Popular Santa Fe mechanic hopes to keep his shop

Auto mechanic Ranger Lujan in a happier moment. He’s afraid he will lose his garage, as the property owner wants to raise the monthly rent from $2,500 to $3,500. New Mexican file photo

An unusual movement is gaining momentum near the state Capitol in Santa Fe. It has nothing to do with politics or some weighty policy matter.

This cause is about helping a flesh-and-blood legend of the neighborhood.

People are rallying to save the business of Ranger Lujan, one of the more trusted auto mechanics in town. He’s been fixing cars at a fair price in the same location for almost 40 years.

His real first name is Joe, but nobody calls him that. He’s been Ranger since boyhood, a nickname his late father bestowed on him for unknown reasons.

Ranger runs the New Old Trail Garage at 600 Old Santa Fe Trail, a block from the Capitol. He worked at the business for three decades before the property owner, William Parker, shuttered the garage. Parker wanted to sell it.

That idea faded, at least for awhile. Ranger stepped in and reopened the business in 2010 after obtaining a lease from Parker.

Then Ranger poured tens of thousands of dollars into upgrading the garage, which had been stripped down while sitting idle.

He pays Parker $2,500 a month in rent. Now Parker wants $3,500. Under the owner’s proposal, Ranger also would pay the insurance and property taxes.

With a deal that lopsided, Ranger would be out of business, said Stephen Durkovich, an attorney and fan of Ranger’s work.

Durkovich has advised him not to sign another lease at the higher rate.

“It’s money that he could never pay, and no one would pay,” Durkovich said.

Ranger said Parker again might be looking to sell the property. He worries about being forced out. Parker did not respond to a request for comment.

Durkovich has been more talkative. He started agitating, spreading the word that customers need to make clear just how important Ranger is to the town.

“This is why I went to law school — to take care of people who deserve it,” Durkovich said.

Ranger, 66, said he had been considering going into semi-retirement. But his wife of 44 years, Debbie, died unexpectedly last September, leaving an empty spot in his life. He doesn’t want to lose the garage where he’s made his living.

“I just can’t see myself leaving right now,” he said.

His hope is to reach an equitable deal with Parker and stay in business.

Auto mechanics, like televangelists and telemarketers, often are viewed with skepticism or scorn. Not so with Ranger. People speak of him in tones bordering on reverence.

“We’ve been using Ranger for 25 years. I’m chagrined that he might have to leave his garage,” said Don Tashjian. “He’s prompt, honest, effective, very efficient.”

Hillary Jennings said she went to other mechanics until she made an unwelcome discovery about her repair bills.

“I was being played for a fool,” she said.

Jennings turned to Ranger seven years ago and has been referring customers to him since.

“I’m a single mom who doesn’t know a lot about cars. Ranger is so honest and a real human,” Jennings said.

She once brought her failing car to Ranger. He made three separate attempts to repair it, then offered her some advice: “Don’t try to fix this car anymore. It’s not worth it.”

Ranger even bought the lemon from her, then sold it for scrap metal.

Another customer brought her car to Ranger for a second opinion after a mechanic estimated it needed repairs costing about $4,000. Ranger fixed all that ailed her car for $180.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am also one of Ranger’s customers. He takes good care of my 18-year-old Honda CR-V.

The son of a mechanic, Ranger started working in a garage at age 7. It was just down the street from his current location, overseen by his dad under the Phillips 66 brand.

Ranger wanted to take over that business at age 17, after his father fell ill. But a corporation wouldn’t allow someone so young to run a shop that had 12 employees and serviced fleets of commercial and government vehicles.

He perfected his skills at the garage he now operates. Still, he said, he learned his most important lesson from his father.

“He told me to be fair and people will keep coming back to you.”

That’s the way it’s worked out, so much so that he’s in an exclusive club.

Legends, whether at a local or national level, only need one name to trigger recognition. In Santa Fe, mention Ranger and nobody thinks you’re talking about someone from the U.S. Forest Service.

He’s a blue-collar guy who doesn’t want the spotlight. A lease will do just fine.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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