If there is one thing well-known Ballarat motoring identity can teach you about, it is perseverance.
Mr James, the founder of Barry James Smash Repairs, was acknowledged for 75 years of service by the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
From a young age, Mr James learnt the value of enterprise, industry, gratitude, and respect.
Mr James, 89, still recalls his dealings with US marines based in Victoria Park during World War II. Their presence provided an opportunity.
"Things were tough at home," Mr James said. "Mum elected to do some washing. I got two shillings in the pound for the washing she did. I used to ride the pushbike (up to Victoria Park). Dad made me a little trolley to put behind my bike. I'd go around and say, 'You want any washing done?' Some of the Yanks were good and some would say, 'Get out of here'. Eventually, we got on very well. Mum did the washing and I'd take it back later."
Mr James' initiative remained.
"When the Yanks left, I went up to the paper shop. They gave me a job there, delivering papers," he said. "They were bloody heavy papers."
It was at 14 when Mr James began his apprenticeship as a panel beater, a vocation to which he would devote his life.
Even as an adolescent, Mr James was aware of others. On one occasion, the humble apprentice learnt a workmate was going to be let go. Mr James offered to step aside instead.
"He was a better panel beater than me," Mr James remembered.
The workmate remained and, ultimately, he was employed by Mr James for 40 years.
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Mr James soon became an independent operator.
"When I was 20, I started out on my own," Mr James said. "A friend gave us some money and we bought this (Skipton Street site). It had been an axe handle factory. I was the only panel beater here. I put an apprentice on and we started off from there."
As the business grew, what did not change was Mr James' work ethic. His favourite expression - 'the early bird catches the rising worm' - was a mantra which enabled him to partake in training horses as well as maintain the workplace. Mr James would rise at 5.45am and go to bed at 8.30pm, although sometimes, he would work until 10pm.
In the era before drink-driving restrictions, sealed roads, uniform speed limits, powerful police forces, and protected cars, life was hectic.
"At one stage, 70 odd people were working here," Mr James said. "We were towing in 30 or 40 cars every week. Most of these cars were from alcohol because there were no restrictions. Most weekends, we'd be fitting 20 or 30 windscreens. (At one time) we'd just fitted a windscreen. Within an hour, (the driver went) around the corner and broke the windscreen again. We fitted it again!"
Mr James' commitment to his occupation was evident early.
"I was about 30, and I was going that hard, I was at the top of the stairs and I collapsed in exhaustion," he said. "A friend gave me a shake. 'What's wrong with you?' he said. 'I'm stuffed,' I replied."
Working collaboratively with others was fundamental tenet for Mr James.
"The main thing was to keep things straight with the insurance companies," he said. "(It was important to) do what they said to do and do excellent work."
Attention to detail was another non-negotiable.
"At all times, even when (son) Glen took over, I taught some of his staff how to inspect cars properly," Mr James said.
In one inspection, an older Mr James noticed a repair had been completed, but a ring washer was missing.
"I went and saw the bloke," Mr James began. "I said, 'You hadn't put a ring washer on it'. He said, 'That was a bit hard to get on'. I replied, 'It needs to be done properly. Get on and do it'."
The standards set by Mr James are maintained to this day under the leadership of Glen.
"(I am) so proud," Mr James said. "My son has kept it going. More than just the name, he's kept the business going. He's improved the business. He doesn't stuff around with mug apprentices. If they're no good, he gets rid of them."
The significance of the repair shop to Mr James cannot be overstated.
"It was my life," he concluded. "I loved it."
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