Chip off the ol' engine block

Islanders who’ve been around a few years might do double-takes when ads for “Olsen Small Engine Repair and Sharpening” appear.

The late Rodney Olsen ran Hockett and Olsen, Mac ‘n Jacks Island Service and, where Safeway stands today, Village Service for decades. Now his son Ross follows in the family tradition with an appliance repair shop opening today at his Rolling Bay home.

“Oh, my dad would be proud, he’d be proud,” Olsen said. “My dad being in business as long as he was, it means a great deal to have my name known in the mechanic world.

“I’m doing it for myself, but I’m also doing it to honor my family name.”

Most folks know Ross Olsen as the familiar face in the pay booth at Bainbridge Disposal’s Vincent Road transfer station and recycling center. His new accomplishment in business may seem more remarkable in the light of his personal challenges; he is a paraplegic.

“I was born with cerebral palsy,” Olsen said. “I’ve never walked all my life – but I’ve never let it stop me. I go deer hunting, fishing, I tie flies.”

And, Olsen points out, he can lower himself onto a “creeper” to work underneath a car. He learned self-reliance at his father’s side – along with the skills to fix anything that ran, a mechanical bent that ran in the family.

“I can still remember working by him,” Olsen said. “I thought so much of my father, because when I was born with all these challenges, he taught me how to be independent. I see people I know who don’t do half of what I do and it makes me sad.”

Still living in the house where he was born, Olsen draws strength from a web of relationship that has deepened over generations.

A cast of devoted friends has played a part in getting the shop under way, including project manager Jeff Eckley, who helped erect the 28-by-40-foot prefabricated metal building, and Crystal Allers – granddaughter of another long-time Olsen friend, Al Slagle – who will do the bookkeeping.

Former co-worker Ed Casteel will work for Olsen part-time as a mechanic.Another friend, Ed Harris, is catering an open house at the shop today to celebrate the new business.

“He was born in the Winslow Clinic,” Allers said. “He’s a pretty solid ‘island boy’.”

Allers recalls the many hours that Ross, his dad, her grandfather and Arnie Jackson spent working on machinery together. It was the senior Olsen who taught Slagle the mechanic skills he needed to land a job working for Washington State Ferries, a position he held for years, until he won millions in a lottery.

For Allers, the notion of Ross opening his own business makes good sense; she doesn’t think of him as someone with a disability but rather as a person with skills and abilities many lack.

“The wheelchair doesn’t slow him down and he doesn’t let it get him down,” she said. “He’s just a normal person. he gets around. He’ll be the one doing the work (at the shop). He’s damn good at what he does.”

Olsen will divide his time between his job at Vincent Road, where he has worked since graduating from Bainbridge High School in 1980, and his appliance repair shop. The business will specialize in fixing small engines of all sorts and sharpening such items as lawnmower and chain-saw blades.

“I do know cars pretty well, too,” he said.

Olsen is in the business for the long haul and has every intention of staying active, he says, way past the time most retire.

“I’ve got plenty of hobbies, but I’m not the kind that’s going to want to sit around.”


Celebrate the opening of Olsen Small Engine Repair and Sharpening with live music and refreshements, from 11 a.m. to “whenever” Aug. 14. The shop is located in Rolling Bay at 10235 NE Alberston Road. Business hours are 8 a.m. -5 p.m., seven days a week. Call 842-3019 for more information.

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