Russ' Vintage Iron

End of Era for Merlin the Mechanic

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Since I have been writing this column for so long (I think approaching 15 years now) sometimes I don't really remember which subjects I have covered and which I haven't. The good news for me is if I can't remember what I wrote then you, the reader, probably can't remember either.

I have mentioned "Merlin the Mechanic" before in a column I am sure. He was the man who ran a repair shop in my hometown for 60 years. Well into his 90s Merlin continued to fix small engines after years of repairing cars, trucks, tractors, and even vacuum cleaners.

Most towns have that handy person or shop that can repair anything and this was the case with Merlin and Elkhorn (Nebraska). He was born and raised on his family's farm near Snyder about 50 miles to the northwest of Elkhorn. He had the ability to fix almost anything. He came to Elkhorn in the 1940s to work as a mechanic for the local John Deere dealership.

That dealership was my family's main equipment dealer during the early days of mechanical agriculture. My grandpa and his brother purchased our 1935 John Deere D, which we still have and have restored, from this dealership. I even have paperwork from Deere which showed the tractor was shipped to the dealer in April of 1935.

The dealership closed in the 1950s (well before my time) and Merlin purchased the building from the family who owned the dealership and he began to operate his repair business. For the next 60 years he spent his days repairing just about anything for people of Elkhorn.

Merlin worked on just about everything for us on the farm. We brought him our tractors, cars, trucks, lawn mowers and chainsaws.

My dad remembers he and his siblings taking their bikes into his shop for Merlin to fix whatever was wrong with them. I can remember being in his shop as a kid with one of our vehicles torn apart and hoping he would be able to reassemble it in the main bay.

I should have known Merlin could fix just about anything.

After my grandparents retired from the farm and moved into town, my grandpa's nearly daily routine was to drive downtown, collect the day's mail at the post office and walk around the corner and shoot the breeze with Merlin as he was working. I am sure I tagged along with him a few times.

When I was 6 years old my grandpa passed away. The family decided to pick his good friends to be pallbearers for his funeral. Several old farmer neighbors were picked to carry him to his final resting place, as well as Merlin the Mechanic.

Being so young, my memories of my grandpa and his funeral are fairly limited. One thing I do remember was these six men carrying his casket into the church. I don't know if it was because of this memory but I always had a deep appreciation for these guys.

That funeral was 35 years ago and today all the pallbearers are gone except for one -- Merlin.

Just imagine the changes with engine technologies he saw in his 60-plus years of being a mechanic. In addition, he also saw a small, rural town of about 400 people grow into a much larger, suburban area as the big city of Omaha grew toward it and engulfed it.

And Merlin watched it all for 60 years from his white, wooden building just off of Main Street.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, and time finally caught up with Merlin. Being in his 90s and having a serious illness recently, the family decided his retirement needed to happen -- only about 30 years later than most of his contemporaries.

This Saturday, Sept. 26, marks the official end of Merlin's business as they will conduct an auction to liquidate his repair business. He has 60 years of tools, parts, supplies, etc. to be sold.

I have much admiration for this generation, the "greatest" generation as it has been called by many. Many of the farmers of this age group I knew personally farmed well into their 70s and 80s, with a few farming right up to the end.

But Merlin has them all beat, working every day in his repair shop well into his 90s. It won't be the same, driving by and not seeing his sign on the building just off Main Street.

After 60 years, though, he certainly deserves his retirement. That is probably a large understatement.

Russ Quinn can be reached at