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‘My life is a wreck’

By Staff | Apr 6, 2009

“My life is a wreck,” says Joseph Cartwright in summarizing his rural Winnebago body and paint business.

“My job, my hobby and what I do in my free time is all the same…I work on wrecked cars,” explains Cartwright.

Interested in cars at an early age, it was only natural for him to attend a school specializing in this. As a result, he undertook a 12 month course of study from Wyoming Technical Institute and graduated with an Associate Degree in Body and Paint.

“If you know how to do it, you can do it,” says Cartwright of body work. “You don’t need a degree to do this, but the technical part one can only learn by going to a school like the one I attended in Laramie.”

Some of the technical aspects he studied included proper procedures and paint handling. He explains there are many safety issues when one is dealing with paint. In fact, it contains carcinogens and a person can make paint do things it is not supposed to do simply by using hardeners, activators and reducers.

Although he specializes in auto body, Cartwright also does mechanical work on all makes and models.

“I worked at L&M Motors for about a year before converting the old Winnebago Creamery into a shop,” he says. “I was there from 2001 to 2007 before Casey’s came to town. That was a real blessing when they were interested in my site, because the roof leaked, the building needed a lot of work and I needed someplace else to set-up a better shop space.”

Locating his body and paint shop out of town was a concern at first, but he has discovered he doesn’t need the foot traffic like a bakery or some other businesses require in order to succeed.

“Business out of town is serious business,” he says. “People just don’t drop in here unless they really want a job done.”

Cartwright also specializes in insurance work, a skill he learned while earning his degree. He can write estimates or work directly with insurance companies.

“If someone has had an accident, I can be their go-between, working out all the details with their insurance company. They won’t have to do a thing. I will take care of it all for them if they wish.” As a result, he spends a great deal of time on the phone dealing with insurance companies.

Cartwright says his favorite job is deer hits, because they are hard enough to be a decent job, but generally cause no permanent frame damage to a vehicle.

“I get a lot of deer hits,” says Cartwright of his 20 mile service area.

In addition to the body work, he also can do any type of windshield or glass work.

“Generally, glass work is covered 100 percent by insurance,” he says. “Glass coverage usually includes the windows, headlights, tail lights and mirrors.”

He also offers this bit of advice to anyone considering purchasing a different vehicle. Buy American.

“All American vehicle manufacturers galvanize their body panels. This helps delay rust problems enabling a product to stay on the road longer. It also explains why imports don’t cost as much, since their body panels won’t withstand the extremes of northern winters.”

Rust is Cartwright’s pet-peeve.

“Rust is expensive. It starts from the inside and works out,” he says. “By the time I see a bubble on the surface, I know it has already done a lot of damage. It just can’t be sanded out.”

Preventative maintenance is key to keeping rust at bay he says.

“Wash your vehicle a lot,” he advises. Make sure you include an underbody wash. Most car washes do this. These things will keep the rust away and make the paint stay nicer.

Cartwright says the undercarriage of a vehicle builds-up with dust and retains moisture, therefore creating a breeding ground for rust. If a person keeps their car or truck washed, including the undercarriage, body work will not be as big of an issue.

“If you take care of the mechanical part, your vehicle will last a long time,” says Cartwright. “Unfortunately,” he adds, “the body is the weak part in Minnesota vehicles because of the salted roads during the winter.

If a person is considering a paint job, think again, says Cartwright. By the time a vehicle begins to show rust, the value doesn’t justify painting.

“Rollovers are the toughest body work jobs,” says Cartwright. “Usually if it’s too hard or extensive to repair, they get ‘totalled out’ by the insurance company. Basically, they’re totalled out before they get too tough for us to try to repair.

Some of his tools of the trade include sandpaper (24-3000 grit), hammers, dollies, grinders, sanders, buffers, a welder and lots of power tools too numerous to list.

“I do a lot of welding on roofs, door skins and quarter panels,” he says of his repair work. In some of his jobs, he is able to use a panel bond adhesive instead of welding the piece.

Both the painting and the body work repair process require a lot of preparatory work. In painting, it is 90 percent prep work and 10 percent paint time.

“It is very labor intensive to ‘just paint a car,’” says Cartwright.

The steps in a good paint job are to prepare and clean the surface, sand until perfectly smooth (the most difficult part), prime it, apply the color and finally put on the clear color.

He says the better the paint is, the easier it is to handle. It will also result in a richer more true color which will last a lot longer. He adds, paint doesn’t fade like it did 30 years ago either because the paint technology has improved greatly.

Again, he stresses the importance of washing a car a lot. As for waxing, once or twice a year is adequate with the paint products used today.

The most expensive paint is about $390 per pint for a custom color says Cartwright. He gets his paints from jobbers (suppliers). The wholesalers even deliver the materials to his rural Winnebago shop.

Unlike many products sold today, a person is not paying for the name or a name brand when buying paint. One gets what one pays for.

The most popular paint colors seen on the road today are black, white, red, silver and the pewters.

Cartwright says the silvers and pewters are the most difficult to work with or to paint because there is so much metallic in them. In fact, silver is from metallic, so it has little pigment in it at all. Basically, there is very little color in all paints.

Another paint trend manufacturers are applying to their new vehicles is the usage of pearls in the color to achieve even more unique effects.

Like other paint and body shops, Cartwrightmust adhere to a lot of OSHA and EPA laws. This is due to the fact paint can be very hazardous and he also has to deal with a lot of waste material handling.

It is evident he takes the regulations to heart at his shop. Cartwright not only keeps everything neat, clean and in orderly fashion, but also takes great pride in his shop and workmanship.

He has painted everything from gas pumps to entry doors and semis to motorcycles. With motorcycles he has even done some air brushing. This is a painting technique which uses a pencil-like brush.

Cartwright also works with all makes and models. He says he is seeing more imports in this area than when he first started in the business. However, the process of painting and body work is the same.

“One decent job a week keeps me in business,” says Cartwright. But he hopes his business will continue to grow so he will be able to buy better equipment to accomplish even more for his customers.

“If my business grows, my shop will too,” he says. “Having a paint booth would be helpful. Now I just spread out a thin layer of plastic sheeting on the floor and get the fans going.

The young painter, body repairman is a perfectionist who completes every job to his personal strict standards.

“If I’m happy with the end result, I hope my client is too.

Cartwright body and Paint is open for business Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.- 5 p.m.

“Call ahead, I’d love to meet you and help you with your car care concerns.”