The Blue Ball Garage

A shop tour of Blue Ball Garage in Pennsylvania.


The Blue Ball Garage is a third-generation family owned business. Founded in 1952 in Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, the Martin family expanded the building several times, but by 2000, they knew it was time to make some changes. 

"The ceilings were too low for the lifts," said Barry. Along with his brother Doug and their father John (3 of the shop’s five full-time techs), the men looked at their budget, visited dozens of other shops and then began designing their new shop. In 2005, on a piece of land just down the road from the original, they built the new Blue Ball Garage.

Building design

The building is designed like a warehouse with no pillars. There's an office, kitchen, conference room and waiting area just inside the front wall. It may look basic, but it’s packed with details the Martins discovered during their research.

"Not everything is the cheapest thing you can do, like the exhaust system," said Barry. "When you have a chance to put it in the ground, you don’t have all the hoses hanging from the ceiling." They installed eight new encapsulated two-post in-ground lifts for similar reasons. "You don’t contaminate the ground and you don’t have the posts in the way."

Also built into the concrete floor is radiant heat. Barry says the huge room stays warm even with the doors open, and it helps keep the floor dry. They also have it outside just in front of each door. Barry says they use a little more oil that way, but even with two waste oil burners and a 2,000-gallon tank in the basement, they still sell about 700 gallons a year. The basement also holds two air compressors and an air dryer, bulk tanks for oil and ATF, and a holding tank for used coolant.

Some innovations around the shop are born from years of experience. For instance, the mezzanine above the office can hold the weight of bulk tanks for coolant and windshield washer fluid. Instead of hose reels, the fluids gravity feed to ‘taps’ on the shop wall, and oil from the basement is also pumped up to taps.

In with the new

In the move, the Martins sold most of their existing equipment so they could update the new shop. Almost everything we saw was no older than the shop itself, including flush machines, an A/C machine, a new battery/charging system tester, a brake washer, tire and wheel balance machines and a new on-car brake rotor lathe. Barry said they don’t turn many rotors anymore “because most of them are throw-aways. But this (lathe) saves time and makes a better cut because it matches the cut to the hub."

One of the most important pieces of equipment is the floor cleaner. On Saturdays, work stops at 11 o’clock to clean the shop, including the floor. After six years the floor is still so clean, a man can lay down to set up a lift without getting dirty.

From the open plan of the building itself to all the little details that just make life a little easier, it’s clear that the Martins view their garage as a tool. The opportunity to design from scratch is something many people dream about, but in this case the Martins really had no choice.

Six years after moving in, Barry says there aren’t many things he would change.


 

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