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Bittersweet goodbye

Russ Leinbach knew it was time to close Russ Auto Care, but it wasn't easy

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Russ Leinbach made the difficult decision to close Russ Auto Care when he realized his heart wasn't in it anymore. Russ Leinbach knew it was time to close his auto repair shop, Russ Auto Care, when his passion for the job began to ebb.

Throughout the nine years since he’d moved into the property on Willamette Falls Drive, Leinbach had always prided himself on giving 110 percent to each and every person who came in. Anything less would have been a disservice to people he had come to consider more friends than customers.

If Leinbach couldn’t do that, and his heart wasn’t really in it anymore, he knew he had to move on. A poor relationship with the property owners and the desire to spend more time with his twin 15-year old daughters cemented the decision.

“It’s a hard, hard decision to make,” Leinbach said. “I just had to make that decision, and once I did, it was kind of a relief.”

The shop officially stopped accepting cars Feb. 14, but Leinbach said he would be sticking around the garage through the end of the month and was still available for quick repairs if needed.

With Leinbach’s doors shutting, West Linn will lose yet another auto repair shop just months after Isa’s Auto Repair moved to Oregon City.

“I hope someone along the lines of auto care comes and maintains that,” Leinbach said. “Isa was forced out and they turned it into a Beer Cave. There’s nobody else in West Linn.”

When Leinbach opened the repair shop nine years ago, it was the culmination of a dream he’d had since high school. The Tigard native had moved to West Linn with his family shortly after retiring from a 20-year career in the Navy. He worked as a service writer at the Beaverton Honda dealership until the property at 1590 Willamette Falls Drive opened up.

It was perfect.

“Two miles from my house — what could be better?” Leinbach said.

Leinbach knew he wanted to own a repair shop when he graduated from high school, but he didn’t have the money to put himself through school and didn’t want to ask his parents for money. He had always been more of a do-it-yourself type of person.

He decided to join the Navy’s construction battalion, also known as the “CBs” or “Seabees.” For 20 years, Leinbach worked on maintenance crews at Naval bases across the globe, from Iraq to Australia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

During Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, Leinbach was part of a crew that built camps and dug wells for Kurds who had fled to the northern region of the country.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - After nine years, Leinbach considers the business to be a success and hopes another auto shop comes in to fill the property on Willamette Falls Drive.

It was an invaluable learning experience for Leinbach, both technically and mentally.

“They teach you about respect, to respect everybody and follow orders,” Leinbach said. “In the military, they had to bring equipment to me to have it fixed. Out here, you’ve got a choice. So in order to win that choice over, integrity and honesty is what does it. That’s what brought all of the people back here.”

When he started the business, Leinbach judged prospective employees by that same measure of integrity and honesty. Thus, he said he has never had employee problems, and the community has certainly taken to his style of customer service.

Dorothy Hudson met Leinbach shortly after he opened the repair shop — which at that time also served as a gas station.

“He’s just a kind, kind person,” Hudson said. “I used to get my gas from the people who owned it before him, and I didn’t care for their service. And all of a sudden, there was Russ.”

Hudson remembered that Leinbach once allowed her to pay him in installments, whenever her Social Security check came. When she heard the shop was closing, she left a message on his phone.

“I told him how sorry I was that he was leaving,” Hudson said, “even though I gave up driving a year ago.”

Hudson is one of many customers who built a bond with Leinbach over the years, and he will miss those personal interactions more than anything else.”I’m going to miss my friends,” Leinbach said. “I’m going to miss them truly, dearly ... from the mail delivery guy to the guys that gather at the coffee shop down here — all of them and everybody in between.”

Of course, Leinbach will still be part of the community, and he doesn’t plan to sit still for long. Though he receives a monthly retainer from the Navy, he’ll likely pick up a part-time job to augment his cash flow, perhaps at the incoming Ace Hardware store.

“I like that handy man, fix-it-up kind of stuff,” Leinbach said.

As long as there are customers — customers who might become friends — Leinbach will be happy.

By Patrick Malee
503-636-1281 ex
email: pmalee@westlinntidings.com
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