Udo hangs up wrench, heads south

Barbara LawlorUdo hangs up wrench, heads South
It is the end of an era. Udo Sille of Peak to Peak Imports has sold his business, one of the longest operating businesses in town, and is revvirng his BMW, anxious to get on the road. But not to fear. Subaru and Toyota owners will continue to have the same quality of service that has been established over 21 years of being in business. Noah, a long-time employee, is purchasing the business while Udo hangs onto the building. Both men say it is a total win-win, for them, for the rest of the employees and for the community. Udo has been in the car repair/maintenance business since 1972 when he opened a shop in Chicago. It was named Udo’s Garage and he was proud to own his own business. But he was looking for somewhere else to be.
In 1974, Udo and his dog Fritz went west, looking for that place that held his heart. He made it to I-80 near Boulder when his 1967 VW Beetle engine had a rod knock. He contacted a friend who lived in Left Hand Canyon and stayed with him while he rebuilt the engine. During that time he looked around, talked to people and put out feelers about the territory. When the engine was finished, Udo knew he had found his new home. He packed up, closed his Chicago shop and migrated to the Rocky Mountains. He brought his skills with him and soon had a job working at Omega Motor Services, where most of the employees were Guru Maharaji followers.
It was the 70s, the era of the hippies and Udo was one of them, enjoying the good life that Boulder had to offer. He worked in many shops, including the Nissan dealership and the Volvo dealership in Boulder. He became service manager of the BMW shop and then bought London Motors, which he owned until 1982. During that time he had purchased a house on Magnolia Road on his GI Bill and soon thought of owning a business in Nederland. At that time Subaru was becoming THE mountain car, being discovered by mountain folks who wanted to save on gas and who relished the snow dependability. Aha, Udo thought and decided that a Subaru/Toyota specialty shop would go over big.
He was right.
He leased half of Ken Horn’s auto body building, using two bays, working alone to keep the Subies on the road. Seven days a week became to much and he hired John Roberts as his first employee. When the owners next door went out of business, Udo purchased the building. His business sense was as acute as his mechanical skills. He added a wing and soon leased the lower building to East Street and the facility became the auto alley compound.
At this point Noah, who grew up in Boston and worked in a neighbor’s auto shop in high school, was attending college at the University of Vermont, where he studied plant and soil science. “In my junior year, I took a leave of absence and never went back.” Noah moved to Phoenix where he attended the Motorcycle Mechanic Institute, building on his love for motorcycles. He knew by this time that he wanted to be a mechanic of some type. After a year and a half he was certified to work on Harleys and his first goal was to get out of Phoenix as fast as he could. Heat was not his specialty. At that time he had a friend who had a house in Basalt. Noah was invited to live there and ended up working as a lift mechanic in Vail. Once, coming back the scenic route from a trip to Boulder he ended up in Nederland and after looking around, decided he had found his home. He moved to Nederland and shortly after his arrival saw an ad in the paper for a mechanic. Udo was looking for a shop helper, someone to fix tires and change the oil.

Udo was busy when Noah showed up at the shop and after a few questions, he told Noah he would call him. Later that night, he toldUdo hangs up wrench, heads South Noah to show up for work the next day. Earlier that week, Udo had hired Tony Farace as the shop manager. He says he had a gut feeling about Noah, that the coincidences and the timing felt right and that he never even checked references. “I didn’t have the time,” he says.
Noah fell right into the job. “A machine is a machine,” he says. The two men got along, they didn’t kill each other and didn’t fire the other one or quit. In the eight years that Noah has been there, he became ASE certified, attended seminars and learned the specifics of Subaru and Toyotas enough to become proficient.
“Since I became a mechanic, I always wanted to own my own shop, I have been thinking more and more about it, especially in the last year.” Udo had been thinking of rearranging his responsibilities. Over the years he had gone on many long-distant trips on his motorcycle, but even if he were gone for a month, the shop was always on his mind, work rattled around his brain, distracting him from spectacular views, the cult of the highway. He wanted to travel without the responsibility.
“I always wanted to learn Spanish and wanted to go South.Udo says,” Last year I was in the Yukon and there wasn’t enough adventure to put up with the discomfort. Comfort is boring and camping in the rain is a pain in the butt. Going South would be different and I wouldn’t know what was waiting for me on the road ahead.”
Udo is going to be 70 years old next week and says that is older than most of the long-distance bikers, but he wasn’t reinventing anything. He looks back on the years, when he was chief of the Nederland Volunteer Fire Department before it was a district. He retired from the department in 1999. He also built a new house north of Ward and started a book broker business. As he considered selling Peak to Peak, he realized it was worth a chunk of money, that it was a unique business, comparable to repair shops down below in professionalism and timely repair. He didn’t see anybody he knew coming up with the money he could get for the shop so he decided he could structure the sale to give him enough money to live on over the years.
“I presented the idea to Noah and he said yeah, let’s talk.”
They came to an agreement and they made the deal happen. Their contract was their handshake. The paperwork was for the lawyers. Noah says, “This should be a seamless transition. We will have the same quality of service.” Udo says, “I created the business, and it will carry on in the same tradition. That makes me feel good.” The transaction was made legal on Tuesday. Noah says he is excited about the prospect of being his own boss, to do what he wants, to maybe add on to what is already there. Like working on motorcycles.
“I am confident that the business will thrive; it is an integral part of Nederland, of people who say they are dependent on us to make our lifestyle work.” The repair business isn’t always a bed of roses, however. Udo and Noah agree that their occupation is a necessary evil, that they put out fires every day. They try to make it a pleasant experience but no one is ecstatic about shelling out money for repairs.
“We have to do it right because we have to look people in the eye in line at the grocery store,” says Udo.
One woman, when she heard Udo was selling the business, wrote him a card, saying, “Thanks for all the years of keeping us safe on the road. You have been a great support for us all these years. Your work is important and your skills have been a great gift to the community.”
Udo says that beside his occasional motorcycle trips he isn’t going anywhere. “I might ski at Eldora. The last time I skied was in 1975. I had metal Head skis and boots made out of leather. I am going to the university to study geology and will take up an old hobby of restoring old stereo equipment to play my record collection.”
“I want to thank all the people I have been in contact with over the years. I remember little kids who would come in the shop with their parents are now bringing their own cars in to be fixed. Nederland has been good to me and I feel proud to have been a part of its evolution.”