Ben and Bernie’s, the local diner at the time became a regular stop for me as I’d hit the road for work each morning, in the process of sitting at the counter and eating breakfast I’d, from time to time, get into a conversation with some other folks there. It was one of these mornings that I first met Jerry Collins. Jerry owned the local repair shop, and had a young fellow working with him, Floyd “Whit” Whitney.
I’ve always been a car nut, and had been a mechanic, so it wasn’t long before we started talking cars, hot rods, pick-up trucks and motorcycles. It was in one of these talks Jerry invited me to come by the shop one day and ‘hang out’.
The following Saturday, after we’d had breakfast, I did just that. In the process of hanging out, talking cars and lending a hand, a friendship was struck. As they were closing up the shop for the day, Jerry said to me “You’re all right, come on by anytime”.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a rarely made offer.
Jerry and I were never ‘best friends’, but friends we were. I can still remember the day he drove the modified to my house one Sunday morning to have a cup of coffee. (Oh, for those of you who don’t know, a ‘modified’ is a type of race car, mostly driven on dirt, but sometimes asphalt, tracks). That morning was typical ‘Jerry’ as he was well known to be a bit impulsive!
We did a lot of things over the years. When I was working as a Sales Rep, I’d drop off any extra samples I had (for some reason manufacturer’s send far more samples than you could ever really use) for him to use (I remember the 'Armor-All' packets were pretty popular!). I even installed some speakers and a CB radio in his wrecker one Saturday; I think he bought me breakfast in return. When I had quit working and had gone back to school, he’d tell me about any work he knew of, and even sent a couple of car repairs my way.
We’d go to the car auctions from time to time, spend time drinking a cold one (or two) while bench racing and “swapping lies”, but mostly, I’d stop by the garage and just ‘hang out’ and lend a hand where I could.
He was always there though, when I opened up my own shop in another town he gave me a ton of useful advice, pointed me to some excellent suppliers and even tossed whatever work he could my way. If I was looking for a local place to get anything, Jerry always knew exactly who to call.
Jerry was one of those ‘characters’ you meet in life, larger than life and living life, every second of it. I don’t think there was anything he wanted to do, that he didn’t do. He never had a ton of money, but he always found a way. I think he’d mastered the knowledge that you can get anything in life you want, if, you help enough other people get what they want.
There was a huge snowstorm one year; I think it was in the winter of 1977 that started on Christmas Eve. I remember it as I’d gone to my parent’s house (as was my custom back then) and there was little or no snow on the ground when we left. The story about the trip back home is one that deserves it’s owe telling, but I mention it because as we neared home, for the last 4 miles or so there was but one set of tracks in the deep snow. As we reached the intersection to turn right onto our street, those tracks turned left, and into Jerry’s driveway! You see he was the only other person ‘nuts’ enough to be out on a night like that!!
He taught me that everything you dream up is possible, all you have to do is decide what it is you want and then don’t rest until you have it. Most folks give up, without ever knowing how close they really are. Collins never gave up, he’d dream his dream, and then make it happen. I’m sure he had failures, funny though, I don’t remember any. Instead what I remember is the man, who he was and how he lived.
I remember a lot of things about Jerry, and he’s been dead at least 15 years, but mostly what I remember is that he always made me laugh. As many of us who knew him are fond of saying:
“If he who dies with the most toys wins, Collins is ahead so far!!”
I still think of him from time to time, and miss him every time I do. He was one of those folks, who, once you got to know them, are always with you.