90-year-old American Fork man still in the shop
The founder of Duff Shelley Mower and Cycle in American Fork celebrated his 90th birthday party just over a week ago with a cannonball off the diving board.
Merlin “Duff” Shelley started Duff Shelley Mower and Cycle in 1956, and still comes into work every day, even though he’s retired.
“I just didn’t like staying home. I don’t repair anymore, I just serve and help people,” he said this week while sitting in his shop. “I also sharpen the chainsaws.”
Shelley started the business with sharpening services for reel-type mowers, working out of the basement under his parents chicken shed. As business grew, he built a garage on their property. The child of the Great Depression, and himself a father of five children, Shelley started his side business to earn a little extra money, so he could pay off his mortgage faster.
“In case another Depression came, I didn’t want to lose my house,” he said.
He operated the business part time while he worked at Geneva Steel, and the shop continued to grow. He built the shop that now stands at 260 E. Main St. in 1963, and added mechanical repair to his services. He worked on all types of motors — mowers, chainsaws, trimmers, tillers, generators, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. For much of his career, he worked full time at both businesses.
“My last 10 years with Geneva Steel, I did graves and then worked here during the day,” Shelley said.
Shelley also sold and services motorcycles in the shop early on. He first sold Tote Gote motor scooters — an early mountain motorcycle manufactured in Provo. After Bonham Corp. discontinued the cycles, Shelley signed on with Kawasaki motorcycles. His shop is the 17th oldest Kawasaki dealership in the country, Shelley said. He also is a Polaris dealer.
Shelley said he enjoyed watching the outdoor motor industry evolve over the past five decades. From those early funk-looking Tote Gotes came off-road motorcycles and vehicles. He remembers three-wheelers, and when four-wheelers took over.
“Now we have the side-by-sides,” he said.
He’s enjoyed the business these many years — both participating in motor sports and working with customers. During those early years, he raced Tote Gotes, traveling with his young family to races all over the United States. He said he was a national champion in the sport around 1976.
“It was just fun,” he said.
And he’s still having fun. That’s what makes him come to work, even though two of his sons now run daily operations. Plus, his friends are at work.
“Most of my friends died off. I’ve got a lot of younger friends now,” he said with a chuckle.