Wineka column: Mower man Tom Reynolds says it pays to fix the old ones

  • Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 1:09 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, March 28, 2013 1:46 a.m.
Tom Reynolds uncovers a 1956 Wheelhorse tractor. Photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post
Tom Reynolds uncovers a 1956 Wheelhorse tractor. Photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Tom Reynolds is the answer to many questions.

What happens to old Harley riders?

Who's that laid-back voice on the ham radio?

Who's the guy in overalls with a white beard and flowing hair who fixes lawn mowers?

Let's concentrate first on Tom Reynolds, the mower repair guy.

You almost wonder how anyone finds Reynolds' Country Repair Shop in northern Rowan County.

It sits off a dead-end road and behind the mobile home of Reynolds and his wife, Sheila. Several reconditioned riding lawn mowers are lined up for sale in their carport.

Years back, Reynolds fashioned his repair shop out of two trailers he put together and wired himself, of course, given his 43-year background as an industrial-commercial electrician.

He sectioned off the interior, creating a fully-equipped workshop, an office that resembles a command center and a parts department worthy of a NAPA store.

Reynolds likes a well-stocked parts section so he's not constantly running into Salisbury for stuff he doesn't have.

His repair section includes a hydraulic lift, which brings his work platform up to a comfortable level. He also installed a powerful winch off the outside deck so he can hoist heavy engines and machines when needed.

The “lobby” to the workshop has a wood stove to provide heat in the winter. Reynolds sometimes likes to cook ham and pinto beans on top of the stove.

• • •

The 81-year-old Reynolds looks like a character who stepped out of a “Dukes of Hazzard” or “Sons of Anarchy” episode. He usually is smoking a Winston cigarette.

His bib overalls are held together by bolts, rather than buttons, because the bolts are sturdier.

Reynolds also has 19 tattoos. The first one came when he was on bomber crews for the Air Force during the Korean War. He also made sure to add a tattoo that said “Mother,” so his mom wouldn't fuss at him too much about the first one.

A Grim Reaper tattoo on his right shoulder came later. It declares, “Death is certain. Life Is Not.”

Through the years, Rey-nolds has undergone triple-bypass surgery for his heart and two other operations leaving him with titanium plates and screws in his back.

Earlier this year, to deal with a cancerous polyp, he gave up several inches of his colon in another surgery. He takes these kinds of setbacks in stride.

“I don't get excited about nothing,” he says.

Reynolds has always amazed his doctors for how quick he recovers, and he has never believed in medicine for pain.

“A lot of that,” he says, pointing to his head, “is right up here.”

• • •

Reynolds has had a full beard since he was 39. Sheila, has never seen him without it. They were married when he was 50 and she was 22.

“Something worked,” Tom says. “We've been together 30 years.”

The grounds around Reynolds' shop are organized chaos. He has lean-to shelters for much of his own equipment, such as his racing lawn mower or his miniature bulldozer with its 4-cylinder Buick Opel engine.

He used to get the racing lawn mower up to 75 mph on a straight-away, he says, but that was maybe five or six years ago.

Out in the yard, where many old lawn mowers have been put out to pasture for parts, Reynolds lifts up the corner to a tarp covering a 1956 Wheel Horse tractor he plans to restore. He already has the back end in the shop.

Ask Reynolds, and he'll tell you companies just don't make lawn tractors and push mowers like they used to.

“If you got an old mower,” Reynolds says, “it pays you to fix it and keep it, because the new ones are crap.”

Sections of the yard are devoted to different kinds of mowers or mower parts. One side has, for example, a mountain of wheels. Another area has easy-to-access decks.

• • •

Reynolds doesn't exactly have a one-man operation. He relies on able assistants in Roger, who works full-time, and Chad, a part-timer.

Jim Walls, a cigar-smoking neighbor and friend, serves as Reynolds' transportation department. He picks up and delivers customers' mowers for $20 a trip.

Sheila helps out in the office, often answering the telephone and doing paperwork. Reynolds has a sharpening service, too, but he refuses to work on two-cycle-engine implements such as weed cutters and chain saws.

When he retired as an electrician in his early 60s, Reynolds started working on neighbors' lawn mowers as a way to keep busy.

“I didn't want to get this big,” he says of the mini-mower kingdom around him today. “... It just grew over the years.”

He depended on advertisements in the Yellow Pages and Salisbury Post and a well-placed sign on Old Mocksville Road. Then word just spread from one customer to another.

Reynolds accepts only cash or checks. And he doesn't tolerate profanity — a sign in the shop says so.

He guarantees his work and parts for a year.

“You can ask for no better,” Walls says.

• • •

Reynolds' family is from West Virginia, but he grew up in Winston-Salem. His father, who had a sixth-grade education, was a self-taught master mechanic and machinist who became the maintenance superintendent at a textile mill.

Reynolds says his father taught him an important lesson: “There's no such thing as can't.”

His father learned how to operate a lathe through trial and error on the kitchen table. He learned welding from a magazine. He could fix anything, even old T-model cars.

During World War II, Reynolds' dad and some guys he paid with Moon Pies and RC Colas dug a basement by hand under the family's mill house.

Out of the basement, Tom's father did all manner of small-engine repair and work on motor bikes. Tom learned through osmosis.

By age 10, he was overhauling small engines. By 12, he was welding. By 15, he was running lathes in machine shops.

As a kid, Reynolds also became interested in radios and building them from kits he would order.

Reynolds stopped short of completing the 10th grade and joined the Air Force.

After his four years were up, Reynolds first tried to work in his uncle's machine shop in Burlington.

“Three months of standing in the same place every day got to me,” he says.

But he quickly fell into his work for various companies as an electrician, finding jobs across the Carolinas. He broke his back one day when the bucket he was in at the top of a power pole fell to the ground.

• • •

His affection for Harley-Davidson motorcycles also came from his father, who rode them much of his life.

Tom Reynolds started riding Harleys when he was 14 and didn't quit until he was 75. He dedicated his last ride to a buddy who was a Vietnam War veteran. The friend died from Agent Orange, Reynolds says, and he escorted the body to the Salisbury National Cemetery.

Through the years, Rey-nolds traveled to Harley rallies in places such as Sturgis, S.D., Daytona Beach, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Much of Reynolds' office is devoted to mementos from his Harley days — and ham radios.

Talking with fellow ham operators across the world is a major pastime for Reynolds. Outside, his buildings and even a tree or two hold antennas and towers to help bring him friends from places such as England, Australia and Canada.

Sunday, he talked with a guy who was 20 miles from the Arctic Circle.

Reynolds often recognizes many of the voices he hears before they give out their call letters. “This is Dave in Michigan,” he says, referring to a man's voice in the background.

Reynolds likes to get on the ham radio early in the morning before he opens the repair shop. Then he's back in the office about 9:30 at night, talking with his radio friends until midnight or 1 a.m.

The thing he likes about ham radio is that no matter what your status in life — doctor, lawyer or lawn mower repair guy — everyone is on the same level over the airwaves.

“I've got some real good friends,” Reynolds says.

• • •

Reynolds is moving toward the busy part of his year.

By the summer, he is sometimes two to three weeks behind on all the mowers in for repairs.

Reynolds tries to advise his customers to bring their mowers in for maintenance over the winter, so they're not placed in a bind when something doesn't work in the spring.

But they don't always listen. He also advises all the shade-tree, small-engine mechanics out there to think about coming to a repair shop first.

When they fail to fix one thing, it often damages something else, Reynolds says.

There have been times when customers could have avoided the repair shop.

Walls picked up a man's mower one day after it wouldn't start. Back at the shop, Reynolds quickly recognized the problem.

“All that was wrong with it was that it was out of gas,” he says.

It cost him $40 anyway, for pickup and delivery.

Country Repair Shop is located at 1055 High Meadow Drive, Salisbury, north of Ellis Crossroads and off Old Mocksville Road. Hours are 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or

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