Service station is pride of Grimmer family
April 26, 2013 1:24PM
Butch Grimmer. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 29, 2013 6:07AM
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
— Thomas Alva Edison
Until about two years ago, Butch Grimmer, 60, lived in the town where he grew up — Schererville. Today, he lives in Morgan Township with his wife Joan so they can be closer to their daughter’s family.
Grimmer attended St. Michael School in Schererville and graduated from Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond.
Like his father before him, Grimmer owns and operates Grimmer’s Service Inc., located just west of the U.S. 30 & 41. Brian Grimmer — one of Butch and Joan’s four adult children — has chosen to stay in the family business.
Butch balked at the thought of being interviewed, saying he wouldn’t be of interest to anyone and that I was barking up the wrong tree. I finally coaxed him into it. Past experience has proven it’s usually humble folks like him who have the best stories to tell.
“During the 1870s, Peter Michael Grimmer left the Alsace-Lorraine region at the age of 22; he eventually ended up in Illinois,” Grimmer began. “This document — written in French — lists the texture of his skin, the color of his hair and the size of his nose.”
Your father, Norbert Grimmer, started the business?
“Yes, Dad came back from World War II and hired in at U.S. Steel. He worked there for a very short period of time. He said, ‘Well, I survived the war, why would I want to spend the rest of my life in the mill or possibly get killed in the mill?’
“So, he started his little business in the same location we’re at right now. He purchased 2.8 acres for $700. I’m sure he was up many nights trying to figure out how he was ever going to pay it off.”
Was Norbert Grimmer always the sole proprietor?
“For less than a year, it started out as Grimmer-Bonney Auto. Mr. Bonney was a bomber pilot during World War II. After the war, with the rebuilding of Germany, they were looking for American pilots who could deliver the supplies. Bonney decided that’s what he would do.”
This place has been known as Grimmer’s before I was ever born. I’d never heard of the short-lived partnership. Butch, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite George Carlin lines.
Have you ever walked into Sears and wondered whatever happened to Roebuck? Enough levity. Early memories of the place when your dad had a booming towing business and had gas pumps here.
“I was taking car parts apart at this station when I was 5. When I was 6 or 7, I came home from school and Dad said we had to change the price of gasoline. I asked him, ‘To what?’ He said, ‘To 30.9 (cents per gallon).’
“I knew my dad was an intelligent person, but at that moment, I was thinking he was crazy. I didn’t believe there would ever be a day when someone would come to Grimmer’s and pay 30 cents for a gallon of fuel.”
“Growing up in the town of Schererville was great. I was so fortunate to grow up next to Roscoe and Gladys Protsman. They were both longtime teachers who grew some of the best strawberries you ever ate.
“The Protsmans had identical twin grandsons who lived in Fort Wayne. Their names were Peter and David. Because of me, they became great successes.”
“When they were 6 or 7 and I was a couple years older, I told them how stupid they were. We didn’t have air conditioning back them, so the kitchen window was open and my mother heard me. Mom took me in the house and explained why I shouldn’t call anyone stupid.”
“Life went on, and probably 30 years later, I found out that the twins probably weren’t as stupid as I thought they were.”
Did they go on to invent a longer lasting light bulb?
“No, but their photography has graced the covers of Newsweek, Time, Look and Life magazines about 150 times.
“They’ve shot the massacre around Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the genocide in Rwanda, just to name a few assignments. In 1990, David won a Pulitzer Prize.”
Wow, man. You’re talking about Peter and David Turnley. They were featured on “60 Minutes” several years ago.
“That’s right. And I’ve never called anyone stupid since that summer day in Schererville.”
Changes at Grimmer’s through the years?
“A lot has gone on over the years. In this photo, you can see what our building looked like in the ‘50s. That’s Dad next to what I believe is a ‘56 Chevy. Those are our Phillip’s 66 gas pumps. We were a distributor of Frank Phillip’s Petroleum Co. products for at least 40 years.”
“In the ‘60s, we went with a new style of building with these slanted windows you see in this photo. Looking at this picture reminds me of a real crazy time of my life.”
Probably a lot of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, huh?
“I usually got the detail of cleaning the bathrooms, being the young man I was. As you would shut the door of the restroom, there would be a sign that read: ‘This certified restroom, No. 1776, is kept hygienically clean for your comfort and protection with daily disinfection with Lysol. If you find any untidiness or any supplies missing, please let me know so that I may correct them immediately.’ Signed, Norbert Grimmer.
“I can’t remember my own Social Security number or my wife’s birth date, but I remember every stinking word of that sign because I looked at it three times a day for at least 10 years.”
Butch, you’re killin’ me.
“Everything was available at Grimmer’s in those days, not like today’s specialized field.”
“We got out of the gasoline and towing business about 15 years ago. We pretty well stay in the areas of exhaust, tires, brakes, starters, alternators — repairs such as that. We typically like to get the customer in and out in half a day or less.
“We also have the Pennzoil 10-minute quick lube. In our heyday, we’ve had as many as 400 cars per week come through here. We pride ourselves knowing that we’ve changed the oil in more than a half-million cars in 67 years. Believe me, Butch Grimmer sat in on the greater majority of those.”
Is Grimmer’s one of the oldest businesses in the Dyer, Schererville and St. John area?
“Probably second-oldest. Teibel’s Restaurant was here at least 10 years before us. We are very close with the Teibel family.”
This area has really grown up since the 1960s.
“When I was a kid, there was a stop-and-go light at 41 and 30. Heading south, the next one was in Kentland.”
Your son, Brian?
“Brian is the manager and pretty well takes care of everything now. I’m just here today to deal with the IRS and clean the restrooms.”
All three generations of Grimmers have been known to work their share of 20-hour days in the last 67 years.
And any longtime customer will attest that when a Grimmer lifts up the hood of a car, there’s a ton of experience staring at that starter.