Valley Motor Parts-NAPA has been a lifetime career for Clay Hesson, but, as of July 1, a new life is beginning for him and his wife, Ellie. They have sold the business.
Clay is originally from Tennessee but, as a teenager, when his mother, Ann Hesson, asked if he would like to make the move to Orofino where his uncle, Jack Statton, was located, he said, “Sure, let’s go.” Clay’s uncle was one of the builders of the Dworshak Dam.
Although Clay had no other relatives here, Orofino became home. He and Ellie have built their lives in the community.
At only 18 years of age, Clay began his full time career at NAPA, working for owners Ralph and Barbara Lacey.
In 1991 Ralph decided it was time to retire. Clay was ready to step into the role of boss and business owner. He bought the business, and, as he says, “We retired Ralph!” Collectively, that’s 43 years with NAPA, 30 of them in ownership of it.
The experience has been very enjoyable over the years with no real big challenges. Currently there is a bit of struggle with inventory due to the Covid lockdown issues blocking supply lines, but all in all, things are going very well. You get to know most of the community when you own a parts store. Everyone needs to fix vehicles at some point or another.
Through the years Clay has maintained a hobby of fixing up hotrods and motorcycles. This will continue as he enters retirement. As he said, “A lot of guys hunt and fish and do all that. I don’t. I mess around with cars or motorcycles. If you’re going to be around car parts all the time it might as well be your hobby too! I’ve always been into automotives, and am mechanically minded.”
When asked how many hotrods and motorcycles he has fixed up he says he doesn’t recall the number, but he has four or five he is working with now, the most current one being a little 72 Chevy pickup. He’s always looking for another one.
“I’ve entered in shows down here a few times. But mostly I drive them all summer.” He says, “The joke has always been, ‘If I wanted to collect art – I would collect art.’, but you don’t put up cars and never drive them or anything. They’re cars – use them – drive them!”
One incident that stands out in the history of Clay and Ellie’s time with NAPA concerns a well done mural on the front exterior wall. You see it as you drive up to the building. Clay tells quite a story about this painting.
A young man came to apply for a job with the store, having just gotten his driver license. Somehow, when he pulled up to the store, he mixed up which pedal was which and drove right into the side of the store. Heavy on the ‘into’!
He hit the wall hard enough that it punched a hole in it and relocated the shelving on the inside! A brick layer had to be hired to repair the damage. When the wall was back in place the young gentleman’s dad made him go down and re-paint. But the new and old paint just didn’t match.
It was then that Diane Gerot, a talented artist from Pierce, came and painted the mural of the hotrod car going through the wall, featuring Clay at the wheel. He said this was done without his prior knowledge!
When NAPA came two years later and said they had to change the color of the building they were told the painting must stay. So, they masked around it, did their painting, unmasked it, and the mural still graces the wall today.
Are Clay and Ellie excited and have big plans for retirement? Clay says, “No – just glad to not have to be here six days per week. I’ve taken a job with the Corps of Engineers in resource management. They work four tens. It’s something to do and has insurance and benefits. I don’t sit around very much.”
Ellie says, “I am worried about retirement. For a couple of weeks I will just get my yard back in order, then when the yard work is done I don’t know. I may do some volunteering. I’m thinking about doing something with animals.”
For recreation Clay and Ellie sometimes take trips to their cabin with the grandkids who like to ride dirt bikes with Clay. They are looking forward to more time off to do things like that now, with Saturdays off. Through all these years they’ve only had every other weekend off.
Concerning working together for all these years, Clay says, “It’s been a lot of fun working with my wife.” to which she comments, “We didn’t know how that would work out but he does his own thing and I do mine. At the end of the day we go home and discuss the day because he doesn’t know what I did and I don’t know what he did!”
“One time a woman asked me at lunch time, ‘Where’s Clay?’ to which I replied, “I work with him and live with him and it’s okay for him to have an hour without me for lunch!”
Congratulations, Clay and Ellie, on a retirement well deserved!