In July, ahead of our son coming to visit from Nebraska, I took my wife’s Honda over to Freddie’s Garage on Tybee to check the air in the tires and the spare. Freddie’s is always several rows deep with parked cars waiting for service.
Service writer Laura Leonard told me to just pull up as close as I could and that the air hose should reach. She handed me a pressure gauge to use. With my weak automotive background (and knees) it took me a half hour to finish the job. When I returned the gauge and asked what I might owe, Laura said, “No charge, come on by any time.”
Well, my wife brought the car back a week later. She went to use the car and heard a rattling noise underneath. After she asked our son if he knew what might be the cause, he said that he had not heard the noise, but that it might stem from a drive through Bonaventure Cemetery.
The day earlier he and his girlfriend had taken two other friends on a tour of the cemetery, and he might have, sort of, scraped a thick oak root on a cautious slow-speed drive. Hmmm.
Freddie’s young mechanic Gavin Buker put the Honda on the lift and fixed a broken bracket and loose heat shield. My wife waited inside, laughed and chatted with Laura, and soaked up the hometown garage ambiance. Laura’s husband Roger is the head mechanic, and our dog growled at him when he stepped inside. My wife apologized, but he said not to worry and got out a generous supply of dog biscuits.
The bill was an unbelievably low $10. My wife said that she felt like giving a tip and told me, “You should write about Freddie’s.”
So here we are. Last week I visited with Freddie Anderson and learned more about this bonafide Tybee institution. It’s named after Freddie’s dad. The family moved to Tybee in 1946 when Freddie was 1 year old. The business was initially a filling station and fuel oil dealer.
Those were the days of full service. As kids, Freddie and his brothers helped out, standing on stools to reach and clean car windshields. When he turned 18, Freddie went to work full time at the garage, and he was the only mechanic until Roger came aboard in 2004.
He’s proud the business has a reputation for service and dependability. He said that, besides locals and tourists, folks from Wilmington Island and Savannah bring their cars to Freddie’s. “Lots of people want only Roger to work on their cars.”
Freddie showed me the old cash register his dad bought. It still works and makes a classic ding when the drawer pops open. He showed me the heavy wooden stand that holds the mechanic work logbook. His son made that in high-school shop class and asked Freddie to keep it until he got settled. “He’s retired now, so I guess that he’s getting close to being settled.”
When I visited with Laura, she said that she loves all the old artifacts in the office and garage. She pointed out the old whetstones, the shop manuals, the chess set made of nuts and bolts by Roger who really enjoys the game.
She grew up in New England small towns. “Tybee reminds me of my upbringing. When people here say, ‘How are you doing?’ they really want to know.”
There is a definite family feel to Freddie’s, at the personal and community level. Freddie’s wife Cathy was town librarian for many years. Laura gives stuffed animals from her collection to the police; they give them to little kids to comfort them during long traffic stops.
While I was there, city council member Monty Parks came in to pay for his oil change. It was $30, and he tipped an additional $10. “I don’t trust anybody but Freddie’s to change my oil.” With a maternal touch, Laura admonished him to bring it in next time when it was due.
And like a proud mother, she told me how she hopes there is a big Freddie’s celebration next year when the family business turns 75.
Ben Goggins, a retired marine biologist, lives on Tybee Island. He can be reached at 912-547-3074 or [email protected]