Still runs fine: Veteran has no plans to retire

By Becky Bell

Gale Velte, a Conway mechanic, tried to retire back in 2000. Within the week, he was back at work.

“I kept getting so many calls at the house that I came back to work again,” Velte said. “And I enjoy the people I work for and I didn’t want to let them down. They trusted me. That’s the way I am right not. A lot of people trust me and I’m not going to let them down.”

Mike Kemp photo

Velte, 84, has never had formal training as a mechanic and said he learned everything he knows about working on cars from his father. His father started showing him the ropes when he was 10 and his adult life has been dedicated to being a mechanic.

“Except for four years in the Air Force, I have been at it every day since,” Velte said. 

During his time in the Air Force, Velte asked to be a mechanic, but was turned down because his superiors said they didn’t need any mechanics. So, for that period, he worked in offices. He was chief clerk for two years in Alaska.

“I loved it and started to take my discharge there,” he said. “I fished and hunted and everything. I was there when it wasn’t even a state. I could have homesteaded if I wanted to.” However, when his enlistment was up with the Air Force, he decided to go back to Conway.

“I wanted to come back home and see everybody and then when I got here, I didn’t want to go back and leave everybody again. I had to come back home for discharge. The last six months in the service I was at the Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.”

Velte has owned Velte Automotive since 1984 and passed it over to his son, Stephen Velte about 20 years ago. Before Velte Automotive, he owned a Bug Service Center that he opened around 1974. 

Velte brags about his son Stephen being good with cars since his childhood as well and said he could take them apart and put them back together, including parts that involved computers.

“He does all the electronic stuff, but I’m not smart enough for that. I’m from the old school. The old ones didn’t have computers,” Velte said. ‘When they started with the computers that is when I kind of lost out.”

However, there are many other services people need that Velte is more than capable of doing at the shop. And people have known that for years and keep trusting him because of his lifetime worth of knowledge. Geoff Terry of Terry’s Automotive knows about Velte and his skills. “He’s a super mechanic. His only problem is that he may have too much business,” Terry said.

As for Velte, he thinks working is what keeps him going and that if he was home, he would be, in his words, “vegetating”. He doesn’t see anything slowing him down for a long time and until he can’t, he plans to come to work.

“It’s because I like what I do and I don’t think I will stop,” he said. “They will probably one day pull me from under a car and put me in a box.”