WEEKI WACHEE — Robert Haser has never met a two-stroke engine he couldn't fix.
"How do I say this modestly?" the certified master technician muses. "I've been in business so long I can look at it, yank on it a couple of times, tell you what's wrong, the name of the part to fix it and its (order) number."
At 45, the owner of Gulf Coast Mower & Small Engine Repair has dabbled with engine repairs since he was 10 years old and started racing go-karts with his dad.
"We couldn't afford a pit crew, so we were it," he said.
Haser, with part-time assistance from fiancee, Tammy, a certified nursing assistant in her professional career, has operated his business full time for just more than two years, although he counts 20 years of working experience in the field for others. He prefers being his own boss, settling at his own whim for a cigarette on a somewhat battered stool among his garage full of loosely organized "junk."
Haser can't count the number of parts and pieces lying about. But finding just the part he needs? "When something comes in, I file it away in my brain. That's just a knack I have."
A frustrated customer appeared recently, saying on this, his fifth stop in search of a repair, if Haser couldn't fix it, his lawn blower was history. A cursory look at the machine, and Haser named the part and unerringly picked it from his so-called inventory of leftovers.
The motor manipulator explained: "A lot of the guys (the big shops) are hiring, they're parts changers. They have to have a book to look up a number and go to a computer to look up the part. Lots of parts are interchangeable. Others don't know this."
For instance, a Briggs part can supplant a Husqvarna part and that, a Kohler part.
Haser has earned master technician certification from the three major small-engine manufacturers, updated through studies and testing every three years.
"You have to keep on top of stuff," he said, though he maintained it's no big deal. "The basic motor's been the same for 30 years."
After a pause, he admitted: "But then, fuel injection — that's a whole other thing."
He explained what deflates many a customer: the need for and high cost of many repairs.
"China has flooded the market with engines," he said. "They're not quality parts, unless you buy high-end. The engines fail. The average person doesn't know how to repair a two-stroke engine. They're complicated."
Most of the shop's business is repairs of lawn equipment — mowers from push to riding, blowers, weed whackers, hedge trimmers. He also reigns over an assortment of parts for outboard boat motors, trailers and hydraulics and all two-strokes.
If Haser doesn't have a part, he can order and have it the next day out of Jacksonville.
Customers often wave off their unrepairables, saying, "Keep them for parts."
Near his work area, old weed whackers are stacked like cordwood. Out back, vines grow over dead blowers.
On a recent morning, MaryAnn and Frank Henry, volunteers with Project Looking Ahead, a Hernando High School effort for special-needs 18- to 22-year-olds learning life skills, arrived at the shop. They were looking for old motors and carburetors for a mechanics class.
Haser and his only full-time employee, Bill Johnson, 49, a former auto mechanic, loaded up the Henrys' SUV.
As the happy couple departed, Haser called out: "If you need more junk, let me know."
Then he turned back to his wife as she peered through an engine and declared: "This needs a pin."
Haser knew right where to find it.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]