Working for a living
The Inlet and 1-95: Russell McDowell on Going Mobile
By Roger Yale
For Weekly Surge
March 25, 2011
McDowell's to say that Russell roots run deep on the Grand Strand warrants some explanation. "Back in the early 1900s, census takers were aware of people living in the woods," he says, attributing some of those people to his family. "We are an old-time Murrells Inlet family." The McDowell Farm still has people living on it, and what is now known as McDowell Shortcut Road in Murrells Inlet used to cut right down the center of the family farm. "My [paternal] grandfather helped dredge out the Intra-Coastal Waterway."
As a retiree, his maternal grandmother worked as secretary for former longtime Myrtle Beach Mayor Robert Grissom. "My [maternal] grandfather ran Geyer Insurance here for many years, and my mother and father graduated from Myrtle Beach High School in the '50s and '60s."
McDowell moved with his mother to Florida for a time and graduated from Jupiter High School in 1993. He be came a cook for the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Fla., and later went into culinary work for the Hilton Corporation for six years before deciding to make a change.
"While I was running around. Myrtle Beach, I noticed that a lot of people were broken down at the side of the road, and we didn't have many wrecker services at the time." He got home and told his then-wife that he was going to start a mobile repair service. "She looked at me like I had two heads, and so did everyone else in the family." But McDowell had grown up around mechanics, including his father, and had a knack for this line of work; he put his plan in motion and started a one-man operation.
"For a while I dropped this as a full-time job and went to work for someone else as a souvenir salesman and sold seashells by the seashore," he laughs. "I worked for great people who taught me some wonderful things about business, and I still ran the mobile repair service on a part-time basis."
Flash forward: As owner/ operator of ABC Mobile Auto Repair, McDowell runs a 100-mile territory full time with Myrtle Beach as base -coming to the rescue of folks who are experiencing mechanical breakdowns. "I run the gamut from mobile homes to everyday cars - and have done work on heavy equipment and big trucks - and you get the phone calls at one o'clock in the morning for those - like 'can you come fix me on 1-95?'" His specialties lie in the realm of mobile home brake and drive train services.
McDowell is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified and DOT certified for brakes and drive trains -and says he is hooked up with the Good Sam RV Club and Road America. "I also do warranty work for Camping World." He subcontracts with a network of wrecker services. If roadside work is not feasible, he depends on a handful of local repair shops. "I farm out the bigger jobs to the places I know do good and honest work."
One of the vehicles he uses for the business resembles the SWAT van from the old TV show of the same name, but just what's inside?
"I've got everything but a lift in this truck," he says. "If you pulled into a regular garage with one bay, I've got everything they would have plus more, including HAZMAT safety kits to clean everything up - everything I need to do a job."
From daunting - "putting someone's car back together from boxes of parts in their trunks" - to funny - "you get out to a job and the battery cable is disconnected," McDowell has seen his share - but a crab? "I also do welding and fabrication and actually built the superstructure for the Giant Crab Restaurant - right in their parking lot and from scratch."
An avid fisherman, McDowell has taken trips to Alaska, Cape Cod, Mass., and most recently the Salmon River in upstate New York. "Then you have Murrells Inlet. I go out with a friend on his boat and we do our king fishing."
McDowell says he grew up at the bygone Rock Burger in Myrtle Beach, and his musical tastes center on favorites such as Black Sabbath, Molly Hatchet, AD/DC and Led Zeppelin. "I am a rock and roller and a beer lover. I didn't get to 350 pounds for nothing," he laughs.