- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) - There have been a lot of changes at Bay City’s Morgan’s Auto Repair during the last 50 years. Auto technician Jerome “Joe” Chislea has seen them all.

The 65-year-old began working at the former full-service gasoline station near downtown Bay City when he was just 16 years old.

“I started in high school at 16, basically, you know, pumping gas, washing cars and busting tires and doing oil changes. All that kind of stuff,” he told The Bay City Times ( https://bit.ly/1muYD9f ).

As Chislea retires, the gas pumps are gone and Morgan’s only offers auto repairs and maintenance.

“It went from full service, to self-service to nothing - no gas,” Chislea recalled. “We did have wreckers, too.”

The changes at Morgan’s mirror of how many gasoline stations in Michigan have evolved in the past half century. Some have become gas stations with convenience stores while others have dropped gas and are focused on auto repair.

Morgan’s opened in March 1964. Chislea started in December of that year.

Chislea said auto repair was a natural career choice for him.

“I was born into it, I think. My dad was a mechanic and, when I was probably that high, he had me washing parts,” Chislea recalled, measuring a few feet up from the shop floor with his hand.

Morgan’s moved to its current location several years later, he said.

After graduating from high school in 1966, Chislea continued to work at the shop. In 1967 and 1968 he attended Ferris State College, now Ferris State University, where he studied diesel and heavy equipment.

“I was going to change, but then when I come back the owner (Charlie Morgan Sr. and his son Charlie Morgan Jr.) talked me into staying for a while. I figured, ‘Oh, what the heck. I’ll stay for a while and see how it works out - I’m still here,” he laughed.

Today, Mike and Diana Dalton own Morgan’s. The Daltons bought the business in September 1988.

Diana Dalton said she and her husband will miss Chislea dearly. He’s a hard worker who understands small business and a caring person who always has a positive attitude, she said.

“He was on the safety committee. He did things that weren’t popular,” she recalled. “But Joe didn’t care. He did it because he knew it was a good idea.”

Dalton said Chislea adapted as the business changed over the years, and he never complained.

“There were a lot of really big things that happened during his employment there and he’s patient. He perseveres. He rose to all these challenges … and was very loyal.”

Decades ago, before self-serve gas station/convenience stores, the stations were full-service operations.

Mark Griffin is the president of the Lansing-based Michigan Petroleum Association and Michigan Association of Convenience Stores.

“What happened is in the late 70s the major oil companies decided that the trend was going to be . to put convenience stores into gas stations instead of having a repair shop,” Griffin said.

“And in states like Michigan at that time, the major oil companies owned a lot of retail locations and they would lease those locations to owners and operators (of gas stations),” he said.

Griffin said the shift likely had something to do with the fact that convenience stores are more profitable on a square footage basis than auto repair shops.

“It was something that the major oil companies thought they would do better at than auto repair,” he said.

As vehicles became more complicated, “auto repair was probably a niche that they didn’t want to be in,” he said.

As gas stations and auto repair parted ways, making room for convenience stores stocked with pop, candy, cigarettes and lottery tickets, stand-alone auto repair shops became common, Griffin said.

In the 1980s, the Michigan Petroleum Association took note of that shift.

“We added our convenience store association in ‘84 and that was recognizing that many of our members were in that transition,” he said.

Since then, major oil companies have gotten out of retail almost entirely, selling off their chains in the early 2000’s, Griffin said.

At the same time, tougher regulations on gasoline storage began to phase out small operators.

Across the street from Morgan’s in Bay City is Konkle’s Super Service. Konkle’s also started out as a full-service Sinclair gas station decades ago, said current owner John Konkle.

Konkle took over the family business in 1991. His father Art Konkle owned it before him, and his father’s cousin, Tom Williams, who opened the business in 1933, owned it before him.

“We always were an auto repair facility and we sold gas,” Konkle said. “There was a gas station on every other corner back in the ‘50s and ‘60s.”

But in the late ‘90s, Konkle’s got out of the gas business when an EPA mandate meant gas stations would need to upgrade their equipment or close, Konkle said.

“We all just decided that it wouldn’t be cost effective (to do the upgrades),” he said.

One reason former gas stations have survived the changes is that automobiles have become much more complicated today than they were when Chislea started working 50 years ago.

“The cars are much better now than they were back then, but they’re a lot more complicated. They do last longer. They do run a lot better and a lot cleaner,” he said.

When asked what his least favorite thing about cars today is, he replied, “Too many computers. Everything has a computer now… it’s crazy. When I started there were none and they worked just fine.”

Chislea performs a wide variety of repairs and maintenance work on cars as an Automotive Service Excellence master mechanic.

“This is my bay right here. Well, these two I work on mostly,” Chislea said, walking back to bays three and four. “We do shocks, brakes, struts, you know, water pumps, radiators, tune ups, oil changes, of course - minor stuff - new tires, that kind of thing.”

But after a 50-year career, Chislea said he’s looking forward to retirement.

A blue sign with yellow letters spelling “Happy Retirement” hung in the shop’s small lobby. The sign out front thanks Chislea for his half a century of service.

He plans to spend his free time fishing, visiting Drummond Island and working on home improvement projects.

“(I’m) retiring from work - not from the honey-do list, no,” he said.


Information from: The Bay City Times, https://www.mlive.com/bay-city



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