When born and bred Tacoman Hap Gaylord passed away on Aug. 25, a piece of Tacoma died with him. It was 1958 when he established Hap’s Westside Auto Repair and Hap’s Towing in what is now called University Place and ever since then it has been a landmark for those who live around here. Hap himself was a landmark as well – one of the last of the businessmen from that era when making a buck came second to making a friend. That was Hap’s business philosophy and it served him beautifully throughout his 60 years behind the front counter.
Hap came into the world at St. Joseph’s hospital in 1930. The city of University Place didn’t exist yet (it incorporated in 1995), nor were paved roads the norm. Today’s U.P. thoroughfare Mildred Street was known as Anderson Pierce Road and it was a dirt road. Oswald’s Flying Service airport and flight school were across the street from where Hap’s was located at 6802 27thSt. W., until it moved to Gig Harbor and is now known as the Tacoma Narrows Airport. Back then, in the late 1950s and into the ’60s when commercial tow trucks started being dispatched, Hap’s was thetowing company in the Puget Sound area.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
The business was indeed a family affair. Hap’s children – Shelley, Derek, Greg and Gerald – all worked at the wrecking yard at some point in their lives. The business enjoyed the help of a couple hundred employees as well over the years, some who stayed a very long time – like Dick Peterson for close to 40 years beginning in the late ’70s, and Gene Gaylord, Hap’s brother, for 57 years, from 1960 until 2017. Hap was glad to share his knowledge in auto repair with employees and they learned from the best.
The number of customers is beyond count. “There were tens of thousands of customers my dad helped,” Hap’s son Greg Gaylord said. He believes that Hap’s was the longest running business in University Place. His dad opened the business the same year that Hap’s good friend Curt Kendall opened U.P. Auto Parts at the bottom of the hill on 27thStreet.
“Curt Kendall sold new parts and my dad sold used parts,” Greg explained. “They looked so much alike that they always called each other ‘brother.’ Dad would say, ‘Go see my brother at the bottom of the hill’ and Curt would say, ‘Go see my brother at the top of the hill.’ They had this working relationship forever.”
To make sure that customers could find his shop, Hap built a giant HAP’S sign for the top of the building in huge block letters and lined them with 52 working headlights. “They were so bright that because of Oswald’s Airport, the FAA made him turn it off because it was blinding the runway,” Greg recalled with a chuckle. “Who would build a sign like that and aim it right at an airport? My dad – that’s who.” He said this is one of his favorite stories to tell of his dad.
Another funny story is about the time Hap’s car broke down on the side of the road in U.P. The hood was open and there was Hap leaning over the engine as his friends and neighbors drove by giving him a honk and a big wave – and just kept driving. Since Hap was the famous local mechanic, no one thought to stop and help. Luckily, Hap was so adept at auto repair that he simply used a piece of foil to fix the points in the engine and was able to drive back to the shop.
In fact, Greg has many, many stories of his dad’s adventures around town, as does Hap’s longtime employee and dear friend Paul Andres. Andres started working for Hap when he was just 15 years old and Hap was around 28. Andres worked for Hap through high school and by age 17 he was running the tow trucks and picking up wrecked vehicles around town. There weren’t many 17-year-olds that could take on this kind of responsibility, but there Andres was, loving his job and making his boss proud. Even today, Andres is still a large part of Hap’s life and family and is appreciated greatly.
Andres told of the time when he was winching a car that had gone off the road and Hap came by. A police officer at the scene walked up and struck up a conversation with Hap. As Andres tells it, the cop said, “That guy running your wrecker is a little bit young, isn’t he?” Hap says, “Did he damage anything?” The cop said, “No, he didn’t put a scratch on it.” Hap turned to him and said, “Well, I guess he’s doing all right then.”
EVERYONE KNEW HIS NAME
Hap was a consummate hat wearer – fedoras, ski caps, bowler hats… His son Greg named his coffee business Bowler Coffee Company, at 12161 Pacific Ave. S., in honor of his dad’s style. “The bowler hat is known as the working man’s hat and because of my dad’s work ethic and the ethic and skills he shared with his family and friends, I named my company after a gentleman’s working hat, and a true gentleman, my dad,” Greg explained.
University Place in Hap’s day was a small town. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. He didn’t care what color you were or your political affiliations – if you were respectful and nice to him, he would be that way with you.
“He liked it when people would just come in, sit down and hang out – pickle barrel politics,” Greg said. “That was the big thing – my dad behind the counter and the fireplace with all the chairs. That’s the biggest thing about the wrecking yard: There wasn’t a day you wouldn’t find half a dozen people there just hanging out.”
For years, Hap donated cars to the U.P. fire station for training in extricating people from wrecked cars. He also donated cars and motors to the Curtis High School auto shop for students to learn with. “Most of the people who know this are gone. He outlasted everybody,” Greg said. “My dad preferred to do his good deeds in private. He never would seek thanks or accolades. He was always about paying it forward and doing random things to help people. He was an under-the-radar kind of guy.”
Hap worked – that’s how he gave back to the community. “Six days a week he was open and on the seventh day he’d probably still be working. He worked when anyone called him and the towing was seven days a week.”
“He was always helpful to the kids,” Andres said. “They’d come in with their hotrods or cars that were broken down and he always made time to explain and show them how to do things. He would never charge for the time. He was just glad to help.”
Greg agrees. “He just really loved his life in University Place and never really wanted to go anywhere else. He liked the people and loved the area.”
A FEW FUNNY STORIES…
Hap was very close friends with Harold and Nancy LeMay. Having their mutual love of the automobile in common brought them together as did their enjoyment of just being around each other.
“My dad would tell the funny story of how Nancy had always wanted a brass bed and how he had found her one. The funny part is when Harold called him at 3 a.m. while endlessly polishing that brass bed saying, ‘Hap, If another man buys your wife a bed, he should have to polish the bed!’”
Then there are tales of Duke the dog – part boxer and part Great Dane. Hap accidentally ran over Duke’s head with a Hudson sedan and Duke just got up, shook his head and went on his way. It didn’t even faze Duke when he went flying forward in the tow truck and his head denting the dashboard. Duke rode the school bus too. He would sneak onto the bus from Hap’s home located at the bottom of 27thStreet and jump off at Hap’s Auto at the top of the hill because he wanted to go to work too, Greg said.
So many stories – the type that console a person when a dear loved one has passed on.
In his last remaining golden years, Hap lived with his son Greg, his daughter-in-law Cindy, his granddaughters Allie and Gracie and surrounded by family and friends. He was blessed to live with his family who doted on him and to spend every day with the people he loved the most.
“If there was anything he’d want, it would be for people to genuinely take care of and be nice to each other, no matter who they are,” Greg said. On behalf of his father, Greg sends out a big “Thank you!” to the whole community – for the kindnesses, the friendships, the memories. It was a wonderful life in University Place.
Now that Hap is gone, the Hap’s property is closed and up for sale. It marks the end of an era, but one not forgotten by Hap’s friends and family who continue to tell his stories, laugh and appreciate the man for the outstanding person that he was.