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History Memories of being a parts counterman

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by 23tub, Apr 14, 2014.

  1. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    I posted last year about holding the drop light for my dad – a mechanic who supplemented his income by fixing other peoples’ cars in our home garage. A thankless task, but fond memories of helping pop when I was still a kid.

    Having a father who was a mechanic was cool as I learned about engines and cars generally which is why to this day I’m a “car guy”.

    After high school (and before joining the U.S. Navy in 1968), one of the jobs I had was as a parts counterman at a nearby NAPA store. There I learned how to do valve jobs, cut brake drums (and arc the shoes to fit), mix paint, maintain an inventory, position parts in the warehouse so that the most often needed parts were closest to the parts counter, etc. Thanks to Max – the great guy who owned the store.

    After getting stationed at Naval Air Station (shore duty), Imperial Beach, CA., and getting married, I decided that I needed a little more dough to support the wife, 2 dogs a daily driver and my 57 Chevy. I enjoyed the job at the parts store back home, so I went around to the local parts stores in I.B, looking for work in the evenings and weekends as the Navy then allowed “Moonlighting” with the proper approvals.

    I ended up at a little independent parts store (before there were places like Auto Zone, etc. that have pretty much killed off the independents, although there are still a few around). I used to start at around 6:00 PM and close the store at 9:00 and work weekends. The owner of the store was quite a character named Walt Taylor. After I found that he had no inventory system (pointed out lost sales) and the fact that the ignition parts (most often sold stuff) were in the back, Walt and I got along great. His sales were up, so he was a happy camper.

    These were the days of a huge bank of parts catalogs on top of the counter – now-a-days, most clerks in parts stores are lost without their computer. Progress?

    Anyway, it’s here at Taylor Auto Parts (long since closed and Walt is in the parts store in the sky) that I had my most memorable and funny moments. It was the 70s so cars could still be worked on by most anyone with a little mechanical aptitude (stressing little). There were a lot of Shade Tree Mechanics. One in particular sticks in my feeble old brain and still gives me a chuckle.

    I was standing behind the parts counter one weekend and a guy comes in. He said that he needed drive shaft shims for a Ford engine???!!? After making sure that I heard him correctly, I asked where these drive shaft shims were located and what engine (year, size, etc.). He said – “You know. They go between the pistons and the drive shaft.” ????!!! After a little bit of thought I suggested rod bearings and maybe mains as well. Had to show him a picture. Finally got the info that the car was a Ford Fairlane with a 260 small block. Was the crank std.? Didn’t know but he thought it was. So sold him the bearings, a gasket set and rings (best as could be determined the pistons were std. too). Figured I would never see him or the car (with a little luck). I shuddered to think of that engine after he got through with it.

    About 4 hours later he’s back. I asked what he needed. He said that he needed to return the new rings as they were all broken. I asked him how he’d get them on the pistons if there wasn't a gap in them…. He left (thankfully) and I never saw him again. As soon as he got out the door, all of us in there cracked up.

    Between the “drive shaft shims” and the broken piston rings, my counterman days still bring back fond memories.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2014
    33sporttruck likes this.
  2. GregCon
    Joined: Jun 18, 2012
    Posts: 689

    from Houston

    Back in the 70's, my friend's father worked at a Chevy dealership when catalytic converters started to come into use.

    One day, an older guy came in...we assume he had been fed a line by his friends....asking the parts counter for 'one of those Cadillac converters' for his Impala. After some discussion, it came to pass that he was looking for a kit that converted his Chevy into a Cadillac. This is actually not as dumb as it sounds because those were the days when everyone knew that various divisions shared frames, engines, etc and often only the grille and tail lights were really different. In any case, they had to let him down.
  3. czuch
    Joined: Sep 23, 2008
    Posts: 2,688

    from vail az

    Unlimited Auto parts.
    On University ave. in SD. Had a great time in '81/2/3.
    That was also a real parts store. It got to where you could open the right book, almost to the right section, almost every time. We could get anything. Once I got a windshield for a '66 Glas. The owner was amazed I knew what a Glas was.
    We had a mechanic who was blind come in on a regular basis.
    Always wondered about that.
    One of the funniest was this larger attractive blonde gal came in with a mousy lookin guy. They wanted the foam you put around 4X4 roll bars. We had some and I asked if they had a 4 by. They said "They didnt, they were into SnM,",,,,,,,,then I heard instant panic laughter from the back. I noticed the leash and collar the dude was wearin. The whole place erupted in laughter and they went away with a nice tube of red roll bar wrap.
    Great times.
  4. After 44 years in dealerships not much surprises me anymore. I'll add some as I remember them.

    Early on ('72) a lady came into the Chevy dealership I worked at asking how to remove wax from a vinyl top. I figured small area from the applicator pad had touched an edge or two. She was very tense, on the verge of tears while asking.

    Went outside, she is explaining that this was her husband's first new car, a '72 Impala Custom coupe and he was out of town for work and she wanted to surprise him when he got home and wax his TRIPLE BLACK "baby".

    Well she did, waxed the whole car including the vinyl top. I don't know how I kept from breaking out laughing but I did. She did attempt to remove the wax from the top but the grain kept it's wax, light green, probably Turtle Wax.

    My only suggestion was to get one of the small hand brushes like mechanics used to use for their hands and start going over the whole top until all the wax was gone.

    At least the top would have a nice shine to it .......

  5. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    S&M trumps drive shaft shims. Good one.
  6. need louvers ?
    Joined: Nov 20, 2008
    Posts: 12,906

    need louvers ?

    Flint Foreign Auto Parts in Tempe, AZ. About '83 or so... Having been raised in the retail world, I was always very good at working with the public. One of the things I am very good at is understanding those that don't speak English very clearly or at all. This fact was figured out early at Flint, as the other guys would just hand somebody off to me and I would do what ever I needed to do to get their parts needs met. So, The manager sets the phone down slowly one afternoon, and says, "You need to take this one..." I answer, and the voice on the phone is very deep, very gravelly, has a very "sloppy" southern accent from probably Mississippi or Louisiana... "I godda ges me 'um pars fo' me Hooo Ho" Pardon me? "I godda ges me 'um pars fo' me HOOOOO Ho!" I'm sorry, I'm not getting what your needing... "ME HOOO HO!!!! A HOOOOO HO goddamit!!! Needs dem pars!!!!" Wait, Peugeot? "Yassa, wha' hell do yus think I was say'n HOOOO HO!"

    Problem solved, my work is done here.....
  7. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    I'm usually good at that - but a Hooo Ho would probably have gotten past me. Good one.
  8. BuckeyeBuicks
    Joined: Jan 4, 2010
    Posts: 2,619

    from ohio

    I worked in parts stores from 68 thru 94 with a couple years off for the US ARMY(only lottery I ever won) and a couple more years in a factory(that sucked!) I really liked the job but got tired of the small paychecks.
    I had many funny dealings with customers over the years. one lady came in for a set of plugs for a John Deere A, I got her the two plugs and she said " Hey buddy, I pickup parts all the time and I know a set of plugs is 8 so don't give me any shit just because I am a woman" so I sold her 4 sets of plugs for the 2 popper. Another lady wanted a boat battery so I asked her if it went in a battery box, she said yes so I said" How big is your box mam?' I said it before I thought, she didn't catch how it sounded but the rest of the guys at the counter did and headed for the back real fast.
    I had a guy that left his bearings and seals in his front drums, I turned the drums and put the bearings and seals in a rag with the turned drums. I was gone when he picked them up and the counter guy left them lay when the guy picked up the drums. I get a call in a couple hours with this DIY dude maddder than hell wanting to know what the hell I done to his drums as he took the car down the road and it make a really bad grinding sound. I also had a "body man" that couldn't match black!
    In 94 I got on as a USPS letter carrier and finally made it out alive last Oct. so now life is good and I have time to play with my old cars. I hate to have to go in these new so called parts stores with the numb nuts at the counters. I have the best luck getting parts for my old stuff by going thru my old parts books I kept and giving them the part number to cross, some of them are smart enough to do that.
    Its just like everything else, I miss the good old days!
  9. need louvers ?
    Joined: Nov 20, 2008
    Posts: 12,906

    need louvers ?

    So, back at Flint, We worked as a big and fairly well oiled team. It was a busy shop with probably 6 or 7 counter men and the obligatory cute blonde counter woman. We also as a group spent lots of time off the clock together, as people do in their late teens and early twenties, so many evening were at others place for dinners , parties movies, what ever. Our wives and girlfriends all got along great, so they all talked during the week too.

    One day, Dave Hand came in and said, "I'm sorry guys, but my wife has a girlfriend that does those lingerie and "toy" parties, and our women have decided that we are ALL going to be at our house on Friday night for her presentation...". At home that night, Jaynie tells me that this is considered mandatory! Shit...

    One of the guys I worked with was named Yan. Yan was from Belgium, originally, and was a sort of quite, square jawed, semi taciturn type, about 23 years old. He had gone back to Belgium about six months earlier and married his high school sweetheart, and brought her back to the states. Mrs. Yan spoke just a smattering of English, but was a very shy "sweetheart" kinda gal, and she fell in with the girls fairly quickly.

    Here's where this gets a bit off color... Kinda. So the big night arrives, and we find ourselves somewhat awkwardly seated at the house of Hand, on our best behavior watching this gal's presentation, and seeing the latest in "adult toys". Jaynie bites first and buys a French Maid costume, and the evening goes on. The girl holds up an item that is meant for, shall we say the male genitalia, as a means of "keeping it warm" shaped like the trunk of an elephant. Mrs. Yan, who had been sort of morbidly quite throughout this whole affair, turns bright red, giggles and say "I take!!! But bigger?" The gal reaches into the box and pulls one out that was about 3" longer, and Mrs. Yan said "Bigger?" She reaches into the box and comes out with one that is comically long. "Ya!!!" Meanwhile, quite Yan is slowly trying to sink into the couch he is on, as he realizes just how bad this is going to suck...

    So, Yan was off that weekend, we assume trying out his new "acquirement". Now, I have always been very good at imitating things and people. One that I do VERY well is a trumpeting elephant. Purse the lips, Blow through the vibrating lips and arc your arm like the trunk of an elephant. Suddenly, all my co workers wanted to learn this strange talent. So, me being the nice guy that I am, I spent most of Saturday teaching all that wanted to learn, including some good, close customers that had now heard of the purchase.

    Poor Yan suffered greatly that week... And for many months hence. I saw Yan about five years ago and he laughed and blew an elephant trumpet...
  10. aircap
    Joined: Mar 10, 2011
    Posts: 1,704


    Great stories, all!
  11. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    If he would have said a Hooo Ho 504, I MIGHT have gotten it.
  12. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    Good ones! I particularly like the way you handled the gal with the John Deere.
  13. 33sporttruck
    Joined: Jun 5, 2012
    Posts: 530


    In the 80's I worked for Flag Auto Parts in West Georgia. Flag started out as the typical Mom and Pop Type Store but over the years had become quite successful which lead to 7 stores and a warehouse.
    Having 7 stores we also had 7 Store Managers and you might guess that at least one of those Managers would be the kind of Guy that knew everything. Mac (ex Navy Seal) was our know it all go to Manager.
    One winter afternoon it began to snow heavily but the owners refused to close early and let us get home. There was no traffic on the roads which meant no customers in the store. Soon boredom sat in and the 7 stores started calling each other to check on road conditions and general Bull Shit !
    It was about that time that I came up with the idea that it was time to pull a good one on Old Mac (remember Mac, the know it all) After a while the plan was set and one by one each store called Mac (20 minute intervals) and requested help in locating a pair of "FALLOPIAN TUBES" for a O/T Honda Accord. Each store explained to Mac that it was a part of the smog system.
    This Crap went on for seemingly hours when Mac finally called each of the 7 stores and proudly announced that "Team Honda" did not have a listing for "FALLOPIAN TUBES" but they would get back with him as soon a the could get Info directly from Honda.
    I don't think that anyone ever explained the description of a "FALLOPIAN TUBE" to Mac but it sure kept our "ASSES" laughing that snowy night in West Georgia.
    If you don't no what a "FALLOPIAN TUBE" is Don't Ask........................Jeff
  14. 33sporttruck
    Joined: Jun 5, 2012
    Posts: 530


    A tall and very well stacked Blonde walks to the Parts Counter. One of the younger Guys make a mad dash to get to her first and his tongue wash already hanging out.
    Kirk says, "May I help you ???"
    Blonde smiles at Kirk and says, " I need a Black Bra !!!"
    About this time Kirk is about to lose it and replies, "Honey, I bet you do !!!
    Blonde comes unglued and says, "It's for my Damn Car, Asshole !!!"
    You guessed it, we all broke out in laughter................ Jeff
  15. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    Good ones, Jeff. Didn't know that anyone still fell for the "Fallopian tubes" gag.

    Reminds me of sending new guys for a bucket of "Prop Wash" when I was in the Navy (and some planes still had propellers).
  16. roughneck424
    Joined: Jan 10, 2009
    Posts: 1,084


    Little off topic.
    But growing up my Dad owned a full service gas station.
    I learned real fast I liked washing windows for the nice girls/ladies that came in.
    I saw ALL kinds of things :)
  17. Don's Hot Rods
    Joined: Oct 7, 2005
    Posts: 8,319

    Don's Hot Rods
    from florida

    I work in the marine business and all day I help people get the right parts to fix their boats. Some of them scare me because they have NO idea what they are doing and sometimes the things they are fixing can hurt or kill people.

    Had a guy one day who I was trying to explain how to hook up some electrical component and I told him to run the black wire to a ground. He said "So, do I put the black wire over the side of the boat and into the water to make the ground ?" :eek: (he wasn't kidding)

    And just the other day a guy wanted some inch and a half fuel hose to connect his fuel fill to his tank. When I told him it was about $15 a foot he looked down at the $2 a foot plastic bilge hose and said "Can I use that ?" I told him it would melt from the gas and also the Coast Guard would fine him if they saw it on the boat. He said "They would have to take up the screws on my console to find it."

    He had his little Daughter with him and I said "You don't think very much of your family do you, because you could blow up the boat and kill them !" He left, but I bet he found someone to sell him some cheap hose and installed it. :(

    Some people should not be working on their own stuff.

  18. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91



  19. I worked as a mech. for a rental yard and the owners son who was older then me, asked me for a list of parts i would need for a lift truck I was working on,i gave him a list of parts including a muffler bearing,He came back hours later saying he had everything on the list,except the dam muffler bearing and wanted to know if i had a part#.
  20. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    Was a pump jockey for a while too. Never was lucky enough to see anything "special" while washing windshields, but one day a large Mennonite family pulled in for gas, driving a plain-Jane black (of course) 63 Chevy station wagon. Did the windshield and asked if I should check the oil (expecting to find a 6-banger). The guy said yes and I was more than a little blown away to find a nicely chromed up 409 under the hood.
    33sporttruck likes this.
  21. 23tub
    Joined: Jun 8, 2013
    Posts: 91


    Just knowing that the guy at the parts store was laughing his butt off. Isn't nepotism great?
  22. 01spirit750
    Joined: Oct 27, 2010
    Posts: 86

    from Ohio

    So I witnessed this at the local auto paint supply store.

    I walk in to get some primer and the customer at the counter was ordering a gallon of paint to paint his car. The guy behind the counter realized that this customer did not really understand what he was doing, so the sales guy was asking what type of spray gun and what size compressor was he using.

    So the customer responded that " Can't I just use a paint brush?" Of course the sales guy tells him not really. The customer then sees the display with the little 6 oz bottles with the "power unit" you screw onto the top (glorified DIY rattle can). The customer asks if he can use these to paint his car.

    By this point I had been helped by another sales person and I was heading out the door.

    I always felt bad for these sales guys. I guess these get a lot of questions like this.
  23. Let's start the countdown to the "710 Cap" story, the Pontaic "GOOLIE" or one of the standard lies that invariably pop up every time a variant of this thread is started.
  24. belair
    Joined: Jul 10, 2006
    Posts: 8,977


    Great stories. Thanks for sharing. But I'm waiting for someone to share their "710" story.
  25. belair
    Joined: Jul 10, 2006
    Posts: 8,977


    Wow Carl-you are fast.
  26. 1971BB427
    Joined: Mar 6, 2010
    Posts: 8,209

    from Oregon

    Ahh those days of real parts stores, and countermen who knew their parts, and part numbers! How I miss going into a parts store to ask for a simple pair of SBC valve cover gaskets, and not having to give year, make model, engine size, etc., etc....
    But I do have fun with the parts guys at the chain stores when they ask these questions now. The computer gives them fits when I tell them it's a 1946 Austin A10, with a 355 SBC. Or a 1963 Falcon Futura with a 464 BBC. The look on their face is priceless!
  27. white64
    Joined: Sep 15, 2008
    Posts: 679

    from Maine

    I always try to respect any question no matter how silly I might think it is, we're all born not knowing a damn thing. You can bet your ass at some computer store someplace there is a 30 year old nerd who know's nothing about cars, nor does he care to; so when a car guy walks in and wants to add memory to his 10 year old HP (horse power) pc, and the guy behind the counter says you need more RAM and the car guys says he didn't realize that Mopar made computer parts. .... as you leave you hear 4 guys laughing their asses off...

    We all know something someone else doesn't. If you laugh at someone for not knowing what you know, prepare your self to be on the receiving end someday.

    sermon over...
  28. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 32,646


    Things I learned while while working the parts counter:

    A "Capri" isn't a Mercury according to the local farm workers but is a Big Chevy.

    Buying four rolls of limo black window tint for small two door car is ok because you need at least three layers to get it "really dark".

    Enough JB weld will fix almost anything.

    It isn't rude to ask the guy to bring his registration slip into the counter to know exactly what he is working on.

    My girlfriend at the time could get one of my coworkers shaking, sweating and turning to jello while talking to him on the phone for 30 seconds while I finished with a customer.
  29. 54fierro
    Joined: Jul 6, 2006
    Posts: 493

    from san diego

    Ah yes, and sometimes Sentra was a Buick and not Nissan. Along with the "Cadillac converters" mentioned before.

    I remember hearing of Taylor auto parts yet never visited there or knew of their long history. I worked at Best Buy Auto Supply in National City from around 90-00 or so.

    Loved being able to pull parts off the shelf as the customer still had them in their hand walking in. Was probably the last "old school" shop in town. All catalogs and hand written invoices. Have to mention Daryl Holmes the owner and old car fanatic, made me the car guy i am today. That man taught me alot.

    I think the stories from this side of the counter are better that the customer versions fro that other thread :)

  30. Back in the early 80's I was working in a parts store. Lots of my car buddies used to hang out there. Whenever I brought my 55 or 40 to work, I would park it out front so I could keep an eye on it. One day a local kid decided he was going to steal the chrome valve stem caps off of my car. I guess he thought they would look cool on his bike. Well unbeknown to him, a friend of mine, who also happened to be a cop, was coming by to hang out for a bit. Now bare in mind, he was in uniform. He saw what the kid was doing and grabbed him up. He walked in the store escorting the kid by the arm, the poor kid was scared shitless. My buddy acts like he didn't know me and asked who owned the car out front. I told him it was mine. He told the kid to tell me what he had done. Poor kid holds out his hand with the caps in his sweaty little paws and confesses to his "crime". After the officer tells the boy what could happen to him as a result of his crime, he turns to me and asks if I want to press charges! I tell him that I am going to let him slide this time, but we got his address and if I ever catch him doing anything like that again, I'm calling his father! Poor kid was shaking like a dog shittin' razor blades! I felt so sorry for him I wanted to give him a hug! I ended up giving him some stickers and sent him on his way. He would visit often after that, asking for more decals n such. Hopefully, we dissuaded him from a life of crime! :rolleyes::)

    Here's a picture of the scene of the crime from back in the day.


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