Bay Automotive’s Stan Calhoon a man of many talents
By Tara Nelson
Stan Calhoon is a man of many trades and maybe even a master of several.
Stopping by his new three-bay automotive repair shop on Bay Road, Calhoon is likely to stop you and tell you a few colorful stories of growing up in Birch Bay, when the speed limit on Birch Bay Drive was 5 mph and it took two hours to drive from Point Whitehorn to Birch Point.
He may also fix your car and tell you how he deplores automotive repair shops where customers can’t talk to the mechanic.
Or he might show you his 1960 mint-condition Chevrolet Impala, tell you about his passion for growing patent roses, his hobby of restoring antique furniture, or play an impeccable version of The Music of the Night from the Phantom of the Opera musical on his grand piano.
“A lot of people call me a renaissance man,” he said. “I’m not your average dummy. I’m also a pretty alright mechanic.”
Calhoon grew up just west on the same road where he now runs Bay Automotive Repair.
His family owned a farm on the original highway from Blaine to Ferndale, or the Old Blaine-Ferndale Road, now known as Bay Road in the lost community of Pleasant Valley where his father was a delivery driver for Darigold.
“When I grew up here, 300 people lived here year-round and 40,000 people lived here in the summer,” he said. “It was wall-to-wall people who came to visit the carnival, the big skating rinks and the train that went around the bay.
“People came and rented horses to ride on the beach or bicycles, double and triple bikes or tricycles. There was a really great drive-in by the C Shop. Now, there’s nothing for kids to do and they’ve fallen by the wayside.”
At the age of 14, Calhoon was responsible for raising the family’s Rhode Island reds and White Leghorn chickens, selling the surplus eggs at the Pleasant Valley Market down the road.
This, he said, taught him valuable business skills as he was able to use some of the money he earned to buy more chickens and double his profits with each subsequent year, which he used to pay for his own piano lessons.
“As a kid, I had pretty good pocket change,” Calhoon said. “When you grow up on a farm, you learn to become a jack of all trades.”
After graduating from Blaine high school in 1961, he attended Western Washington University, then known as Western Washington College of Education, to pursue a degree in chemistry, but by the third quarter, he decided it wasn’t for him and moved to Seattle to “make money.”
Soon after, he joined the U.S. Navy to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Army and eventually became the person in charge of the radar room in the air wing division on an aircraft carrier.
“I learned if you studied really hard, they would keep putting you through school, so I did,” he said.
After finishing his term, he landed a position at Honeywell, a computer systems control company, working on large-scale computer systems in a position that flew him all around the country.
Four years into the job, during one of his trips home, he saw his two-year-old daughter, who didn’t recognize him. “I said, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’” he said.
Then, after a neighbor who was a representative for Shell Oil company, suggested he open a repair shop, he and his family sold their $40,000 home in San Jose, California, some of his cars, and found the cheapest two-bedroom apartment in Concord, California while they scraped and saved. A short time later, in early 1970s they purchased a Shell service station in Moraga, California.
By 1984 he had acquired 14 service stations in the Bay area, and a full-blown auto parts store. They sold everything later that year and moved to Bellevue so his former wife could pursue a master’s degree in Shakespeare from the University of Washington.
Soon after he moved to Washington, Mobil representatives approached him and asked him to run their service station on Eighth and Bellevue Way. Two years later, he had acquired another four stations but relinquished them when Mobil agreed to a property exchange with British Petroleum.
“The BP representative came in my shop one day and told me they were thinking of remodeling the shops and selling candy bars,” he said. “So I handed him my keys and told him he would have four empty stations at the end of the day. I wasn’t about to sell candy.”
So it was on to Mill Creek, where Calhoon purchased a 7-bay garage that he ran successfully for the next 19 years. As the area became more developed and land values increased, however, Calhoon was priced out of the market, he said.
“The next thing I knew, I couldn’t get a lease renewal and then the next thing I knew my social security check started coming in the mail,” he said. “I figured it was time to retire, or at least sort of.”
That’s when his brother Jim Calhoon, a local real estate broker, suggested Stan come home and take up a 1,500-square foot home with a nice 3-bay garage on Bay Road.
Calhoon said when he put the sign up, it was raining and three people stopped in within the first few minutes and asked if his shop was open. Business has since done well, he said.
“It’s really taken off,” he said. “But now I’m thinking, did I really want to work this hard?”
Bay Automotive is located at 4144 Bay Road in Birch Bay. They can be reached by calling 366-1043 or 360/623-5042.