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Bert's, part 2: the incredible Joe Wylie


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Posted 02 November 2014 - 11:21 AM

Of course, we drove the Model A to Bert's to show off our newly-purchased car, rather than leaving it back at the hotel. And, shameless self-promoter that I am, I made sure they were made aware of the crazy journey we are making.
 
One of the guys I spoke to was Joe Wylie, who clearly loves Model A Fords. Joe is a refrigeration engineer for an ice-maker company during the week, but for several years he was a part-time mechanic at Bert's working on the cars there. As Bert's got busier, they had to engage full time mechanics, while Joe continues to come in on nights and weekends to work on his cherished A Models.
 
Joe was interested in looking at Clara (as I have named the car, Clara A Ford - perhaps a few reading this will get it...) and he started peering under her fenders to check out the suspension and brakes. Model A expert that Joe is, he spotted some things that needed attention: the LF shock link had come loose, the clevis pins for the front brake rods were undersized, and when I mentioned that the handbrake had stopped working, he slid underneath to find that the clevis pin for that had gone missing.
 
"I can fix this stuff for you here in the parking lot if you want," he said and of course, that was fine with me. 
 
joecurbside.JPG
Curbside service by Joe Wylie, who wouldn't even let me pay him for his labor until I insisted on it!
 
As Joe installed the proper clevis pins and reattached the front shock link, he started noticing a few more items that needed attention. I think he was mostly taking pity on me attempting to drive the car all the way back to Georgia with less than perfect mechanicals (and it became obvious soon that Joe is a perfectionist when it comes to Model A cars).
 
"Greg, I wish you could leave this car with me for six or eight hours so I could go through it for you," Joe commented.
 
"Nothing would please me more, Joe. But you guys are closed Sunday and Monday and my schedule won't allow me to stick around Denver that long."
 
"That's not a problem, I'll be here all night and most of the day on Sunday."
 
How could I turn down an offer like that?
 
I admit that as we were going over the car, I was both extremely impressed with Joe's intimate knowledge of Model A mechanical systems as well as a little shocked at the large number of items he pointed out that needed attention. He especially wanted to get the braking system right, but that was just the start.

So I gave Joe a budget, carte blanche to do whatever he felt was necessary, and we left the car with him. To Joe's credit, he wasn't comfortable doing a lot of the repairs without keeping me in the loop, for he called me back to the shop area to show me other problems he had seen before we left and phoned me several times later to inform me of other issues that he needed to know if I wished to have addressed. He was also very concerned that I might be unhappy with him "trashing" my purchase, but I assured him that I was not sentimentally attached to the car and that the numerous needed repairs he was identifying were not an emotional problem for me.

The scenario that unfolded was in line with a fantasy I had harbored on the long trip: that Bert's would have a service department with an experienced Model A wrench who could go over the car. But I am realistic enough to know that it was just a fantasy and that we would have to soldier on with the Model A just functional enough to reach home. So Joe unknowingly has made my dream come true!
 
Joe asked us to come back to Bert's about dinnertime to review the things he'd found and to discuss what we wanted him to address and repair. When we arrived about 5:30, it was incredible to see how much disassembly Joe had done in just a few hours and of course, the list of potential tasks had grown further.
 
I essentially told him to do everything he found that he was willing to accomplish over the weekend. For me not to have taken full advantage of an expert and highly experienced Model A mechanic with almost any part he would need close at hand would have been the height of lunacy. And the number of things Joe was willing to address during the weekend was impressive to say the least.
 
While Geoff and I were awaiting a table at the steakhouse we selected for dinner, Joe called and wanted us to come down to Bert's again. He'd found a further significant problem and was not comfortable proceeding without my having seen it. (If you haven't gotten the impression that Joe is scrupulously honest, which in my sad experience is a rare trait in the auto repair field, you should.) I demurred on coming down there again, as it was about a 20 min drive from our hotel, so Joe emailed me a pic of the rear brakes.
 
brake.jpg
 
Seriously ugly. How the brakes on the car worked as well as they did will remain a mystery to me... "Fix it if you can do so, Joe."
 
We'll pick the car up midday or when Joe is finished. And he felt comfortable that he could get to everything he found in the time available, which is unbelievable to me.
 
It demonstrates that the simplicity of a Model A brings benefits: repairs are relatively easy and not terribly time-consuming compared to later, more complicated cars. And the parts costs are incredibly low. That a long list of mechanical issues needed attention on this car bothers me not at all, as fixing the mechanical stuff is cheap compared to bodywork. And the main appeal of this particular car was the cherry, unrusted, unrepaired body.
 
One of the greatest aspects of the old car "disease" is the wonderful people you meet along the way. IMO Joe Wylie could be the poster child for that statement. And it's clear that one of Joe's motivations is helping others (in his case, with their Model As), a trait he shares with most of the finest people I've encountered in my life. Making Joe's acquaintance and having him reach out offering to go through Clara's mechanical systems will no doubt stand out as the high point of this enjoyable trip.
 
I can't wait to see how the car drives after Joe works his magic! I'll post about it as soon as I can and I fully expect to wow everyone with the complete list of what Joe accomplished in a few short hours.

Off to grab some breakfast and a quick shower before heading down to Bert's.


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Gregory Wells

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