Gilpin Auto Works, like mother, like sons

Barbara Lawlor, Gilpin County.  Two former Nederland students, who are also brothers, have gone into business with their mom. She’s the boss. They are all three auto mechanics who have followed their desire to be their own bosses.


The Gilpin Auto Works, a car repair shop, in the green building of Roy’s Last Shot, is hardly noticeable. There are no large signs on the road or the building, there are no banners, no colored lights saying they are open, or closed.


There are however lavender walls accented by burnt sienna, hardly typical for an auto repair shop, but this shop is not typical.


For the past three years, Jennifer Godlewski and her sons Michael and Matthew have operated the Gilpin Auto Works, somewhat under the radar. They don’t advertise or otherwise announce their whereabouts; all of their business has been word of mouth and repeat customers.


Last Sunday morning, the three of them were at work, the boys working on a couple of trucks and Jennifer holding down the computer. They have found that people appreciate having their vehicles worked on over the weekend and they try to take Mondays and Tuesdays off, but will also accommodate people’s needs.


The Godlewskis grew up learning their way around car maintenance and repair and it seemed natural to turn their abilities into a money-making venture for all of them. Jennifer grew up in Boulder, attending Casey Middle School and Boulder High School. After she graduated, her mother, Marielle Gerard, bought a ranch on Lazy Z Road where she worked with her dressage horses.


When Jennifer was in sixth grade, she told her mom she wanted a dirt bike and her mom agreed, but said she would have to learn to work on it herself. So she did. Whenever anything broke or wore out, Jennifer had to fix it or replace it. After high school, she decided that she loved working with vehicles and studied at Lincoln Tech, Denver Automotive and Diesel, becoming a certified mechanic.


For 15 years she worked for others, ultimately at the Gilpin Garage and then for Mountain Man.


“It was about then that I needed a break,” she says. “So I worked for mom at her horse ranch. Every now and then someone would ask me to fix their car and soon I got pretty busy.”


Jennifer’s son Michael also went to Nederland schools until high school when he transferred down to New Vista. He finished his high school education at Boulder Universal, an online school.


He says, “At that point it didn’t matter what I did as long as I owned my own business. I was very interested in high end, fast luxury cars.”


Michael joined his mom in working on cars for neighbors’ and friends. A South Beaver resident let them use his garage to work out of and they had at least two jobs a week. He studied his mom’s tutorials, read her course books and did research online. He convinced her that they should find a bigger place, go into business together.


The boys would learn on vehicles, take on projects, do it until they got it right and then sell the cars. It was like being paid to go to school.


One night, Jennifer was talking to Roy and Barb, the owners of The Last Shot and they said the back of the old feed store was available and there was already a bay that had been used to store hay. At this time, Matthew was still in school, but he too was developing auto mechanic skills. It was beginning to look like a serious family business.


They moved into the store with the understanding that for the first year, they wouldn’t be able to pay themselves. They bought tools and paid bills and stayed afloat. They weren’t rich.


“But we met a lot of people we liked,” says Michael. “We settled in and we’ll stay here until we need a bigger place.”


Matthew followed in Michael’s footsteps. He also went to New Vista, but two years later. During the 2013 flood, he missed a lot of school time because it was difficult to get to Boulder and so he also went online to graduate.


“I’m following in Michael’s wake,” he says.


The shop specializes in Subarus. Jennifer graduated Summa Cum Laude from school. She said there were only a handful of females and they all had something to prove so they worked extra hard. Now she and the boys keep up with the computer technology. She says they are building a business for the boys.


“They both have the aptitude. I am really proud of them. This is a small community and we have all known everybody for the past two decades.”


Just to test themselves, the boys took on the project of seeing if they could take an engine out of a Subaru in under an hour. No problem.


As the boys worked on the truck, handing each other tools, taking turns behind the wheel, Jennifer smiled and said, “We’ve been busy all week. Pretty soon, I’ll be able to go pick some currants at my mom’s and make some preserves.”


Gilpin Auto Works is located behind Roy’s Last Shot at 17268 Highway 119; Black Hawk, CO 80422.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.