He’s about to be ‘gone camping’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

After 38 years, Jack McGowin is hanging up his wrenches and closing the doors to his Cherokee Street garage on July 29.

As a self-employed businessman, garage owner Jack McGowin has a simple motto: “Be there, every day, on time, do the best you can do and stay there until quitting time.”

It’s served him well during his 38-year career as an auto mechanic and owner of McGowin’s Garage.

Now, the Vietnam vet is ready to hang up his wrenches, pull on a bow and arrow and enjoy retirement.

“I can’t tell you all the changes I’ve seen in the automotive industry over the last years,” McGowin said. “I can tell you that there’s been no better feeling than helping the people of Covington County.”

McGowin said before graduating Andalusia High School, he would spend nine hours a day on a bus, traveling to and from trade school in Dothan.

“That’s how bad I wanted to have an education,” he said. “And it’s served me well.”

McGowin said he spent four years in the Marine Corps and was wounded during a helicopter crash in Vietnam’s Tet Offensive.

“It took me 12 months in the hospital to recover, and then I was discharged,” he said. “When I got home, like a lot of soldiers at that time, I floundered a bit, looking for something to do.

“Then, I found something that saved my soul – my wife Carolyn,” he said. He then went on to attend college, and then found a job at a local dealership. It wasn’t long before friends and family had convinced him to open his own business.

“I lack one quarter having my business degree,” he said. “My mom really gave me the push I needed. She said she wouldn’t loan me the money to get started, but she’d be there to make sure I didn’t go under. That was all I needed, a little confidence.”

And for the next 38 years, that confidence has served him well, he said.

“I’ve been able to do things that I only dreamed about as a boy,” he said. “I dreamed that I could drive in NASCAR, and I did. Got my license to prove it. I dreamed about flying a plane. I did that, too. I’m so lucky.”

As far as his “NASCAR career,” McGowin said he only had one claim to fame – a chance meeting with Richard Petty and Crawford Clements at Talladega “way back when.”

“Like I said, I’m lucky to have done the things I’ve done,” he said.

Now, he plans to spend his retirement following another passion – primitive camping.

“Sounds crazy, I know,” he said of the practice of camping as pioneers, using everything made prior to 1840.

“That means clothing and everything,” he said. “There are huge events all over the U.S. and we’ve been doing it for years. We really enjoy the feeling of camaraderie you get. There are even competitions such as primitive archery, which is what I love.”

McGowin said he decided it was time to retire when the “fire was gone.”

“My favorite saying is ‘Attitude determines your altitude in life.’ There’s not any fire left in me,” he said. “That’s when I knew it was time to go home and start building my own campfires.”

McGowin’s Garage will close on July 29.