The Clarks leave Coyote Ridge Automotive for a true vacation
By Marcy Stamper
Gary Clark is a man who savors rituals. In his 30 years running Coyote Ridge Automotive Repair, he arrived at the shop in Twisp by 5 a.m. and took a 30-minute walk through town. He brewed coffee and had it ready for friends who stopped by to visit before he turned his attention to engines and catalytic converters.
Another routine was making house calls. “I did pick-up and delivery till the last day for some elderly customers I’ve had forever,” said Gary as he cleared out his office last week after retiring in September.
But after fixing things his whole life, Gary is ready to do something else. He doesn’t even intend to change his own oil, said his wife, Anna, who handled the financial and administrative side of the business.
In the past 31 years, Gary and Anna have not taken a vacation longer than four days — and they are determined to remedy that. They plan to set out in their RV next year, but have few specifics beyond that. “If we think we should take a left, we will,” said Gary.
“We’ll have no schedule, no phone. I won’t wear a watch — I could care less what time it is,” said Gary. “We’ll just drive.”
“We don’t know what that looks like yet,” said Anna.
Friends seem less comfortable with their free-form plans, pressing them for details about how far they’ll go and what they want to see. “We have no destination, no time frame,” said Gary. “My whole life has revolved around time and schedules.”
“We’re doing exactly what God wants us to do — a day at a time. We don’t have to worry about tomorrow or about the past,” he said.
Gary has always had an ability to fix just about anything. “Even as a young child, I always tore things apart and put them back together,” he said.
He started fixing things for other people when his father owned the Chevron station in Twisp in the late 1960s. His job was pumping gas, but he soon put his skills to use as a mechanic, staying on for a few years even after his father sold the station.
When he worked at the Wagner Mill for almost eight years as a jack-of-all-trades, Gary still fit in car repairs between shifts.
Soon after the mill closed, Gary started his own auto-repair business. He was based at his house on Beaver Creek until he wore out a pick-up truck from the trips to town to get parts.
At first, Gary and his team of mechanics worked on everything, from cars to school buses to snowmobiles. Their slogan was, “We fix it all — give us a call.”
Customers came from as far away as Mazama and Pateros. Initially Gary offered free towing and a pick-up and delivery service, but that ended when it became too busy.
While he appreciated the straightforward mechanisms of older cars, working on newer technology is very stimulating, Gary said. Even some old-style cars had a computer. “We call them bricks now — you can’t get any information out of them,” he said.
Gary and Anna both grew up in the Methow Valley. In fact, Gary was delivered by a midwife in a house on the outskirts of Twisp.
About eight years ago the Clarks moved to Omak, but still made the daily trek to Twisp for work. Now that they won’t be coming to the garage, they will miss the regular contact with friends and customers. But the Methow has changed so much that they’re ready for a new adventure and don’t expect to miss other aspects, they said.
For now, the shop will be empty. Another mechanic considered buying the business but determined it wasn’t economically feasible after the landlord raised the rent. “It takes a lot of nuts and bolts to pay that,” said Gary.
The Clarks already have one new job — babysitting once a week for their 4-year-old twin granddaughters in Wenatchee. They also plan to do volunteer work.
Gary and Anna will be at the shop south of town sorting through the last remnants of their business until the end of October, but they’re not putting in eight-hour days. They encourage people to stop by and say hello when their cars are there.
Even though he is committed to a full-fledged retirement, Gary gave his closely guarded phone number to a few of his most-loyal customers. “They may have questions. You never know — I might get a soft heart,” he said.
“I will call it a life well lived, because we made life better for other people,” said Gary. “But something different will be a life well lived, too.”