Sunday, August 20, 2000

Fort Mitchell Garage a tradition for family

Small blacksmith shop turned into thriving vehicle facility

By Chris Mayhew
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PARK HILLS — Joseph Kuchle's little blacksmith shop has nurtured four generations of his family over the past 100 years.

        But these days, it's more about horsepower than horseshoes.

        Now Fort Mitchell Garage is a full- service garage and body shop which completed a $1 million expansion and modernization in 1999. Today the family celebrates the garage's official 100th anniversary in business.

        Tom Stamm, 68 — the son of Joseph's daughter Ursula Kuchle and her husband Ed Stamm — and his brother Leo Stamm, 57, and Tom's son Ron Stamm, 46, all own part of the business.

        Much of the history is still there. They still operate a 1947 Ford wrecker truck, and drive it in local parades.

        Upstairs, in a mini-museum, photos of the garage and family are everywhere, and a cash register that dates to 1923 still list sales of pints and quarts of oil and vulcanizing on its keys.

        It's called Fort Mitchell Garage — even though it's located several towns away in Park Hills — because in 1973 brothers Tom and Leo bought the corporation name, and much of the equipment, from their father and aunt and moved the garage to 1420 Dixie Highway in Park Hills. The original garage at 1817 Dixie Highway was reopened as Kuchle's and is still in business today.

        When Joseph Kuchle Sr. started his blacksmith shop, he also had a machine shop in the back, filled with cans of gasoline to run his equipment. When automobiles started running in the area, with no gas stations around, Mr. Kuchle would sell gas out of his 55-gallon barrel. After he saw a profit, he sank a 2,000 gallon tank into the ground and went into the gasoline selling business.

        The business expanded into service and repair. In 1922 a new garage was finished, now the current location of Kuchle's.

        In 1948 Fort Mitchell Garage went into the car dealership business as an officially licensed Tucker dealership. When Tucker could not deliver any cars, the dealership sold Crosleys from 1948-52, and then Kaiser Fraziers and other models until the dealership side ceased in 1954.

        Ron Stamm started to buy into the family business in 1996, but like the rest of his family has been involved with the garage his entire life.

        “I started sweeping floors when the broom was taller than I was,” he said.

        Tom Stamm said the business helps keep the family strong.

        “We've stayed together, worked together, and pulled our way through,” he said.

        He said he expects the family tradition to carry on for at least the next 20 years, until his sonretires or passes the business on.

        Tom said one of the concerns of the family business has always been to find a family member who wanted to continue the business without forcing it on anyone.

        “Since my grandfather started the business and we've seen it go so far, we were kind of worried about who was going to take the business over,” Tom said.

        Leo said keeping the business running so long says something about the family and how well they are able to get along and work together.

        “One of the benefits and things I really enjoyed was being able to work with my dad and be with my dad almost all my working years,” he said. His father worked at the garage until he was 85.

        Leo said that his mother would always fix dinner for the family after work and they would dine together at least six days a week. Leo now carries on his mother's tradition of cooking himself, often cooking meals for his large family.

        From horseshoes to cars with computer “brains,” the family business has adapted and evolved to meet the times.

        Ron said it has been a big challenge and has required a long thought process to keep up with the times. The changes included a major transition within the last 10 years, he said.

        “Computers have brought a new way of thinking to the business,” he said.

        The garage requires coming in early and staying late, but is worth it, Ron said.

        “I would probably not be as interested in taking over a collision and mechanical repair business for the sake of earning a living, because it's a tough living,” Ron said.

        For Ron, family is what holds him to the garage.

        “The attraction is the fact that it's family and the fact that the business has been in existence for 100 years. Not many families can make that claim of handing down their traditions and working with their hands.”

        Ron smiled as he said, “I'm proud of that fact.”


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