- [S24] The Newport Plain Talk, (http://www.newportplaintalk.com), 18 Jul 2000.
Lonas L. Lunsford obituary
- [S24] The Newport Plain Talk, (http://www.newportplaintalk.com), 25 Sep 2010.
Larry never tires of service to auto owners
You will usually find Larry Lunsford around tire and tire changing tools at the Western Auto in Newport where he has worked for about 38 years. His family moved from Knoxville to the Lunsford family farm at Jones Cove 40 years ago.
Author: David Popiel
A drizzle mid-week did little to dampen the dust clouds of late September, as fall arrived with no fanfare on Wednesday in our hometown, ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Newport street festival in October.
My travels the past weeks carried me many miles greeting friends and folks you know and seeing a few changes to the landscape, such as the construction work at the National Bank of Tennessee's West Plaza branch bank. I noticed Ronald Munn's, electric contractor, van parked at the bank lot and workers cutting through the asphalt paving. Later, bank community rep. Jeff Ball told me the bank is putting up an ATM, which is long overdue. This handy unit will be in operation sometime in October. He also said that since NBT had to leave Walmart, the bank keeps its drive-thru at Bryant Town branch open until 7 p.m. weekdays.
Last Saturday at Brandywine Creek Steakhouse folks were celebrating and raising funds for the Newport Animal Shelter. The big news was WNPC News Director Ray Snader getting dunked at a fundraising booth. When Louanna Ottinger asked me to get dunked, I declined, even though Ray's legs are a paler shade of white. Ray is a good sport and loves animals and got folks to turn lose of about $250 throwing balls at the dunk button. I calculate he went under at least 50 times and ended the hot afternoon with sunburned toes.
You may recall that a year or so ago I stopped in at Mike's Appliance across from the county fairgrounds to learn more about Mike Gray, the business operator. I saw him again last week about the time the business celebrated its fourth anniversary, but Mike isn't optimistic about the future. He said the push is on to replace old appliances with energy efficient ones and so the used appliance business is disappearing fast. On the other hand, car repair and used car sales are doing great. I saw a new mechanic at Arvis Keys' lot and met Jack Ransky. Yes, you guessed right. He is not from here and arrived some weeks ago to open D'Elegance Automotive. Jack is a former endurance racer from Europe and lived in New Jersey where he drove Renaults and Nissan cars. He likes our mountains and quiet lifestyles in Newport.
Several weeks ago I bumped into a familiar face but couldn't remember his name, yet knew he had worked at the Newport Western Auto for many years. Last Wednesday morning, I made it a point to visit and find out more about Larry Lunsford. The first person up front ready to greet customers was the icon of Western Auto, James Burchette, who took over the business in 1957. That means 53 years as a local businessman, and he turned 84 this past July. James told me he feels good and continues to be in the store about every day. You might see James working for many more years, because longevity runs in his mother's side of the family tree. His uncle, Dewey Kirk, of Marion, Virginia, lived to be 108.
At 59, Larry is a young whipper-snapper yet may be one of the few, if only, tire specialists working at the same business for almost 40 years. How did he get started and where did the Lunsford family come from? Dad was the late Lonas Lunsford, who married Mary Jarnigan, of Knoxville. Lonas worked at the old Cherokee Textile plant in Sevierville most of his life, alongside a few of you all. Larry is an only child and spent summers and holidays with his parents visiting the Lunsford family farm in the Jones Cove area, not far from Jay and Bettye Carver and Grady Baxter. Eventually, Lonas bought the farm and moved the family to it, when Larry was about 19 years old. He then joined Wall Tube & Metal Products off Knoxville Highway about 1970-1971. Some of the co-workers he still recalls are Joel Hall, Ralph Roberts, and Y.J. Lindsey. Larry was a "roving hand" and often worked pulling metal tubes that were being resized smaller. It seems to me that most of the men in the county worked for Wall Tube at one time or another. During strikes and lay-offs, Larry finally called it quits.
He had been a customer of Western Auto, which was then located about where National Bank's downtown main office stands. The new loan office area is the specific location. Dan Burchette, the youngest son, runs day-to-day operations and must have been a child when Larry started breaking down tires and fixing flats, installing new tires "in the cold alley" behind the downtown store. How did he get hired? Joe Burchette, the middle son, of James and Etholeen, worked at the store during summers before teaching school. When he was getting ready to leave the store for the school system, he suggested to Larry that "Dad might need some help." Sales, service, tire changing with jack and hand tools, "you name it," and that's what Larry did. Years ago, he even assembled dollhouses, bicycles, wagons, and other toys sold at the store. You remember the Western Flyer wagons don't you? Then, about 24 years ago, when Dan joined, the family bought the former IGA location off Cosby Highway at the Jones Circle intersection. Dan had already been working for the national company doing store set-up work. James added a two-car garage, and new tire changing equipment. Larry had been used to the old bubble tire balancer and small 1040 changer. He now uses a large dynamic electronic tire balancer and a modern compressed air-operated rim clamp for tire changing. In addition, Larry does battery installation and oil changes too. He notes the biggest change has been in tire sizes, which were from 13 to 15 inch in the 1970s compared to 16 to 20-inch rims used frequently today. The slim tires seen on tall rims cause him additional work. Larry also must take care with modern tires that have sensors in them to warn drivers when air pressure in the tires drop. If he breaks a sensor working on a tire, it might cost $100 to $150. While tire quality continues to improve, and they sell many brands, prices have gone up less than the inflation rate. In the 1970s, tires sold from $20-30 each for passenger cars and today the same ones cost from $60-90. But, you can pay over $200 easily.
The tire business is seasonal, with busy times being summer and winter, and folks often wait until lunch for tire installations. About the worst thing that has happened during his work years is an exploding battery. He wears eyeglasses and didn't get hurt. He also has had tires blow up when he was filling them with air. One bicycle tire exploded "and my ears rang for half a day." The little tires make the biggest noise when exploding, he said.
Dan said that Larry is a "laid back" easy-going fellow" always courteous to customers and willing to help. "I've enjoyed the work. It seems more like family and friends here than bosses to work for," said Larry. His co-worker is Don Hurst, who was sharpening a lawnmower blade that morning. Minutes later they were pulling a nail out of Jacob Denton's truck tire and plugging the leak.
Larry is single and continues to live on the Lunsford farm where he takes care of his mother who is in her 80s and must be a great cook judging by Larry's healthy waistline. He is a huge Tennessee Vols football fan but doesn't get the time to hunt and fish like he used to. I left him to his kingdom of tires and tools and said goodbye to James on the way out. I also found out that oldest son, David, is managing his rental properties; Joe is principal at Smoky Mountain School. Etholeen and James still live at Castle Heights where they are neighbors to Burnett Harper and Tim Hurst families. It was good to catch up on old friends and learn more about someone who has fixed so many tires in town since 1972.