- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) - Del and Darrell Harley - born three years apart - started out in business together as teens, mowing lawns for Barron Homes for $3 a yard.

And for the past 30 years, they’ve owned Harley’s Auto Service, first on 18th Street and, since 1990, at 430 Leitchfield Road in Owensboro.

“Me and Darrell had to share Christmas presents when we were kids,” Del Harley says with a laugh.

Another brother, James, has been with the company since it opened on Jan. 2, 1986.

Del Harley says much of their business’ success should be credited to Ernie and Roy Adams, who owned Adams Motor Sales at 1308 Triplett St. in the 1970s.

“Ernie Adams took me under his wing as a 16-year-old and taught me the auto repair technical end,” he said. “His brother Roy taught me the business end of running a shop.”

Harley said, “I would not have been in business 30 years without their help early in my work career or without all the great faithful customers and hard-working employees. I prefer associates. I don’t like being the boss, just the director.”

He started working at Adams Motor Sales in 1972 and stayed there until he and his brother started their own business 14 years later.

“I’ve only had two jobs in my life,” Del Harley said. “A lot of people want to start their own business. And we did.”

Keeping customers happy is the key to any business’ success, Harley said.

“I have customers who’ve been with me since 1973,” he said. “I’m working on the cars of the grandchildren of some of my early customers. Hard work and customers’ trust has kept us in business.”

Recently, Harley said, a former Owensboro resident who now lives in Chicago called and wanted him to work on her Volkswagen while she was back visiting family.

“She was one of my customers in 1973,” he said.

A lot has changed in the automotive world since 1973.

“Electronics have been the biggest change in cars through the years,” Harley said. “Nobody asked me to work on their heated seats and compasses back then. Fuel injection runs so clean, there are no fumes in the shop like there were back then.”

In 1974, he said, “You could see the ground on both sides of a motor. Now, the whole compartment is full. There were only two types of oil back then. Now there are at least six weights of oil, three types of brake fluid and at least six of transmission fluid.”

The first vehicles the brothers worked on were their family’s 1960 Edsel and International four-door truck.

The Harleys grew up in southern California because their father was a career Navy man.

“Our parents were from Reed,” Del Harley said. “And we would come back to visit their families. My grandfather used to take me down to the old lock and dam where English Park is today.”

After a tour in Vietnam, he said, “My father decided it was time to retire from the Navy. So, we moved from San Diego to Henderson County and then to Owensboro in 1969.”

One wall of Harley’s Automotive is covered with license plates from different states.

“Our customers bring them to us,” Del Harley said. “Our customers are also our friends.”

He spent the first 15 years of his working life at a Subaru dealership.

But Harley said, “I enjoy the diversity of my work here.”

Personally, he prefers Toyotas, Hondas and Subarus.

But Harley said he loves a challenge.

He’s been known to stay up late at night after the shop closes to try to figure out a particular problem.

At one time, he said, he and his brother had 1,200 customers.

There are probably more today.

And they handle the business with five employees.

“If I make one person mad, I’ll lose 10 customers,” Del Harley said. “So many of my customers are related.”

“I used to work til 9 p.m.,” he said. “But I’ve stopped that. When I get home at night, I don’t want to hear that my wife’s car is making a funny noise. I want to rest.”

Neither brother has any plans to retire, they say.

“This is a part of our lives,” Darrell Harley said.

“I don’t have any plans to retire,” Del Harley said. “When I’m on vacation, I miss my kids and my work. But I want to do less. I want to slow down.”

He also credits part of his success to a sermon he heard years ago.

The preacher talked about how Christians need to have a “servant’s attitude.”

“I’ve tried to do that,” Harley said. “I’m not here just to make money. I’m working to serve people. I’ve told my guys, if you’re just working for a paycheck, you’re going to be disappointed. You get satisfaction from solving people’s problems.”


Information from: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, https://www.messenger-inquirer.com

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