Thursday Sep 17 2009
He’s a walking history of Auburn auto lore
By: Michael Kirby
After three years of service in the Korean War, Pat Butler landed in Texas and took a job at a Lincoln/Mercury dealership. “I would walk over to get a filter and the parts guys would slide the little window open to the shop and I would feel that cool air rush out and I saw how clean and nicely dressed they were. I knew when I came back to California, that’s what I wanted to do,” Butler said. “I’d be all sweaty and greasy and those men were clean and cool in the Texas summers.” That simple decision led to a 55-plus-years career in auto parts that continues today. Butler was raised in the Auburn area, graduating from Placer High School in 1949. He joined the military right out of high school and on the advice of his boss in Texas, after he was discharged, Butler moved back to Auburn in 1954. “I’d been working there for maybe eight or nine months and the owner came out and said, you know there’s no future here in Texas, you should go back to California. You can make a better living there,” Butler said. With his wife, Butler returned to Auburn and took a room in the Ivy Motel, which is now the Elmwood Motel on the corner of Elm Avenue and High Street. He walked around the corner to the Duncan Motor Company, a Buick dealership, which was located in the building that is now the Salvation Army, and asked the owner if there were any openings. “Old man Duncan looked at me and said, ‘You know anything about cars?’ I said yeah, and he said, ‘You know anything about parts?’ I said I knew a little and he says, ‘You want to be the parts manager?’ I was kind of shocked, and then he said, ‘Take this Buick book back to the motel and study it and come in Monday. You’ll be the parts manager,’” Butler recalled. Butler is a historian when it comes to Auburn’s auto dealerships. He can recall the names of all the dealerships and where they were located, who owned them, their names, what building they occupied, who worked there, covering the last half-century of Auburn’s auto history. What’s even more interesting is that Butler has worked at most of the dealerships at one time or another. Admitting to be a workaholic, at age 78 Butler has no plans for retirement and is currently parts manager at Sierra Chevrolet in Auburn. He names his other employments easily, remembering auto dealers long gone. Duncan Buick became Smart Auto, then he went to Tucker Chevrolet in Folsom, then to Lemmon Chevrolet in Auburn in 1966, then Glenn Phelps Chevrolet/Oldsmobile, then to Jack Amick who sold Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Oldsmobile, Subaru and even Opel vehicles. He also worked for Wendell Chevrolet and then Shephard/McNulty Chevrolet. In 1986, Steve Snyder bought the Shephard/McNulty dealership, renamed it Gold Rush Chevrolet and Butler has been its parts manager ever since. Remembering back over the past half-century, Butler also recalls the Chevy dealership at Bell Road and Highway 49 stood out in the middle of nowhere. He recalls there was a Tucker Automobile dealership in Auburn selling the uniquely engineered cars. He remembers the catchy slogan Folsom’s Wendell Tucker Chevrolet had, “Dicker, Dicker, Dicker, with Tucker, Tucker, Tucker.” He remembers Bud Bloxman a great mechanic who took the time to show him the ropes. He also remembers working by the PG & E work whistle on Sacramento Street. Hearing the work whistle blow at 8 a.m. meant it was time to start work, and the whistle at 5 p.m. was quitting time. “You could hear it all over town,” Butler said.