After a lifetime under the hood, Rock Hill mechanic calls it quits

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

The six garage bays at Wayne's Auto Service are quiet now, no longer filled with the whistle of air hoses and pop-pop-pop of hammers striking steel.

After a lifetime spent fixing cars, Wayne Klotz is done. Seventy-five must be old enough to retire, Klotz figures, though he's still not quite sure what life will look like without a muffler to replace or brake pads to install.

On Tuesday afternoon, Klotz walked around the mostly empty garage on Albright Road for one of the final times, joined by his two co-workers -- his brother, George Graff, and nephew, Doug Graff.

"We haven't made a killing," Klotz said. "But then I never went into business for that reason. We made a good living, raised two daughters. We've had a good life out of it."

Klotz and his wife, Elaine, moved to Rock Hill in 1972 from Sussex, Wisc., outside Milwaukee, where Klotz's grandparents migrated from Austria.

Klotz brought to South Carolina a thick Midwestern accent, a love of the Green Bay Packers and a knack for the wrench learned from his stepfather, who also owned a repair shop.

As a young boy, Klotz actually lived in his stepfather's garage for a few years until his parents were able to move the family into a house.

"He just loves cars," said Elaine, his wife of 54 years. "I think he's like a little boy, he likes his hands greasy. That was his life's ambition -- to have a garage of his own. He stuck to it."

Operated Country Club Sunoco

For his first eight years in Rock Hill, Klotz operated the Country Club Sunoco on Saluda Street, back when attendants pumped gas and knew customers by name. It was there that he met Mary Lee Ticktin and her white 1980 Chevrolet Corvette.

"I always took it to him twice a year for checkups," said Ticktin, now 90 and still driving the Corvette. "He's taken care of it all these years. I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to drive, but I was counting on him as long as I did."

Klotz can rattle off the names of customers who followed him from Sunoco to the garage down the street.

"So many of them I've had for years and years," Klotz said. "We did have a good reputation for being a good repair shop, treating people fair. In this business, like in others, there's a lot of shysters just in it to rip people off. We've never operated that way."

Retirement beckons

Earlier this month, Klotz sold the garage to a man who plans to put in a farmers' market. The thought of tomatoes and squash filling the space where Chevys and Cadillacs once sat seems strange to Klotz. Then again, so does retirement.

"For the time being, I'll just hang out and do some things I've got to do at home," he said. "Maybe take a trip somewhere."

Not the nostalgic sort, brother George said he doesn't feel bittersweet leaving the third and last job he'll ever have. Before moving south, George, 68, held down jobs at a cheese factory and electric motor company in Wisconsin.

"I've worked for Wayne now for 22 years," he said. "I'm ready to retire. That's about it."

If the Klotzes miss life at the garage more than they're letting on, they can always do some work on the light blue 1968 Ford F-250 pickup that Wayne drove down from Wisconsin. Forty years later, a good mechanic has kept it running well.

Wayne Klotz, right, and his brother, George Graff, talk about their work before Wayne's Auto Service on Albright Road closes for good.