After more than 30 years at the helm of Hastings Radiator, Loren Swanson will be retiring
When Vermillion street was widened back in the 1960s, it caused one of Hastings businesses to shut its doors. The business was Rother's Service station, a fuel station and oil service, located at the corner of what is now Vermillion Street and County Road 46/47.
Loren Swanson had worked at the station when he was a boy, providing auto drivers with all the services a full-service gas station could offer at the pump - filling the gas tank, checking the tires and oil, cleaning the windows, and other maintenance checks.
After Rother's closed, the building sat empty for a few years, until Swanson decided to buy it in and run his own business there. The business, Hastings Radiator, began in 1977 and is still operating out of the building.
Swanson repairs radiators, heat exchangers and the like, mostly on industrial and agricultural equipment. Some of the units he's worked on have been so large that he couldn't fit them in his shop.
Over the years, the business has stayed small. For much of the time, Swanson was the only one working there, as he is today. He said he had one employee at one point, but when the man left to start his family, Swanson decided not to replace him.
Hastings Radiator has stayed small physically, too. The building that houses the business is relatively small to begin with, and Swanson has leased part of it to Wayne's Auto Body for years - although it's impossible to tell where one business stops and the other begins.
"We just kinda share the building," Swanson said.
Fixing radiators wasn't Swanson's first business venture. Before he started Hastings Radiator, he and a friend had run a wrecker service together.
"That was when cars broke down more frequently," he said.
Along with towing broken-down vehicles, Swanson and his friend and business partner would dabble in repairs.
"We used to putz around a little bit," Swanson said.
So when someone came to him and asked if he could fix a leaky radiator, Swanson decided to give it a try. Without any experience with the equipment, he wasn't able to fix it, but the attempt made him want to learn the skill. He went to a school in Omaha, Neb., and came back with the knowledge that would carry him through more than 30 years of his career.
The market was ripe for Swanson to start his repair business in Hastings. He had no competition.
"There was no repair shop in town," he said.
Now there are auto repair shops, but over the years, radiator shops have closed down, leaving Hastings Radiator as one of the only repair shops left in the area. Customers come to him from all over, often because his is the nearest shop, Swanson said.
Soon, his business will follow in the footsteps of the other radiator shops. Swanson said he's not planning on relocating his business when the sale of his property to Kwik Trip is finalized. He may not retire completely, but he said he does plan to retire from the automotive industry.
The sale won't be finalized for a few more months yet, but Swanson said it's likely the transaction will happen. And while he admitted that he'll miss the place, he said he'll still enjoy seeing the building come down.