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The fixer: St. Regis man a whiz with small-engine repairs

by AMY QUINLIVAN
Mineral Independent | August 17, 2022 12:00 AM

Whether you have problems with a boat motor, motorcycle, rototiller, lawn mower, weedwhacker, generator, golf cart, chainsaw, log splitter, four-wheeler, or pressure washer, if it has a small engine; David Hannah in St. Regis is the man for the job. The former Marine Corps Special Forces veteran who served from Vietnam to Iraq, has also raced in Nascar, on dirt tracks, and a few other gigs in between.

With calloused hands and grease-stained fingers Hannah has garnered decades of tinkering knowledge and workshop wisdom while overhauling small engines of all shapes and sizes. So, with his handyman expertise and a heart for helping others, Hannah recently started up his own repair business in Mineral County.

“There is definitely a need here for it, and I love doing this kind of work. Actually, I call it “plurking” cause to me it’s more pleasure, I enjoy it so much it’s not work,” remarked Hannah.

Hannah’s knack for small engines goes way back.

He recalled, “When I was about 11 years old, I asked my dad for a motorcycle, he said I’d have to earn the money for it. That summer I had 43 lawn jobs lined out, and during that time I worked alongside my dad and helped fix the mowers.” Hannah learned plenty by the end of the summer, and, he got his hard-earned motorbike.

“I always say I’m not a mechanic, but I’ve always been mechanically inclined,” stated Hannah.

He’s picked up skills and know how over the years from his father, and his uncles. Whether it’s a clogged carburetor, blown gasket, or bad cylinder, Hannah’s attention to detail helps him diagnose the dilemma. When he was little his dad would bring him an item, like an old TV, or some other electronic/motorized device and tell him to take it apart and see if he could put it back together again.

After relocating to St. Regis back in 2020, Hannah who is retired, knew he wanted to find a means of keeping busy but also serving his new community. What started with just a few chainsaws tune ups last winter, swiftly turned into an onslaught of lawnmower overhauls and yard implement repairs. Now when you walk up to Hannah large blue garage on the corner of St. Regis Street and Main, you can’t help but wonder if he’s running a pawn shop or some other variety store.

Most days you’ll find Hannah out in his garage work shop sun up to sun down, other than a break or two to feed his chickens, tend his garden, or care for his shop dog Bubba. But even then, customers come and go throughout the day dropping off new projects for Hannah to tackle.

He claimed, “I like the challenge ones.” He chuckled, “The ones where they tell me, Oh, you know the last time this ran was about 10 years ago.”

For the most part Hannah’s labor involves swapping out the small engines entirely, rebuilding sometimes works, but a struggle is finding parts.

“Right now, everything is so back ordered and delayed, ever since Covid,” explained Hannah.

That and price increases make it a trial to get the repairs done quickly, but also affordably. He shared, “I’m not looking to get rich from this job, I’ve been there and done that, and it wasn’t that fun. Really, I just want to help these people out, they pay what they can, usually it's donation based. God’s just using me to minister to these people with the talents he’s given me.”

Few people work on these types of motors, especially out of in rural Mineral County. Fellow St. Regis local, Frank Smith, for years had helped fix residents small engine troubles.

But Hannah mentioned, “Frank sure was glad when I came to town and heard I work on ‘em. It’s just hard for him to keep up with all of it anymore.”

Aside from Hannah’s new business, the closest repair shops are in Missoula, or Lolo, and the hourly rate for labor is steep.

With so many new customers from Saltese to Superior, Hannah’s work load is constant. Enough so that he acquired an apprentice to help with repairs in the shop, a student from St. Regis High School, Alex Henry.

Hannah said, “Alex came to me and said he wanted to learn how to work on small engines, so I said you can come work for me. The first month will be unpaid while you train, and this past week he got his first paycheck, and is doing repairs all on his own now, making part orders, and communicating with customers.”

Providing that kind of learning opportunity is extremely rewarding to Hannah, who raised 9 children, and has over 30 grandkids.

Learning how to work with one’s hands, and developing the ability to restore something is such a valuable skill anymore and sorely missing in this digital and electronic age.

Hannah’s slogan for his business is, “If I can’t fix it, it doesn’t need fixing.”

That confident guarantee does bring about the one downside to his line of work however; dealing with sour customers. Hannah chuckled,

“Every so often I’ll get something dropped off and you just know this thing aint gonna run again, its dead, and they know it. I try messing with it for a few days, call them up and tell them the prognosis, and they get mad. ‘Aren’t you supposed to know how to fix it?”

Well yes, he does, and some things just can’t be fixed.

With firewood season ahead, he anticipates many chainsaw jobs in the near future. Hannah’s Small Engine Repair is located in St. Regis, for help call 208-659-6423.

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