Gary Allen Retires from ‘Best Job’ in Clinton
Copyright © 2020
Photo: Gary Allen holds a 1940 calendar that features a photo of the Clinton Light Plant’s 1938 Cooper-Bessemer diesel engines, which are still in place behind him. Around the time he started the Clinton job in 1988, Allen received the calendar from Doc Dixon, who had been a dentist in town and was on the Village Council Board at the time.
By Mike Walters
Gary Allen has been an electric mechanic for the Village of Clinton for 31 years, as of December 5, 2019, and he is now retiring. His last day will be February 7, 2020.
It will prove to be a big loss for the Village of Clinton.
Allen is 6’10”.
“When I went to Michigan State, they already had Magic Johnson, so they didn’t need me,” Allen said, explaining his career path with a smile.
Allen, a graduate of Tecumseh High School and then Michigan State University, worked at Hoyt Whelan John Deere of Tecumseh for seven years, then at Lenawee Fuels in Tecumseh for two years before settling in with the Village.
His wife, Brenda -- a CHS graduate, is the billing clerk for the Village of Clinton. The two have been married for 37 years and live in Clinton, where they raised their two children: Lisa, CHS 2003 and Eric, CHS 2008.
Gary saw a lot of change in Clinton over those years.
“Part of working for the Village of Clinton is that you change hats often,” Allen said.
Allen’s official title is Light Plant Operator and DPW Mechanic. He mans the Village Electric Plant and is the go-to guy to work on vehicles -- large and small.
“I work on weed whips all the way up to bucket trucks, police cars, and other vehicles,” Allen said of his main responsibility.
In addition, due to the small size of the Village of Clinton Department of Public Works, Allen has chipped in on other projects.
“I have worked with the electric line crews,” Allen said, adding that he has helped repair water mains, drive snow plows, and a variety of other crossover jobs.
“You’re jumping from one department to another all the time,” Allen said, adding, “Water mains are the worst because they are in the winter and it’s cold.”
Despite the sometimes hectic pace, Allen says he enjoyed his years of service with the Village and relished the change of pace each new day brought.
“There’s something new and different every day,” he said. “I have a list of things to get done every day, (but) it’s always a change of pace.”
“I did feel I had the best job of anyone there because I worked alone and answered to no one as long as everything got repaired,” Allen said. “It seems like a hobby. Not very often are you under the gun.”
“About the only time you are under the gun is when a snow plow breaks while you are plowing,” Allen said, “but for the size of our town, we’re outfitted pretty good.”
It takes five and a half hours to plow the streets of Clinton, according to Allen.
Allen’s retirement may mark the end of another era, that of the diesel backup generators housed in the light plant.
The two smaller engines in the shop are 1938 Cooper-Bessemer diesel engines purchased new in 1938 out of Mount Vernon, Ohio.
The other is a 1962 model purchased used out of Grove City, Pennsylvania. All three are Cooper Bessemer engines. Cooper-Bessemer was founded in 1929 when the two companies merged. The company is perhaps best known for manufacturing engines used in troop and cargo ships during World War II and early diesel locomotive engines. The company still exists today as a part of GE.
“Diesel used to be a nickel a gallon. We used to get a tanker of diesel (fuel) every other day (before Allen was hired),” he said. “Before me, they used to run them all the time. When I came here there were six engines, though we only ran them at peak time (during hot weather). We were a backup.”
Now the same generators cost about $184 per megawatt, which can be purchased on the market for $40 today, according to Allen. They could be run in case of emergency, but the likelihood of ever using them again seems low due to the cost and modern emissions standards.
“I’d like to see the Henry Ford Museum come and take one,” Allen said.
Allen’s retirement plans are simple, for the time being, at least.
“I don’t have big ambitions to go find another job yet, but I know you have to stay active to stay healthy,” he said. “The wife and I have a travel trailer. I don’t think we’ll travel the country, but we’ll go here and there.”
Allen thinks he may spend more time with his three grandchildren, who live in Adrian.
Like most retirees, he knows he’ll have to “get used to what it’s like living without a paycheck and get used to what healthcare will cost.”
Still, Allen is confident he is leaving his post in capable hands -- those of Nick Wegner, who Allen just met this week.
“ I think he’s going to work out fine,” Allen said. “Everybody knows his mom -- Jan’s terrific.”