4619 Torresdale Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. Registration 1957, #114391. Cast of Characters: Sam, his loving wife Mary and by a prior marriage, Sam’s son Frank Pecora, those below and more. Down Torresdale Ave on Orthodox Street was Northern Auto Parts. Each day a lunch truck came and served hot cooked food. Fried baloney. Great.
Sam was one of the best people I’ve ever met. He had a junk yard, as they were called in the 50’s and he hired me as a mechanic. There were about 50 men working there and Mary.
The automatic transmission repair shop owners had an association. A franchise guy who had formed “$9.95 Brakes” told Sam it was time to franchise the Automatic Transmission business. Sam wanted no parts of it so he sent the guy to Tony Martino, a part owner of AAMCO transmissions. Two other AAMCO partners Richie DeSilvo and Walt Delutz started Cottman and General Transmissions respectively. AAMCO became part of history with the worldwide AAMCO franchise system.
The absolute smartest man at Sam Evans huge “garage” – a large room with 11 twin post lifts that was built at no cost for the labor, by contractor Bennie Scarchia, for Sam because Bennie lost at a card game. The huge room had the 11 lifts plus room for maybe 30 cars. There were two other big rooms. The best mechanic was Henry Felder. Respected by everyone who knew him and especially by me, an 18 year old greenie. Henry was a “natural mechanic”. He could find a car’s problem and fix it without reference to any auto repair manual. He proved his attributes everyday. He couldn’t read or write and he signed things with an “X”. Never mind that, Henry was plenty smart.
I worked with him for the last time probably in 1963 when I took a job as a travelling salesman. That’s 57 years ago and Henry’s name, face, and voice are still in memory. He sure impressed me. If the mention of his name honors Henry, fine. That’s my intention.
Sam Evans Auto Parts repaired transmissions and rear’s. Henry stood on a raised wooden floor that was over the concrete. He worked all day long standing up at a stainless steel covered workbench. One of his helpers was Robert, another was Ed “Big Money”.
The shop steward was Bill Slick. A big, take charge, friendly, outgoing man with a hundred watt smile.
One of my best friends was Rommie Snyder who had an unusual ability to work a box wrench faster than any other man. Joe Ewing. Died of cirrhosis. Shorty Archer was another good friend. as was John Smith, Jack Ketchem, Joe Green, an Israeli who helped me make the chopper exhaust system for the “WILDCAT”, the first chopper around in 1958, Kachick “Bobby” Chapjian from Armenia, Reds Cooper and his son Phil Cooper. Joe Baker, Al’s brother who eventually founded his own transmission repair shop on State Road in Philly. Really nice people.
Joe Perrone aka “Pip”, a Republican Committeeman in a Democrat run city who could “fix” a traffic ticket and repair any manula transmission and who lived on Edmund street was the standard transmission expert par excellence. His son was Joe Junior and Joe Jr. had a brother Mike; Fred Seliga, Al Baker, his brother Joe Baker, Nino Stella, Art Tuber, the Lempco Rep. and Clyde filled out one of the most colorful times of my life. Joe Jr. invented the stick-shift Hydro automatic transmission. His grandson is still in the transmission business.
Al Baker was hired as the parts manager. I was injured in a motorcycle accident driving Sam’s 3-wheeled 45 cubic inch flathead Harley delivery motorcycle so I was assigned to work in the parts department where I became close to Al. Al had a big fault. He would argue with the rebuilders. He was plenty smart and usually right but he was too obnoxious or something so the rebuilders and the mechanics demanded he be fired. He was fired and I was the temporary parts manager. Nino Stella was hired as the parts manager and became my new boss, a new friend and a big help when it came to getting tuition money to attend Villanova from where I eventually graduated with a BSME. That was 47 years ago.
Most of the people above were black. They taught me, helped me and guided me but I didn’t know it then. They were just people with whom I worked but when you’re working for eight hours each day with people who know more than you, it’s natural to learn from them.
My earlier life was spent among the people around the Oxford Circle. Until I worked at Sam Evans I had no contact with black people. At Sam Evans for a few short years, I did. It was a great life experience although at the time it was just a job. Over time it became much more than that.
I never thanked them. I didn’t really know what was happening back then but if I could meet them again I would easily say thanks with much gratitude. They wouldn’t know what they did to get thanked but years later I realized how important they and others were in my life. They shaped my values and my life.
This is my late Thank You to the marvelous cast of characters, – and each one was a character, at Sam Evans.