By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Roof goes, so does business

Starla Pointer / News-Register
Spencer Wriggelsworth has boarded up his shop and storage area in the wake of the freak tornado that ripped off the roof.
Starla Pointer / News-Register
Spencer Wriggelsworth has boarded up his shop and storage area in the wake of the freak tornado that ripped off the roof.

“The roof went and 31 years went, too,” Wriggelsworth said.

He had been fixing cars and collecting stuff in the shop on Alpine Avenue for 31 years — a long time, but only half as long as he’s been in the car repair business. It took only a moment for the wind to put an end to everything.

“It hurts, but I’m done, I guess,” said Wriggelsworth, 86.

He shrugged. “What can you do? Things happen,” he said. “But at my age, I’m not ready to give up yet.”

Wriggelsworth had been living on the site, as well, occupying a motor home he once drove to the Mexican border and into Canada.

The swirling winds picked up a jagged piece of the shop roof and plunged it through the top of the motor home -- “If I’d been in there, it would’ve got my legs,” he said. Since he can’t live there anymore, he’s bunking with a friend temporarily.

Luckily, he said, the vehicle’s generator provides enough power to make coffee or run a fan while he and friends are working on cleaning up the shop. “That thing hadn’t run for 13 years, but I got it going,” he said of the generator, proud to once again have demonstrated his repair skills.

“I can repair most anything that runs,” he said.

Wriggelsworth was born in Michigan on Christmas Day, 1926. His folks, who had eight kids, moved to Oregon when he was 7 or 8. His grandparents were already in McMinnville, living in a house near the intersection of Fifth Street and Lafayette Avenue.

He worked at the Menafee turkey ranch for awhile. On a night off, he attended a dance at the dance hall in Bellevue and met his future wife.

Married in 1947, he and his bride moved to his home state. But they didn’t like Michigan’s dramatic weather. “After a double tornado, we said we’re going back home,” he recalled.

He bought a brand new Chevy in Detroit. They drove west to Seattle, then south to Oregon and back to Yamhill County.

In 1967, they bought a house in Amity. Later that year, his wife was killed in a wreck involving a drunk driver.

“December’s bad for me. I lost my wife, my dad, later a lady friend,” he said. “There’s just one month where everything goes wrong.”

This year, disaster hit in June.

Just before 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, Wriggelsworth was sitting in his shop. He thought he heard hail, but when he looked outside, it was actually huge raindrops pounding down, he said. He shut the door against the wind and hustled toward his office, a tiny room with reinforced walls.

“I didn’t realize it was a tornado at first,” he said. “I’m from Michigan; I’ve been through some bad ones. But not here in Mickeyville!”

But he knew immediately what had happened when he opened his office door. The metal roof was gone and debris was everywhere.

Now he spends most of his days at the shop, cleaning and packing. He pauses to talk to friends, eat a fast-food lunch or commune with his cats, Lacy, Blackie and Terrible George.

He’s found a new storage place where he can put most of his things and a friend to help haul them. But he still hasn’t found a permanent home he can afford on his income from Social Security.

And he hasn’t found a place where he can work on cars again.

His options, he figures, are run his own shop or nothing. Jobs are hard to come by for someone his age, he said, although people are always willing to tap his wealth of knowledge.

Wriggelsworth would like to keep working. He enjoys it, especially working on the older cars without all the new-fangled computer gadgets, he said, and he likes to keep busy.

Working keeps him going, he said. He had a heart attack in 1986 and has suffered two strokes, but he’s in good health today.

“You know why? Because I’m stubborn,” he said. “I work and I don’t let things bother me. Worry is what kills more people.”

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