Don’s Automotive retires after 40 years

Posted 11/6/19

When he got his first car at the age of 16, Don Barrows did all the work on it himself.

This wasn’t unusual for guys his age at that time, he said.

“In that era, it’s just something a lot of guys were interested in,” he said. “But it became my life.”

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Don’s Automotive retires after 40 years


When he got his first car at the age of 16, Don Barrows did all the work on it himself.

This wasn’t unusual for guys his age at that time, he said.

“In that era, it’s just something a lot of guys were interested in,” he said. “But it became my life.”

Soon after he started working on his own car, Barrows got a job at the 76 service station that used to be located near Aldrich’s Market in uptown Port Townsend.

“I took over the service station in 1972,” he said. “Back then, there had to be at least a dozen service stations in Port Townsend.”

Service stations pre-dated self service gas stations. Car owners would go to fill up on gas, but could also get an oil check, get their tires pumped, and get minor repairs done.

In 1976, Barrows moved to operating the service station at the Texaco on Sim’s Way (where Green Pod is now located). Then, in 1979, he bought a piece of property and built his very own shop just down the road from that service station.

Forty years later, Barrows is retiring from owning Don’s Automotive Service in Port Townsend.

For those 40 years, he’s gotten up every day and worked on cars, only taking a week off here and there for the occasional vacation.

But the years passed fast because Barrows was doing something he loved.

“I just really like working on cars,” he said. “When you take a car that comes in dead and leaves running good, that’s a rewarding feeling.”

Now, he’s passing on his hand-built shop to the next generation of mechanics. Ben Richardson, who has been the owner of Satch Works Auto Repair in Port Hadlock since 2014, has bought Don’s Automotive and is turning it into Satch Works Port Townsend.

“Don’s shop has such a good feel to it,” he said. “It’s so well-established, but it’s not one of these over-the-top dealership shops.”

Richardson, who grew up on Eaglemount Road, has had the experience of working in a dealership shop. Unlike Barrows, he did not get his start in a service station, since the era of service stations had passed by the time he was headed off to college.

Instead, he got his automotive technician degree and got his start working as a technician at dealerships in Kitsap County.

But when the opportunity arose to work with Tom “Satch” Yarbrough at Satch Works Auto Repair, Richardson jumped at it, ready to work at a small, local shop back in the community he was raised in.

“He took a huge chance on me,” Richardson said. “I was part of his succession plan, and I had only ever been a technician at that point.”

But learning the business side of being a mechanic and learning how to operate a shop came easy once he began to learn from Satch.

“It just felt so right,” he said. “I realized this is just like nuts and bolts, but on paper. And I’m good with nuts and bolts.”

Once Satch retired, Richardson took over the shop and has been operating it with a small crew of people since then. Over the past couple of years, he had talked with Barrows on and off about buying the shop in Port Townsend. But it wasn’t until 2018, when Satch Auto Works had their best business year yet that he felt ready to buy the shop.

“I think it’s pretty neat,” Barrows said. “I was really hoping someone would see something in my shop and want to continue on, especially because there really aren’t that many shops in this area. This was like a dream come true.”

Richardson split up his team of people between the two shops, while JJ Altemose, who has been running the lube and oil change shop at Don’s for nearly 30 years, stayed on to continue his work.

“It’s like a rebirth of the shop,” Altemose said. “I used to be the young guy working for Don, now I’m one of the old guys.”

Richardson plans to keep the “Don’s Automotive” sign up for a few more days before he switches it out for the new “Satch Works” sign. But the phone number (which is one of the earliest business numbers assigned in Port Townsend, said Richardson) will stay the same, splayed across the front of the building: 385-0110.

“Don was here before most of us were born, doing what he did,” Richardson said. “That’s pretty impressive for anyone to go for that long. It’s something I’m going to learn from.”

Barrows has seen generations of loyal customers stick with him over the years.

“I really would like to thank all the customers who were with us over the years,” he said. “Some of them were generations. I served the parents and grandparents of the kids who bring their own cars in now.”

But letting go of his lifelong business was easier than Barrows expected.

“I’d love to tell you that I had a hard time of it, but I really didn’t,” he said.

Now, he’s tinkering away on his own projects at his home hobby garage, planning trips with his wife, and hoping to be able to spend more time taking care of his yard.

Meanwhile, Richardson is gearing up to get the business up to full speed. In the weeks since he bought Don’s, he and his crew have already seen 66 cars.

“I’ve inherited good approaches from both Satch and Don, the guys who made their businesses before mine,” he said. “We have some big shoes to fill, but come on in and give us a try.”


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Robert Gray

Congratulations on retirement Don and Dave. You will be missed. Glad JJ will still be there.

Thursday, November 7, 2019