JOE KARST'S RADIO & ELECTRIC SHOP
The admiration and respect given this generation's computer-repair technicians is no greater than that given to my dad in the 1930s and 1940s for his ability to repair radios. Dad acquired this skill through courses where he never tested less than 100%. I discovered the paperwork, hidden away in a drawer, at an age when it was important to think your dad was smarter then anyone else's dad. It was a time when radio was the main form of communication and entertainment, and if it failed because of a burnt out tube or other calamity, my dad was the man to fix the problem. He did not want anyone to miss hearing The Grand Ol' Opry on Saturday night.
My dad's repair shop was a mixture of new and used appliances. When many families were still having ice delivered for their iceboxes, we had an electric refrigerator. I remember how proud I was when my dad brought along a large battery operated radio to a picnic at Jones Lake, and a crowd of people got to listen to a Joe Lewis fight. Eating and fishing were forgotten, as they were entertained because of my dad's thoughtfulness. It would be a few years yet before car radios were standard equipment.
Transistors changed the size of radios and the need for vacuum tubes. The new radios no longer required my dad's type of expertise, but the community still needed his electrical skills. Joe wired many farm houses after REA (rural electrification) came to South Dakota, and when I was in high school, I was recruited to help wire a house. My dad told others that upon completion of some work I had done, he threw the light switch, and the toilet flushed. I knew then my talents were not in the electrical field.
Joe was a meticulous, mild-mannered perfectionist who believed if man made it, it could be repaired. He continued to repair appliances that were old but serviceable. He never threw anything away. Over the years, he just kept stacking it higher, yet he could always find everything in his shop. When the time came when we finally had to sort out everything, the radio tubes became a hobbyist's treasure.
Joe sold and serviced TV's when the market first arrived in central South Dakota. Later, he let the younger electricians take over that part of the business, but he continued repairing small appliances on a part-time basis. He delivered mail and worked the counter at the U.S. Post office while still refusing to give up his shop.
Joe said, when the big discount stores could sell small appliances cheaper than he could buy them wholesale, it was time to get out of the retail business. He hated the cheap spot-welded toasters and plastic vacuum cleaners that did not hold up. He could refurbish an older model, made of metal and put together with screws and bolts, that would last for years. My dad continued to go to his beloved repair shop until his death. Grown men cried because they no longer had a place to stop in and just talk to Joe about the way things used to be, are now, or should be.
Thanks, Dad for repairing that old lady's vacuum cleaner and only charging her a dollar, so she could keep her dignity and survive on her fixed income.
Thanks for teaching ME that money isn't everything.
© Maurice D. Karst
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