Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 10, 2004

Cafferty family has been on auto repair scene for half a century

By Ryan Gueningsman

Bryan Cafferty has always been interested in motors – improving them, tinkering with them, and making them run when something isn’t quite right.

Although Cafferty bought Bryan’s Service in downtown Winsted 50 years ago this month, his interest in machinery goes back even further than that.

Cafferty worked odd jobs while attending school at the District 25 schoolhouse west of Winsted as a child. He recalls being paid $10 a month from one farmer for farm labor, but a farmer from Plato offered him $15 a month, so Cafferty took the best offer.

“You went to work to get them cows milked, you helped with the farming, cultivating, husk by hand, all that junk,” Cafferty said with a laugh.

Just out of the eighth grade, Cafferty started a garage near Sherman Station, just west of Winsted, that he operated for four-and-a-half years. He and his brother, John, were allowed to skip the sixth grade “because we were too smart,” Cafferty said.

While working at Sherman Station, he recalls gas prices as low as 90 cents for five gallons of gas.

“For four-and-a-half years at Sherman Station, I never changed the price of gas,” he said. “None of this dollar and two-dollar stuff like it is now. We didn’t have these computerized pumps either, and people weren’t driving like they are now either with those old cars. The old cars would be on blocks in the winter time.”

World War II was going when Cafferty had the garage at Sherman Station, and before long Cafferty found himself facing time overseas.

“When I got to be 18 years old, they were lookin’ for everybody at that time,” Cafferty said. He was drafted by Uncle Sam, and had his physical with Doc Clemons from Lester Prairie. He went south to Glencoe, where he was supposed to get on a bus bound for Fort Snelling.

“It was colder than Hell that morning.” Cafferty recalled. He got off the bus in Glencoe, and through a chain of events, he got sent back home to run the family farm.

His parents died at a young age, but not before having 10 children.

“They took my brother John, who was a year older, off the farm to go to war,” he said. Cafferty had to quit the garage by Sherman Station, but he moved his shop back to the farm and never stopped tinkering with motors.

He met and married Eleanor Dusoski from Silver Lake in 1943, and they started a family of their own. They farmed for about 10 years, and moved to Winsted in 1954.

“That’s 50 years ago,” Cafferty said. “That’s a long time, ain’t it? You’d think it was only yesterday.”

The couple took up residence in an apartment complex commonly known in Winsted as “The Flats,” and Cafferty bought the repair shop located at 250 Main Avenue West from Hilton Mesenbring of Lester Prairie.

“It has always been said that this is the second oldest building in town,” Cafferty said, sitting at the shop. He pointed to the inside door and noted that it was the original door; the pit that mechanics go into to work on the underside of cars was also the original pit.

When Cafferty took over the business from Mesenbring, the pit was so “full of leaves and garbage because at that time, there was no roof over it, it was just outside,” he said. Cafferty cleaned it out, and eventually, the shop was built to be what it is today.

Throughout the years, all 10 of Bryan and Eleanor’s children have worked at the shop – even the girls helped pump gas when the service station had two gas pumps back in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The whole family went through the shop,” Cafferty said. “They came down and pumped gas so I wouldn’t have to get out of the pit every time somebody drove up.”

Even today, some of the Cafferty family is still involved with the business. Bryan Jr., “Butch” operated the shop for many years until his brother, Alan, took over March 31, 1981, and has been the primary mechanic of the shop ever since. Their brother, Larry, worked there before he got married, and about three years ago he came back to the shop.

“Every one of them has worked in the shop,” Bryan Cafferty said. “That’s why we called it family owned and operated. We bought the place when (daughter) Margie was 10, and it wasn’t long before she could take an engine apart.”

“On Friday nights until 9 p.m., that was our job – we’d sit down here and pump gas,” Alan Cafferty said. He remembers gas prices around 19 cents a gallon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The two pumps located at Bryan’s Service came out of the ground in the early 1970s, according to Alan, because “they weren’t worth it. We’d make about three cents a gallon.”

Both Alan and his father noted that the presence of computers in vehicles has changed their jobs dramatically in recent years.

“We didn’t have computers like they got now,” Bryan Cafferty said. “Now, there’s no room to put a hand in there to get a wrench in to get it apart – some of them are impossible to work on.”

Alan Cafferty noted that he still regularly attends classes to keep him up-to-date on the latest electronic advancements, and said that “not much gets done without my scan tool. It used to be pliers and a screwdriver, but now it’s scan tools. Preventative maintenance is the key.”

The Cafferty family includes daughters Margie (Kritzeck) who lives north of Winsted, Julie (Mann) who lives in Kansas, Catherine (Wiggens) who lives in Victoria, Theresa (Sexton) who lives in Watertown, Betty (Joyner) who lives in Bloomington, Deloris (Otto) who lives in Vandais Heights, and Rosie who lives in Winsted, and sons Alan, Bryan Jr. “Butch,” and Larry, all of whom live in Winsted. All 10 children are graduates of Holy Trinity High School.

“I’d like to retire tomorrow,” Alan Cafferty said with a laugh. “But there’s nothing else I want to do. I’m not going to go to work for someone else after all these years – I’m too stubborn for that.”

The Cafferty family is planning an open house to celebrate 50 years, as well as an 85th birthday celebration for Bryan Cafferty.

The open house will be Friday, May 14 from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with door prizes, refreshments, and music by Ambrose Lewandowski and his accordion. Bring a donation for the McLeod County Food Shelf and be eligible for a drawing for two tickets to the Winstock Country Music Festival.

Bryan Cafferty noted that he has invited some special guests to the open house, including former Holy Trinity priest Father Jack Brunner, and also noted that he is planning on displaying several of his classic tractors.

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