For a company to last 20 years, let alone 100, it’s clear that Chester Avenue Brake is doing something right.
From horse drawn carriages to the self-driving cars of today, we’ve experienced breakneck advances in transportation over the past 100 years. In keeping with this trend, something else that happened a century ago? Ludwig Diebel and business partner Max Wittig opened their auto shop, Chester Avenue Garage, in the heart of downtown in a space previously used for horse boarding. Talk about changing with the times! In the early days, the shop also functioned as a dealership, selling the short-lived Pilot and Earl motor cars. Quickly outgrowing their converted livery stable, the auto shop moved to a new building on the corner of 25th and Chester in 1926.
Some time after this, Ludwig purchased the company from his partner and concentrated the focus of the business on brake and clutch work, changing the name to Chester Avenue Brake and Supply Company. Much like other downtown businesses, the ‘52 earthquake caused extensive damage to their building, leading the space to be rebuilt. The company remained there until 1982, when they opened up shop at their current location on Colombo Street.
Each move signaled an expansion of their business. Grandson Phil Diebel affirmed this, saying, “We’ve gone from a couple thousand square feet, to six thousand square feet, to now thirty five thousand square feet.” Though no longer on Chester, the company has retained the name Chester Avenue Brake in honor of its long heritage.
Now owned by brothers Paul and Phil Diebel, the shop is going strong in their milestone year. Shared Phil, “My brother Paul and I are partners. I manage the parts department and he manages the service department. We have both been here off and on since we were old enough to hold a broom.”
For a company to last 20 years, let alone 100, it’s clear that Chester Avenue Brake is doing something right. Phil detailed, “the secret to our success is picking something that we are good at and sticking with it. Trying not to do too much with stuff we don’t know about. And so we’ve become very good at [and] we’re more of a specialty-type distributor or parts house. So the fact that we are, we can narrow all of our thought processes into the systems that we feel comfortable with.”
Beyond that, a lot of the reason that they’ve been operating for so long is keeping up with the changes, and of course their unique and extensive experience. “I think our number one thing is our knowledge. The knowledge that we have in the products that we sell and the services that we provide, I think are hands-down compared to the competition.” To back this up, he revealed that there are over 150 years of experience alone in just five of the sixteen people that work at the company. “That’s our strength I believe, our knowledge and our resources,” he advised. Several longtime employees help provide the knowledge needed for sometimes complex industrial projects. One such employee is Steve Beck, who is in charge of their friction department which “includes the rebuilding of anything with friction material on it, be it brake shoes of any size or shape, wind turbine brakes, or oilfield components. He has been with us since 1979.”
Phil expressed that the past century has been fraught with changes, but that hasn’t stopped the brake and suspension specialists from pushing forward with the times. Through the years they’ve effortlessly adapted with the ever evolving face of transportation. Advances such as vehicles going “from mechanical brakes to the brake systems they have today, air brakes and hydraulic brakes, and antilock brakes. So we’re no different from any other company. If you worked for a phone company in 1917, they used patch lines to get from one line to another and now it’s all computerized, and the same thing has happened in the automotive industry,” he began. “It’s become a lot more technologically advanced. We’ve narrowed our focus more on the medium and heavy duty end of it and the industrial end as opposed to being just pure automotive. We still do automotive but it’s more of a minority portion of our business now compared to maybe at one time [where] it was the majority of our business. We’re mainly brake and suspension related today.”
If you’re wondering what other kinds of industrial equipment have brakes, you’re not alone. Phil detailed, “We do everything in regards to brakes whether it’s passenger car, off highway equipment, or the windmills you see in Tehachapi. There’s a lot of things that people don’t know have brakes on them, elevator systems for example have brakes. We’ve rebuilt a portion of those systems for elevators. All of those pumping units in the oilfields going up and down, they all have a brake to hold them in place while they are being worked on; we refurbish the brakes for those pumping units. Cement plants have huge braking systems on some of the drying equipment. Basically anything with friction material, we can either manufacture or remanufacture here,” he answered.
The remanufacturing process entails completely disassembling various parts and pieces and restoring them to like-new condition. “The craftsmanship involved is something that Steve takes great pride in, and nothing leaves here that doesn’t meet his high standards. There are a lot of procedures that other companies have farmed out, or have automated. But no machine can rival the finished result that comes from the personal touch of Steve,” he boasted.
Business at Chester Avenue Garage has shown no sign of slowing down, Phil remarked, “The past five years have seen record numbers for us, so we’d like to see that continue.” With the continuing heritage of hard work and innovation at Chester Avenue Brake, it will be no surprise to see them working on the cars of the future in 2117.
19420 Colombo Street, Bakersfield CA | 661-392-9292