BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The iconic red letters came down on Friday, but the Y-A-L-E-Y outline on the porcelain walls at the Yaley Auto Clinic still remains.
Jim and Linda Yaley officially sold the building to Dustin Ilmberger of Fort Madison, after a 44-year ownership that took a few twists and turns.
“We bought that building in 1974,” Jim said on Monday afternoon. “I ran it for 40 years. My dad ran a service station since I was one year old and I kind of grew up there and around cars.”
The 79-year-old and his wife purchased the building that was once a service station and Yaley went to work doing tune ups and specialty repairs for the townspeople of Fort Madison.
“It started out as more of a tune-up shop. We didn’t do anything heavy mechanical in there – it was more diagnostic work,” he said. “At one point I bought a machine that would actually talk to you. This machine would give you a readout of your car’s minimums and maximums and people would come in and ask if I had the machine that talked. So that turned out to be a good invesment.”
He said he basically took over the building as it was and didn’t do any real additions or improvements other than putting a new roof on it at one point.
One of the trademarks of the building, aside from keeping the color scheme of the original Sinclair station, is the porcelain walls. Yaley said the building is actually a brick structure, but when it was built they put the porcelain tiles on the front of the brick.
“My banker told me I should have taken those porcelain walls off because they’re probably worth some money,” Yaley joked, reminiscing about the building.
The brick structure can still be seen from the back of the building.
Linda said Jim built a reputation with the community as being honest and hard working and they paid off as the business aged.
“He had a lot of car lots who would tell people to take their car to Yaley’s. He had a lot of ladies come in because he was so honest,” she said.
Yaley said he saw other businesses that “had less scruples” than he did and wanted people to know they could trust him and his work.
He said times have changed and unless you offer a wide variety of services, “tune-up shops” just don’t exist anymore.
“You really can’t even get a tune-up anymore. Times were changing and I saw the handwriting on the wall, so I gradually got out of the mechanical work and got into electronics, car stereos – that kind of thing – CB radios. The cars had got to the point where you had to have so much equipment to work on them and then some of the procedures you couldn’t even do anymore without really expensive equipment. Some you couldn’t buy – even if you could afford it.”
As an aside to repairing cars, Yaley was an avid race fan, and built engines for race cars and even built a few cars to race at area race tracks. He built several cars that won championships locally and across the state, including a state championship at the Iowa State Fair.
“I did do some racing with my brother-in-law and my brother. I worked for a farmer in high school who raced cars so I learned some from that. But when we raced we raced what were called jalopies and stock cars. My brother-in-law raced our cars in the Mississippi Valley organization and then they built the track in Burlington and we raced up there.”
In addition to the service shop and the racing hobby, Yaley also worked as a salesman at Cushman’s Auto Parts and for a while at Skerik Parts and Service Company.
“I didn’t think he’d stick to sales too long and he didn’t really. But he worked on machines in their garages and ended buying enough stuff that, really, helped him open his own shop,” Linda said.
After moving away from tune-ups into the electronics services, Yaley said he was really the only game in town.
“I was the only one in the area doing that kind of work, so that was a pretty good thing for me.”
After having to have bypass surgery in 2006, he decided to close up the shop. It’s been a rental since that time, but he said after talking with Ilmberger about his plans he decided to go ahead and sell the place.
“He called and asked me if it was for sale, and I told him it was.”
The Yaleys say they feel retired now.
“I guess I’m retired,” Jim said. “I always enjoyed going to work and loved the people I worked with. It was fun and it was good ride.”
Linda said the business still resonates within the family.
“Grandpa can fix anything,” she said.