WORTHINGTON — A discoloration on the front of the Kustom Body Shop building on Oxford Street is evidence of a now-absent sign, and an empty repair shop marks the end to a long-time Worthington business.
After 56 years in business, Richard Steen locked the doors to his shop one last time on Friday and stepped into retirement.
Steen, of rural Round Lake, has sold the building to Brent Peters, who intends to reopen it as a body shop in the near future.
“He’s been doing it out of his dad’s garage in Rushmore,” shared Steen, anticipating the business he’s maintained for nearly six decades while doing books “the old way,” will, at the very least, will be updated to computerized billing.
“It’s very seldom to see a written estimate, but I’ve just done it always by hand — and they still know how to read that,” Steen said with a laugh on his last day in the building.
Certainly, more than technology has changed during Steen’s years in business, starting with the neighborhood.
When he opened the shop in the fall of 1964, there was a farm house across the road to the north, and a cattle feedlot on the property where Runnings now stands. His east and west neighbors, over the years, included a radiator shop, Ker-McGee, Wells Blue Bunny, Shorty’s Texaco and Ed Moore’s well drilling business.
The building in which Kustom Body Shop occupied was originally built as a blacksmith shop.
“It’s nothing fancy,” Steen said. “It worked for a lot of different things over the years, but it’s still an old body shop and it’s going to continue to be one.”
Initially, Steen went into business with Ron Raverty “on a shoestring with no money,” he said. Both were Windom natives who, before venturing into business together, worked for Scholtes Motors in Worthington.
“We rented (the building) for a few years and then we got it priced to buy,” shared Steen. “We kept going and did a lot of work for a lot of different people in town — Wells Blue Bunny, Nienkerk Construction, Block and Tile — it was a lot of different places and a lot of different business people.”
The two worked together until 1980, when Raverty decided to do something else. Steen has worked on his own for the most part since then, calling in extra help when needed. One of the men he could count on was Bob Yeske, who operated a shop in Bigelow.
“I had plenty to do and he helped me for a while,” Steen said. “I’ve had different ones help me out — it seemed like it worked out pretty good.”
Over the years, Steen did body work on everything from delivery and farm trucks to family cars and the classics.
“I helped build some hot rod cars,” he said, noting memberships in some local car clubs. Among the memorable classics he worked on were a 1939 Pontiac, a 1953 Ford pickup, a ’56 Chevy and a ’65 Mustang.
One of his proudest achievements, however, is the 1953 pickup truck he built for his son, Jason. It was completed in time for Jason’s high school graduation in 1989.
“We took it to a lot of car shows all over,” Steen said. “It’s not a stock Chevy pickup — it’s got a lot of different things to it.”
Steen, who attended vo-tech in Mankato for auto body after six months of basic training in the Minnesota National Guard in 1960, talked of how vehicles changed over the years, from heavy duty steel to the varying materials used today.
“The vehicles are getting more complicated to work on,” he said. “Things have changed so much."
Steen has always prided himself on doing quality work for people, saying, “If I don’t like it, they’re not going to like it.
“You do the best you can,” he added. “It’s never going to look perfect.”
He always enjoyed giving the keys back to the owner after a job was done.
And that’s what kept him coming back, day after day and year after year. Well, the work and the coffee breaks, he shared with a laugh.
“I will miss the people,” he said. “I’m used to people coming in and visiting and doing work for them. That’s probably going to be the hardest part.”
Coffee break saw friends coming in the door between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. daily.
“They bring their own coffee, and I usually bring the rolls,” he said with a grin. “They don’t know what they’re going to do for coffee now.”
Steen said he’d intended to retire soon, but when his wife, Carol, died in 2007, he decided he may as well keep his job.
“It’s not easy to stay home all day, so I just kept going,” he said, adding that a knee replacement and a bit of back pain had caused him to ease back a bit in recent years.
Steen said he has a lot of projects waiting for him at home, from repairs to lawn mowing.
“When you’re at work in town all day, you don’t feel like going home to work,” he said.
In addition to his son, Jason, of Montgomery, Steen has a daughter, Jessica, of Parker, South Dakota. He has four grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.