A Life With Cars

Saukville Fire Chief Gilly Schultz’s love affair with cars started as a child following his mechanic father around in Milwaukee and now features a classic car collection. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff


Gilly Schultz knows a lot about fire trucks. He ought to — he has been a member of the Saukville Fire Department for 43 years and its chief for the past 19 years.

But he knows even more about cars, how to maintain them, fix them, tow them, restore them. He ought to—he started learning about that when he was little kid in Milwaukee.

Take your child to work day wasn’t a thing back when Gilly spent time with his father in Milwaukee in the 1950s.

But on Saturdays when Schultz was 9 years old and living with his family on 27th Street and Juneau, he would walk, under the watchful eye of his mother, to the corner to catch the 4 a.m. bus.

At 27th and Capitol Drive, he got off and picked up another bus to Teutonia Avenue and Capital Drive, where his father worked third shift at a service station.

Gilly Sr. knew the bus drivers and told them to look out for his son.

Young Gilly Schultz would tag along on towing calls, something that would never be allowed today.

That was just about all the indoctrination into the car service business that Schultz needed.

After graduating from high school, Schultz spent one year at Milwaukee Area Technical College studying computer science, but he hated staying inside moving around wires all day. His father, a lover of convertibles he kept in immaculate shape, bought Gonwa’s Towing 4074 N. Teutonia Ave. Schultz began working there in 1965.

Schultz eventually took over Gilly’s Service and Truck Rental, servicing brakes, suspension and exhaust systems, water pumps and doing oil changes.

Schultz, a longtime Saukville resident,  said he always enjoyed “tinkering” with cars, but their drivers are his favorite part.

“I like the correspondence with the people,” he said, “even though the area has changed so much.”

He’s not in the safest part of town, though he said he has never had any trouble aside from attempted break-ins of cars.

Schultz’s customers sometimes take care of him as well as he does their cars.

One night, Schultz got an alert that his back-up alarm system became unarmed. He figured the plug fell out, so he made the 25-mile commute at 1 a.m. to fix it.

The company told him it could take up to an hour to bring everything back on line, so he stayed in his office and began doing paperwork.

Soon, the phone rang. Schultz said the number looked familiar but wondered who would be calling so late.

It was one of his customers who had gotten off of work and saw the light on in his shop. She asked if Schultz was OK, but didn’t buy his answer and asked for a hint.

He explained about the alarm and continued to work. When he left for home, he found a surprise.

“She was waiting in the lot,” Schultz said.

The woman wanted to make sure her favorite mechanic was OK.

Like a longtime schoolteacher, Schultz has had children and grandchildren of customers, including some brushes with celebrities.

Schultz serviced cars for Al Jarreau’s brother Marshall, who lived near his station. Al once stopped in and talked for 45 minutes about his Camaro.

Bob Uecker’s children had Schultz work on their cars, and he has a photo with the Milwaukee Brewers broadcasting legend. He said Uecker tells a joke with every other sentence while keeping a straight face.

Milwaukee’s former police chief Arthur Jones was a regular customer, bringing in cars for undercover drug deals.

In more than 50 years of servicing cars, Schultz said one of the most notable changes is in vehicle quality. People used to get annual tune-ups, he said, and driving 10,000 miles “was a lot.”

Now, cars go 100,000 miles before tune-ups, and people regularly drive 15,000 to 20,000 miles per year.

Other services have become less frequent as well.

“Years ago, you put on 50,000 or 60,000 miles, you were ready for a valve job,” he said. “You look at these cars (today) with 100,000 miles and what they sell for.”

Even going into winter, Schultz said, cars don’t need as much work as in the past.

“Do your regular maintenance. That’s what keeps these things running,” he said.

Gilly’s found much of its work from the old nearby Rank and Son Buick dealership. It had 32 stalls for maintenance. Today, Schultz said dealers maybe have 12, another sign of vehicles’ increasing reliability.

One customer, the head nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee, gave Schultz his old Toyota Prius — Schultz had regularly picked it up and dropped it off at the hospital to service it.

Schultz said he isn’t sure if electric cars will ever fully replace combustion engines.

“I can’t believe society and oil companies would let that happen,” he said.

Electric cars, he said, don’t yet have the range of combustion engines and require charging too often.

And they are expensive. Batteries, Schultz said, are guaranteed for 100,000 miles. After that, they cost $4,000.

“These things aren’t going to have a big resale value,” he said.

His knowledge of cars has served well in Schultz’s other passion. He has been a member of the Saukville Fire Department for 43 years and its chief the last 19.

First responders, he said, have to be careful with electric cars because they have cables that run along the sides that can trigger air bags.

“Technology makes it worse for rescue people,” he said.

Knowing where batteries are located in different manufacturers’ vehicles helps prevent possible explosions, he said. In Buick LeSabres and Cadillacs, batteries are under the rear seats. In BMWs, they’re in the trunk.

Schultz himself has seven vehicles, “so many I’ve got to get rid of some, insurance kills you.”

Among his inventory are his father’s 1954 Pontiac Chieftain with 16,000 miles and one of 28 silver 1969 Pontiac GTOs. The latter will be fixed this winter after a horse ran into Schultz’s path this summer.

Schultz and his girlfriend were uninjured, but the horse had to be put down.

Schultz made his business a family affair. His four sons and two daughters all worked there at one point or another.

When the station pumped gas — Schultz got out of that industry in 1993 soon after self-serve was introduced — he would pay his children one penny for every gallon of gas they pumped.

“They were pumping gas all day and they would get $3,” he said.

Adam, 47, and Chad, 43, will eventually take the business over.

Just like dad, the pair explored other careers. Adam graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and planned to work for the Department of Natural Resources, but helped at the shop when Schultz’s father became ill. Chad went to school to become a policeman and came to the shop because Schultz needed help.

Neither left, and the next generation of Schultzes are primed to continue the family business.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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