February 2011 Zu I

Frank Mauro

The proprietor of California's Stockton Wheel Service is so busy making wheels, he keeps his 1953 Chevy in the workshop just for company

Worrit ana photography Martyn Goddira Zp^M

We have made just ^ about every type of wheel, so we can fulfil most requests, no matter how strange

It's 8am and I have been perched on my stool, checking my email inbox, for an hour and a half by the time one of the back-of-building staff raises the shutters on our Stockton Wheel Service riverfront workshop in Stockton, California. The Holt Family, originators of the Caterpillar Tractor Company, owned Stockton Wheel Service, which had been founded in 1883 to make and repair pioneer wagon wheels. I purchased the company in 1977 after a career change from potential high school biology teacher and American football coach. I am only the fourth owner in 127 years.

Before the walk-in trade and stream of phone enquiries begin to distract me, I am able to reply to email orders from around the world. I constantly have requests for advice and information from people before they purchase wheels. This morning it's a guy in Germany wanting a relatively simple set of wheels for a 1974 Ford Galaxie.

Most of my time on the net and phone is explaining to owners that our wheelwrights, such as Harley, who has been with me for 34 years, are vastly experienced and have made just about every type of wheel for hot rods, classic cars and low-riders, so we can fulfil most requests, no matter how strange. An example was a customer in the UK requesting dual rear wheels for a 1960s Mini Traveller.

Myself and two other salesmen field the phone and front desk as, by late morning, locals will arrive with small jobs such as a damaged rim and tyre, or it'll be the local motorcycle custom shop needing wheels chromed. These services are either carried out by the three backroom staff or, in the case of chroming, sent to one of the diminishing number of companies that practise the art. There is always a juggling of workflow between wheel production and the service side of the business.

At lunchtime there is no freedom for me so one of the staff heads to the local deli for sandwiches, which are eaten while dealing with phone enquiries and counter clients. Sometimes customers seem to think we are a drive through' so I have grown to be very patient. Stockton Wheel has a long relationship with hot rodders and racers and you can see around the walls the photographs of people and their cars, which our wheels have been associated with.

As the afternoon progresses, wheel shipments have to be made. This is an important part of the business, which is growing, and customers are prepared to pay sometimes the price of the wheels in courier charges. On the plus side, we have many freight options nowadays.

I don't have a lot of time for my own car but I have my 1953 Chevy on display in the shop: it's a focal point that I can see over my computer. I am too busy to work on the car until the weekends.

Today, before we close for trade at 5pm, I have to book in a Lexus sedan for a wheel exchange. The owner wants chrome alloys and this we can arrange in a week or so with our chrome platers, who have stock of just about every make of factory wheel available. By 6.30, after tying up loose ends, I drive home to unwind from the day's business in my yard before dinner and perhaps watching a San Francisco Giants baseball match or49ers football game on TV. If it's Friday, I enjoy commentating for the local high school game. These sporting activities hark back to my coaching, in a time before my life at Stockton Wheel Service.

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