PILOT MOUNTAIN — A local veteran came home from a war and started what is now a local iconic business.
Earlie Gilley returned home from a tour of duty in Germany during World War II in December of 1945, just a few months after the war ended.
Gilley was a mechanic in the armed forces, so when he returned home it was only fitting that he do the same line of work, explained Wade Gilley, Earlie’s brother.
Originally, Earlie tried to buy a shop in Westfield but after the deal fell through, he settled on building his own shop in Pilot Mountain.
Gilley’s father, a carpenter by trade, helped to cut the timber to build Gilley’s Automotive’s first shop.
In 1946, Gilley was married to his wife of 6o years, Lorraine Beasley.
The two lived in the same building that Earlie worked from, with four rooms sectioned off for their living quarters.
In 1960, Wade and Earlie incorporated their partnership. “That’s when we made it official,” said Wade.
“I had worked for him since day one, but we didn’t make it ours until that day,” explained Gilley.
Over the years, the automotive shop has been the go-to place for obscure parts for an early-model tractor, or the right part for customers’ new car, explained Gilley.
“We have customers from all over North Carolina, Virginia, all across the states and the world really,” said Gilley with a proud smile across his face.
In the beginning years, towing was uniquely a service offered by the automotive shop. “Earlie bought a surplus Army truck and converted it to a wrecker,” said Gilley. “Ol’ Betsy, that’s what we called her.”
The services offered by Gilley’s Automotive fluctuated over the years, explained Gilley’s son, Wade Gilley Jr.
“With dad’s arrival, he brought skills that naturally expanded the business. He had a natural mechanical aptitude, and had honed his skills as a mechanic in the Army motor pool.”
Within a few years the brothers were able to buy more land. The building was expanded to add a garage and what still functions as the auto parts sales floor today.
A parts storage room was added as well, and serves as a machining room today. It was in the 1970s when the duo was able to add machining services, grinding crankshafts and boring cylinders, according to Gilley.
The automotive aspect of the business dominated over the years, though an effort was made to offer a convenience store in 1947.
Proving popular with the local residents, the store offered made-to-order sandwiches, snacks, and tobacco.
However, that part of the store was discontinued in 2000 with the closure of the service station.
“That was one of the hardest things we dealt with as a business,” explained Gilley.
North Carolina had begun new environmental regulations, “The state came to check our tank and found a pin size hole.”
At the time the high cost of replacing and maintaining underground tanks was not possible for an independent station of its size, forcing the family to close the service station.
Even with the closure of the gas station, “The community has always embraced us,” said Wade Gilley Jr, “So we try to give back to the community as much as we can.”
Often times, a table that sits in the lobby of the automotive store can be seen surrounded by local residents who come just to socialize, stated Gilley.
The Gilley family donates to and supports the local civic club, churches and school organizations. The automotive store is also a sponsor to local sport teams.
“Our customers’ loyalty and our reputation is what’s kept this place going for as long as it has been,” said Gilley.
Thankful to celebrate its 70th year in business the Gilleys hosted a car and tractor show this past Saturday.
Hot dogs, refreshments and door prizes were given throughout the event.
“A day of celebration and appreciation,” said Gilley.
Reach Eva Winemiller at (336) 415-4739 or on Twitter @ThePilotNC