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From here to there: The Auto Doctor celebrates 30 years in Hastings

Don Bettis has been running the Auto Doctor for 30 years, and has been working on cars since he was 13 years old. Kelsey Roy / RiverTown Multimedia

Don Bettis raced his first snowmobile at the age of 5. When he was 10 years old, he raced his first motorcycle. The year Bettis turned 13, he started doing mechanical work on cars and two years later, he had his first job in a shop.

"My dad was always the type to say if you want something, you better work for it," Bettis, owner of Auto Doctor in Hastings, said. "So if I wanted to ride it, I better be able to fix it."

Living in Green Bay, Wis., Bettis worked in many different shops doing mechanical work on motorcycles, cars and snowmobiles.

In the summer of 1985, Bettis was feeling like it was time for change. He had offers in Indiana, Minnesota and a few to stay in Green Bay. Ultimately after a visit with his sister and brother-in-law in Lakeville, Bettis and his wife, Laurie, decided that it was time to pack up and head to Minnesota.

Originally, the plan was to take over one of his brother-in-law's businesses in Circle Pines. A month and a half before the Bettis' were to move, there was a change in the plan.

Instead of going to Circle Pines, Bettis helped open the Muffler Doctor in Cottage Grove.

"We moved out here in the fall of '85. It was quite a shock," Bettis said, adding that the housing market was much pricier than back in Wisconsin. "We had just built a new house in Green Bay the year before. We only had it for that one year and we were moving away already."

Not too long after opening shop in Cottage Grove, Bettis began to feel like it wasn't working out for him. He wanted to go off and do his own thing.

Bettis started building his Hastings shop in September 1989 on what was 10th Street at the time, now Highway 55.

"There were a couple of other businesses out here, but I was the furthest west. From my building out, it was all corn fields," Bettis said.

Looking back, Bettis said, many people in Hastings at the time thought that the town would see growth to the south, but with the construction that turned Highway 55 into four lanes, the city expanded west.

"We were only open a year before road construction closed us off. It was a little tough. Five years later they put in the stop lights, Super America came in, they built the frontage road and all the years after that they started building the grade school, apartments, the library — everything started going out this way," Bettis said.

Around 2003, Bettis expanded his business by buying the quick lube that was built right in front of his business, which he now runs as a detailing shop and car wash.

Not only has Bettis seen his business expand and the landscape around his store change, but also the industry as a whole.

"We used to open up the old textbook if we needed to learn how to do something. These days it's all online."

Another part about education for mechanics that is different, Bettis said, is in how they get certified. "Guys can get certified by reading the book and taking a test, without having to do any of the work. I don't believe in it, but that is how it is these days."

One of the biggest challenges he faces today, is finding mechanics to fill open positions that he has at the shop.

"No one wants to work with their hands anymore," Bettis said, adding that all trade industries are suffering to find qualified help. "Twenty years ago, if I put out an ad for a mechanic, I would get 20 applications within a day or two. Not today."