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February 25, 2016 • Headline News
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Whitey’s auto body shop closes in Friendship
Popular garage owner hangs up tools

Mary Mattingly

“Take it to Whitey.” That was a common phrase for at least a half century among southern Ripley County families when their cars were wrecked or broke down. Larry “Whitey” Huntington of Friendship may be considered a living legend, at least in this area, for his way around four wheels and an engine.

Whitey HuntingtonSUBMITTED PHOTO
Pictured is Whitey at his shop years ago.

“He’s a master at it. It’s amazing what he can do,” gushed long-time friend Margaret Wilson, formerly of Friendship. She’s been sending him cars since she was old enough to drive, and even her parents did. Her own daughter and son in Batesville did too, and even their children, who live out of state, brought in their vehicles for Whitey to fix. Matter of fact the last car he worked on was her grandson’s SUV. He brought it from Lexington, Kentucky. Margaret’s late brother, R.C. Voris, a self-professed car nut, even brought his vehicles from Indianapolis for the master to work on. “No one is better than Whitey,” Margaret said.

Many others in Ripley County agree. One family with three young drivers probably gave Whitey 10 cars in a 6 year period to fix. They trusted him. When you live in a small town, your reputation is your bread and butter. If he wasn’t honest or fair, Whitey’s Auto Shop, both the garage and the auto body shop he owned, wouldn’t have stayed in business for nearly half a century. That doesn’t include the fact that he was a gifted mechanic. It also doesn’t matter that he was born in the small town, where he and Dot raised their own two boys, Mark and Tim, there.

Whitey, 81, has hung up his tools and closed the shop in December, much to the disappointment of his loyal customers and neighbors. Due to health reasons, he just can’t get under and around cars like he used to. Whitey, who got his nickname because of his snow white hair, started when he was just 11 years old washing parts at Corson’s dealership, earning a dollar a day. “That was pretty good. I could buy a Coke, a candy bar, or an ice cream cone for a nickel,” Whitey commented.

His uncle, Russell “Ping” Huntington, worked there too and that’s how he got wind of the job. But it’s not how he kept it. His own natural aptitude and work ethic kept him on the job at the only place he ever worked, if you don’t count his Army service. (His service included 18 months during peacetime in the late 1950s in Germany.) Whitey ended up buying the body shop behind the grocery story from his old boss, Jack Corson, in 1975 and around 1989 he bought the nearby garage and gas station. Many also remember when it was a Chevy dealership. He worked every day, six days a week, often past dark, fixing other people’s mistakes or misfortunes. Deer season was the busiest, Whitey recalled. “When the deer were in the rut, there were always lots of accidents.” Back then, there wasn’t a make of car he couldn’t work on, at least not until the automakers started using computers did he have to turn away a vehicle in need. He just didn’t have the expensive high-powered equipment required for the newer models. It’s not surprising though since this comes from a man who walked around the car, making notes of the damage, and wrote out bills on a 5 by 7 card, not a computer printout. New makes can be impressive with automatic seat heaters and built-in GPS systems. He’s noticed the metal on cars today is much thinner, but there are good things too that developed. “It’s amazing how much mileage you can get out of a car,” he commented.

First ride
A man doesn’t forget his first car and Whitey is no exception. Whitey’s was a 1937 Chevy that he bought in 1950 for $150. He restored it, made it look good and run well. The next one was a ’35 pickup he bought to haul rocks from the creek to make a stone wall by the Friendship Bank, a wall which still stands today, he noted. It took him all summer to build the wall. The next vehicle was a ’41 Chevy, and then a “brand new ’55 Chevy convertible” for $2,250 that he installed the heater, radio and even the mirrors on. That’s how cars rolled off the factory lines then. He married Dorothy Otte soon after, but she wasn’t as enamored with his fancy ride. “It was either too cold or too hot,” he said. “We would take it out for a Sunday afternoon and return sunburnt.” He bought his bride at least 18 cars over the years, trading them every two years or once they hit 50,000 miles. They were married for 55 years and formed a good business team. A co-owner, she managed the finances and record keeping of their business, while he worked on the cars. Dot passed away in 2012. Whitey was most comfortable working on Chevrolets “cause I grew up with them” due to the local dealership. Whitey’s favorite car? He doesn’t hesitate, “A ’63 Corvette.” He never had one, but he so admired the clean lines and powerful engine, and it was a Chevrolet.

He had a lot of “repeat business,” as he called it, generations of family car owners who came for help over his seven decades. The garage and body shop was a magnet for visitors. Margaret Wilson says she’s never gone there without people there. When his work was caught up, you could find Whitey and friends at the round table at the nearby grocery store, sipping coffee, discussing how it is, and how it was. That’s when the town had two grocery stores and five gas stations, plus the hardware store, a tavern, the bank, a post office, and some plumbing and heating businesses, Whitey recalls. He usually got busier at night because that’s when the farmers would make it in after working the fields or their day jobs. They also had a feed mill in town. He remembers when the mill caught fire, but they couldn’t save it from total destruction. Whitey was on the fire department, actually volunteered there for 50 years and his son Tim today is the fire chief. Son Mark, who lives in Morris, also is involved in vehicles, sort of. He works for UPS. Whitey used to drive the Friendship fire trucks. He also worked on several of them, and bought and restored a 1946 truck but sold it some 20 years later. That was often the pattern, leaving the vehicle better than when he first laid eyes on it. His reputation went beyond the county lines. NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon trusted Whitey to work on their race cars, and he proudly displays pictures at the back of the garage of those fine cars.

Granted, Whitey often saw people at their worst; they were worried about how to get to work without wheels, and how to manage the costs of what insurance wouldn’t cover. But, his soft spoken manner complimented the business, and today he gets choked up when he thinks of the customers not the cars he’s come to know over the years. Weren’t they often cranky, rude, and demanding? No, he replies, they were nice. They were good people.

The son of Lula and Wilkie William Huntington, who was also good with his hands as he was a blacksmith, Whitey’s age and health has forced him to stay above the chassis these days. He’s 81 afterall, and it’s time to enjoy the rest of the ride. “I’d still do it all over again. I have no regrets,” he added.
And let’s be honest; that’s a statement few would make over a lifetime in the same business.

Local Bulletin Board

Candidate list sign-ups begin

Ripley Publishing Company, Inc. will be running a continuous candidate listing beginning March 15. For $125 your name along with the office you are running for will appear in both newspapers through the May Primary Election. In addition, you will receive a free press release along with a photo in one of the newspapers. The press release must be submitted to our office along with a photo. Arrangements can be made to have a photo taken in our office. Please call 812-689-6364 or email us at or stop by our office at 115 S Washington Street in Versailles to get your name on the list.

Feb. 29
Public meeting to discuss plan for EMS in county
Commissioners agreed with a date set for February 29 at 7 p.m. in the annex building, Versailles. They will have their regular meeting that morning as usual and only discuss medical service during the evening meeting. Read the article on the front pg. of The Versailles Republican dated Feb. 18.

March 1
Ivy Tech Community College Transfer Fair
Ivy Tech Community College invites students to the College Transfer Fair to learn how they can transfer college credits to continue their education. Read the entire article on page 2 of The Versailles Republican dated Feb. 25.

Deadline: April 1, 2016

Sheriff scholarships announced

Ripley Co. Sheriff Jeff Cumberworth announced that Indiana Sheriff’s Association would again be awarding college scholarships to qualified high school seniors or college students who are pursuing a degree in criminal justice. For details pick up a copy of The Versailles Republican dated February 11 and read page 3.

Deadline: April 4, 2016
SEIRD announces student scholarship
The Southeastern Indiana Recycling District (SEIRD) is pleased to announce the 2015 - 2016 “Students Making an Environmental Difference Scholarship” for graduating high school seniors. For details pick up a copy of The Versailles Republican dated February 11 and read pg. 2.

Art classes to be offered at Versailles State Park in April
Art classes will be open to the public of all ages, and include photography, birdhouse painting, watercolors, woodworking, recycled art, mixed media art, and beginning guitar. More information is available on page 3 of The Versailles Republican dated January 21.

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