'Just Do You' talks Homecoming, football and more with FVSU neighbor

October 19, 2011 – Appling and Son Body Shop is a stone’s throw away from Fort Valley State University’s main entrance gate on State University Drive. From where the teal and white trim warehouse sits, owner Felton Appling has witnessed the university’s transition, from a campus dotted with frame houses to behemoths of brick, steel and glass.

Every year, Appling puts aside his tools for a few days to welcome home high school classmates and out-of-town guests to the largest celebration in The Valley, Homecoming. His shop, sporting a fresh coat of paint, will close on Saturday as it has every year because of huge crowds for the parade and football game. Marketing and communications’ director, Vickie Oldham, talked to FVSU’s longtime neighbor about his work, life and legacy.

What changes have you seen at Fort Valley State?

I’ve watched every building go up on the campus. There were small houses over there where the Pettigrew Building is. That was about 20 or so years ago. I watched the guy move all those old houses. My dad bought one of them and we moved it to the country. My mom lives in it now.

I’ve met many of the presidents of Fort Valley State and worked on their cars: Rivers,Lomotey, Blanchet and Pettigrew.

How did you start this business?

My dad, Solomon Mose Appling Jr., started this place in the 60s. When he died in ’08, I took over. I had worked with him doing bodywork since I was 16 years old. At Hunt High School, I was in the technical training program for auto repair and bodywork. Every day, students could get out of school at noon and go to work. I liked that.

Do you live in Fort Valley?

Yes, I’ve lived here all of my life. I like Fort Valley. Besides, I don’t know any other work. I’ve always done this. I love it. I like cars, muscle cars. This is a hobby and work too. I like dealing with people.

What do you enjoy about dealing with people?

I like to satisfy them and see the smile on their face, especially when they leave their cars with me. They know I’ll take care of business for them (he laughs).

Tell me about the canary yellow sports car you’re working on over there.

Dr. Rivers brought it to me to work on. It’s a ’73 Corvette (I’ve got a ’92 Corvette myself). I’m going to smooth out the scratches, dings and cracks, then paint it all over. I like restoring antique cars and making them look new. It’ll take me about two weeks.

How’s business in this economy?

I stay pretty busy here. I do a lot of insurance jobs: State Farm, Progressive. People like my work and keep coming back. Cars that are totaled, I can fix them up and make them like new. That’s big business now, totaled cars. People buy them, fix them up, resell them and put them right back on the road. There’s a salvage yard, a field full of cars in Macon. You go, pick out what you want, buy it. It takes me two weeks to a month to bring it back to life.

What’s your day like?

I work 8 to 6 p.m. and sometimes 8 to 9 p.m., six days a week, from Mondays to Saturdays. I may work on four cars, three to four hours a day until the work is done.

How long will you do this work?

Until I die. That’s the way my dad did. I’ll never retire. I’ll quit when my wheels won’t roll! (he laughs)

Are you training someone to take over this business?

I have five kids, all grown. I have a grandson who helps me. I have a son in Iraq right now. He took an overseas job for three years to make some big money; then he’s coming home. I’m going to hand the business over to him someday.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working on cars?

I watch football games and basketball games. I love sports. On Sunday after church at Central Union, I watch football starting at 1 o’clock. Then I might take a walk in the park.

What is the biggest challenge you face running this small business?

Well, really finding good help. I have four workers. For anyone interested in doing bodywork, he’ll need to come in and show me what he can do.

Would you consider hiring students who are interested?

I would. I actually had a student over here working with me just to learn. He worked with me for a whole year. He didn’t want pay. He just wanted to know how to do bodywork.

What advice do you give students interesting in learning your craft?

You can make money, but there’s lots of work that goes into it too. You must turn out quality work and please your customers. You work long hours.

Let’s talk about Fort Valley State’s Homecoming. Is it special to you?

Yes. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody come to town, my friends and kinfolks. Some are coming in from Miami, Crawford County [and] Macon. We all go to my mom’s house in the country. She cooks chitlins’, turnips, a couple of cakes… I’m going to watch the parade, go to the game and stop by a couple of tailgate parties.

What’s parking like in your lot for Homecoming?

People park here on Homecoming. I don’t care, as long as they don’t throw trash down.

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“Just Do You” is a periodic column that features profiles of FVSU staff, faculty, students and friends. If you’d like to recommend the next JDY feature, contact Vickie Oldham at (478) 825-6319 or oldhamv@fvsu.edu.