by Lisa Tome
When he was five years old, Mike Schafer stuck his first butter knife in a broken appliance and he was hooked.
"If I could get a butter knife in it, I would take it apart. When I was a kid, my dad would give me carburetors and tell me to work on them. If you would give me something broken and a butter knife, I was set for days," said Schafer.
Decades, and a whole lot of experience later, Schafer's tools are more complex and his shop a lot bigger, but he is still fixing things. In January, he put his knowledge to work opening his own business, Schafer's Restorations, at the former Spicer's Cycle on Rising Sun's West Main Street.
Schafer is a certified master body technician with 25 years experience. "I've been working on cars my whole life. My dad owned a mechanical shop," he said. He previously worked at other shops and settled on opening a shop in Rising Sun because "this is Main Street USA. I like the history of this building. This was a Chevrolet dealership," said Schafer. He hails from Baltimore and lives in Port Deposit. He met with Sonny, the building's owner, in hopes of renting the building.
"This is a niche. I'd been working in body shops but nobody wanted to do the old stuff. You're building the past and giving people back their history," he said. "It's easier to do collisions (repair) but you're losing the craftsmanship. I always wanted to do the stuff that nobody wanted to do."
In the shop last week, he had a 1969 Buick Grand Sport, 1963 VW Beetle, 1968 GTO convertible, 1929 Model A pick-up, and a 1961 VW Beetle. His focus right now, is fixing up historic cars for people. He said if given the opportunity, he'd "flip" cars. "Old cars are an addiction," he said. "Some of these we are doing completely nut and bolt. Some of them, we are fixing them up for people to sell," he said. In addition to restoring cars, Schafer is also building a team. He is working to get a group of mechanically-minded staff to make the work on the classic cars more efficient.
Richard Berry is working in the shop as a technician. Luke Mahan, is a homeschooled teen working in the shop as an intern.
"I'm learning the ropes. We're working on old junk and making it beautiful," said Mahan. Not everything he restores has four wheels. He also works to restore old Coke machines and refrigerators. He has also worked to make old gas pumps new again. "I'm a throwback kind of guy," he said. "If it's made of metal, we'll mess with it."
"If you learn to work with your hands, it's a major league sport. Auto body is artistic - painting, welding, and body work. The trades are dying off. We're doing things the proper way. And with hot rods there are no rules as long as it's safe," he said.