CAR CARE: Ken and Evelyn Throop apply their auto-body repair skills in the aftermath of severe Kansa

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
In Kansas, hailstorms can spell disaster for the wheat harvest.


But Ken Throop knows another side to hail-the damage resulting from storms in cities will increase business and trade.


“I never pray for hail, but if it comes, come see me,” said Throop, owner of Ken’s Place on East D Street in Hillsboro, where he details automobiles and does minor customer bodywork.


Throop, 65, admits to his reputation for “chasing hail”-taking on bodywork jobs in towns and cities where hailstorms have left automobiles and other vehicles covered with dents.


Over the past 16-plus years, Throop and his wife, Evelyn, have repaired hundreds of hail-damaged cars in communities throughout Kansas, including Junction City, Wichita, Kansas City and Liberal.


“Hail is exciting,” he said. “We just had a ball.”


Evelyn, 61, smiled and nodded.


“I’ve liked working with Ken in the business,” she said.


The Throops worked as a team to “de-hail” vehicles, torching and pulling out the dings and dents, he said.


Evelyn’s job was to prep the cars for paint and then Ken would spray them.


After the paint dried, Evelyn would sand the cars and Ken would follow and buff them.


“We kept the chain going,” he said.


The pair could work on three or four cars at the same time.


Throop said in a 50- to 60-hour period, they might get paid the equivalent of doing 150 hours of work.


Throop first learned the skills of bodywork as an 11-year-old from his brother-in-law in Nebraska.


“I wanted to learn how to drive and in exchange for that I had to ride my bike five miles (to the shop),” he said. “I couldn’t just ride out there and then drive back. I had to go out there on the pretense I wanted to work.”


Once at the shop, the young boy learned quickly.


“I was just a kid,” Throop said. “He would just tell me how to do it and then let me figure it out.”


After a three-year stint in the army, stationed in Germany, Throop returned to the Midwest and spent time moving from job to job. He tried several with an hourly wage, including painting boats and working in a smelting factory.


“I’ve never liked working anywhere by the hour,” he said. “I don’t like being tied to the clock.”


In 1958, Throop eventually caught up with his brother-in-law and sister, who had moved to Salina. Now married and the father of a young daughter, Throop was determined to make a good living to take care of his family.


“I decided then it was time to get serious about this trade,” he said.


Throop chose to specialize in repairing and restoring cars.


“I went into (bodywork) with everything I had. I mean, you could hardly get me stop to eat lunch,” Throop said. “But it wasn’t by the hour-it was the full job. Whatever I got done, I got paid for.”


Throop poured himself into his work.


“There was many a-time I started painting a car at 10 o’clock at night to see the sun come up,” he said. “But I loved it, I just loved it. To me it wasn’t work.”


Within six months after moving to Salina, Throop was offered a job as body-shop manager at the Lincoln-Mercury dealership.


“The first 15 years in the business I just literally lived (doing bodywork),” he said.


Other jobs followed in different locations, body shops in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. Throop ended up divorcing his wife and then moved to Oregon for a second time, where he met and married Evelyn in 1976.


After a brief stay in California, the Throops were back in Kansas at the urging of Ken’s brother-in-law, who wanted him to buy into the body shop in Enterprise.


In 1984, Throop came to appreciate the potential for bodywork jobs that resulted from the damage caused by hailstorms. He was working in Junction and maintaining a shop in Enterprise.


That year a spring storm blew through Enterprise and knocked down trees in nearby Chapman, he said. Then the hail bombarded Custer Hill, part of Ft. Riley near Junction City.


Throop said: “I had a guy scheduled for a paint job for Monday morning. This guy showed up with his car. All of a sudden I looked at the car. ‘Wow! I gave you a price to paint the car, but I didn’t see all those dents in it.’


“‘That just happened,’ he said.


“‘What you mean, this just happened?’


“‘Well, we had hail this morning out on Custer Hill.'”


“And I found out what that meant within an hour.”


Following that storm, customers were lined up for blocks, and Throop, his wife and a third employee wrote estimates for three weeks straight, he said.


Throop and the rest of his crew at the body shop ended up having more work than they could handle. They had to turn customers away.


“It’s the law of supply and demand,” Throop said. “And for once the insurance companies didn’t haggle over prices.”


It took nearly a year to finish repairing all the cars damaged done by that hailstorm in Junction City.


He said he took cars home to work on evenings and weekends to get the cars done.


“That’s the way hail is.”


Throop had done bodywork after other hailstorms, but this was the first time he saw the potential for making money after a storm.


“Before that, I never thought it was worth the effort to go chase it,” he said. “And I’ve been doing hail ever since, whenever I have the opportunity.”


The Throops moved to Hillsboro in 1989. While employed at Irv Schroeder’s County Motors, he fixed a Grand Prix from Wichita dented by a hailstorm.


“That woke me up (to hail) again,” he said.


In 1990, during the storm that bred the Hesston tornado, hail hit the Hillsboro area and new cars parked in car lots were damaged.


“I worked work all that year,” he said. “We did a lot of work and made good money. It was a real good time for us.”


As a “body man with hail experience,” Throop readily found work after other hailstorms. He’d work for commission in different body shops and commute from Hillsboro on weekends.


On June 19, 1992, another memorable storm occurred, this time in Wichita.


Hail fell in the early morning hours.


“Most people thought it was gone,” Throop said. “But at 11:30 a.m. it came back and pounded the cars.


“The cars were lined up. Shops were putting windshields in for a week.”


Another memorable storm hit Liberal in 1994. Afterwards, the Throops established a residence there.


“I’ve been going to Liberal ever since,” he said.


Last June, hail hit Lyons.


“The storm hung over the town for an hour,” said Max Sauer of Sauer Body Repair in Lyons. “The next week we were swamped with insurance estimates.”


Sauer said he received a call from Throop, who offered to help out with the “nonstop hail work.”


Throop, staying at a nearby motel, worked for Sauer from July through September to finish the hail jobs.


“He’s a very experienced man,” Sauer said. “He’s done hail for years.


“He uses an old technique that not very many people even practice with now.”


Throop applies heat to bring the dents back up.


“The way he works, it saves a lot of parts replacement and it saves a lot of replacement time,” Sauer said. “He’s quite a craftsman.”


For Throop, the years of doing bodywork were not without struggles.


“I’ve been so burned out with this work,” he said. “This work can take the life out of you, if you let.”


But eventually Throop always returned to his trade, the body-shop business.


“I’ve always been self-motivated,” he added.


Now with more than 50 years of bodywork experience, Throop juggles much of his time between doing detail and customer bodywork in his shop and restoring classics, his first love.


Evelyn is back in the Hillsboro shop, too, masking and helping detail the cars.


It’s a chance to work together, Throop said, adding, “We’ve never had trouble getting along with each other.”


The Throops are considering working half days on restoration projects in Enterprise and half days on the detail and bodywork in Hillsboro.


Throop said the couple is also building an Internet-based business, unrelated to auto work, “where we won’t have to work so hard.”


“We’re excited about it,” he said. “The potential is unlimited.”


As far as chasing hail, Throop said: “We’re getting old and tired. We may not run any more hail-drat.


“We’ll just have to take it day by day.”

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