Article and photos by Kelly DeGraffenreid
Wilbur Nachtigal saunters down the driveway next to his Halstead home. Both sides of the driveway are lined with a colorful array of old lawn mowers. There are push mowers and riding mowers, and at one place along the fence, big beautiful white Moon Flowers bloom over the top of an old yellow riding mower. The drive curves around the back of his home.
?This is my nest,? he says with a smile as he points to the large garage behind the house.
The garage contains dozens of small machines, mowers, trimmers, edgers and even a motor scooter.
?I bought that in a moment of weakness,? he says, motioning to the scooter.
At any particular time, Nachtigal might have a dozen or so projects he is working on for friends, family and neighbors.
After retiring from Idaho Timber a little more than two decades ago, Nachtigal built the garage thinking he would work on cars, but after a few years, he had several people asking him if he would work on their lawn mowers, and he eventually obliged.
?I guess that was a mistake,? he says lightheartedly, looking around at the massive number of machines strewn inside and outside of the garage.
Nachtigal retired at age 65, and at? 87, he shows no sign of slowing down, working six to eight hours a day out in his shop.
He was born and raised in Halstead, attending Halstead schools and joining the United States Marine Corps at age 17.
He served his country for several years and upon leaving the service, took advantage of the G.I. Bill to go school in Lyons, where he trained to become a mechanic. He worked at several local companies.
Wilbur met Betty Jo Willis in 1956 while she was in Halstead as a student nurse.
?I picked her for a wife early, but she had no intention of marrying,? he says with a grin. Betty Jo went back to Pittsburg to school after her time was up in Halstead, but Wilbur, who was not giving up on her, kept in touch. In 1959, the two were married.? A few years later, they would move back to Halstead together where they made their home and welcomed three children.
When asked if he has any plans to truly retire and take it easy, Wilbur quickly says, ?No, I need to keep moving.?
His back gives him problems from time to time, and he is afraid if he let the recliner get him, he would never get up. ?Got to keep moving, ? he says with gusto.
Wilbur has never advertised his business.
?There is no need ? I have too much to do as it is,? he said.
Just as he says this, a pickup truck backs into the driveway with an old blue Dixon mower in the bed. Harvey County Commissioner Chip Westfall hops out of the truck, and he and Wilbur work together to unload the mower. During the unloading process, one of the ramps slips off the tailgate, and Wilbur springs into action. He gets out a large car jack and quickly jacks up the mower so the two of them can get it back on the tracks.
Westfall says he has brought many machines to Wilbur for repair during the years.
?Weed eaters, chainsaws, whatever goes bad in the garage makes it over here,? he says with a quiet laugh.
After Westfall?s departure, Wilbur gets back to work in the workshop. When asked what his most interesting projects have been, he says he has recently done some work on Chinese-made machines.
?They are quite different? ? but I kind of enjoy the challenge. I like the satisfaction of doing something unusual.?
He speaks highly of Honda motors.
?Honda motors are awfully good. The Japanese manufacturers are just a little bit superior.
So with all this work to do, does he ever find time for something fun or relaxing?
He smiles and says, ?I really enjoy fishing.?
A sign near his front door reads, ?A fisherman lives here with the best catch of his life.?
So, if you ever need a mower fixed, haul it over to the west side of Halstead. If you can?t find Wilbur there working in his shop, chances are he is off watching a line in a lake for a bit, but he?ll be back soon because too much relaxing is not in his nature.