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The end of an era

Japanese maple and other plantings, new pumps, and a lofty canopy mark big changes at Nobi’s Corner, a landmark business on Tucker Road.

But now Nobi’s own landmark, a dust-covered 1956 GMC, is gone.

The pale green truck was taken off the hoist May 17 for the first time in 20 years.

The exposed, rusty wheels are head-knockers no more.

The truck went up the hoist around the time Ronald Reagan was still a rookie, and stayed. Ever since, Nobi Akiyama and his wife, Florence, their crew, and thousands of clients have seen only the back and belly of the truck.

“Been here since 1982,” an employee wrote in black felt tip on the rear bumper years ago.

Call it the rear end of an era.

***

The truck belongs to Florence’s sister and her husband, Lloyd Austin, who had brought the truck to the station for repairs.

“It was making a terrible noise,” Nobi recalled. Lloyd had thought it needed a new U-joint, but Nobi determined that the entire rear end needed replacing. Up went the truck.

The odometer read 39,347 miles.

The truck had a custom “Spicer” rear end assembly, not the factory type — making it harder to fix.

In 1984, after a two-year search for parts, Nobi finally had what he needed to repair the GMC. He kept the parts in an apple crate, but one day an employee was cleaning up the shop and the parts got moved. Or separated. Or lost. No one is quite sure.

“Nobi was really mad,” Florence said.

The truck has been there ever since. The hood and windshield were coated in a quarter-inch of dust. The cab, unopened for two decades, held only a bag of still-shiny lug nuts. An ash tray sat on the wheel well. No one can explain the battered 1925 Oregon license plate on the rear bumper.

Nobi watched as John Hammond of John’s Equipment Repair readied the hoist for lowering. Hammond was leery of flipping the switch on the hoist, unused for two decades.

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“Ignored it,” Nobi said when asked what he did with the truck for two decades. Nobi, who turned 80 Monday, got his start at the Chrysler dealership in the 1950s. He bought the current station in 1976, after co-owning another filling station in The Heights.

In time, the 1956 GMC became a symbol of Nobi’s.

“I’m glad to be rid of it,” Nobi said last week.

“Thousands of people have asked us when that truck is coming down,” Florence said.

“We always figured it was Nobi’s excuse not to have to do work in the hoist,” Hammond joked. Even in the early 1980s, Nobi had phased out most in-shop repairs. A man of few words, he still uses his long automotive experience to help out drivers.

With little fanfare, the truck eased back to earth about the time the afternoon pump rush started.

Nobi and Florence gathered up their poodles and removed the chairs and tables that sat next to the truck, in case the hoist toppled.

Hammond removed the metal pipes and two-by-fours that propped up the hydraulic hoist.

“Here goes,” he said. The Akiyamas and friends and employees stepped back and watched. Slowly, the truck came down, as if Nobi had raised it only five or six years ago.

Hammond shook his head.

“They don’t make hoists like they used to. I figured the air would be fine but I didn’t know about the fluid,” he said.

Hammond said he’ll take the truck to his shop and start repairs soon.

Said Nobi, “He’s going to finish where I left off.”

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