Closing Up Shop
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 11:00 AM
Rick Humphrey has been his own boss for 24 years. He owns Auto Electric Service, at 712 Jefferson St., and he's worked there for 43 years after he started working for his father, Bob Humphrey.
Rick Humphrey answers a call at the Auto Electric Shop. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchiefirstname.lastname@example.org)
According to Humphrey, there isn't anyone between Madison and Louisville or Madison and Cincinnati that does the specified work on alternators, starters and industrial equipment that he does.
"I don't call this a job, as much as a service to the community. I love it. I really do love it," he said.
After nearly half a century, Humphrey said his love for the job hasn't changed, but his priorities in life have. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer, and complications during chemotherapy have left him partially blind.
"I've had great friends and family to help me during this time," he said.
The shop itself has a long history in Madison. It's been open since 1927 when it was located on Main Street across from the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Rick Humphrey's father, Bob Humphrey, a U. S. Navy veteran of World War II, started there in the 1940's after returning home from the Pacific Theater. He eventually worked his way up to became a partner at the shop in the 1960s, and then bought the company outright in the 1970s.
Bob Humphrey was also one of the crew members for the Miss Madison hydroplane.
Rick Humphrey started running the business in 1989 after his father died of cancer in 1984. His mother, Jean, ran the business for the five-year interim.
When Humphrey closes the doors at the end of the month, there won't be anyone around to take over the business. Which has left some area farmers in a lurch.
"I'm in the process right now, of trying to find somebody that is experienced enough that I can take (my customers) to them. But, I haven't found that person yet," Humphrey said.
Humphrey has worked on alternators for cars, tractors, helicopters, airplanes, tow boats and anything else that's large or industrial.
The problem with alternators is that there isn't a standard used from industry to industry or even model to model within the same industry.
Humphrey said alternators can even change from year to year in the same model of car.
"If my dad came back today, I'd have to retrain him how to do this job. That's how much things have changed," he said.
Humphrey went to an electronics school in Kentucky, but most of his training came on the job with his father.
"The rest was all on-site training. Things my father taught me, things I got wrong and I learned myself. There's not really a schooling for this, and it's a shame," he said.
What he does is rare enough, that customers from across the country seek out his services.
"I got a customer that lives in North Carolina. He sends his stuff to me. I've got people in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Jeffersonville..."
While he knows his job is rare and valuable to his many loyal customers, Humphrey is ready to move on.
"Right now, I'm like a 10-year-old kid at Christmas time. I've got 13 more days to go, I'm counting them down. I'm kind of looking under the tree and looking at the packages," he said.
Humphrey is taking new work up until Aug. 22, and his last day will be Aug. 29.
On his first day off he says he's going to "get out of bed, (and) thank God I don't have to go to work."
He's also planning on visiting some of his long-time customers who he's never met.
"I've got people I've done business with for 30 years that I don't even know. They're out of town and they have people bring their stuff in. So, after I retire, that first couple weeks, I'm going to go out and meet these guys.
"We know about each other's families and we're friends, you know. It's just eye sight. We haven't been there yet."
That comradery is something he'll miss as his life moves past Auto Electric Service.
"What I'm going to miss in this business is not the work. Not getting up early, getting dirty or going home late at night. That's not what I'm going to miss. I'm going to miss my friends. The social life, the guys coming in and joking with me."
With his time at work coming to a close, Humphrey said what he's most proud of is what the shop has done for his family. Income made at the shop has been enough to send Humphrey and his two daughters to college and his mother has kept the books at the shop since 1970.
"We didn't get rich, but it's provided for us"
"I get dirty," Humphrey said. "I always told my kids, don't be ashamed of these hands. That's what my father told me."