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Paint it Black
Wes Iverson was not born into a life of cars. Although his older brother did have a body shop in Huron, his dad was a farmer. Growing up on a farm did prepare him a little for his future, as he learned to fix equipment as needed. When his mother passed away, Wes, at age thirteen, along with his younger brother, went to live with his older brother, Melvin, in Huron. Dad farmed and Wes’s oldest brother started a body shop in Huron in 1937. Melvin Iverson was well known in the auto body business in the area. “I learned the trade from my brother,” recalls Wes. “I did not go to high school and after finishing 8th grade, I went to work for my brother.”
Melvin’s body shop was located in downtown Huron. They did mechanical work but body shop work was the bulk of their business. Wes went into the Navy when he was 19 years old and served for three and a half years. He married Eileen Hofer in January 1944. Together they purchased a 320-acre farm south of Alexandria, South Dakota. He purchased it with money he had saved from the Navy. Wes was raised to be very frugal and managed to save most of the money he made in the Navy. “My friends trusted me and many of them would leave their money with me when they went to town so they would not squander it. I was acting chief engineer diesel mechanic on the USS Montezuma and learned a lot from my years in the Navy.” Wes and Eileen farmed in Alexandria from 1945-1953. At the same time, he attended four years of agricultural school in Alexandria.
One afternoon while sitting on his tractor planting a field, he got a call from the Lord to enter the ministry. Wes later said that that year’s crop was the best ever! After receiving his true calling, they decided it was time for a change and sold the farm. They purchased a home in Sioux Falls and Wes attended Christian Workers Institute in Sioux Falls. In 1954, they moved into the basement of a church in Canton when that church had an opening for a pastor. The Iverson family would call the basement of their church home for the next 29 years. Soon after, they started a radio broadcast on KSOO radio. “Chapel Hour” was a 30-minute broadcast with the entire Iverson family contributing.
“Being a minister was my calling but a minister does not make much money and we had six children so I took a job with Bill McKean Pontiac Cadillac in 1955 while attending bible school. I would work for the dealership in the body shop every afternoon. Hank Kindler purchased the business from McKean and I continued working for them for years. Mr. Kindler (I called him Mr. Kindler for the respect I had for him) was one of the best men I have ever known. He would call me down to his office occasionally and ask me about the Lord. He didn’t care that I was dirty from work. We would have the nicest visits. My co-workers didn’t believe me when I told them why I was there. He was a very fair and kind man. He was good to all of his employees and always sent a check to the church. He was kind to everybody not just his employees.” Paul adds, “He would always open up the pop machine and give us kids a free pop when we came in to see dad. We thought that was so cool.” Wes continues, “He would also come back to our work area frequently just to visit with us. I was a part-time foreman but I had a list of customers that asked for me when they came in. Back in those days, we were working with metal-now it is plastic. You fixed stuff then, you replace it now. I worked a year or so for McKean and another 15 years for Kindler.”
In 1978, Wes and his sons started Iverson’s Body Shop. The three youngest boys were partners with Wes. Two of the boys (Paul & Phil) worked for Kindler prior to going into partnership with Wes. Mark was a senior in high school when they started the body shop and joined the family business after graduating. They started in what was called the Fait building (a block south of Main Street). Business grew over the years and reached a point where the neighbors complained about the noise because they worked late at night. Paul says, “I’m not sure if it was the three spotlights at 10:30 at night or the air chisel, but the neighbors started to complain.” The city sent them a letter and told them that they couldn’t use the garage any longer to paint cars. They decided it was time to make a business out of repairing cars and moved out of the garage to a shop just south of Main Street and started Iverson Car Sales. As soon as they moved out of the garage at home, they started to sell rebuilt cars. “I have been rebuilding cars since 1937,” says Wes. “People saw them as a good value. The same is true today. When done properly, a rebuilt car is a great value for a customer. We stand behind all of our work too.” Eileen proudly says, “the boys get along very well and I am thankful for that. I have never heard them raise their voice to each other. They always talk things over before making a decision.”
They moved to their current location in October of 1982, the same year that they moved out of the basement of their church to their new home on the west side of Canton. Wes purchased the approximately three-acre property a few years before that. They were the only ones out there at the time. They added the showroom on the north side in 1987. The first week at the new location they sold all 13 cars they moved out there. They were working out of a small 30x30 shed that was used as a trailer office. They told the bank what happened and the bank immediately gave them the go ahead to build the building right away. That one week convinced them this would be a great location.
“All of our children worked hard,” remembers Eileen. “They started working early on, starting at 10 years of age. Many of them worked for A&R Grocery.” Wes adds, “they would always be helping me in our garage next to the church. We worked on our own cars but we also purchased, repaired, and sold cars to customers. The boys watched me and learned from that. They picked it up very easy.” They learned everything from Wes including the painting. Phillip was an especially good painter. All three of the boys put together models and won numerous awards for their painting them. “They didn’t follow instructions for painting them either,” according to sister Barbara.
The boys picked up the business quickly and moved it forward. Phillip was a partner in the business until he moved to Florida in 1991. He has his own body shop down there now that specializes in Mustang restorations. Today Paul and Mark each share in the responsibilities of making the shop run. Nate (Barbara’s son) started working when he was a little boy. “He was always hanging around the shop,” recalls Barbara. “I used to bring him out here when he was a baby to have coffee with mom and dad.” He has been working at the shop ever since the age of 12. The school bus would drop him off at the shop after school. He would help clean up and put away tools and learned how to repair the cars by watching his grandpa and uncles. After graduating from high school he attended Southeast Technical Institute (STI) to study the automotive technology program so he could get a better understanding of the cars mechanical side. After graduating from STI IN 2000 he began working at the shop full time.
Nate has grown up with a great passion for cars and bikes and learning how to fix them. In high school he restored a 1980 Pontiac TransAm Indy pace car for himself. Since then he has rebuilt most of the cars and trucks he has owned and has also built, repaired, and custom painted many motorcycles over the years.
Today, he does a lot of the frame and mechanical work and painting of the cars that are repaired at the shop. He also enjoys buying and selling cars and parts on the Internet for the business.
“My son, Kenny, used to work here also,” says Barbara. Kenny now works for Todd Esche (Todd’s Auto Sales). My son Ronnie worked out here too. He now works for Adams Thermal.”
Although Wes was a body shop repairman, he was first and foremost a minister. He would always pray with customers after they purchased the car. “He never forced this on our customers but it just comes natural for dad,” recalls Paul. “He would ask the Lord to keep them safe from accidents. He always asked people before he did it and if they would prefer not to that was OK. We felt it was the right thing to do for our customers. People know we are a Christian based company. It was really nice to hear from a customer that purchased a car from us 25 years ago. He called us and told us how much it meant to him that dad said a prayer over his car and he wanted to call and thank us for it. We have even had people come out to us that did not buy a car from us requesting dad to pray for their car.”
“I knew this is what I wanted to do when I was just a little kid,” remembers Mark. “We had metal Tonka toys and would intentionally dent them up so we could straighten them back, mud them up, and paint them to get them to look like new again. We would do that over and over again and paint them different colors. We were also into go-carts when we were young. We would drive them all over town. We built them out of wood. We would go to work at the grocery store and return home that night loaded with crates from the store and used that lumber to build our gocarts.”
The Iverson boys were always ambitious and full of ideas. “Our first business venture was rabbits,” recalls Paul. “We wanted to raise and sell rabbits. Dad didn’t think it was as good of an idea as we did so we had to give up our rabbit business. He took the lumber that we had used to build the cages and built a cross for the church. The cross still is there today.”
“When we were young, we would watch dad repair cars for our older brothers and sisters,” said Paul and Mark. “There was no insulation in the garage so we used a kerosene heater to stay warm. Some times we would work all night. It would get so cold in there that dad would have to use a blow torch to heat up the oil pan to start the car to go to work. As fathers now, we both admire dad because he had the patience to let us do it without his help. He could have done it faster but he let us make mistakes and we learned from those mistakes. Experience really is a good teacher. We didn’t always help dad. Some evenings he would be painting cars and we would want to be shooting baskets. He would not let us do that because the hoop hung on the garage and created too much dust.” In the beginning, the cars they repaired were for family members and not for sale to customers. It wasn’t until Paul, Phillip, and Mark were old enough that they started to rebuild and sell cars to customers. Phillip was painting complete cars for the family when he was 14. “10 children kept me busy keeping them in cars,” says Wes with a smile.
The Iverson boys have always been crazy about sports cars. The last five children all learned how to drive a four-speed on a 1967 Camaro RS SS that Wes purchased from Kindlers in 1972. Barb was the first to learn. The boys always wondered why she shifted from first to third and then fourth but she explained that “the car had enough power and she didn’t need more gears”. Phil ended up owning the car eventually. Paul’s first car was a 1971 orange Barracuda. He also owned several newer style Cadillac’s that he repaired when he was a senior in high school. Currently he owns a 2005 Mustang GT and a 2000 Harley Davidson Springer. Mark’s first car was a 1972 orange Firebird originally purchased for Phil. The car had left side damage and Phil wanted to paint the car black. Wes did not want to paint the whole car black so Mark ended up buying the car. During the repair the frame jack came loose on the machine used to pull the left rocker panel and knocked Wes in the air and he hurt his leg. This was the one and only time anyone was hurt repairing a vehicle. Phil then purchased a green 1971 Camaro and painted it silver with black phase 3 stripes. He pulled out the baffles out of the side pipes and it ‘back rapped’. “We all thought that was so cool,” says Mark. In 1976 Wes brought home a white 1977 TransAm that was a damaged demonstrator model. Of course, Phillip wanted to paint it black but once again Wes did not want to change the color since the car only had 1,000 miles on it. Mark fell in love with the car and sold his 1972 Firebird and purchased the TransAm. Phillip was working for Kindler, after graduating from high school in 1977, when he finally got his brand new black TransAm. He ordered it new from Kindler and it had an automatic transmission with a performance motor. He later sold the vehicle to Paul. A year later Mark ordered a new 1979 red TransAm from Canton dealer Fait Chevrolet Pontiac. It was suppose to have an automatic transmission and a performance motor. “They told me I had to order the four-speed to get the performance motor so the car was re-ordered with a stock motor with an automatic,” according to Mark. Mark ordered tires and rims from Graham Goodyear, which were painted to match the vehicle. However, when they came in, the rims had the wrong bolt pattern. Graham took back the custom rims, when this was discovered and hung one of them on the wall on their Minnesota Avenue location. Years later Mark came in to the store and the rim was still on the wall. They told him that they sold “a lot of wheels like that once customers saw how a painted aluminum finned wheels looked when matched to the car color”.
Phillip raced his Camaro and never lost with it. The car won numerous races at Thunder Valley. One day a policeman with the Canton Police Department was watching Phillip race on a marked off 1/4 mile drag strip three miles north of Canton on the Old Coop Road. It was out of their jurisdiction but they would clock the speed with their radar gun but never gave out a ticket. Sunday afternoons were the big race day and people would line up in the ditches watching the 1/4 mile drag races. Both Paul and Mark said those were great days.
Like most of the Iverson boys’ cars, as soon as they came home they would get a new set of Parnelli Jones tires and air shocks right away. Mark still has a 1987 red Corvette convertible with only 12,000 original miles. He also owns a white with black interior 1972 Corvette convertible 4-speed he is just finishing restoring Mark’s wife Tanya has an early yellow 1955 Chevy pickup all original 235 6 cylinder. Motorcycles are also favorites for the Iverson’s. Mark has his original 1983 Honda CV 1000 with only 5000 miles on it. Paul owned the identical model but recently sold it when he purchased a 2000 Harley Springer. The Iverson family also owned the Amoco gas station (formerly Willies) for three years and were partners in the NAPA store in Canton.
Today, Iverson’s is mainly an insurance repair shop. They still do some restorations and rebuilds but car sales and insurance work continue to be the bread and butter of the business. Services include paintless dent repair, glass replacement, and complete body repair. Paul says, “We still like to do business the old fashioned way, with a handshake. I was by my dad’s side every day for 53 years. He has never said a bad word about anyone. Our parents were huge influences in our lives. My dad grew up without parents, and I appreciate every day I spend with him.”
Wes and Eileen are proud parents to 10 children, who all graduated from Canton High School. Eileen has been the secretary for the body shop since 1978. Wes retired from the business in 2009 but still makes daily visits to the shop. Wes, who will be 90 years old in November, recently received the Canton Good Samaritan Volunteer of the Year Award for service that spans three generations and 48 years.