Story and photos by Randy Tisor
Dollar stretching has become something of a national sport these days, and while we may not see it as an official event in the next Olympics, it certainly plays a major role in the lives of Soldiers and their Families. Rookie and veteran dollar stretchers looking for additional ways to save a buck may want to visit the Auto Crafts Center on Wetzel Avenue, just around the corner and up the hill from Outdoor Recreation, the next time the family car needs brakes or a tuneup.
Fort Carson’s Auto Crafts Center dates back, in its present building, to 1987 and was the largest auto crafts facility in the Army, according to Lenny Birchfield, a training instructor at the shop.
The shop was a model for others in the Army and, although Birchfield places the shop size-wise as fourth largest in the Army currently, is adequate to meet the needs of the most hardened gear head. Or, the complete novice.
Dante Alano, a training instructor with the center for nearly 17 years, talks excitedly about the training opportunities that walk and roll into the shop doors every day.
“I basically teach these guys how to do their car repair and make sure that they’re doing it right – and safely,” Alano said. “It’s a very good and rewarding job. I get to be around the Soldiers and, at the end of the day, I hear the Soldiers’ comments. They say ‘hey, by doing this myself, I saved myself a few bucks and learned something.’
“Some of them make comments like, ‘you know, I never thought I could do this brake job. I’ve always been afraid to do a brake job, because if I mess up, my car won’t stop.’ We assure them that’s a myth, unless you really do something stupid,” Alano said.
Alano loves seeing the light come on for people – not the interior dome light – the ‘ah ha’ light of discovery and the resultant self-satisfaction.
“When I see them come back, I know that they’re satisfied and they’re enhancing their abilities to repair their cars,” Alano said. “I think we’ve done our job, then.”
Then there are the stories of savings – saving dollars, that is.
“Just the other day, a guy came in here with a (repair) estimate of something like $2,000 worth of work,” Alano recalled. “Sure enough, the guy left out of here spending less than $200.”
Rather than pity the poor dollar that gets stretched so far, Alano only offers more and similar stories. The Auto Crafts Center, he said, is also therapeutic for Soldiers returning from long deployments and a great place for Soldiers and Family members to enjoy their automotive hobby.
“A lot of guys do their own wrench turning,” said Spc. Jason Torres, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, whose hobby is adding serious off-road modifications to his four-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee.
“I’d go crazy without (the Auto Craft Center),” Torres said, noting that he recently installed a four-inch lift kit on his Jeep and was currently fabricating brackets so he could replace the front bumper with a heavy-duty brush guard. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the tools and facilities here. Without this (facility), all the gear heads, as we call them, we wouldn’t have a place to work on (our vehicles). They won’t let us work on them in the parking lots if you live on base. So you have to bring (your car) here. They’ve got everything you need.”
The Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s Auto Crafts Center is open to all Department of Defense identification cardholders.