FORT LORAMIE – Tim Ernst has stacks of old letters, photographs, documents and newspaper clippings. Those along with stories from customers and his own lifetime of memories help tell the 100 year history of Ernst Service Center.
“All these old boys that hung around in here over the years, they was just a treasure trove of information from the past,” said Tim, the third generation owner of the Fort Loramie business.
Ernst Service Center is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2021. While Tim and his wife, Sharon Ernst, aren’t certain of the exact date the business opened, they think it was in May 1921.
Tim’s grandfather Phil Ernst started the business as a Ford dealership – selling cars, trucks and tractors – and a service station just as automobiles were starting to become entrenched in American society. The business also included bulk deliveries to farms and businesses and a shop where people could buy snacks and other goods.
“When Grandpa built this place, he actually had an ice cream parlor; he had all sorts of candy and tobacco and sodas,” Tim said. “I don’t know if he was ahead of time or what, but it kind of all just faded away over the years.”
Twenty-five years ago, long after the ice cream parlor ceased to operate, Tim and Sharon added a convenience store to go along with their gas station and automobile repair offerings.
“Kinda went back to where it all started,” Tim said.
Ernst Service Center has undergone a lot of changes throughout its century in business, adding and dropping services and even moving locations. But what’s remained consistent is the Ernst family.
Tom Ernst, Tim’s dad, purchased the business from his father in 1957. Tom owned it until 1984 when he sold it to his son.
“I grew up in here,” Tim said. “Dad would have a car in here, and he’d give me the grease gun, and he’d say, ‘Here you go. I’m going to give you a penny for every grease zerk you grease on that vehicle, but you’re going to pay me a nickel for every one you miss.’ So you got pretty proficient at finding grease zerks.”
After he got out of the Navy in 1973, Tim went to work at a Chevrolet dealership in Sidney. That job provided a lot of additional knowledge about car repair, especially as electronics within automobiles rose in prominence.
As Tom’s health deteriorated, Tim worked nights and weekends in the family shop to help his dad in addition to working his full-time job. Tim ultimately purchased the family business and quit his job at the dealership.
“We was burning the candle at both ends, and something had to give,” Tim said.
Tim and Sharon credit fantastic employees and loyal customers with keeping them going for the past 37 years. It wasn’t always easy, especially during the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of all of the years that we were in business, I would probably have to say that was the most trying time,” said Sharon, who does accounting for the business and works in the convenience store.
For the first three months of the pandemic, when there was a lot of uncertainty about COVID-19, Tim and Sharon manned Ernst Service Center by themselves to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. They worked from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, with the exceptions of Sundays when they would close an hour earlier.
Sharon worried that their business could fall victim to the economic turmoil of 2020, but it survived and still is going strong.
“We were so thankful for the people in the community and the surrounding communities who support us,” she said.
While they still enjoy the business and aren’t ready to give it up yet, Tim and Sharon have started to contemplate the future of Ernst Service Center. They’re not sure the business will be passed to a fourth generation as their children are passionate about their own career paths.
“Who knows what’s going to happen? It’s kind of like we’re waiting to see,” Sharon said.
The couple’s daughter, Lona Rizkallah, is a physician assistant. Their son, named Phil Ernst like his great-grandfather, is a member of the military.
“We often thought that maybe he would come back, but he has such a strong belief in defending our country that he feels that that has to be a top priority in his life at this time,” Sharon said.
Like his children, Tim Ernst is passionate about his job. He and his employees service all types of cars, including foreign and domestic, with multiple generations of customers coming to the shop.
“I’ve probably worked on four generations,” Tim said. “You know, a lot of the people running around here now who have their own kids, I worked on their grandfathers’ vehicles.”
“He enjoys working on cars so much that there’s nothing he wants to do other than that,” Sharon said.
While they haven’t finalized any plans yet, the Ernsts plan to thank their customers and employees for 100 years of support by having some sort of celebration this year.
“It’s not our individual celebration,” Sharon said. “It’s a community’s celebration.”
Ernst Service Center is located at 200 N. Main St., Fort Loramie. For more information, call 937-295-3600.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-538-4824.