What do you do if your snow blower makes a strange noise, your portable generator doesn’t generate, or you just pulled the pull cord out of your lawnmower?
In the Boothbay region, those in the know drive over to a little garage tucked in behind a neat white frame home not far from the intersection of Route 96 and Bradley Road. You can’t miss it. It is the garage framed with dozens of lawnmowers, snow blowers, and other assorted small engine machines.
It is the domain of Jim Holmes, aka Mr. Fixit.
Later this month, the Boothbay native will turn 74. He has had a good run.
He was born here, attended Boothbay High School but dropped out and joined the U.S. Navy after he got a letter from the draft board suggesting he report for an Army physical. “After I got the Army letter, I went out and joined the Navy. I didn’t want to be on the ground,” he said.
From 1965 to 1969, he was a sailor, spending most of his time as an engine man on an aircraft carrier.
“I spent time working on generators and diesel engines and other small stuff,” he said. After he was mustered out, he settled in Pennsylvania working at factory jobs then moved back home.
“There was no salt water where I was at, so I came home and built houses until the market dried up. Then he signed on at Bath Iron Works.
He was a tinsmith installing electrical panels, lockers and the big stainless steel plenums for the powerful turbine engines that power the Navy’s frigates, destroyers and civilian cargo carriers.
“It was good work, and I liked it,” he said. But at age 63, he had a bit of a heart problem, and that led to his retirement after 30 years.
During his working years, he spent weekends and evenings repairing small engines. “It was sort of a hobby. I just helped people out with stuff,” he said.
After he retired, Jim found his “hobby” turned into a full-time job, and his garage/hobby shop soon was filled up with stuff.
Last week, as his homemade wood stove puffed, he gave me a quick tour of the shop. “I got to clean this mess up,” he said.
“I used to have 108 string trimmers hanging from the ceiling. People just didn’t pick them up, so I just gathered them up, threw them into the truck and took them to a Freeport junkyard.
“I don’t fix string trimmers any more. If you replace the cord, you have to take the whole thing apart. That is two or three hours of work, and I have to charge you $80 or $90. Heck, you can buy a new one for $69.”
For the record, Jim Holmes says the biggest problem with small engines is the owner. “They are machines, you have to maintain them. I see (2-cycle) mowers with no oil in the gas. And I see others with water in the gas tank and lines. Most times, I start by cleaning out the gas tank and the carburetor. That usually does the trick.”
In recent months, some homeowners have begun to drive to Wiscasset’s airport and purchase aviation gas. That is OK, he said. But it makes the small engines run very hot, especially chainsaws. You have to put extra oil in those little engines if you run aviation gas, he cautions.
The best tip he has for neighbors who use small gasoline-powered appliances is to clean and maintain them properly.
“They bring me riding mowers caked in mud and grass and wonder why they won’t run.”
Ok, Mr. Fixit, what brand should we buy?
“Well, right now, they are all pretty good, if you maintain them,” he said.
Other than customers who don’t care for their equipment, his biggest pet peeve is folks who bring him stuff to fix, then don’t pick it up after it is repaired.
“I had one customer who asked me to fix his lawnmower. It took me a couple of weeks to get to it, but I fixed it and called him to pick it up.
About two months later, I got a call from the customer’s neighbor.
“She wanted to know when I was going to get around to fix his mower. When I told her I fixed it a month or so ago, she got mad: 'He told me it was still in the shop and he has been borrowing my lawnmower.'"
“Soon, that lady came over to the shop, picked up her neighbor's lawnmower and paid the bill. Then she delivered the mower to her neighbor and made him pay the bill,” he laughed.