MACS keynote: Innovation, cooperation helped dad succeed

Automotive repair trade shows nowadays feature lots of new and exciting technology. The Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Training Event and Trade Show taking place at the Sheraton New Orleans this week was no exception. But today’s exciting innovations can trace their origins to entrepreneurs who tinkered with automobiles and found new and better ways to fix them. The support of comrades with a giving spirit was also critical in the success of the early entrepreneurs and inventors.

Attendees at this year’s MACS show were reminded of the innovation, spirit of entrepreneurship and camaraderie of the industry’s early days during the luncheon keynote presentation by Roy Gage, owner of Roy’s Auto Inc. in Estherville, Iowa. Gage, whose father was not only a repair shop owner but an inventor and the owner of numerous businesses, related some favorite stories to remind MACS attendees of their industry’s rich heritage.

Gage noted that his father invented a ground driven “reefer,” a mobile frozen unit that delivered perishable food. Sixty five years ago, his father and his uncle were involved in a transport company that was commissioned to deliver frozen eggs from Northwest Iowa to Philadelphia. The trip encountered some unforeseen obstacles that would have resulted in major losses for the enterprise had it not been for the giving spirit of people who helped them.

The reefer his father devised used a compressor that was powered by the trailer’s wheels. The unit had to be moving for the freezer to work.

The reefer hadn’t gotten out of Indiana before the senior Gage’s foot slipped off the clutch, which took a tooth off the ring gear. The brothers were able to drag the reefer to a truck stop, but it was late in the day and the last technician was heading out the door. The brothers explained their predicament, and the mechanic gave them the keys to his toolbox.

The brothers were able to fix the reefer and get the freezer working before the eggs melted. But their problems weren’t over.

When they got to Philadelphia, the food warehouse was closing. It was a union shop, and everyone was supposed to vacate the warehouse at closing time. The warehouse foreman realized that the eggs would melt and the trip would be a waste. So he agreed to let the brothers unload the shipment, even though the building was supposed to be vacated.

“They (his father and uncle) would have lost a load,” Gage said.

Gage feels that the cooperative spirit shown by the truck stop technician and the warehouse foreman continue to typify the automotive aftermarket.

He related another story from his youth. He was a relatively green technician working at a car dealership when a car came in with a malfunctioning air conditioner. The other techs at the shop couldn’t figure out the problem.

Gage called his father, who had not been active in auto repair for some 25 years. After describing the problem to him, his dad provided over the phone diagnosis. That advice provided the answer to the problem.

“Once he had knowledge, you just couldn’t take that away from him,” Gage said.

“Everybody in this business has that same grasp of air conditioning that my father had,” he said.