When Elwood Mabe came on board as Stokes County Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor 35 years ago, his job was to maintain 24 county vehicles. His staff was one part-time worker. His headquarters was a two-bay garage in the middle of Danbury.
When he retired on Monday, Mabe’s domain was the same small garage, but the 24 vehicles had ballooned to about 180 and there were two full-time workers under his supervision.
But the differences through the years involve more than just having more employees and vehicles to oversee. For Mabe, the biggest change was the new technology in vehicles as the automotive world moved into the computer age.
“Back then, with a pair of pliers, a screwdriver and baling wire, you could make one run,” he recalls. “Now it takes more to fix them.”
When he was hired by Jerry Rothrock in 1977, Mabe had been driving a truck for about a year. For nine years before that, he had run a service station in Walnut Cove — where Hardees now stands — after graduating from Walnut Cove High School.
But his love for vehicles started long before that. Mabe remembers that he began tinkering on vehicles when he was about 14.
“I had right much knowledge,” he says of when he was hired by the county, “but I had to go to seminars to update myself on new technologies that’s come about.”
His training took place at Forsyth Tech, Guilford Tech, Surry Community College and at various seminars sponsored by vendors, such as some at the Delco Training Center in Charlotte.
Through the years, Mabe was pretty much on call 24/7. When an ambulance or sheriff’s department vehicle broke down in the middle of the night, it was Mabe’s phone that rang. Many a time has he gotten up on a cold winter’s night to see if he could get a county car running again.
“Elwood was always on the spot,” said Stokes County Commissioners’ Chair Ernest Lankford at a reception for Mabe on Dec. 27. “He’ll fix it; he’ll get it back in running shape quickly.”
Lankford laughed as he recalled a snowy King Parade years ago when the commissioners’ car — fourth in the parade lineup — wouldn’t crank. Before you knew it, Mabe was there in the inclement weather with the rollback to load up the car.
But now, the county will have to call someone else when a car won’t start or is involved in a wreck. And Mabe admits that one of the best things about retirement will be “not having to get up and get out in cold weather when being called out in the middle of night.”
What he says he will miss, however, is the people he has worked with. But he felt that retirement was the best course of action for him.
“I guess I felt like it was just time, after 35 years,” Mabe explains his decision. “I’m 67; it’s time to slow down a little bit.”
He leaves his position with a lot of memories and much to be proud of. Mabe says that one thing that stands out as highly satisfactory is how he was able to work with the county manager and commissioners on getting new vehicles and trading them out more often — ambulances, sheriff’s cars, vehicles for the Department of Social Services, the health department and the county landfill.
Another legacy that Mabe leaves is something simple that has turned out to be monumental — deer guards on county cars. In Stokes, where deer roam the roadways, much money was spent annually on repairs for vehicles that ran into the creatures.
Mabe saw that some other counties had started installing deer guards on their county vehicles. He talked with former sheriff, Mike Joyce, about it, insisting that it was something Stokes needed to try. Mabe found a company that made the guards for Crown Victorias, and the rest is history.
Sheriff Mike Marshall said, “It has saved a lot of money.”
“They have paid for themselves several times over,” echoed Commissioner Lankford as he presented Mabe with a plaque of appreciation last week.
Now that Mabe won’t have to worry about such things any more, his wife Jeanette says that he will probably find other things to fill his time. She smiles, though, as she admits that she hopes she can talk him into a trip.
Her predictions are already coming true. Mabe recently accepted a position on the Walnut Cove Senior Center Advisory Council. And he will continue to serve as a Walnut Cove Town Commissioner — a post he was elected to over a year ago.
And in case that’s not enough to keep Mabe busy, he plans to continue his work with the Boy Scouts of America. Currently, he is Scoutmaster of Troop 444 in Walnut Cove, having started as Cubmaster when his son was a Cub Scout over 30 years ago.
Mabe is also very involved in his church, Bethesda United Methodist, and says he hopes to be even more active now. One of his goals is to go on more church building trips. In the past, he has gone on such trips to Costa Rica and Mexico.
Between family, church and community, Mabe just might find some time to relax. He jokes that he recently told someone that for his first year of retirement, he is going to sit in his rocking chair.
When they asked him what he was going to do his second year, Mabe answered, “I might rock a little!”