CHATHAM, NJ – Paul Ness has to laugh when he tells the story about when he was a junior at Chatham High School and his friend told him about a gas pumping job at Hank’s Sunoco station.
“I told him that I will never work in a gas station to get my hands dirty,” Ness said. “Did that come back and kick me in the butt or what.”
Ness has pumped gas, repaired vehicles and “kibitzed” with just about everyone in Chatham at some point in his tenure at “Paul’s Chatham Auto Repair” on Main Street – located at the bottom of Washington Avenue – since July 1971.
On Monday, Aug. 10, it will mark an end to an era when he officially sells his business and enters into retirement.
“There were a lot of stories, good and bad,” he said. “I wish I had written them all down.”
Paul Ness talks about being able to coach and watch his kids play sports over the years
Ness, 68, received an omen that he was meant to work with his hands – and get them dirty – when he decided to take apart the family lawnmower at the age of 12.
“I just had to do it to see how it worked,” Ness said. “I guess that was a sign.”
Ness was working at a Pizza Hut in North Carolina for the summer when his mother got on the phone and informed him that he got a “D” in history at county college and he better get back home and take a summer course. That led to his job working at Hank Budnik’s Sunoco station 50 summers ago.
“I was working there 96 hours a week,” He said. “I got to know everybody’s license plate number and their phone number. I still got a ‘D’ in history, but it worked out in my favor.”
He bought the business from Budnik in 1979 and the property in 1982. His wife, Connie Miller Ness, was worried about taking on the debt associated with the purchase, but Paul told her not to worry, that the customers would keep coming back. And they did.
Since Ness has been there, the station was a Sunoco, a Texaco and then a Gulf. It is now a Fuel Express.
Ness played baseball at Chatham High and pitched for coach Otto Haas on the 1970 state championship team. The Eskies were 16-7 that year with Ness pitching to a 7-2 record and classmate Bob Smith going 7-1.
“Otto Haas began coaching baseball in 1952 and it took him until my senior year with a class that was born in 1952 to win a state championship,” Ness said.
Ness coached his children Jennifer, Mike and Sarah in baseball and basketball in town and now he intends to work with his seven grandchildren. Four of the grandkids live in Chatham.
“We just redid our kitchen, so we’re not going anywhere,” he said.