Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 17, 2000

Three hotrods and he has the shortest commute around

By Luis Puga

Amidst the noise of power tools, Don Artmann of Big Don's Carthedral of Lester Prairie smiles contently.

After all, he took his hobby and part-time vocation of fixing cars out of his home and turned it into a business.

For 10 years, Artmann worked at Waconia Ford as a mechanic, coming home to his own shop to do work on cars after hours.

However, due to repeat clientele and referrals, he ended up working, on average, six hours on weekdays, and 12 hours each weekend in his shop.

Even with the help of a part-time employee, he was keeping very busy.

And so, seven months ago, Artmann opened a backyard shop,a building originally intended for storage, and made it into his own carthedral, where, he adds that he does everything for cars.

Now, even with full time help from Ryan Guenigsman and Artmann's wife, Kari, helping out as office manager, Artmann admits his shop "is a pretty hopping place."

Part of the reason that repeat clientele come back is the obvious affection Artmann has for his work.

There are three clear examples of that affection: a '48 Ford Coupe, a '38 Chevy two-door sedan, and a '72 Chevy pick-up.

All have been restored to street rod condition; and Artmann adds that he has a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that he's working on too.

Of course, not everyone drives a hotrod, but he knows how to fix those cars with the same amount of care.

It is that own personal touch that he gives to his own cars that he likes to bring to his work.

For instance, complain about a brake that squeaks when accelerating slowly through a turn, and Artmann comes up with a possible diagnosis off the cuff.

It may be sand from all the winter roads that's gotten into the wheel.

Depress the brake when it makes the sound to see if the tone changes, and you may have found the possible solution.

This diagnosis comes from the array of knowledge that a mechanic has to have these days. Artmann said he works on a variety of cars, from a rare 1970 Plymouth Superbird (only 1,970 made) to a fleet of 16 trucks out of Chanhassen.

He added that he mostly sees models from 1985 to 1997, all with their own unique quirks and needs. Some might need simple checks, like when he looks over cars for used car dealerships. Others might need to be hooked up to computer scanners to diagnose the problem.

There's also his work on more specialized, classic vehicles. He said the older vehicles require a little more patience, working with older metals to get the fit just right.

Still, he's willing to put in a lot of hours for those occasional special projects. About two years ago, he did a complete conversion on a 1954 Bentley, working on everything from the motor and transmission to changing the side on which the steering wheel was positioned.

He also completely reconditioned a 1947 Chevy pick-up, that was once used to haul hay on a farm, into a street rod.

All of these hours point out one reason why it's advantageous to work at home. Artmann stays available to his customers, even after hours, as well as being near his family too.

From time to time, one can even find his daughter, Jessica, and his son, Josh, helping their father out in the shop.

Artmann provides just about every service a car needs, from transmissions to tire sales to some light body work.

He's also a certified welder. One thing he doesn't do alignments, at least not yet.

With all these services, Artmann keeps track of careful records on his customers, noting when their last repair was and at what mileage on his computer.

With a $38/hour labor rate, opposed to $65/hour labor rate at a dealership, it is easy to see why Artmann is so busy.

Sometimes, that means burning the midnight oil. Especially, since the busier he gets, the more time he has to spend on the phone during the days.

But, Artmann says all of this with a smile on his face. Being busy doesn't seem to be a problem for him, and he said he has grown accustomed to it.

He said, simply, "I've always liked cars."

He probably always will.

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