For a week prior to their fifth annual Customer Appreciation Day on Saturday, May 25, a handwritten sign hung on the door of Thurmond’s Far West Auto in Anchor Point, inviting the community to celebrate Thurmond’s 50th anniversary. All week, customers came in, exclaiming over the milestone date, asking if there would be another classic car show like previous years, and confirming their intent to join in on the festivities.
That Saturday dawned gray and wet, but despite concerns over imminent weather conditions and some early rain showers, owner Elaine Griner and her husband Dale Griner, as well as the people who attended the anniversary celebration, said that it was the best Customer Appreciation Day that Thurmond’s has hosted to date.
“This was our best year, definitely,” Elaine Griner said. “No question about it. I think the standout of it was that people came out despite the weather.”
Thurmond’s provided free food to the attending community, serving up hamburgers, hot dogs, fresh deep-fried halibut, and assorted sides. The Kaknu Kruzer car club was also in attendance again this year, bringing out a fantastic line-up of classic cars and attracting the appreciative eyes of those present at the event.
“I’m thinking close to 300 people [were there], because we served about 80 pounds of halibut, 120 hamburgers, a hundred and some hot dogs. There were probably ten people serving food,” Dale Griner said. “Thanks to everybody that helped.”
On Monday morning, after the Memorial Weekend festivities had died down, Vanita Thurmond — original founder of Thurmond’s Auto with her late husband, Clint Thurmond, and mother of Elaine Griner — reflected on the last 50 years of the family business.
Question: What did you think of this year’s Customer Appreciation Day?
Answer: It was very, very outstanding. It was wonderful. It was wonderful to see all the people, the turnout, and the food.
Q: Tell me about the history of the business. It opened in 1968 or 1969?
A: Actually, we opened November of 1968, but we didn’t have any gas until the spring of 1969. We had two gas pumps and two garage bays. Everything we did here was strictly mechanic work, whether it was diesel or gasoline. If it was broke, if it had tires on it or tracks, we fixed it. Clint did tractors, diesel engines, overhauls on cars, welding. We were kind of all around. I think towards the end of our being here, we sold a little bit of soda pop and candy bars; that was it.
Q: Where were you and Clint before you started Thurmond’s?
A: Here (in Anchor Point). Clint worked construction — he was an equipment operator. In the earthquake of ’64, within one day they had him hired for dragline work to place rock to save the harbor and the Spit in Homer. They had discovered gas in the Kenai area, and they were putting in pipelines, so he was up there and hired — the construction companies were hired to dig the trenches to lay the pipe in.
Q: So what sparked that decision to start Thurmond’s?
A: Maybe he (Clint) just wanted to stay home instead of leaving every summer to work.
Q: Tell me a little bit about what it was like in the beginning, running the business from day to day. Was it just you and Clint, or did you have other employees as well?
A: No. We worked together. I think we hired Dale one time when he was 18-years-old for five dollars an hour. Back then, gas was 44 cents a gallon, and we had regular and high test. Unleaded was unthought of. High test was 46 cents a gallon. Everything was full service. I did most of that, because Clint was busy repairing, and whether it was airing up a tire or checking an oil stick to see if there was oil or filling a tank with what they wanted, that’s what I did besides the counter work, and I did all the books.
Q: Looking around now, what are your thoughts about the business? What do you think the future of Thurmond’s in Anchor Point might be?
A: Well, I hope that Thurmond’s is in business for a while, and I love everything that has occurred here. All the updates and upgrades, it’s clean and well run. Dale and Elaine were both born here; they’re well liked. I’m very happy with everything. And it’s really kind of nice to be able to come over and read the paper every day and not have to work behind the counter. I’m happy the family has it in hand.