Danny Barker remembers when he decided to leave Paul Miller Ford in Lexington and open his body shop 14 years ago.
After 17 years of working for the Ford dealership, Danny got tired of dealing with customers angry over a bill to fix a vehicle. Danny would be summoned to calm them down.
“As a manager and being an ex-mechanic, the cashiers were constantly asking me to come over and explain prices to customers at 6 o’clock at night. The cashiers would ask me to explain to the customer why they were paying $400 for a muffler.”
Danny, 55, said he would look at the bill and read it, confused. He had no idea why it cost $400 to put a muffler on a car.
“Sometimes it just wasn’t real. I couldn’t even understand it.”
Everything came to a head during a company meeting one evening. Danny remembers a parts service director asking for input from the employees.
“I said, ‘Guys, I’m not going to lie to you, I’d rather tell you the truth. I’m not going to lie to you, so I’m going to hold my opinion to myself.’”
Nothing would do to please the parts service director. He kept asking for input. Danny politely declined, but the director persisted. He wanted to know how to improve business.
Danny let him know.
“I said, ‘Put oxygen hoses at the cashier’s window.’”
The words hit the director like an unexpected haymaker to his stomach. He looked stunned and asked, “Well why?”
“Because you’re pricing yourself out of business.” Danny said. “You’re making it hard on everybody. You’re too high.”
“Well, things were never the same after that, and that’s when I decided to go out on my own,” he said, laughing after his narrative.
Life couldn’t be better since leaving Paul Miller Ford, Danny says. Today he’s his own boss at Barker’s Auto & Truck Service on Commerce Boulevard.
A lifelong Frankfort resident, Danny’s been around cars all his life, starting with his father, Elzie, 77, a former mechanic for Kain-Stewart Ford, which used to be on East Main Street.
“I started early, real early,” Danny recalled. “I would go with him at night to work, and he would go work on and finish cars at Kain-Stewart Ford.”
Danny didn’t do any of the rough-and-tough work as a kid. His father would enlist his services on small tasks, and he enjoyed working alongside him.
“I washed the parts, I just did whatever. I mean it wasn’t manual labor where I had to produce. I’d just go up there and help him. I’d wash bolts, and I just always liked it.”
As Danny got older, he gradually learned more of the trade. His father taught him how to change brakes, and he got his first job as a mechanic at age 13.
Charles Figg, who owned Figg’s Marathon on the corner of Capital Avenue and Second Street by the VFW Post 4075, called Danny one day. Figg wanted him to pump gas at the station.
Danny took on more tasks at the gas station. By the time he was 16, he was doing all mechanical work there.
“I was just happy to make my $1.25 per hour back then,” he said.
Danny says he heard his calling in life as a youngster.
“I think I inherited it,” he says.
Just as he worked with his father, Danny’s son, Kevin, 23, has joined the profession.
At one time, Danny had three generations of Barker mechanics working in his shop.
Elzie worked there for about seven years after he retired.
Danny says having all the Barkers under one roof was great and the three never had any problems.
As a mechanic all his life, Danny has seen the progression of the trade. He remembers having to flip through encyclopedia-sized books to try and diagnose a problem.
Now, he can just pop a disk in his computer and pull up diagnostic charts for everything inside a vehicle.
The computer system, called ALLDATA, has mechanical information for all cars manufactured and costs $200 a month. He gets a new disk with updated information every 90 days.
Without it, Danny says, he wouldn’t even open his doors.
The system shows diagnostic charts with all the inner workings of a car, similar to a road map. Danny says if you can read and understand what the charts show, you can fix any problem on a car.
“I can bring a car in that I’ve never seen before, and basically if you can read and are able to break down what you read, you can fix it … you can’t go to class and learn how to fix every car ever made.”
The disks are worth every penny, Danny says.
Recently, someone brought a Toyota Highlander to Danny with the “Check Engine” light on. The owner had spent thousands of dollars at another shop trying to fix the problem, but the light still came on.
Danny popped in his ALLDATA disk, undid everything the other mechanic thought he’d fixed and found the original problem: a broken wire.
Simply repairing the wire would’ve cost the owner $544. Instead, the owner spent thousands of dollars on unnecessary repairs.
Danny says seeing his son go down the same career path is a little scary because of how much the business has changed. Fuel efficiency and emissions control are more in demand, with hybrid and electric cars.
“I wonder what the future holds in automobiles with the electric cars and new technology. You change with time. Either you change with it, or you’re left behind.
“It’s gonna be up to him,” he said. “If he wants to do it, I’ll support him all I can.”
Those words should be familiar to Danny. They’re almost the same thing Elzie said to him as a young man.
“He saw where all the changes were coming, with all the emissions and safety equipment and all the changes in the cars.
“He told me, ‘Why in the world do you want to get into this business?’ He told me to run from it, but I didn’t. I just kept right on doing it.”
“Frankfort Faces” is a series that highlights people from within the Frankfort and Franklin County community. Each feature follows one of the city’s most unique personalities and includes a story, photos and video, which can be found by clicking the TV icon attached to the story online at state-journal.com.