven days a week in the summer, and there was always gas to be pumped and repairs to be made. I had never had a full-time job before, but in those days, a nine-hour day, six days a week, wasn’t a problem. I always had an hour lunch break but sometimes had to work evenings and Sundays. It was a great summer job. Everyone had to get gas, so you got to know all the islanders and cottagers. There was also
plenty of time left for me to meet many of the other young people who worked on the island that summer. Some still live on the island today.
Back in those days, people didn’t pump their gas. When you drove up to the pump, your car ran over a hose that would ring a bell, notifying one of the gas boys’ services were needed out front. You had your gas pumped, your windshield washed, and your oil checked. If a tire was low, one of us would put air into it for free. I remember one lady from Put-in-Bay Road who asked to have a couple of five-gallon gas cans filled that were on the floor in her backseat. Her kids screamed when I went to pick up the cans, and a couple of mice ran out from underneath them.
Speaking of kids and low tires, there were always people coming to Parkers Garage to fill up their bicycle tires. Joe had an air hose on the southwest side of the building where people could fill their tires for free. One of the sounds from Parker’s I will always remember was the air compressor continually going on and off. Joe was a stickler about having the hose coiled up properly and put back in its wooden box. It was a never-ending battle keeping it untangled. There were always lots of flat tires to be fixed In those days, most of the tires still had inner tubes. There was a manual tire breakdown machine that allowed us to fix everything from Model T tires to the tubeless ones on the new cars and even the growing number of Put-in-Bay Golf Carts
Cars were pretty simple back in the 1960s. You could open the hood and see the engine and all its components. As I recall, there were carburetor rebuilds, valve grinding, and radiator leak repairs. Also typical were brake jobs, which included blasting the brake drums with
compressed air, which spewed asbestos dust into the air. In those days, no one knew or cared about asbestos. There was hardly a vehicle make or model of vehicle that didn’t seem to come through the large overhead door on the north side of the garage. You could have a Model A being repaired right next to one of the latest models.
It was always fun taking Joe’s old red Jeep on a road trip to jump-start someone’s car or tow them into the garage. The Jeep was
more set up to push vehicles, rather than pull them. The Jeep was always parked on the north side of the garage property right near the kerosene and white gas pumps. Alongside Parkers garage ran a dirt drive leading to Joe’s little junkyard. It was filled with old cars and miscellaneous parts and pieces that Joe thought might be used someday. There was a small shed in the northeast back corner, which was also
filled with old automobile parts.
At the rear of the building, there was another big garage door. You could drive out of it, make a quick turn to the left, and then use the dirt drive to get back to the front of the building. Next to the door was a big tank where old motor oil from oil changes was collected. There were always big 55-gallon drums stored in this area. In today’s service departments, there are signs telling people to keep out of the area where the cars are being worked on. That wasn’t the case at Parker’s Garage. Joe’s kids, Connie, Marsha, Matt, Roger, and Ben (DJ had just been born), were often in the garage, plus customers could come right in and chat with the mechanics who were working on a repair.
I remember when Al Edwards from the West Shore came in to get a tractor tire fixed. I was breaking it from the rim with the help of a sledgehammer. Joe would often loan out tools for people to use, too. For several cottage families, it was a tradition to stop by the garage after church on Sunday and fill up with gas and have everything checked over. Some of these families still have cottages to this day, and we are sure they remember doing this. Since Joe had been a medic, he was often called upon to drop whatever he was doing and run out for some emergency. There was no EMS on the island back then, so it was either Joe or one of the island doctors who were called upon.
Joe was also in charge of the July 4th fireworks. Back then, the fireworks were shot off the north side of the Perry Peace Memorial Monument along the shoreline. There was no training or safety course. Joe had us dig several holes and insert 3- or 4-inch in diameter metal pipes, mortar tube fashion. When it came time to set off the rockets, we dropped one in the tube, lit the wick, and stepped back. The rocket shot out of the tube and high into the sky just like the fireworks we have today that are shot off a barge in the harbor. We didn’t give the slightest thought to how dangerous this was and that someone could have been killed.
Over the years, there were many who worked for Parkers Garage. Some I know of are Bill Broaddus (the best salesman Joe ever had), Denny Naylon, Franz Schillumeit, Al Duff (PIBHS Class of 1965), Carl Obenauf, Jr., Kenny Nestor, John Snider, Melvin Geithman, Dave Johnson, brothers Jack and Jim Wertenbach, Jim Gump (PIBHS Class of 1970), Tip Boyles (PIBHS Class of 1982), Joe’s sons DJ, Matt, Ben, and Roger Parker, and Ray Kowalski (PIBHS Class of 1972). I will bet they all look back on their days at Parker’s Garage as one of the great jobs in their lives.
Not only was Joe a great employer to work for, but he was fair and honest in his dealings with everyone. He set a great example, one, that if followed in today’s society, would make for a much better world. For me, in spite of the fact, my first time on Put-in-Bay was as a baby in my mother’s arms, working for Parkers Garage was a great introduction to the “work-a-day” world of Put-in-Bay. When Joe retired in 1985, his son, Roger, bought the business and ran it for 12 years before closing the business and building a 50-room Put-in-Bay Hotels.
Parkers Garage Another Perspective
My summer job before working at Parker’s Garage was at Rittman’s grocery store. Uncle Earl must have offered a dime an hour more, so that summer I started to work for him. I do not remember anybody else working full time for him. I think the year was 1949. I believe I was there all of my high school days. It was just Uncle Earl and his brother, Joe. I think I had all of the jobs no one else wanted.
Of course, the main thing to do was to pump gasoline which included washing the windshields, checking the oil and filling the radiator with water. If a tire looked like it was low on air, we had FREE air. After that, you had to fill out the charge slip on the machine in the office and give the customer his or her receipt. Credit cards were coming on the scene and it took a long time to fill out that card. I remember hauling the batteries down into the basement and putting them on the charger.
We had loaner batteries, too. The many taxi cabs always needed batteries or tires fixed. God, I wonder how many tires I had to repair just bending over with two tire irons to take the tire off the rim and then putting the vulcanized patch on the tube. When we had a little break there would be 25 to 50 50-gallon drums of gasoline to be siphoned into the ground tanks. I can’t believe I am still alive after all of those gasoline fumes.
Then the grass needed cutting, both at the garage and at his house. Aunt Lenore always had something cold to drink because we only cut grass on the very hottest days. Of course, the windows in the garage, especially those big ones in front, needed washing at least once a week. Remember the white gas pump on the Schnoor & Fuchs side of the garage for the older cars (pre-1935’s) and the garage’s Model A Ford pickup which was used for service calls on the road. Earl also had an old Buick for pulling someone into the garage when their vehicle would not go on its own.
When we did an oil change on a vehicle, there was the SOHIO book that told us where all the grease fittings were on the various cars. The used oil was put in 50-gallon drums in the back of the building to be used on the driveways to hold down the dust. I did some mechanical work. I usually took a motor apart and they would put it back ld cars on nice-weather weekends after school started. As I look back they could be worth
together after the valve job or whatever was necessary. I also had a part-time job cutting up old cars. As I look back, they could be worth a million dollars today. The little storage shed (Uncle Earl’s old chicken coop) held all the used parts that might be re-sold. I worked at Parkers Garage in the summer of 1953 and then went to work at the airport. Quite a change, but it was a full-time job for the next eighteen months.