116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If you talk with Stephen Carnahan for more than a minute, you’re likely to hear a story.
Carnahan and his brother, Joe, have collected countless stories over the last 50-plus years as owners of Carnahan Auto Supply and Service in Springville.
“We’ve been in business for 55 years,” Carnahan said, “and there are lots of stories. I've had people tell me I should write a book, but I don't think I ever will.”
In the coming months and years Carnahan might find the time as he and his brother Joe have decided it’s time to close up shop and sell the building.
“We are ready to sell this place and power down,” Carnahan said. “My brother is 81 and I’m 77 so it’s about time to retire, drink a few beers in the shade and get out the fishing pole.”
One of Carnahan’s favorite stories to share is about a young boy who stopped in the shop to have his bike tires pumped up.
“A little guy came in one day and I said, ‘Well, do you want regular air or racing air in here?’ He said, ‘What’s racing air?’ and I told him it’s what they put in race cars to make them go faster.
“He said, ‘I guess I'll have the racing air.’ I told him, ’OK, but if he got in a wreck on the way home not to tell is dad.’ He sped off and my brother and I laughed and laughed.
“Well, the next thing you know we stopped laughing because he had all his little friends down here and they wanted racing air, too. We spent the rest of the day filling up bike tires.”
Owners: Stephen and Joe Carnahan
Address: 305 Broadway St., Springville
Phone: (319) 854-7112
Carnahan Auto Supply, located in an historic limestone building, has been a fixture in the small town — and not just for repairing vehicles, either.
There’s the neighbor who used to come by every day to buy a Pepsi, Carnahan said. And there’s a group of older men who come by every morning for coffee, sitting in a circle of chairs to chat.
Carnahan said he’s worked his whole life in the automotive industry, having started working at the Shell gas station when he was just 15 years old. And, of course, there’s a story there, too.
“I was working at the Shell station and I told the owner after I graduated from high school that I was taking the summer off and going to visit my brother in California,” Carnahan recalled. “He said, ‘Well, bring your brother back and buy the place,’ and that's how it went.”
Carnahan recalled that their grandfather loaned them the money to get their business started and they worked out of that location for about 20 years before moving to their current shop, servicing vehicles all along.
Over the years, they have had customers in Springville and the surrounding area within a 20-mile radius. They also serviced all the local school buses for the past several decades.
“We just took care of everything that came through the doors,” he said.
While they’ve had a few employees over the years, and the Carnahans’ mother had been their bookkeeper when she was alive, it mostly has been just Stephen and Joe working together all this time.
“You know how brother/sister relationships go,” he laughed. “We'd get a little frustrated sometimes, but when you’re standing beside him doing your work you can't stay frustrated very long. Once in a while we’d throw a wrench at each other, so it could be a bit taxing — but most of the time that didn’t last long.”
The Carnahan brothers have seen plenty of change over their years in business, too, especially with the increase in the use of electronic components in vehicles.
“Back when we started if you had a hammer, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, you could get into about anything. It has gotten pretty complicated from when we started,” he said.
He added they always took advantage of the training classes offered on new technologies to stay up to date.
“We have very loyal customers that have kept us in business,” Carnahan said. “They have stayed with us over the years. When something was too complicated for us to fix and we send them somewhere else, they’d be right back to us the next time something went wrong.
“People say, ‘Go to them and they'll treat you right.’ And that's what we've done over the years. I've got the philosophy that if I'm working on a car, act as if it was my mother's car.”
While he’s looking forward to retirement, Carnahan knows there are things he’ll miss about his work and he’s grateful for a fulfilling career.
“Like I said, it's a different experience every day and never know what's going to be parked out front with a note under the windshield. Turning wrenches for 52 years is a good, long career.”
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