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Mancos motorcycle mechanic seeks to pass on the wrench

Harry Hill plans to leave Basin Motorcycle Works
Harry Hill with a 1959 R26 single-cylinder BMW motorcycle that he’s repairing in his shop, Basin Motorcycle Works, 41 S. Main St., in Mancos.

Mancos resident Harry Hill likes to work with his hands.

For him, that has meant different things over the years. He’s worked as a furniture builder, a massage therapist and a sculptor, among other jobs, but for almost 12 years he’s been one of the few BMW motorcycle mechanics in the Four Corners area. Now, at 70, he’s ready to move on to the next chapter of his life, which means finding someone to take over his shop, Basin Motorcycle Works.

Hill studied auto mechanics in college, but he didn’t know much about repairing motorcycles until he bought his first BMW bike in 1969. He got his first job as a motorcycle mechanic about a year later. He worked at shops in California and Oregon throughout the 1970s, but eventually switched to woodworking and embarked on a varied career that took him all over the United States. It was partly on the advice of a psychic that he visited Durango while house hunting in 1998, and he said he knew within the first few days that this would be his new home. But although he loved Southwest Colorado, he soon discovered there weren’t many options for BMW owners in the region who wanted their bikes repaired without taking a long road trip.

“When I was working on my own bike, I became aware that the closest BMW dealers were 200 miles away,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Somebody’s got to do it. I might as well do it.’”

He opened up shop in Durango in January 2006, and moved it to Mancos in 2009, where it’s been ever since. At first, he had a lot to learn about the craft, he said, since motorcycles had changed drastically since he first owned one. But thanks to the internet and the advice of “friends who know what they’re doing,” Hill said he eventually got caught up with the new bike designs.

Nowadays, his knowledge of old and new BMWs brings him enough happy customers to keep the shop busy for most of the year. He not only repairs and maintains motorcycles, but also restores old ones upon request. He’s had other mechanics work for him in the past, but right now he has only one employee, Mancos retiree Wally Gillman.

Hill said he’s thought about retiring before.

“I kept dragging my feet on it, because there’s a part of me that really enjoys doing it,” he said. “But then there’s a part of me that is 70 years old and has some encroaching health issues.”

Because of those health issues, he said his wife, Kathleen, would like him to stop working around solvents and gasoline fumes. He also wants to travel more and work on wood sculpture, which he said is his true passion.

Hill sent an email to his customers on July 6 announcing that he was starting to advertise for someone to take over the shop. Even though he doesn’t want to operate it anymore, he said he also doesn’t want it to vanish.

“There are a lot of people in the Four Corners area who own BMWs and wouldn’t own BMWs if this wasn’t here,” he said. “These people have treated me really well, and I treat them really well, and I would like to see that continue.”

He said he’s looking for a younger person with plenty of knowledge about BMW bikes “who wants to live in paradise.” He hopes to find a new owner for the shop before winter.

Being a motorcycle mechanic, Hill said, has forced him to learn how to remain calm even when he feels swamped with customers and tasks.

“I’ve learned to not take life so seriously ... to not see life as a constant battle,” he said. “I think the business has been an excellent opportunity for me to learn that.”

He said he plans to continue learning about life, in a hands-on way, for years to come.

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