Archive for Thursday, April 4, 2002

Mechanic back in business after 11 years

April 4, 2002

Sitting by the wood stove in his shop, Dennis Mullen recounts his travels, jobs and the people of Eudora he got to know in the more than 20 years since he opened an auto mechanic business at 10th and Locust streets. Now that he's back in business at the building he had built in 1983 at 1300 Road and Church Street, Mullen hopes to reconnect with past customers.

Making connections and recounting the past are nothing new around the wood stove, he said.

"There have been so many good stories told around this stove," he said. "It was a real focal point around here."

Although he relishes spending time talking with his customers, repairing automobiles is the reason Mullen is in business.

"That's why I don't have a coffee pot around here," he joked.

Mullen said his business wouldn't necessarily specialize in any particular area of car repair, but hoped to work mostly on brakes.

"It'd be great if I could do brake jobs on '57 Chevy pickups day after day, but that's not possible," he said.

Having worked on commercial vehicles and school buses, trucks are Mullen's specialty. That's why the building has a 14-foot door to accommodate large vehicles.

Mullen Motor Works will be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturdays at Mullen's discretion.

Because he lived in the farmhouse adjacent to the shop, work and home seemed to mesh, especially when customers would come to the door of his home. So when Mullen left his Eudora business in 1991 he headed transportation departments for several school districts and later became a CPR instructor.

"I had people asking me, 'Aren't you glad you don't have to deal with the public?'" he said. "To me, that was the best part of it."

Mullen said he got a better feel for an automobile and what it needed by talking with the owner.

Even though he moved, Mullen said his roots stayed in Eudora. Going to CPA picnics, he said, was like a homecoming.

"Eudora seemed like my home town, even though it wasn't," he said.

Although a decade passed since Mullen left his business in Eudora, he's found few things have changed. Ten years later, he sees the same the farmer drives by the shop every afternoon on his way to feed his cattle.

Mullen kept more than just a mental tally of his customers. He still has files on the cars he worked on back to 1981.

"It was like going through an album," he said about looking through them.

A friend in Telluride, Colo., a town which is one of Mullen's favorite haunts, inspired him to start up his own business again. Mullen said he saw how his friend didn't let obstacles, like a battle with alcoholism or a broken shoulder, prevent him from building a barn himself or operating a horse riding business.

"I was so inspired by this guy and seeing what one person could do once they decided this was their goal," Mullen said. "I decided, 'You need to open your own shop again,' and I hope to be here for a while."

When he discovered the building was available, things kind of fell into place from there, Mullen said.

He ended up opening shop in Eudora in the first place because of a chance encounter in the mid-1970s. Driving through, Mullen stopped and talked with a local kid, Scot Hamlin, about his 1955 Chevrolet, which he had jacked up at a local garage. Several weeks later, Mullen's 1965 Corvette ran out of gas on the Wakarusa bridge. Having talked with Hamlin previously, Mullen asked if anyone knew of a kid with a '55 Chevy.

"Of course, everyone did," he said. "In 10 minutes I had gas and was back on the road. That was a really neat welcome to a town."

Mullen is no stranger to driving, whether in his Corvette or on a motorcycle. Each December for his birthday, Mullen tries to make a trip to Telluride. On his way to Eugene, Ore., for training to become a CPR instructor, Mullen tried to follow Lewis and Clark's trail. Inspired by William Least-Heat Moon's book "Blue Highways" about driving the country's two-lane roads, Mullen made a rule to avoid Interstate highway travel whenever possible. His other rule was to travel with his Corvette's top down. For the most part, Mullen said, he was able to stick to his rules.

Although he spent a large part of his life "twisting wrenches," cars and trucks are only part of who Mullen is. He also majored in journalism at Kansas University, where he wrote stories that let him explore his fascination with Jesse James. A friend also got him involved in coaching Eudora Little League baseball.

"It was neat taking part in different facets of the community," he said. "There were a lot of really neat times back then. Eudora's changed a lot. It's neat to be back."

Mullen said he hoped to rekindle relationships with the people he knew from his first time around in the mechanic business in Eudora. He said he looked forward to people stopping by to say hello, "even if they just slow enough to yell out of their trucks."

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