August 13, 2020

Harriston, Ont. – Five years before Doug’s Auto opened its doors in Harriston, Ont., Doug Campbell was severely burnt in a fire at his workplace. 

He was a young apprentice mechanic at Clark Moor Motors in Snelgrove, Ont. when the accident happened.  It was 1964.

One day he was going down to the basement at the garage to find something he needed. The dim lights on the stairs did not reach the whole basement, so when he flipped the light switch on, he still couldn’t see what he was looking for. “I lit a match so I could see where it was, and something lit and boom.

“I don’t remember climbing the stairs,” he said quietly.  “I remember seeing a lawnmower on the ground underneath me.”

Campbell added, “I was kind of walking around, kind of stupid, I guess,” when a young couple pulled up in a station wagon and asked if he was OK.  They asked him if he could stay awake until they got him to a hospital, and he remembers saying, “I think so,” and got in the front seat.

He recalled that his clothing was still smoldering. “The girl was in the back seat and was spitting on a Kleenex putting my shirt out on the way to the hospital.”

The business burned to the ground, and Campbell had burns that required several skin grafts.  The young couple chose to remain anonymous, good Samaritans who drove him to safety and went on with their lives.

Eventually, he was able to finish his apprenticeship. He grew tired of working for a flat rate, a method of payment for mechanics. He was no longer able to make a decent wage due to the introduction of the emissions laws. So, he moved to Harriston with his wife, Linda, and took a chance on a small business opportunity, a working gas and a service station on the main street.

Photo of the owner of Doug's Garage, Doug Campell.
Doug Campbell, owner of Doug’s Auto Service in Harriston, Ont. enjoys his time at the old garage on Elora Street South. (Cory Bilyea/Spoke)

In 1969, Doug and Linda Campbell became the new owners of one of the 13 gas stations in town at that time.

Two weeks after opening the shop, Linda gave birth to their first child, a daughter they named Bonnie.

Fifty years later, they are still in Harriston. They bought their home at the corner of Elizabeth and Young streets two years after they opened the garage.  Three children and seven grandchildren later, their shop is still operating.

They stopped pumping gas in the mid-’70s and became a service-only station, where Doug worked on the local’s cars and Linda kept the books.  Word of mouth was the best advertisement they have had. They tried different avenues like newspaper and radio ads, but they found that people telling other people about the business was their most significant asset.

“My word is the best guarantee I can give,” Doug said.

The old air pump that still gives out free air hangs from the front of the building. Even though it is a rare commodity these days, he refuses to change it to a more modern, money-making machine.  Doug doesn’t want to charge money for air.  Period.

Over the years Doug and Linda have become well-known, respected members of the small community, just 74 kilometres from Kitchener.  Linda is heavily involved in the Harriston Minto Agricultural Society and Doug still holds court at his garage every Saturday morning with his cronies.  They sit around and talk about the old times, drink coffee and ponder over whichever vehicle is in the shop that day.

Ron Noble, one of the locals, has been visiting Doug every morning for coffee for 10 years. He said, “The best part of my day is between 8 and 9 a.m.,” before he goes to work.

“If you want it done right, bring your car here,” Noble said when asked about the service at Doug’s Auto.  “Your car doesn’t leave until it’s fixed.  Guaranteed.”

Fifty years of hard work, dedication and gumption have carried Doug and Linda into modern times, but when you walk into their shop, you are transported back in time to the early ’70s, before technology took over.  The smell of grease, the deep pit and the girlie calendar hanging on the back of the office door reminds you of times past.  The walls are lined with carburetors and starters from relic cars. A 1966 Ford F100 pick up truck with a straight six, 300 engine sits in the corner bay, a work in progress.

When asked what inspired him to stay in business for so long, he replied, “the people.”

Doug’s Auto is located at 193 Elora St. S., Harriston. Everyone is welcome to stop in for a coffee, some free air and some good old country charm.

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