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Business marks 50 years

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By John Barnhart

    Overstreet General Repair marked half a century this month.

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    Jimmy Overstreet had planned on a Navy career when his father, W. R. Overstreet started a general repair business in 1959. He was a diesel mechanic and had served on a destroyer escort, which was all diesel. This was followed by duty on the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier.

    Overstreet was a plank owner on the Ranger, the title that members of a ship’s commissioning crew are known by.

    “I’m also a Shellback,” Overstreet said. “They made a whole day of it.”

    Being a Shellback means that he was part of the crew of a Navy ship that crossed the equator. Members of the crew who have never crossed the equator before are “pollywogs” and go through an elaborate initiation ceremony. Overstreet noted that the flight deck of the carrier made a long garbage chute, the grand finale of the ceremony, possible.

    It was a brand new ship and he worked  with  the  ship’s  emergency generators. The 1,600 horsepower diesels were new and they weren’t the ship’s primary source of electrical power. The ship’s propulsion came from steam turbines. This meant that Overtreet wasn’t as busy as he wanted to be. He liked sea duty and, when his tour of duty on the Ranger ended, wanted to return to serving on tin cans.

    Instead, when his enlistment ended, he came out to give his father a hand with the repair business he opened on May 2, 1959. W. R. Overstreet had been an automotive mechanic for 36 years and it had always been his dream to have his own business. Jimmy Overstreet left the Navy to help his father get started because he felt he couldn’t walk away from family.

    “I came in on May 28 with no intention to stay,” Overstreet said.

    He’s still there, 50 years later and he’s now serving the grandchildren of the original customers. In late April, he delivered a mower, following a repair, to a man that he had sold to the fellow’s grandfather in 1962.

    “If you can’t be fair and honest with the people you are dealing with, there’s no sense in being in business,” Overstreet said, describing his business philosophy.

    When the business first opened, its original location was on Center Street in Bedford, things were simple. His father had a used mechanical cash register and a mechanical adding machine. He also had two cigar boxes. One was for what he owed other people and one was for what other people owed him.

    “It didn’t take long to realize we needed a bookkeeper,” Overstreet said. “So I married one.”

    That’s Marie Overstreet, who still keeps the books, although the technology of that has changed a good bit. For example, she said that warranty claims used to be filled out by hand, but are now done via computer. Fortunately, Marie Overstreet likes computers.

    “We met each other in seventh grade,” Jimmy Overstreet said. That was seventh grade at Montvale School.

    “She wouldn’t give me the time of day ‘till I came out of the Navy,” he added.

    The general repair business originally focused on cars and farm machinery. Lawn mowers were a sideline. The sideline eventually became the business as Overstreet serviced and sold power equipment ranging from lawnmowers to tillers and chain saws.

    Overstreet recalls the advent of riding mowers. They started carrying them in 1962.

    “The first year we sold riding mowers, we sold three and thought we set the world on fire,” he said.

    The mowers were purchased by a dentist and two attorneys.

    The general repair business eventually moved to Depot Street and then, in the ‘70s they built the current facility on U. S. 460, just west of Bedford. It was built with lawnmowers in mind and two additions have been built on since. As W. R. Overstreet’s health began to decline, Jimmy bought out his father’s portion of the business.

    In the late ‘70s Jimmy’s son, Dennis joined the family business. Dennis Overstreet, who graduated from Liberty High School in 1979, began working part-time in the business in 1978.

    Actually, both of Jimmy Overstreet’s sons followed in his footsteps, only in different sets. While Dennis Overstreet joined the family business, Allan Overstreet joined the Navy. He served in submarines as a sonar technician and retired last year as a lieutenant commander after 28 years. He was a mustang, Navy parlance for a man who worked his way up from the enlisted ranks to the officer ranks.

    Having his son involved has provided an additional benefit. Like his mother, Dennis Overstreet likes computers. So does Dennis’ wife, Shelby, who introduced computer record keeping to the business.

    “So I don’t have to fool with it,” commented Jimmy.

    Overstreet not only services what it sells, it also services what somebody else sold. Jimmy said they get a lot of service work from dealers that sell, but don’t service. The location is also good because people driving through to work in Roanoke or Lynchburg can drop something off on the way to work and, once the repair is done, pick it up on the way home.

    The business also makes deliveries and Dennis Ovestreet has delivered as far away as Natural Bridge. Customers have come from as far away as West Virginia.

    Along with changes to the business, the technology in the equipment has changed. Electric starters came in for many pieces of equipment, as well as fuel injection. Some large pieces have computers regulating their engines. This means that Jimmy and Dennis Overstreet go to service schools, factory schools and update schools.

    “We go to school every year,” said Dennis.

    Jimmy Overstreet, who turns 72 this month, is one of the oldest technicians attending these schools.

    “It’s intersting to see some 20-year-old get up and tell about something you’ve done all your life,” he commented.

    Sometimes, the repair work that comes in includes problems that no factory course could anticipate.

    “We had a customer shoot his lawnmower,” commented Marie Overstreet.

    Both father and son like the business.

    “You have to enjoy doing it to do it so long,” said Dennis.

    “I still enjoy working with people,” said Jimmy.

    They also value the friendships they’ve made with other dealers. Jimmy said that they learn from each other. This is important because guys servicing equipment sometimes discover a solution for a problem that a manufacturer is trying to get a handle on. Jimmy Overstreet said that, several years ago, he fixed a problem with a piece of equipment that the manufacturer’s engineers couldn’t figure out.

    Overstreet said that they have focused on selling equipment that holds up well. They sell Maruyuama line trimmers, hedge clippers and blowers, Troy Built and Mantis tillers, Cub Cadet riding mowers and Toro, Troy Built and Cub Cadet walk behind mowers. Equipment includes mowers for both residential and commercial use.

    They also have Cub Cadet electric toys.

    “Usually the grandparents buy them for children,” said Marie Overstreet.

    Their sales also include zero-turn mowers, chain saws, log splitters and utility vehicles, and fertilizer. Dennis Overstreet said that they decided to stock this because it’s an organic fertilizer and is safe for pets and children.